Emperor Kammu : biography

737 - February 5, 806

Eras of Kammu's reign

The years of Kammu's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name (nengō).

  • Ten'ō (781–82)
  • Enryaku (782–806)


Earlier Imperial sponsorship of Buddhism, beginning with Prince Shōtoku (574–622), had led to a general politicization of the clergy, along with an increase in intrigue and corruption. In 784 Kammu shifted his capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō in a move that was said to be designed to edge the powerful Nara Buddhist establishments out of state politics—while the capital moved, the major Buddhist temples, and their officials, stayed put. Indeed there was a steady stream of edicts issued from 771 right through the period of Kūkai's studies which, for instance, sought to limit the number of Buddhist priests, and the building of temples. However the move was to prove disastrous and was followed by a series of natural disasters including the flooding of half the city. In 785 the principal architect of the new capital, and royal favourite, Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, was assassinated.

Meanwhile, Kammu's armies were pushing back the boundaries of his empire. This led to an uprising, and in 789 a substantial defeat for Kammu's troops. Also in 789 there was a severe drought and famine—the streets of the capital were clogged with the sick, and people avoiding being drafted into the military, or into forced labour. Many disguised themselves as Buddhist priests for the same reason. Then in 794 Kammu suddenly shifted the capital again, this time to Heian-kyō, which is modern day Kyoto. The new capital was started early the previous year, but the change was abrupt and led to even more confusion amongst the populace.

Politically Kammu shored up his rule by changing the syllabus of the university. Confucian ideology still provided the raison d'être for the Imperial government. In 784 Kammu authorised the teaching of a new course based on the Spring and Autumn Annals based on two newly imported commentaries: Kung-yang and Ku-liang. These commentaries used political rhetoric to promote a state in which the Emperor, as "Son of Heaven," should extend his sphere of influence to barbarous lands, thereby gladdening the people. In 798 the two commentaries became required reading at the government university.

Kammu also sponsored the travels of the monks Saichō and Kūkai to China, from where they returned to found the Japanese branches of, respectively, Tendai and Shingon Buddhism.


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 hereditary courtiers whose experience and background would have brought them to the pinnacle of a life's career. During Kammu's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名), 781–782.
  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Tamaro (藤原田麿), 783.
  • Udaijin, Ōnakatomi no Kiyomaro (大中臣清麿), 771–781
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Tamaro (藤原田麿), 782–783.
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Korekimi (藤原是公), 783–789.
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Tsuginawa (藤原継縄),790–796.
  • Udaijin, Miwa ōkimi or Miwa oh (神王), 798–806
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Uchimaro (藤原内麻呂) (756–812), 806–812.
  • Dainagon

When the daughter of a chūnagon became the favored consort of the Crown Prince Ate (later known as Heizei-tennō), her father's power and position in court was affected. Kammu disapproved of , daughter of Fujiwara no Tadanushi; and Kammu had her removed from his son's household.Ponsonby-Fane, p. 318.

  • Chūnagon, Fujiwara no Tadanushi


Consorts and children

Emperor Kammu's Imperial family included 36 children.Ponsonby-Fane, p. 62.

His Empress was Fujiwara no Otomuro (藤原乙牟漏) (760–790), daughter of Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu (藤原良継)

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine