A History of Japan: From Mythology to Nationhood/The Middle Heian Period

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The Middle Heian Period consists essentially of the 10th century. It covers the restoration of the Fujiwara Regency and the withering away of almost the entire central bureaucracy along with the tax revenues that financed it. The higher aristocracy of the capital financed itself from shoen and provincial governorships and no longer received meaningful salaries. For the first time political events in the countryside have to be taken note of and it is possible to see the first stirrings of the evolution of the future feudal form of government.

There is little political information for the period from the death of Tokihira in 909 until 930. The early death of Tokihira was only a modest setback to the fortunes of his family; by 914 his brother Tadahira had risen to the highest rank among active officials. Tadahira dominated politics for a very long time, until his death in 949 at the age of 70. He is not associated with any significant initiatives and was well known as a man devoted to the pleasures of aristocratic life. Retired emperor Uda lived until 931 when he died at the age of 65. He outlived his son Emperor Daigo who died in 930. The new emperor was Suzaku Tenno, a child of 8 who obviously required a regent, inevitably his grandfather Tadahira. The leadership group at the time of the reestablishment of the regency included 15 men, 11 of whom were members of the Fujiwara clan, including the 7 highest in rank. There was but one Minamoto, a son of Daigo Tenno. The important developments of this era were occurring in the countryside.

The fact that things were changing in the relationship between the provinces and the capital became obvious between 936 and 941 when two celebrated "rebellions" occurred. The difficulties of moving bulky goods in a mountainous chain of islands with almost no true roads meant that boats were always of the greatest importance and that the most important waterway was always the Inland Sea extending from the area of modern Osaka to the northeast coast of Kyushu. When you hear of security problems in China, it almost always concerns bandits. In Japan, it is usually pirates, and especially pirates in the Inland Sea. In the period between 936 and 941 a man with connections in the capital named Fujiwara Sumitomo organized these pirates into a force powerful enough to cause panic in the capital and the appointment of a general to suppress him. Then, in 940 and 941 there was a simultaneous set of disturbances in eastern Japan, the general area of modern Tokyo, instigated mainly by a man named Taira Masakado, leading to the appointment of a general against him also. There is a well known book, Shomonki ("Shomon" is Masakado pronounced as Chinese, so the title means "History of Masakado"), written by a well-informed contemporary, so quite a lot is known about Masakado and the people in the east with whom he was involved. These two episodes are the precursors of a series of ever more serious disturbances that eventually, two hundred years later, resulted in the loss of power by the old capital nobles and its assumption by men whose power came from relationships in the outer provinces.

After the death of Tadahira there was another lapse of the regency (but not of Fujiwara power). The Fujiwara predominance became so strong, in fact, that from this time the Fujiwara began to subdivide into distinct lineages that eventually acquired new family names to permit people to keep them straight. In this era these new names began to come into use, although only informally. They were geographical names derived from the address of the primary family mansion, and might vary as mansions burned in the frequent fires and were replaced, only becoming fixed in the 13th century.

For most, the absolute epitome of Fujiwara power would be the time of Michinaga, who died in 1027, and that is when I will end the Middle Heian period.

Sumitomo's Rebellion

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Fujiwara Sumitomo was the great-grandson of Fujiwara Nagayoshi, the natural father of Mototsune (Mototsune was adopted to continue the main Fujiwara lineage). This meant that he was in fact moderately closely related to the regent Tadahira, who was also descended from Nagayoshi. Sumitomo's father Yoshinori held the rank of governor of Chikuzen and junior deputy commander at Dazaifu. Sumitomo himself was a zuryo who stayed in his province of Iyo when his term ended. Iyo province, on the Shikoku side of the Inland Sea, was the most characteristic pirate base from this era through the 16th century. Sumitomo almost immediately began subordinating pirate bands and turning them into something bigger. He had an island base at Hiburishima off the west end of Iyo. It is said that he controlled 1000 boats. The names of about 30 of his followers are known. All of them had known aristocratic names of the district magistrate class.

By 936 Sumitomo was troublesome enough that Tadahira appointed a governor to Iyo province who had a specific mandate to suppress piracy and especially Sumitomo. This was Ki no Yoshihito, a man from a family with a tradition of military service. Yoshihito was evidently pretty successful at this and for a time piracy was reduced and Sumitomo's name was not heard. His method appears to have been to put pressure on Sumitomo's subordinates to accept pardons and settle down. He is said to have caused 2,500 men to abandon piracy, and it is from accounts of this that we get the list of names mentioned above.

