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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Another illustrious scholar of the Tachibana family


Fujiwara Sukeyo, a rival literatus who possessed the confidence of Mototsune, persuaded the latter that the epithet "ako" could not apply to the discharge of active duties. What followed was characteristic. Mototsune caused a number of horses to be let loose in the city, his explanation being that, as he had no official functions to discharge, neither had he any need of horses. Naturally a number of horses running wild in the streets of the capital caused confusion which soon came to the notice of the palace. The Emperor at once convoked a meeting of literati to discuss the matter, but these hesitated so long between their scholarly convictions and their political apprehensions that, for several months, a state of administrative anarchy prevailed, and the Emperor recorded in his diary a lament over the corruption of the age. At last, by the advice of the minister of the Left, Minamoto Toru, his Majesty sacrificed Hiromi. A third decree was drafted, laying the blame on Hiromi's shoulders, and Mototsune graciously consented to resume the duties of the first subject in the empire. Just forty-five years previously, Hayanari, another illustrious scholar of the Tachibana family, had been among the victims of the false charge preferred against the Crown Prince, Tsunesada, by the Fujiwara partisans. Mototsune may well have been desirous of removing from the immediate neighbourhood of the throne the representative of a family having such a cause of umbrage against the Fujiwara.

justify;">At the same time, it is only just to note that he found ready coadjutors among the jealous schoolmen of the time. Rival colleges, rival academies, and rival literati quarrelled with all the rancour of medieval Europe. The great luminaries of the era were Sugawara Michizane, Ki no Haseo, Koze no Fumio, Miyoshi Kiyotsura, and Tachibana Hiromi. There was little mutual recognition of talent. Kiyotsura abused Haseo as a pundit inferior to any of his predecessors. Michizane ridiculed Fumio's panegyric of Kiyotsura, The pupils of these men endorsed their teachers' verdicts. Ajnong them all, Tachibana Hiromi occupied the most important position until the day of his downfall. He practically managed the affairs of the Court under Yozei, Koko, and Uda. Fujiwara Sukeyo, a greatly inferior scholar, served as his subordinate, and was the willing tool in contriving his degradation. It did not cause the Fujiwara any serious concern that in compassing the ruin of Hiromi, they effectually alienated the sympathies of the sovereign.


It may be supposed that in an era when Chinese literati attracted so much attention, visits to the Middle Kingdom were frequent. But from the closing years of the eighth century, the great Tang dynasty began to fall into disorder, and the embassies sent from Japan reported a discouraging state of affairs. The last of these embassies (kento-shi) was in the year 838. It had long ceased to take the overland route via Liaoyang; the envoys' vessels were obliged to go by long sea, and the dangers were so great that to be named for this duty was regarded with consternation. In Uda's reign a project was formed to appoint Sugawara Michizane as kento-shi, and Ki no Haseo as his lieutenant. There is reason to think that this suggestion came from Michizane's enemies who wished to remove him from a scene where his presence threatened to become embarrassing. The course Michizane adopted at this crisis showed moral courage, whatever may be thought of its expediency. He memorialized the Throne in the sense that the dangers of the journey were not compensated by its results. The memorial was approved. Since the days of the Empress Suiko, when the first kento-shi was despatched by Prince Shotoku, 294 years had elapsed, and by some critics the abandonment of the custom has been condemned. But it is certain that China in the ninth century had little to teach Japan in the matter of either material or moral civilization.

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