Emperor Shirakawa

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Emperor Shirakawa was an emperor of the mid-Heian period, known for exerting his political influence even after retirement, marking the beginning of the Insei ("retired emperor system") period, in which retired emperors wielded considerable power, and the Fujiwara clan less than they had previously. He is also known for the construction, in 1125, of the Sanjô Palace, perhaps the most famous example today of the shinden-zukuri architectural style of the period.

Shirakawa was a son of Emperor Go-Sanjô and grandson of Fujiwara no Yoshinobu. He succeeded his father as emperor in 1072. His father-in-law Fujiwara no Morozane served as kanpaku for much of Shirakawa's reign, from 1075 until 1086.

Upon his retirement in 1087, and his son's accession to the throne as Emperor Horikawa, Retired Emperor Shirakawa established his own Retired Emperor's Court (in-no-chô) at his father-in-law's mansion, which he re-established as a Buddhist temple called Hosshô-ji, and which came to be known as Shirakawa-in. From there, he continued to wield considerable power. He claimed the authority to name his son's regents, allowing Fujiwara no Morozane to continue in that role, and denying the Fujiwara clan the opportunity to influence politics through naming who they wished to such an influential post.

Preceded by
Emperor Go-Sanjô
Emperor of Japan
Succeeded by
Emperor Horikawa


  • Evelyn Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2015), 155.