It the period after Yoshihito's term as governor of Iyo, Taira no Masakado began to cause problems in the east, taking attention away from Iyo. However, Sumitomo had not gone away and he suddenly became conspicuous again just at the time that the government was beginning to think that something must be done about Masakado. At this time the government offered Sumitomo a pardon if he would surrender, but he ignored them.

In 940 Tadahira appointed 3 men as tsuibushi, each of whom was given a block of provinces within which to raise troops. Two of them were to take their forces east to deal with Masakado and the third was to go after Sumitomo, who was raiding various locales around with Inland Sea with a large fleet. One of Sumitomo's raids was on Awaji island, at the eastern end of the sea, which caused a panic in the capital. Now Tadahira appointed a general who was to raise a substantial army to oppose him. However, Sumitomo's career was ended before this commander could do anything substantial. Sumitomo did not attack the capital but moved steadily westward from Awaji, fighting several battles with men dispatched by the tsuibushi, and eventually landed in Kyushu where he assaulted Dazaifu, captured it, and burned it. When they heard of this the various officers pursuing him rounded up every man they could and headed to Kyushu themselves. As chance had it their fleet arrived on the north coast at a beach where Sumitomo's forces were camped. Sumitomo was taken by surprise and his band was destroyed. The official report says that the tuibushi destroyed 800 boats and killed several hundred men. Sumitomo escaped in a small boat with only a couple of companions and tried to get back to Iyo province. However, he was intercepted by two soldiers patroling in a small boat of their own who captured him. He was sent to the capital where he was immediately executed (or committed suicide, there are two versions).

This event shows clearly that the government no longer maintained anything like permanent armed forces. During the earlier reform period associated with Sugawara Michizane, the size of the guard units in the capital had been reduced to save money and they were now nothing more than security guards. A tsuibushi was a temporary officer (except on the northeast frontier) given a mandate to raise men and command them. His status was lower than that of a general and should be thought of as more a police office than a military one. The men who were raised to fight Sumitomo themselves came from the Insland Sea area, drawn from the provinces on the northern, Honshu, side of the Inland Sea but otherwise men of the same general sort as those making up Sumitomo's band.

Masakado's Rebellion

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Taira no Masakado

In 890 a low-ranking imperial prince, Takamochi, who was a great-grandson of Kammu Tenno, was granted the clan name Taira and appointed to a term as zuryo in Kazusa province in the northeast, near modern Tokyo. When his appointment ended he stayed in the province. Two of his sons became military officers who served in the far northeast, others worked as zuryo. They seem to have maintained political connections with Fujiwara Mototsune and Fujiwara Tokihira and were given various offices and titles. They tended to settle down not just anywhere but at a provincial or district capital and they obtained office titles in the provincial system, often as oryoshi or kebiishi, commanders of policemen or security guards. Men of this class would also be found as the on-site managers of shoen.

It is not known when Takamochi's grandson Masakado was born. As a youth he went to the capital and worked as a servant in the mansion of Fujiwara Tadahira. He never seems to have taken a government job, but his brother Sadamori was posted to one of the guards regiments.

In about 931 Masakado fell out with his uncle Yoshikane. It is not clear whether it was over a woman or property. Yoshikane had a high post in the provincial government and was altogether a much more important person than Masakado. His brother was married to a daughter of Minamoto Mamoru, another important person in Hitachi province. In 935 there was a battle between Masakado and a force belonging to Minamoto Mamoru which Masakado won. Three of Mamoru’s sons were killed.

Mamoru sent messengers to the capital and claimed that Masakado had rebelled against the provincial government. In 936 the two parties had a second battle. Shomonki says that Yoshikane had “several thousand” soldiers. Masakado won this battle also

The government sent out an order to the parties to desist and submit their dispute to legal judgement. Masakado immediately went to the capital and offered his version of what had happened the previous year. The kebiishicho investigated and concluded that Masakado was in the wrong and convicted him of a crime. However, just at that time Emperor Suzaku celebrated coming to adulthood at the age of 15 and Masakado along with many others was pardoned. He went back to the east, determined never to submit himself to such a risk again.

His enemies had taken advantage of his departure to overrun his properties and attack his allies. However, he rallied his forces and launched a counter attack and routed his enemies but failed to destroy them. After this fight he sent Tadahira a letter denouncing Yoshikane. Yoshikane gave up the idea of fighting Masakado in battle and sent an assassin to try to get close to him at his house, while he assembled a small raiding party to hide nearby. The plot was detected, and Masakado attacked again. This time he destroyed Yoshikane’s forces so thoroughly that he was unable to make a comeback from it.

