Empress Jitô is one of the few, prominent reigning empresses in Japanese history.
She succeeded her husband, Emperor Temmu, as sovereign ruler in 686 following Temmu's death, in large part in order to ensure the later succession of her grandson. This became all the more strategically necessary after her son, Prince Kusakabe, died suddenly in 689. Her schemes to control the succession extended, too, to falsely accusing another of Temmu's sons, Prince Ôtsu, of plotting against the throne.
Jitô abdicated in 697 in favor of her grandson, the son of Prince Kusakabe, who took the throne as Emperor Monmu. Following her own death, Jitô was perhaps the first Emperor/Empress to be cremated, setting a new precedent for imperial burials which was continued from then on.
A number of scholars have suggested that either Jitô, or her predecessor Temmu, were the first to be called tennô ("Emperor"), rather than ôkimi ("Great King/Lord"). In conjunction with this, they argue that we should perhaps consider the reign of Temmu or Jitô as marking the transition from "Wa" or the Yamato state, to the beginnings of a polity we can call "Japan."
- David Lu, Sources of Japanese History, New York: McGraw Hill (1973), 41.
- Amino Yoshihiko. "Deconstructing 'Japan'." East Asian History 3 (1992), 122.
- Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 17.; Amino Yoshihiko, Alan Christy (trans.), Rethinking Japanese History, Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan (2012), 247.