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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Engraving fujiwara seiwayozei


Seiwa was undoubtedly a good man as well as a zealous sovereign. One episode in his career deserves attention as illustrating the customs of the era. Mention has already been made of Ariwara no Narihira, a grandson of the Emperor Heijo and one of the most renowned among Japanese poets. He was a man of singular beauty, and his literary attainments, combined with the melancholy that marked his life of ignored rights, made him a specially interesting figure. He won the love of Taka, younger sister of Fujiwara Mototsune and niece of Yoshifusa. Their liaison was not hidden. But Yoshifusa, in default of a child of his own, was just then seeking some Fujiwara maiden suitable to be the consort of the young Emperor, Seiwa, in pursuance of the newly conceived policy of building the Fujiwara power on the influence of the ladies' apartments in the palace. Taka possessed all the necessary qualifications. In another age the obstacle of her blemished purity must have proved fatal. Yoshifusa's audacity, however, was as limitless as his authority. He ordered the poet prince to cut his hair and go eastward in expiation of the crime of seeking to win Taka's affections, and having thus officially rehabilitated her reputation, he introduced her into the household of the Empress Dowager, his own daughter, through whose connivance the lady soon found her way to the young Emperor's chamber and became the mother of his successor, Yozei.

Nor was this all. Though only

a Fujiwara, and a soiled Fujiwara at that, Taka was subsequently raised to the rank of Empress. Ultimately, when Empress Dowager, her name was coupled with that of the priest Zenyu of Toko-ji, as the Empress Koken's had been with that of Dokyo, a hundred years previously, and she suffered deprivation of Imperial rank. As for Narihira, after a few years he was allowed to return from exile, but finding that all his hopes of preferment were vain, he abandoned himself to a life of indolence and debauchery. His name, however, will always stand next to those of Hitomaro and Akahito on the roll of Japanese poets.



The fifty-seventh sovereign was Yozei, offspring of the Emperor Seiwa's union with the lady Taka. He ascended the throne in the year 877, at the age of ten, and Fujiwara Mototsune--Yoshifusa had died five years previously--became regent (sessho), holding also the post of chancellor (dajo-daijin). When Yozei was approaching his seventeenth year he was overtaken by an illness which left him a lunatic. It is related that he behaved in an extraordinary manner. He set dogs and monkeys to fight and then slaughtered them; he fed toads to snakes, and finally compelling a man lo ascend a tree, he stabbed him among the branches. The regent decided that he must be dethroned, and a council of State was convened to consider the matter. There had never been an example of an act so sacrilegious as the deposition of an Emperor at the dictate of his subjects. The ministers hesitated. Then one of the Fujiwara magnates (Morokuzu) loudly proclaimed that anyone dissenting from the chancellor's proposal would have to answer for his contumacy. Thereafter, no one hesitated--so overshadowing was the power of the Fujiwara. When carried to a special palace--thenceforth called Yozei-in--and informed that he had been dethroned for killing a man, the young Emperor burst into a flood of tears.

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