Emperor Shomu

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  • Born: 701
  • Died: 756
  • Japanese: 聖武天皇 (Shoumu tennou)

Emperor Shômu is counted as the 45th emperor of Japan. He is known chiefly for establishing the system of kokubunji, head temples for each province, and for founding Tôdai-ji in 743, which was to be the head temple for Yamato province, and head temple for the nation.

His mother was Fujiwara no Miyako. He took the throne in 724, when his older sister Empress Genshô, abdicated it to him.

In 749, Shômu took the tonsure and abdicated in favor of his daughter, who then took the throne as Empress Kôken. Shômu was both the first emperor to take the tonsure, and the first emperor to be given a Buddhist funeral. The latter practice continued almost without exception for over a thousand years; with the creation of State Shinto and the anti-Buddhist policy of haibutsu kishaku in the Meiji period, the Meiji Emperor was the first since Shômu's predecessor, Empress Genshô, to have a non-Buddhist funeral ceremony.[1]

Upon Shômu's death in 756, Empress Kôken established the Shôsôin Imperial Repository on the grounds of Tôdai-ji, as a storehouse for her father's possessions; Shômu's widow, Empress Kômyô, also donated around 600 items to the storehouse, which for historians today is an invaluable treasure trove of not only Nara period Japanese artifacts, but artifacts of Japan's extensive interactions with the Silk Road.

Preceded by
Empress Genshô
Emperor of Japan
Succeeded by
Empress Kôken


  • William de Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition, vol 1, Columbia University Press (2001), 302n10.
  1. Amino Yoshihiko, "Deconstructing 'Japan'," East Asian History 3 (1992), 122.