Tenno vs. Hiwau

Woah. Freaky. This is my first editing post on The Princess and the Fox Demon. 

I haven't even allowed myself to think of substantial editing until I finally took a week-long break from updating. I'm a big believer in finishing a draft before making substantial plot edits.

Upon finishing Saga I, however, I found myself with a small dilemma that had been bugging me for weeks. The tenno.

Not the tenno as a character, mind you, but what I was calling him. When I completed my first couple chapters of P+FD at the beginning of 2013, it was mostly historical fiction with a fox demon. I also thought of it as a short story, not a fantasy epic. As a result, I called the capital "Heijō," which was the old name for Nara, one of Japan's early capitals, and I called the ruler of it all the "tenno."

Fast forward to 2014.

P+FD has hit 40K, and frankly, from the moment Chirikai's mother dies, I know that we're in a fantasy world. But that's no problem because I've cut Heijō from the manuscript.

However, I'm still left with the tenno. This word is actually the Japanese word for their ruler. In English we translate tennō as "emperor," but some historians, myself included, have a big problem with using emperor for the simple reason that the tennō was not the ruler of an empire in the Classical and Medieval periods. One of the primary traits of empire is an army, conquest, and a developed military system. The early Japanese kings had no standing armies, and the closest thing the tennō possessed was a relatively small militia.

We use the term "emperor" because early English scholars used emperor as a translation for Chinese dynastic rulers, and, well, China and Japan were sort of close and seemed sort of similar. Now we're over a hundred years into substantial Western scholarship and we're stuck with this term.

For what it's worth, I am fine with calling the tennō an emperor during the late nineteenth century and twentieth during Japan's conquest of the Pacific—it's certainly imperial in nature.

However, during the Asuka, Nara, and Heian periods, which span from the 500s up to about 1180s, the tennō is not an emperor. He's a divine king, a heavenly sovereign, which is what you get when you break down the characters that make up the title:


"Ten" meaning "heaven," and "nō" meaning sovereignty. The first king to use the title, adapting it from Chinese titles, was Tenmu-tennō (631-686) and then Jito-tennō. Prior to that, we see varying kingly titles in the limited written record.

Jito-tennō peeks out from behind a screen.

Anyway, I've stopped calling the ruler of Asuka's city the tenno because he's something else. I want to step away from Japanese history and establish that while there's a connection, Tenjima is not old Japan; it's a fantasy world. I want to emphasize the Sun Goddess element of the king of the capital.

So, he's now called the hiwau.


A first-year student in Japanese or Chinese should recognize these characters. The first means "sun" or "day" and the second means "king."

So, the hiwau is the Sun King. This is a made-up world as I didn't want to refer to a historical title. "Hi" is one reading for the first character, and "wau" is an old, unused reading for "king." Typically "king" is written as "ou" (ō), and fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! might recognize the character from the anime title (literally "King of Games").

Hiwau also emphasizes the "sun" element of the ruler. As I've built this world, multiple countries and regions have emerged, each with regional deities. Asuka's ancestors, for example, are from Umiguni (lit. Ocean Country) and claim to be descended from the Ocean Goddess. Kouji's people claim ancestry from the Moon People ruled by the Moon God. The tribes of the mountains north of the capital in the Constellation Mountains, claim the star gods and goddesses, etc. Hiwau emphasizes the claim to the Sun Goddess.

Why not just call him Sun King? I've learned that readers picked up tenno, so I feel no guilt about replacing the title. The hiwau also views himself as different, superior, to other kings because he specializes in magic as well as ruling. Most countries, like Umiguni, split the hiwau's position into two roles, a high shaman and a king. Remember that High Shaman Shinrusu's brother is the king of Umiguni.

Kouji calls the hiwau "rì-wáng," which is just a possible Chinese reading of the characters. For the impossibly nerdy, this implies that Kouji's people use a different writing and speaking system. I'm attempting to familiarize myself with Classical Sinocized Japanese, called kanbun, but I'm a long way from breaking out a new language in it, a la Tolkein.

Hiwau is my way of stepping back from all the baggage, historical and otherwise, that tenno carries. It gives him—and me—more freedom to write him as I please. I know that many of my readers have little or no background in Japanese studies or history, and this is probably an irritating change. I've done my best to keep titles and such to a minimum, or use English equivalents, to make this accessible as possible.

I beg their patience and hope that the transition from tenno to hiwau is not too difficult. Outside of The Lord of the Rings, I have no patience for high fantasy precisely because I often feel lost in unimportant world-building details, and as I look over this post, I feel the burn of hypocrisy. I hope the change won't detract from the characters and the drama as we move forward into the second saga.