Southern Court

Southern Court
Southern Court


Imperial Seal

Capital Yoshino
Language(s) Late Middle Japanese
Religion Shinbutsu shūgō
Government Absolute monarchy
 - 1336-1339 Go-Daigo
 - 1339-1368 Go-Murakami
 - 1368-1383 Chōkei
 - 1383-1392 Go-Kameyama
 - Fall of Kyoto February 23, 1338
 - Surrender of Emperor Go-Kameyama August 11, 1392

The Southern Court (南朝 Nanchō?) were a set of four emperors whose legitimate claims were usurped during the Nanboku-chō period spanning from 1336 through 1392.[1] In spite of the legitimacy of its claims to the throne, the Southern Court was permanently replaced in 1392 by the illegitimate Northern Court.


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 genesis of the Northern Court go back to Emperor Go-Saga, who reigned from 1242 through 1246.[2] Go-Saga was succeeded by two of his sons, Emperor Go-Fukakusa[3] and Emperor Kameyama, who took turns on the throne.[4] This because on his death bed in 1272, Go-Saga had insisted that his sons adopt a plan in which future emperors from the two fraternal lines would ascend the throne in alternating succession.[5] This plan proved to be unworkable, resulting in rival factions and rival claimants to the throne.

Go-Fukakusa's descendants were referred to as the Jimyōin-tō (持明院統?) while Kameyama's descendants were known as the Daikakuji-tō (大覚寺統?).

Northern Court

In 1333, when Emperor Go-Daigo (from the Daikakuji-tō) staged the Kemmu Restoration and revolted against the Kamakura shogunate, the Shōgun 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 shoguns 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.

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 (南朝 nanchō?) had been established in exile in Yoshino, near Nara.[6]

The Northern Court (北朝 hokuchō?) established in Kyoto by Ashikaga Takauji is therefore considered illegitimate.[6]

Northern Pretenders

These are the Hokuchō or Northern Court emperors:

Southern Court

The Imperial Court supported by the Ashikaga shoguns was rivaled by the Southern Court (南朝 nanchō?) 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 Southern Court of the Japanese Imperial Line is nonetheless seen as legitimate. In fact, Northern Court members are officially called pretenders. 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 Go-Daigo in Yoshino, but his claims and rhetoric failed to inspire anything other than sympathy.[13]

Southern Court Emperors

These are the Nanchō or Southern Court emperors:

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.


  1. ^ Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric and Käthe Roth. (2005). Japan Encyclopedia, p. 251; n.b., Louis-Frédéric is a pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File.
  2. ^ Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, pp. 245-247.
  3. ^ Titsingh, pp. 248-255.
  4. ^ Titsingh, pp. 255-261.
  5. ^ Titsingh, p. 261.
  6. ^ a b Thomas, Julia Adeney. (2001). Reconfiguring modernity: concepts of nature in Japanese political ideology, p. 199 n57, citing Mehl, Margaret. (1997). History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan. p. 140-147.
  7. ^ Titsingh, pp. 286-289.
  8. ^ Titsingh, pp. 294-298.
  9. ^ Titsingh, pp. 298-301.
  10. ^ Titsingh, pp. 302-309.
  11. ^ Titsingh, pp. 310-316, 320.
  12. ^ Titsingh, pp. 317-327.
  13. ^ Dower, John W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, pp. 306-307.
  14. ^ Titsingh, pp. 281-295; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 241-269.
  15. ^ Titsingh, pp. 295-308; Varley, pp. 269-270.
  16. ^ Titsingh, p. 308; Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 158.
  17. ^ Titsingh, p. 320.


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