Taira Sadamori, who had been Yoshikane’s ally went to the capital in 938. Masakado heard of this and assumed he was going to denounce Masakado to the government. He put together a force of 100 horsemen and set out after him. He caught up with him in Shinano province and there was a fight. Sadamori was able to escape, however.

At just about this time there was a large earthquake in the capital, and 4 persons in the imperial palace were killed. The soothsayers reported that this was caused by the fighting that was taking place in the provinces. At the end of 937 Mt Fuji had erupted, and this was now interpreted as meaning the same thing. Then the emperor fell ill and the udaijin died. The era name was changed.

Meanwhile, Masakado was feeling good after having routed his enemies and decided to involve himself in a fight taking place in Musashi province between the zuryo and a district magistrate. The rivals were prince Miokiyo and his assistant Minamoto Tsunemoto versus the district magistrate Musashi no Takeshiba.

Shomonki says that Musashi no Takeshiba was a particularly violent person. He had long been a thorn in the side of the zuryo, who decided to get rid of him. Takeshiba decided that he did not have the forces to fight them directly, so he abandoned his house and took to the hills with his men. Meanwhile, clerks in the provincial office had sent a complaint to the capital about prince Miokiyo, and news of this became general knowledge. Shomonki says that Masakado decided that since he was not related to either side he could be a mediator, and he would intervene to make peace. Up to now he had just been fighting a family civil war. Now he was presenting himself as, in some sense, a ruler.

Masakado persuaded prince Miokiyo and Musashi to talk with each other, but Minamoto Tsunemoto refused and continued military action, so Musashi attacked and routed him. Tsunemoto went to the capital to complain. Meanwhile Taira Sadamori was already there and had petitioned the court and secured a commission to suppress Masakado. Bearing this document, he headed back east and arrived in the 6th month of 938. Sadamori found that Masakado was currently too strong, so he bided his time about trying to do something to fulfill his commission. Now Tsunemoto was in the capital airing his own complaints about both Masakado and prince Miokiyo. Tadahira responded by sending out an emissary to meet with Masakado and to determine whether or not there was actually a “rebellion” going on. He reached Masakado in the 3rd month of 939. This time Masakado did not go to the capital to defend himself. Instead he sent to Tadahira a request that he send out documents to the 5 provincial headquarters in the northern Kanto stating that the charge that Masakado is a rebel is false. At about this time Masakado’s original opponent Yoshikane died.

The court now appointed a new man as governor of Kazusa, Kudara no Konishiki Sadatsura. Kudara no Konishiki means King of Paekche and this person was presumably a descendant of the Paekche royal family. He began investigating and soon determined that prince Miokiyo had been behaving illegally. Miokiyo fled to Masakado for protection. At this same time a new upheaval began in Hitachi province, a war between Fujiwara Genmyo and the zuryo Fujiwara Korechika. Korechika determined to arrest Genmyo, but the latter learned of this and fled to Masakado with his family. On the way he looted the storehouses of two districts, bringing a large amount of supplies to Masakado. Korechika requested Masakado, as the effective governor of Shimosa, to arrest Genmyo, but Masakado replied that no one knew where Genmyo had gone. Now Masakado was protecting two men who had been officially declared criminals.

Masakado and Genmyo now decided to attack Korechika, and Miokiyo decided to join them. This was the 11th month of 939. According to Shomonki Masakado had 1000 men and Korechika had 3000. The raid destroyed 300 buildings in and around the provincial capital, and permitted Masakado to steal the official seal of Hitachi province and capture Korechika and several others. His previous actions could be argued about, but this was pretty obviously a rebellious act. He did not stop with that. According to Shomonki, he not only planned to take over all of the 8 Kanto provinces, but considered himself to have a claim on the throne, as a direct descendant of emperor Kammu. Whether this is true or not, in the 2nd month of 940 he attacked Shimotsuke province with “several thousand” men and seized its headquarters, and immediately after he also attacked Kozuke.

At this point he sent another letter to Tadahira. In it he announced his appointments to governor for the 7 provinces excluding Musashi. Miokiyo, Genmei, and Masakado’s brother are on the list.

Then Kudara no Konishiki Sadatsura returned to report, which he did in an audience with the Emperor and the leading officials. This was probably in the 12th month of 939. The courtiers were astounded by the news and demanded that an all out effort be made to deal with both Sumitomo in the west and Masakado in the east.

