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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Tachibana no Moroe and Fujiwara no Toyonari

The Empress had profound reverence for Hachiman, as, indeed, was well known to Asomaro and to Dokyo. Yet she hesitated to take this extreme step without fuller assurance. She ordered Wake no Kiyomaro to proceed to Usa and consult the deity once more. Kiyomaro was a fearless patriot. That Shotoku's choice fell on him at this juncture might well have been regarded by his countrymen as an intervention of heaven. Before setting out he had unequivocal evidence of what was to be expected at Dokyo's hands by the bearer of a favourable revelation from Hachiman. Yet the answer carried back by him from the Usa shrine was explicitly fatal to Dokyo's hope. "Since the establishment of the State the distinction of sovereign and subject has been observed. There is no instance of a subject becoming sovereign. The successor of the throne must be of the Imperial family and a usurper is to be rejected." Dokyo's wrath was extreme. He ordered that Kiyomaro's name should be changed to Kegaremaro, which was equivalent to substituting "foul" for "fair;" he banished him to Osumi in the extreme south of Kyushu, and he sent emissaries whose attempt to assassinate him was balked by a thunder-storm. But before he could bring any fresh design to maturity, the Empress died. Dokyo and Asomaro were banished, and Kiyomaro was recalled from exile.

Historians have been much perplexed to account for the strangely apathetic demeanour of the high dignitaries of State in the presence of such disgraceful doings as those of the Empress and her favourite. They specially blame Kibi no Makibi, the great scholar. He had recovered from his temporary eclipse in connexion with the revolt of Fujiwara Hirotsugu, and he held the office of minister of the Right during a great part of Koken's reign. Yet it is not on record that he offered any remonstrance. The same criticism, however, seems to apply with not less justice to his immediate predecessors in the post of ministers of the Right, Tachibana no Moroe and Fujiwara no Toyonari; to the minister of the Left, Fujiwara no Nagate; to the second councillor, Fujiwara no Matate, and to the privy councillors, Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu, Fujiwara no Momokawa, and Fujiwara no Uwona. It was with the Fujiwara families that the responsibility rested chiefly, and the general conduct of the Fujiwara at that period of history forbids us to construe their apparent indifference in a wholly bad sense. Probably the simplest explanation is the true one: Koken herself was a Fujiwara.


In the days of Shomu and Koken administrative abuses were not limited to the capital, they extended to the provinces also. Among the Daika and Daiho laws, the first that proved to be a failure was that relating to provincial governors. At the outset men of ability were chosen for these important posts, and their term of service was limited to four years. Soon, however, they began to petition for reappointment, and under the sway of the Empress Koken a via media was found by extending the period of office to six years. Moreover, whereas at first a newly appointed governor was supposed to live in the official residence of his predecessor, it quickly became the custom to build a new mansion for the incoming dignitary and leave the outgoing undisturbed.

What that involved is plain when we observe that such edifices were all constructed by forced labour. These governors usually possessed large domains, acquired during their period of office. The Court endeavoured to check them by despatching inspectors (ansatsu-shi) to examine and report on current conditions; but that device availed little. Moreover, the provincial governors exercised the power of appointing and dismissing the district governors (gunshi) in their provinces, although this evil system had been prohibited in the time of Gemmyo. In connexion, too, with the rice collected for public purposes, there were abuses. This rice, so long as it lay in the official storehouses, represented so much idle capital. The provincial governors utilized it by lending the grain to the farmers in the spring, partly for seed purposes and partly for food, on condition that it should be paid back in the autumn with fifty per cent, increment. Subsequently this exorbitant figure was reduced to thirty per cent. But the result was ruin for many farmers. They had to hand over their fields and houses or sell themselves into bondage.

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