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Tenji (626-671) was the 38th Emperor of Japan, according to the official chronology. The eldest son of Emperor Jomei, Tenji was born Prince Naka in 626 during a period in which the imperial court was under the dominance of the Soga clan and their leader, Soga Iruka. When the Soga assassinated Imperial Prince Yamashiro in 645, and many believed Iruka was making a bid for the throne, the resourceful Prince Naka decided to make his move.

Allying himself with the powerful noble Nakatomi Katamari (who would later found the Fujiwara clan), Naka planned a coup d'etat of his own. Naka and Kamatari invited Iruka and the entire Soga clan to a lavish banquet. When the unsuspecting Soga sat down to eat, Naka and Kamatari's warriors rose up and cut them down, in what is known as the Taika Coup of 645. Naka was now the most powerful man in Japan.

For the next 25 years, Naka dominated court affairs. He was the real power behind the throne during the reigns of Emperor Kotoku and his mother Empress Saimei, and then took the throne for himself as Emperor Tenji in 661. During these years Naka/Tenji and his chief minister Kamatari oversaw a series of sweeping reforms, beginning with the Taika Reform Edict of 646, that established the centralized system of direct Imperial rule to supercede the old system of clan-based politics.

The new government was modeled on the Confucian system of Tang China, as Chinese-style ministers, provincial governments, and censuses were adopted. Other reforms included an attempt to classify the old clans into a new system of hierarchical titles, and the abolition of slavery. Many of these changes were further codified in the Omi Code of 668.

Tenji died in 671. His death set off a succession dispute between his brother, Prince Oama, and his son Prince Otomo (who briefly ruled as Emperor Kobun). Oama was victorious in the ensuing Jinshin War, becoming Emperor Temmu.

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