Tadahira responded by assembling all available men to guard the 14 gates of the city. It is known that in later times the city's defenses had been torn down, but it is not clear what the situation was at this time. He also ordered prayers for peace at all major shrines and temples. A special emissary was sent to the Ise Shrine, and the emperor performed a ceremony calling on all of the gods to protect the country. This marks the point at which the government tried to persuade Sumitomo to surrender, followed by the appointment of tsuibushi. Two months later the dajokan circulated to the eastern provinces a notification that anyone who killed Masakado would be given 5th rank (and the associated salary). Meanwhile Masakado invaded Hitachi province a second time, raiding districts he had not reached the first time.

In the 2nd month of 940 things started to go badly for Masakado. The army with which he had invaded Hitachi had to be released to go home. These "armies" were forces composed of volunteers recruited from land owners, men who had other business that needed to be taken care of. News of the reward offered by the government had arrived and Taira Sadamori, who possessed a written commission to capture Masakado formed an alliance with Fujiwara Hidesato, who had a position in the Shimosa provincial government to raise troops to accomplish that. Shomonki says that they gathered 4000 men. Masakado's ally Genmei decided to attack them without consulting Masakado and was disastrously defeated. Thirteen days after that fight the army moved against Masakado. With only a handful of men, Masakado had to flee his mansion which was taken and destroyed. Masakado is said to have had "only" 400 men.

Masakado was eventually cornered and forced to fight. He took advantage of a severe storm and attacked in the middle of it with the wind at his back and threw Hidesato's force into confusion, leading half of them to flee the battlefield. However, the wind direction suddenly changed and Hidesato and Sadamori seized the chance to launch an attack of their own that overwhelmed him. Masakado died on the battlefield.

The official expedition against Masakado was proclaimed 6 days before this battle and the news of Masakado's defeat and death reached the capital 11 days after the event. A detailed report from Fujiwara Hidesato followed and he was rewarded by appointment to 4th rank while Taira Sadamori received 5th rank. Hidesato became a somewhat prominent personage in the capital until his involvement in a later political controversy on the losing side. The soldiers recruited by tsuibushi to fight Masakado were all released to go home, and new zuryo were dispatched to take charge of the provinces that were involved.

The most noteworthy bit of knowledge resulting from consideration of the affairs of Fujiwara Sumitomo and Taira Masakado is that these disturbances raised by wealthy provincials with private armies were by rival private armies from the same provinces. Troops organized by the central government and commanded by government generals were not involved. The tsuibushi received no government resources other than the power to commandeer items from the provincial authorities. Whatever rewards the warriors involved received had to come from the tsuibushi himself; the government paid them nothing. This was, in effect, what Masakado and the others themselves did. Masakado's two raids into Hitachi province had the goal of seizing the government rice storehouses to provide resources necessary to support his army. When Hidesato and Sadamori took Masakado's mansion Shomonki says that they captured thereby large quantities of food and other essential supplies for their own use.

Shomonki does not name its author. It provides a lot of detailed information about Masakado and the other prominent actors, and it is clear that the author was highly knowledgeable about the Kanto region, both geographically and politically. He was also very clear about personalities and events in the capital, and his text gives ample evidence of knowledge of Chinese literature and of Buddhism. This has led to the theory that the author was a Buddhist monk who was a native of the Kanto but resident in the capital. The work is dated to the 6th month of 940, 4 months after the death of Masakado. There is also a more or less contemporary book about Sumitomo, called Sumitomo Tsuitoki ("The History of the Destruction of Sumitomo"). It is not nearly as well informed and seems to consist mainly of material copied from official documents.

Capital Politics

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In the midst of the excitement about Sumitomo and Masakado the 14th son of the retired emperor Godaigo (Suzaku's brother) became a legal adult. He was immediately married to a daughter of Fujiwara Morosuke, the second son of Tadahira. In 944 this prince became the designated heir to Suzaku Tenno. Suzaku then abdicated the throne in 946 and the heir assumed it. He is known as Murakami Tenno. Contemporary sources say that Suzaku was forced to abdicate under pressure from his mother who wished to see both her sons on the throne. Suzaku continued to lead an active life after his abdication and was noted for giving excellent parties. There is no indication that he ever showed any interest in matters related to government. Murakami was 21 at the time of his enthronement, but Tadahira continued as regent with no fuss.

At this time the sangi level officials were 16 in number. Nine of them were Fujiwara, including Tadahira and all four of his sons. Six were Minamoto, including two sons of retired emperor Godaigo. Two were from lesser clans, including Ono Yoshifusa, who was the tsuibushi put in charge of raising forces to oppose Sumitomo and the man who brought Sumitomo to the capital in chains. He was the only member of the group with any experience in the provinces.

