The portrayal of Emperor Kôken/Shôtoku in historical sources and belletristic works, and the circumstances which played a part in it

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2023-07-25
Language: English
Faculty: 5 Philosophische Fakultät
Department: Asien- und Orientwissenschaften
Advisor: Schrimpf, Monika (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2023-02-24
DDC Classifikation: 320 - Political science
930 - History of ancient world to ca. 499
950 - History of Asia; Far East
Keywords: Frau , Japan , Kaiserhaus , Kaiser
Other Keywords:
Emperor Kôken/Shôtoku
female ruler of Nara Japan
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This paper examines the portrayal of the last female ruler of Nara Japan, Emperor Kôken/Shôtoku, in different sources (chronicles, graphic images, novels, and modern historiography) and the social, political, cultural and religious factors which (could) have influenced the said narrative. Having been the last woman who ascended the Imperial throne of Japan and who had actually been able to exert real authority over the court, Emperor Kôken/Shôtoku could be considered a controversial figure in the history of the Imperial House of Japan and its rulers, and had thus become an object of either criticism of praise, with some authors even holding the opinion that her politics during her two reigns are the main reason why females were excluded from the order of succession of the Imperial House of Japan. Incorporating evidence from chronicles, graphic images, novels and modern historiography, this study demonstrated that the portrayal of Emperor Kôken/Shôtoku either in a good or in a bad light depended on a set of different factors. On the one hand there are always outer elements to consider such as the political situation, the cultural or religious influences in Japan at the time of the compilation of the particular source, as well as the author’s own opinion on the Imperial House of Japan and the role of the emperor in society. On the other hand inner factors such as the fact that Kôken/Shôtoku had been the first, and so far the last, female Crown Prince in the history of the Imperial House, her reascension to the throne after dethroning her successor, her political determination and cunning, which enabled her to compete with the male courtiers and even emerge victorious from their political struggles, or her unusual preference for the Buddhist monk Dôkyô during her second reign also played a major role in the way she had been perceived by the contemporary and later authors. As a result, there are as many sources which criticise her as there are such that praise her, which contributes to the creation of the full portrait of the woman and the ruler Kôken/Shôtoku.

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