Emperor Go-Toba

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  • Reign: 1183-1198
  • Japanese: 後鳥羽天皇 (Go Toba tennou)

Emperor Go-Toba was the last emperor of the Heian period.

A son of Emperor Takakura by Fujiwara no Shokushi,[1] he was a half-brother to Emperor Antoku, who was forced to flee from Kyoto in 1183 amidst the violence of the Genpei War. Go-Toba took the throne in that year, though it is unclear whether Antoku continued to be considered a reigning emperor as well, or Retired Emperor, between then and his death in the battle of Dan-no-ura two years later.

Fujiwara no Moroiye served as sesshô (regent) in the first years of Go-Toba's reign, in 1183-1184, and was followed by Fujiwara no Motomichi, who then served as sesshô from 1184 to 1186.

Go-Toba may have been the first to employ a chrysanthemum crest as particularly associated with the Imperial institution.[2]

Go-Toba abdicated in 1198 in favor of his son, who took the throne as Emperor Tsuchimikado, but remained influential in his retirement. Indeed, in 1221 he made significant decisions concerning the imperial succession without consulting the Kamakura shogunate; shortly afterwards, he gathered forces to him and attempted to raise an army to overthrow the shogunate, in a conflict known as the Jôkyû Disturbance or Jôkyû War. The fighting was brief, and ended in victory for the shogunate. Retired Emperor Go-Toba was exiled to the Oki Islands, and never returned to the capital. In the wake of the Jôkyû War, the shogunate took a number of steps to expand its power, and to weaken that of Retired Emperors and the Imperial court, marking a significant shift in the power balance between Shogunate and Court going forward.[3]

Preceded by
Emperor Antoku
Emperor of Japan
Succeeded by
Emperor Tsuchimikado


  1. Môri Hisashi. "Unkei: The Man and His Art." in Sculpture of the Kamakura Period. New York: Weatherhill, 1974, 50.
  2. Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, UC Press (1998), 48-49.
  3. Amino Yoshihiko, Alan Christy (trans.), Rethinking Japanese History, Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan (2012), 266n29.