Northern Court

Northern Court
Common languagesLate Middle Japanese
Religion Shinbutsu shūgō
GovernmentHereditary monarchy
• 1331–1333
• 1336–1348
• 1348–1351
• 1352–1371
• 1371–1382
• 1382–1392/1412
• Established
• Re-unification of Imperial courts
August 11 1392
Preceded by Succeeded by
Kenmu Restoration
Imperial House of Japan
Ashikaga shogunate

The Northern Court (北朝, hokuchō), also known as the Ashikaga Pretenders or Northern Pretenders, were a set of six pretenders to the throne of Japan during the Nanboku-chō period from 1336 through 1392. The present Imperial House of Japan is descended from the Northern Court emperors.

The Northern dynasty is also referred to as the "senior line" or the Jimyōin line (持明院統, Jimyōin-tō); Jimyō-in was a temple and retirement residence of this line's emperors Go-Fukakusa and Fushimi.

Nanboku-chō overview

The Imperial seats during the Nanboku-chō period were in relatively close proximity, but geographically distinct. They were conventionally identified as:

The origins of the Northern Court go back to Emperor Go-Saga, who reigned from 1242 through 1246. Go-Saga was succeeded in turn by two of his sons, Emperor Go-Fukakusa and Emperor Kameyama. On his death bed in 1272, Go-Saga insisted that his sons adopt a plan in which future emperors from the two fraternal lines would ascend the throne in alternating succession. This plan proved to be unworkable, resulting in rival factions and rival claimants to the throne.

In 1333, when the Southern Emperor Go-Daigo staged the Kenmu Restoration and revolted against the Hōjō Kamakura shogunate, the newly minted shōgun Ashikaga Takauji (ironically, by Emperor Go-Daigo himself) responded by declaring Emperor Kōgon, Go-Daigo's second cousin once removed and the son of an earlier emperor, Emperor Go-Fushimi of the Jimyōin-tō, as the new emperor. After the destruction of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, Kōgon lost his claim, but his brother, Emperor Kōmyō, and two of his sons were supported by the new Ashikaga shōguns as the rightful claimants to the throne. Kōgon's family thus formed an alternate Imperial Court in Kyoto, which came to be called the Northern Court because its seat was in a location north of its rival. Cloistered Emperor Go-Daigo failed to control succession to the Imperial throne, whereby the Ashikaga shōguns were able to wrestle any remaining power away from position of Emperor. Shōguns ruled Japan until 1867.

Southern Court

The Imperial Court supported by the Ashikaga shoguns was rivaled by the Southern Court of Go-Daigo and his descendants. This came to be called the Southern Court because its seat was in a location south of its rival. Although the precise location of the emperors' seat did change, it was often identified as simply Yoshino. In 1392, Emperor Go-Kameyama of the Southern Court was defeated and abdicated in favor of Kōgon's great-grandson, Emperor Go-Komatsu, thus ending the divide.

The Northern Court was under the power of the Ashikaga shoguns and had little real independence. Partly because of this, since the 19th century, the Emperors of the Southern Imperial Court have been considered the legitimate Emperors of Japan. Moreover, the Southern Court controlled the Japanese imperial regalia. The Northern Court members are not considered legitimate Japanese emperors. They are called "Northern Court Emperors" now.

One Southern Court descendant, Kumazawa Hiromichi, declared himself to be Japan's rightful emperor in the days after the end of the Pacific War. He claimed that Emperor Hirohito was a fraud, arguing that Hirohito's entire line is descended from the Northern Court. Despite this, he was not arrested for lèse majesté, even when donning the Imperial Crest. He could and did produce a koseki detailing his bloodline back to Emperor Go-Daigo in Yoshino, but his claims and rhetoric failed to inspire anything other than sympathy.

Re-unification of Imperial courts

Go-Kameyama reached an agreement with Go-Komatsu to return to the old alternations on a ten-year plan. However, Go-Komatsu broke this promise, not only ruling for 20 years, but being succeeded by his own son, rather than by one from the former Southern Court.

During the Meiji period, an Imperial decree dated March 3, 1911, established that the legitimate reigning monarchs of this period were the direct descendants of Emperor Go-Daigo through Emperor Go-Murakami, whose Southern Court had been established in exile in Yoshino, near Nara.

Northern Court emperors

These are the Hokuchō or Northern Court emperors:

Southern Court emperors

These are the Nanchō or Southern Court emperors:


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  5. ^ Titsingh, pp. 255–261.
  6. ^ Titsingh, p. 261.
  7. ^ Dower, John W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, pp. 306-307.
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  11. ^ Titsingh, pp. 298–301.
  12. ^ Titsingh, pp. 302–309.
  13. ^ Titsingh, pp. 310–316, 320.
  14. ^ Titsingh, pp. 317–327.
  15. ^ Titsingh, pp. 281–295; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 241–269.
  16. ^ Titsingh, pp. 295–308; Varley, pp. 269–270.
  17. ^ Titsingh, p. 308; Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 158.
  18. ^ Titsingh, p. 320.

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