Antoku (1178-1185), was the 81st Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional chronology, reigning from 1180-1185. Although he ascended to the throne at age 1, ruled for less than five years, and held no real power, Antoku is one of the most famous and celebrated emperors in Japanese History due to his central role in the start of the Gempei War and his climactic death in the epic The Tale of the Heike.
Antoku was the son of Emperor Takakura and the daughter of Taira Tokuko, who was the second daughter of warlord Taira Kiyomori. When Takakura abdicated in 1180, Kiyomori used is clout at the court to have his 1-year-old grandson Antoku installed as emperor at the expense of the more legitimate heir, Prince Mochihito, setting off the Gempei War when Mochihito recruited the Minamoto clan, rivals to the Taira in an effort to have himself placed on the throne.
After a brutal civil war that raged across Japan for five years, the Minamoto ultimately triumphed over the Taira. In the climactic final battle at Dannoura, Antoku's grandmother and Kiyomori's widow Taira no Tokiko, recognizing that all was lost, grabbed the infant emperor and plunged into the sea, drowning them both.
Unfortunately, Antoku was carrying two of the three sacred imperial regalia with him at the time - the sword and the jewel. The jewel was later recovered from the bottom of the sea by divers, but the sword, which had allegedly been given to the first emperor Jimmu by the god Susanoo, was never found and today's sword is a mere replica.
After his death a cult grew up around Antoku, and he was worshiped as mizu-no-kami, the "water god," who if prayed to could ensure a painless delivery for birthing mothers. Several shinto shrines around Japan are dedicated to Antoku, the most famous of which is the bright crimson Akama Shrine in Shimonoseki, on the side of a hill just a few hundred yards from the waters where Antoku perished.
As a postscript, all did not end well for Prince Mochihito, who was passed over for Antoku. The Minamoto who rallied to his banner proved just as power hungry or even moreso than the Taira they defeated, and had just as little interest in seeing the uppity Mochihito placed on the throne. They therefore passed him over again in favor of their own infant emperor, Go-Toba, and set themselves up in eastern Japan as military shoguns ruling in the name of the emperor, thus inaugurating the Kamakura Period of Japanese history.
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