Empress Suiko: The First Empress Regnant of Japan

Empress Suiko (554–628 ) was the 33rd monarch of Japan and the first of eight women to take on the role of empress regnant (a female monarch who reigns in her own right). The seven women who reigned as empress regnant after Empress Suiko were Saimei, Jitō, Gemmei, Genshō, Shōtoku, Meishō, and Go-Sakuramachi.

Empress_Suiko

Empress Suiko’s reign lasted from 593 until her death in 628. Before becoming a monarch of the Chrysanthemum Throne, Empress Suiko was known as Mikekashiya-hime-no-mikoto or Imina for short. She was the third daughter of Emperor Kimmei and was younger sister of Emperor Yōmei of the same mother.

Empress Suiko was initially a consort to her half-brother Emperor Bidatsu. After his first wife passed away, Suiko became his official consort and was given the title Ōkisaki (official consort of the emperor) and bore seven sons. After Bidatsu’s death, Suiko’s brother Yōmei became emperor for two years before succumbing to illness. After Yōmei’s death, there was a power struggle between the Soga clan and the Mononobe clan, with the Sogas supporting Prince Hatsusebe and the Mononobes supporting Prince Anahobe.

Depiction of Empress Suiko.

The Sogas were deemed victorious, and in 587, Prince Hatsusebe came to power as Emperor Sushun. Emperor Sushun began to question the power of the head of the Soga clan, Soga no Umako, and out of fear for the emperor striking first, Umako had Emperor Sushun assassinated in 592. When it came to deciding who would ascend to the throne after Emperor Sushun, Suiko became the first woman in all of Japanese history among seven others to be chosen as empress regnant.

Toyura-no-Miya

Empress Suiko’s reign suggests she had strong political skills. In 599, an earthquake struck Japan and destroyed buildings all around Yamato province (now Nara Prefecture). Suiko’s refusal to grant Soga no Umako’s request to be given the imperial territory known as Kazuraki no Agata was a sign of her independence from his influence.

Ruins of Empress Suiko’s palace. | Takanuka

Under the empress’s reign, Buddhism was also officially recognized by the issuance of the Flourishing Three Treasures Edict in 594, with Suiko as one of the first Buddhist monarchs of Japan. She took the vows to become a nun soon after becoming empress. Suiko’s reign was also marked by the opening of relations with the Sui court in the year 600 with the adoption of the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System (officials wore silk caps decorated with gold and silver, and a feather that indicated the official’s rank) and the Seventeen- article constitution (a highly Buddhist and Confucian document that focused on the morals and virtues that were to be expected of government officials and the emperor’s subjects to ensure a smooth running of the state) as well as the adoption of the Sexagenary cycle calendar (a cycle of sixty terms used for recording days or years).