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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Masakado finally retired to Shimosa in an angry mood


the sake of intelligent sequence of ideas, the above synopsis makes some departure from the chronological order of these pages. Returning to the early part of the tenth century, the historian may affirm that the salient features of the era were virtual abrogation of the Daiho laws imposing restrictions upon the area and period of land-ownership; rapid growth of tax-free manors and consequent impoverishment of the Court in Kyoto; the appearance of provincial magnates who yielded scant obedience to the Crown, and the organization of military classes which acknowledged the authority of their own leaders only.


The above state of affairs soon bore practical fruit. In the year 930, the Emperor Daigo died and was succeeded by his son Shujaku, a child of eight, whose mother was a daughter of Fujiwara Mototsune. In accordance with the system now fully established, Fujiwara Tadahira became regent. History depicts this Tadahira as an effeminate dilettante, one of whose foibles was to have a cuckoo painted on his fan and to imitate the cry of the bird whenever he opened it. But as representative of the chief aristocratic family in an age when to be a Fujiwara was to possess a title superior to that conferred by ability in any form and however conspicuous, his right to administer the government in the capacity of regent obtained universal recognition.

It had

become the custom at that time for the provincial magnates to send their sons to Kyoto, where they served in the corps of guards, became acquainted with refined life, and established relations of friendship with the Taira and the Minamoto, the former descended from the Emperor Kwammu, the latter from the Emperor Seiwa. Thus, at the time of Daigo's death, a scion of the Taira, by name Masakado, was serving under Tadahira in the capital. Believing himself endowed with high military capacity, Masakado aspired to be appointed kebiishi of his native province, Shimosa. But his archery, his horsemanship, and his fencing elicited no applause in Kyoto, whereas a relative, Sadabumi, attracted admiration by a licentious life.

Masakado finally retired to Shimosa in an angry mood. At first, however, the idea of revolt does not seem to have occurred to him. On the contrary, the evidence is against such a hypothesis. For his military career began with family feuds, and after he had killed one of his uncles on account of a dispute about the boundaries of a manor, and sacked the residence of another in consequence of a trouble about a woman, he did not hesitate to obey a summons to Kyoto to answer for his acts of violence. Such quarrels were indeed of not uncommon occurrence in the provinces, as is shown by the memorial of Miyoshi Kiyotsura, and the capital appears to have left them severely alone, so far as practical interference was concerned, though the pretence of jurisdiction might be preserved. Thus, Masakado was acquitted after the formality of investigation had been satisfied. Naturally this judgment did not prove a deterrent; on the contrary, it amounted to a mandate.

On his return to Kwanto, Masakado was soon found once more in the arena. The details of his campaign have little interest except as indicating that the provincial officials followed the example of Kyoto in suffering local disturbances to settle themselves, and that the abuses catalogued in the Miyoshi memorial were true to fact. A raid that Masakado made into Musashi province is memorable as the occasion of the first collision between the Taira and the Minamoto,* which great families were destined ultimately to convert all Japan into a battlefield. Finally, Masakado carried his raids so far that he allowed himself to be persuaded of the hopelessness of pardon. It was then that he resolved to revolt. Overrunning the whole eight provinces of the Kwanto, he appointed his own partisans to all posts of importance and set up a court after the Kyoto model. A letter written by him at this time to the regent Tadahira affords an interesting guide to the ethics of the era:

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