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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

And Michizane was an indispensable factor


THE

AFFAIR OF THE ENGI ERA

The Emperor Uda not only possessed great literary knowledge but was also deeply sensible of the abuse that had grown out of the virtual usurpation of administrative authority by one family. As illustrating his desire to extend the circle of the Throne's servants and to enlist erudite men into the service of the State, it is recorded that he caused the interior of the palace to be decorated* with portraits of renowned statesmen and literati from the annals of China. Fate seemed disposed to assist his design, for, in the year 891, the all-powerful Fujiwara Mototsune died, leaving three sons, Tokihira, Nakahira, and Tadahira, the eldest of whom was only twenty-one. During the life of Mototsune, to whom the Emperor owed everything, it would not have been politically or morally possible to contrive any radical change of system, and even after his death, the Fujiwara family's claim to the Throne's gratitude precluded any direct attempt on Uda's part to supplant them. Therefore, he formed the plan of abdicating in favour of his son, as soon as the latter should attain a suitable age--a plan inspired in some degree by his own feeble health and by a keen desire to pass the closing years of his life in comparative retirement. He carried out this design in the year 897, and was thenceforth known as Uda-in.**

*It is on this occasion that we hear of Koze no Kanaoka, the first Japanese artist of great

repute.

**The suffix in was now first used for the names of retired Emperors.

His son, Daigo, who now ascended the throne, was thirteen years old, but no Fujiwara regent was appointed, Tokihira, the one person eligible in respect of lineage, being precluded by youth. Therefore the office of minister of the Left was conferred on Tokihira, and Sugawara Michizane (called also Kwanko) became minister of the Right.

It was to this Michizane that the ex-Emperor looked for material assistance in the prosecution of his design. The Sugawara family traced its descent to Nomi no Sukune, the champion wrestler of the last century before Christ and the originator of clay substitutes for human sacrifices at burials, though the name "Sugawara" did not belong to the family until eight hundred years later, when the Emperor Konin bestowed it on the then representative in recognition of his great scholarship. Thenceforth, the name was borne by a succession of renowned literati, the most erudite and the most famous of all being Michizane.

The ex-Emperor, on the accession of his thirteen-year-old son, Daigo, handed to the latter an autograph document known in history as the Counsels of the Kwampei Era. Its gist was: "Be just. Do not be swayed by love or hate. Study to think impartially. Control your emotion and never let it be externally visible. The sa-daijin, Fujiwara Tokihira, is the descendant of meritorious servants of the Crown. Though still young, he is already well versed in the administration of State affairs. Some years ago, he sinned with a woman,* but I have no longer any memory of the event. You will consult him and be guided by his counsels. The u-daijin, Sugawara Michizane, is a man of profound literary knowledge. He is also acquainted with politics. Frequently I have profited by his admonitions. When I was elected Crown Prince I had but Michizane to advise me. Not only has he been a loyal servant to me, but he will be a loyal servant to my successor also." Plainly the intention of the document was to place Michizane on a footing at least equal to that of Tokihira. Michizane understood the perils of such preferment. He knew that the scion of a comparatively obscure family would not be tolerated as a rival by the Fujiwara. Three times he declined the high post offered to him. In his second refusal he compared himself to a man walking on thin ice, and in the third he said: "If I myself am astounded at my promotion, how must others regard it? The end will come like a flash of lightning." But the Emperor and the ex-Emperor had laid their plans, and Michizane was an indispensable factor.


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