Empress Jitō was the daughter of Emperor Tenji. Her mother was Ochi-no-Iratsume, the daughter of Minister Ō-omi Soga no Yamada-no Ishikawa Maro. She was the wife of Tenji's full brother Emperor Tenmu, whom she succeeded on the throne.
Empress Jitō's given name was Unonosarara or Unonosasara (鸕野讚良), or alternately Uno.
Events of Jitō's reign
Jitō took responsibility for court administration after the death of her husband, Emperor Tenmu, who was also her uncle. She acceded to the throne in 687 in order to ensure the eventual succession of her son, Kusakabe-shinnō. Throughout this period, Empress Jitō ruled from the Fujiwara Palace in Yamato. In 689, Jitō prohibited Sugoroku, in 690 at enthronement she performed special ritual then gave pardon and in 692 she travelled to Ise against the counsel of minister Miwa-no-Asono-Takechimaro.
Prince Kusakabe was named as crown prince to succeed Jitō, but he died at a young age. Kusakabe's son, Karu-no-o, was then named as Jitō's successor. He eventually would become known as Emperor Monmu.
Empress Jitō reigned for eleven years. Although there were seven other reigning empresses, their successors were most often selected from amongst the males of the paternal Imperial bloodline, which is why some conservative scholars argue that the women's reigns were temporary and that male-only succession tradition must be maintained in the 21st century.Empress Genmei, who was followed on the throne by her daughter, Empress Genshō, remains the sole exception to this conventional argument.
In 697, Jitō abdicated in Mommu's favor; and as a retired sovereign, she took the post-reign title daijō-tennō. After this, her imperial successors who retired took the same title after abdication.
Jitō continued to hold power as a cloistered ruler, which became a persistent trend in Japanese politics.
Kugyō (公卿) is a collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras.
In general, this elite group included only three to four men at a time. These were herary courtiers whose experience and background would have brought them to the pinnacle of a life's career. During Jitō's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:
Jitō's reign is not linked by scholars to any era or nengō. The Taika era innovation of naming time periods – nengō – languished until Mommu reasserted an imperial right by proclaiming the commencement of Taihō in 701.
However, Brown and Ishida's translation of Gukanshō offers an explanation which muddies a sense of easy clarity:
"The eras that fell in this reign were: (1) the remaining seven years of Shuchō [(686+7=692?)]; and (2) Taika, which was four years long [695–698]. (The first year of this era was kinoto-hitsuji .) ... In the third year of the Taka era , Empress Jitō yielded the throne to the Crown Prince."
The Man'yōshū includes a poem said to have been composed by Jitō
^Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p.18. This waka is here numbered 42; in the Kokka Taikan (1901), Book II, numbered 159.
^Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p. 18 n1; n.b., This would be the so-called Thunder Hill in the village of Asuka near Nara.
^Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p. 47; n.b., This waka is here numbered 118; in the Kokka Taikan (1901), Book III, numbered 235.
^Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p. 47 n4; n.b., This poem is based on the idea that the Sovereigns are the offspring of Amaterasu-omikami, and that their proper sphere is heaven. There the Thunder Hill is regarded as the actual embodiment of Thunder.