Before Empress Jitō succeeded to the throne, she was known as Unonosarara. She was born in 645 as the daughter of Emperor Tenji and Ochi-no-Iratsume. She became Empress consort as the wife of her uncle, Emperor Tenmu. They had one son together named Prince Kusakabe. Tenmu was the son of Emperor Jomei and Empress Kōgyoku – who also reigned in her own right.
Jitō was widowed in 686 and was given the Imperial authority by her dying husband. During her reign, she lived at the Fujiwara Palace in Yamato. Prince Kusakabe would predecease his mother, but he had a son with his wife – also his paternal cousin and maternal aunt – Abe-hime, later known as Empress Genmei. Their son would eventually succeed Empress Jitō as Emperor Monmu.
Empress Jitō reign lasted for 11 years. In 697, Empress Jitō abdicated in Emperor Monmu’s favour. She died in 703 and was the first monarch to be cremated.