Empress Suiko of Japan

First Reigning Empress of Japan in Recorded History

Illustrated Biography of Prince Shotoku by Hata no Chitei
Illustrated Biography of Prince Shotoku by Hata no Chitei. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Empress Suiko is known as the first reigning empress of Japan in recorded history (rather than an empress consort).  She is credited with the expansion of Buddhism in Japan, increasing Chinese influence in Japan.  

She was the daughter of Emperor Kimmei, empress consort of Emperor Bidatsu, sister of Emperor Sujun (or Sushu).  Born in Yamato, she lived from 554 to April 15, 628 C.E., and was empress of from 592 - 628 C.E.  She is also known as Toyo-mike Kashikaya-hime, in her youth as Nukada-be, and as empress, Suiko-Tenno.

Background

Suiko was the daughter of Emperor Kimmei and at 18 became the empress-consort of Emperor Bidatsu, who reigned 572 to 585. After a short rule by the Emperor Yomei, interclan warfare over the succession broke out. Suiko's brother, Emperor Sujun or Sushu, reigned next, but was murdered in 592.  Her uncle, Soga Umako, a powerful clan leader, who was likely behind Sushu's murder, convinced Suiko to take the throne, with another of Umako's nephews, Shotoku, acting as regent who actually administered government. Suiko reigned as Empress for 30 years. Crown Prince Shotoku was regent or prime minister for 30 years.

Death

The Empress becoming ill in the spring of 628 C.E., with a total eclipse of the sun corresponding to her serious illness.  According to the Chronicles, she died at the end of spring, and there followed several hail storms with large hail stones, before her mourning rites began.  She was said to have asked for a simpler interment, with funds instead going to relieve a famine.

Contributions

Empress Suiko is credited with ordering the promotion of Buddhism beginning in 594. It had been the religion of her family, the Soga. During her reign, Buddhism became firmly established; the second article of the 17 article constitution instituted under her reign promoted Buddhist worship, and she sponsored Buddhist temples and monasteries.

It was also during Suiko's reign that China first diplomatically recognized Japan, and Chinese influence increased, including bringing in the Chinese calendar and the Chinese system of government bureaucracy. Chinese monks, artists, and scholars also were brought into Japan in her reign. The power of the emperor also became stronger under her rule.

Buddhism had entered Japan through Korea, and Buddhism's growing influence furthered the influence of Korea on art and culture during this period.

In writing during her reign, previous Japanese emperors were given Buddhist names with Korean pronunciation. 

There is general consensus that the 17 article constitution was not actually written in its present form until after the death of Prince Shotoku, though the reforms it describes were undoubtedly established beginning under the reign of Empress Suiko and the administration of Prince Shotoku.

Legend? History?

There are scholars who contend that the history of the Empress Suiko is an invented history to justify the rulership of Shotoku, and that his writing of the constitution is also invented history, the constitution a later forgery.

Print Bibliography

  • Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. ()