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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Engraving shrine of sugawara michizane at kitano

*A liaison with his uncle's wife.

Events moved rapidly. Two years later (900), the Emperor, in concert with the cloistered sovereign, proposed to raise Michizane to the post of chancellor and to entrust the whole administration to him. This was the signal for the Fujiwara to take action. One opportunity for slandering Michizane offered; his daughter had been married to Prince Tokiyo, the Emperor's younger brother. A rumour was busily circulated that this meant a plot for the dethronement of Daigo in favour of Tokiyo. Miyoshi Kiyotsura, an eminent scholar, acting subtly at the instance of the Fujiwara, addressed a seemingly friendly letter to Michizane, warning him that his career had become dangerously rapid and explaining that the stars presaged a revolution in the following year. At the same time, Minamoto Hikaru, son of the Emperor Nimmyo; Fujiwara Sadakuni, father-in-law of Daigo, and several others who were jealous of Michizane's preferment or of his scholarship, separately or jointly memorialized the Throne, impeaching Michizane as a traitor who plotted against his sovereign.


Supplemented by Miyoshi's "friendly" notice of a star-predicated cataclysm, this cumulative evidence convinced, and doubtless the number and rank of the accusers alarmed the Emperor, then only in his seventeenth year. Michizane was not invited to defend himself. In the first year (901) of the Engi era, a decree went out stripping him of all his high offices, and banishing him to Dazai-fu in Kyushu as vice-governor. Many other officials were degraded as his partisans. The ex-Emperor, to whose pity he pleaded in a plaintive couplet, made a resolute attempt to aid him. His Majesty repaired to the palace for the purpose of remonstrating with his son, Daigo. Had a meeting taken place, Michizane's innocence would doubtless have been established. But the Fujiwara had provided against such an obvious miscarriage of their design. The palace guards refused to admit the ex-Emperor, and, after waiting throughout a winter's day seated on a straw mat before the gate, Uda went away in the evening, sorehearted and profoundly humiliated. Michizane's twenty-three children were banished to five places, and he himself, having only a nominal post, did not receive emoluments sufficient to support him in comfort. Even oil for a night-lamp was often unprocurable, and after spending twenty-five months in voluntary confinement with only the society of his sorrows, he expired (903) at the age of fifty-eight, and was buried in the temple Anraku-ji in Chikuzen.


No figure in Japanese history has received such an abundant share of national sympathy. His unjust fate and the idea that he suffered for his sovereign appealed powerfully to popular imagination. Moreover, lightning struck the palace in Kyoto, and the three principal contrivers of Michizane's disgrace, Fujiwara Tokihira, Fujiwara Sugane, and Minamoto Hikaru, all expired within a few years' interval. At that epoch a wide-spread belief existed in the powers of disembodied spirits for evil or for good. Such a creed grew logically out of the cult of ancestor worship. It began to be whispered abroad that Michizane's spirit was taking vengeance upon his enemies. The Emperor was the first to act upon this superstition. He restored Michizane's titles, raised him to the first grade of the second rank, and caused all the documents relating to his exile to be burned. Retribution did not stop there. Forty-five years after Michizane's death, the people of Kyoto erected to his memory the shrine of Temman Tenjin,* and in the year 1004, the Emperor Ichijo not only conferred on him the posthumous office of chancellor with the unprecedented honour of first grade of the first rank, but also repaired in person to worship at the shrine. In later times, memorial shrines were built in various places, and to this day he is fervently worshipped as the deity of calligraphy, so high was he elevated by the Fujiwara's attempt to drag him down.

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