Teishi Monogatari


One of the most tragic stories in the annals of the Japanese Imperial Court is that of the Empress Teishi (b.977 – d.1001), the first consort to Emperor Ichijō (980 – 1011, r.986 – 1011). Teishi was the loser in a Heian Japanese version of The Game of Thrones (the Japanese Game of Thrones, you will recall, was written by Jane Austen).

Teishi was brought into the Palace as a consort for the child emperor Ichijō when she was thirteen and he only ten. They were first cousins, sharing a common paternal grandfather in the recently deceased Regent Fujiwara no Kaneie. Their similar age and close kinship seems to have created a companionate bond between them, as contemporary sources relate stories of them playing childlike pranks on courtiers and servants alike. They were allowed to be the children they were.

And then, the whole world fell apart.

In 995, Japan was struck by an epidemic of what was likely smallpox. Teishi’s elegant and ebullient father Michitaka died suddenly. It was widely suspected – stated openly, even – that his death had been due to his drinking. Though Michitaka had pressured Ichijō into naming Teishi’s charming but reckless elder brother Korechika regent during his initial illness, the appointment had only been temporary, and despite Korechika’s charm, he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way… Including his aunt.

Ichijō’s mother.

The Imperial Lady Senshi threw her full weight behind her favorite brother – her baby brother. Michinaga. He was given the post, and set about making Teishi politically and socially obsolete, with the help of his sister.

Teishi was soon even more alone when her stupid, reckless brother Korechika wasted the second chance he’d been given after an altercation with a retired emperor, by trying to curse Senshi. He tried to curse the Emperor’s mother. The curse rebounded upon him. He and his own baby brother Takaie, who had started the altercation with the retired emperor (ever loyal Takaie, who had too much sense for any of this!) were sent into exile.

Of course, Korechika and Takaie had never had any influence. It had always all been on Teishi, all on her…and her womb. Did she fail? Of course not. It took a couple of tries, but she gave her childhood playmate his first son. The first prince. His name was Atsuyasu.

By then it was too late. Ichijō had someone else to play with, someone new…someone young. Another cousin. Her name was Shōshi. Empress Shōshi. She was twelve when she entered the Palace, but this time Ichijō was twenty. Teishi died that year, in childbirth, or perhaps of a broken heart.

But Shōshi? She outlived them all.

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