Before Empress Kōken succeeded as Empress Regnant of Japan, she was known as Abe. She was born in 713 as the daughter of Emperor Shōmu and Empress Kōmyō.
She succeeded her father upon his abdication in 749 and she survived two coup attempts. Her first reign ended in 758 when she abdicated in favour of a cousin who would become known as Emperor Junnin. Following the Fujiwara no Nakamaro Rebellion, she began her second reign by the name of Empress Shōtoku. She was involved in an affair with a priest named Dōkyō and appointed him Grand Minister in 764.
Her second reign lasted until her death on 28 August 770. She was succeeded by her first cousin twice removed, who became Emperor Kōnin.