Emperor Go-Shirakawa

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  • Born: 1127
  • Died: 1192
  • Reign: 1155-1158
  • Japanese: 後白河天皇 (Go-Shirakawa tennou)

Emperor Go-Shirakawa was an emperor of the late Heian period, known for his involvement in the Hôgen and Heiji Rebellions of the 1150s, and the Genpei War of the 1180s.

Go-Shirakawa was a son of Emperor Toba by his consort Taikenmon-in (a daughter of Fujiwara no Kinzane); he was thus a younger brother of Emperor Sutoku, and half-brother to his predecessor Emperor Konoe).

Among his consorts was Kenshunmon-in, also known as Taira no Shigeko.

Go-Shirakawa took the throne in 1155, succeeding his half-brother Emperor Konoe. Fujiwara no Tadamichi served as regent throughout Go-Shirakawa's reign, as he did throughout Konoe's. In 1156, tensions between Go-Shirakawa and his brother, the Retired Emperor Sutoku, who was attempting to continue to exert influence in his retirement, erupted into violent conflict. The so-called Hôgen Rebellion ultimately ended in victory for Go-Shirakawa's supporters, and the exile of Retired Emperor Sutoku.

Go-Shirakawa's children included Emperor Nijô, Emperor Takakura, and Prince Mochihito. He abdicated in favor of Emperor Nijô in 1158. The following year, in 1159, violent conflict erupted once again, this time between Taira no Kiyomori and Minamoto no Yoshitomo, both of whom had been supporters of Go-Shirakawa during the Hôgen Rebellion; Kiyomori had amassed considerable power as a result of the victory, while Yoshitomo felt he had been denied his fair share of rewards, position, and influence. Choosing a time when Kiyomori was away from the capital, Yoshitomo and his men attacked the Sanjô Palace, a secondary imperial residence, on 1159/12/9, setting the building aflame and kidnapping the retired emperor and his sister, Jôseimon-in, among others. Taira no Kiyomori soon returned to the capital and, declaring his support for Emperor Nijô, won decisive victories against Yoshitomo, which set the groundwork for the Minamoto-Taira conflict known as the Genpei War, which would erupt several decades later, in 1180.

The Sanjûsangendô was built by Kiyomori for Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa in 1164. In 1167, he relocated to the Hôjûji-dono.

Succession disputes surrounding Go-Shirakawa's son Prince Mochihito and grandson Emperor Antoku spurred renewed conflict in the 1180s. Taira no Kiyomori seized control of Kyoto in 1179 and forced Go-Shirakawa into house arrest. The following year, Go-Shirakawa's son Prince Mochihito formally called upon the Minamoto clan to take action against the Taira in response; after a number of other significant battles, Minamoto no Yoshinaka and Minamoto no Yukiie led forces in successfully retaking Kyoto in 1183, allowing for Go-Shirakawa's re-entry into the city. Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was vying with Yoshinaka for leadership of the clan, then secured an agreement with Go-Shirakawa, gaining an advantage over his cousin.

Go-Shirakawa continued to enjoy Yoritomo's support following Minamoto victory over the Taira in 1185, and lent his support to Yoritomo as well, ordering that Yoritomo's brother Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a potential threat to Yoritomo's dominance, be hunted down.

Go-Shirakawa died in 1192.

Preceded by
Emperor Konoe
Emperor of Japan
Succeeded by
Emperor Nijô


  • Evelyn Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2015), 156.