Insei (院政), also known as "cloistered rule," is an ancient Japanese term which means a special form of Imperial government.

In the Insei system, the monarch abdicated or retired and a new emperor was named; however, the old emperor held on to significant power and influence in the court and in the nation.[1] The emperors who withdrew from public life did not give up any of their many powers.[2] In practice, the retired emperor only gave up the time-consuming burden of his ceremonial roles and formal duties.

There were emperors who abdicated before and after the Heian period; however, the term Insei is most often used to mean the kind of Imperial system put in place by Emperor Shirakawa in 1086.[3] This system was very important in the years before the rise of the Kamakura shogunate in 1192.[2]

Heian periodEdit

The succession of power in the Insei system was complex.[4]

Insei System of Imperial Rule
 Reign dates  Emperor of Japan   Senior
 Insei Emperor 
 Insei Emperors 
   71  1067—1072   Emperor Go-Sanjō[4]
   72  1072—1073   Emperor Shirakawa[2]  Go-Sanjō 
    1072—1073   Shirakawa[4]
   73  1086—1107  Emperor Horikawa[4]  Shirakawa
   74  1107—1123  Emperor Toba[2]  Shirakawa
   75  1123—1129  Emperor Sutoku[4]  Shirakawa  Toba
    1129—1141  Sutoku[4]  Toba
   76  1141—1155  Emperor Konoe[4]  Toba  Sutoku
   77  1155—1156  Emperor Go-Shirakawa[2]   Toba  Sutoku
    1156—1158  Go-Shirakawa[4]    Sutoku
   78  1158—1165  Emperor Nijō[4]  Go-Shirakawa  
   79  1165—1168  Emperor Rokujō[4]  Go-Shirakawa  
   80  1168—1180  Emperor Takakura[4]  Go-Shirakawa  Rokujō (until 1176)
   81  1180—1185  Emperor Antoku[4]  Go-Shirakawa  Takakura (until 1181) 
   82  1184—1192  Emperor Go-Toba[4]  Go-Shirakawa  
    1192—1198  Go-Toba[4]    

Edo periodEdit

The last retired emperor with an Insei title was Emperor Reigen in the Edo period.[5]


  1. Former emperors are called Daijō Tennō or Jōkō. Those former emperors who lived in a Buddhist temple or monastery were called Daijō Hōō (太上法皇).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Insei" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 391.
  3. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, pp. 257-258.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Sansom, George Bailey. (1958). History of Japan to 1334, p. 200.
  5. Nussbaum, "Hō-ō" at p. 351.