Tadahira died in 949 and Murakami appointed no successor as regent. The leader of the Fujiwara interest was Tadahira's son Morosuke. He was only the second son, but his older brother appears to have had no interest in politics. Morosuke was Murakami's father-in-law and it seems that despite the lack of the regent's title, Morosuke ran the government as if he were the regent.

Contemporary records mention no fewer than nineteen major fires in the capital between 949 and 965. In 960 one of them burned down the imperial palace, and in discussing this event one source provides a description of the capital. It says that the western half of the city was almost entirely deserted, with only a few buildings and those dilapidated. It was inhabited only by the extremely poor. It flooded during the rainy season and was unhealthy. In the eastern part of the city, the area north of Shijo (4th street) was the most desirable region and was thickly settled by both rich and poor. It was higher ground that stayed dry. Today, the eastern end of Shijo is the main shopping street with most of the famous department stores and the area north of Shijo is the higher status part of the city as it was then.

Fujiwara Morosuke died rather young (53) in 960. His grandson prince Norihira attained adulthood in 963 and was married to a daughter of Suzaku, as if Murakami were trying to open the way to an heir who did not have a Fujiwara grandfather. However, Murakami himself died young (42) in 967 so it is difficult to know what, if anything, he was planning. Prince Norihira was enthroned without incident. He is known as Reizei Tenno. A regent was immediately appointed, Fujiwara Saneyori, the older brother of Morosuke. There are rumors in contemporary sources that the reason a regent was necessary despite the fact that Reizei's grandfather was dead was that Reizei was not mentally normal. The only symptom that is mentioned is that he apparently cared for nothing but playing football. It was, of course, necessary to designate an heir. There were only two plausible candidates, Reizei's brothers Prince Tamehira and Prince Morihira. Both appeared to be mentally normal. Tamehira was the oldest, but he was married to a daughter of Minamoto Takaakira, so Saneyori selected prince Morihira. He claimed that this was at the request of Murakami Tenno. In the event, the Fujiwara position was soon reinforced when Reizei's Fujiwara wife, Koretada's daughter, gave birth to a son. Fujiwara Koretada was the eldest son of Morosuke, followed by Kanemichi and Kaneie. This prince eventually became emperor as Kazan Tenno.

In 969 there occurred a political upheaval known as the "Anna Incident" after the year title in use. It occurred when two relatively low ranking officials accused two others of treason. There was an investigation and several people were arrested. It was concluded that Minamoto Takaakira was somehow involved (there is no clear statement as to the justification for this) and he was sent to serve at Dazaifu. This removed the highest ranking official who was not a Fujiwara. The entire incident was over and Takaakira was on his way to Dazaifu under guard within 24 hours. The next day the two accusers were promoted. One of the lower ranking officials who was exiled as a part of this was the son of Fujiwara Hidesato, one of the conquerors of Taira Masakado. That particular branch of the Fujiwara disappeared from prominence from this time, in the Kanto as well as in the capital. Takaakira's exile did not last long. He was allowed to return to the capital two years later, but lived quietly and was no longer involved in government.

One of the officers whose accusation triggered the affair was Minamoto Mitsunaka. His father had fought against Masakado. This group of Minamoto were "Seiwa Genji," descended from Seiwa Tenno of the 9th century, and the ancestors of the politically and militarily prominent Minamoto of later times. There were at the time nine different "branches" of the Minamoto, descended from nine different emperors. The government appointed an official Minamoto clan chief, always the one who held the highest rank at court, but neither they nor others considered them as being anything like a traditional aristocratic clan. At this period the Seiwa Genji were among the least important of the Minamoto groups. This of course, explains why one of them should have been living in the Kanto at the time of Masakado's activity and become involved in the fighting. In 960 there had been rumors that a son of Masakado was planning to attack the capital, and two officers were appointed to organize a defense. One was Minamoto Mitsunaka and the other was Okura Haruzane, a warrior from Kyushu who had participated in the fighting against Sumitomo. The government appears to have adopted the "use a thief to catch a thief" theory of dealing with armed provincials, relying on officers with provincial backgrounds.

Five months after the Anna Incident Reizei Tenno abdicated in favor of his brother who became Enyu Tenno. Saneyori continued as regent. Reizei's son, the grandson of Fujiwara Koretada, was designated the heir. Reizei lived for another 40 years after his abdication. Saneyori died in 970 and was followed as regent by Koretada. Koretada died only two years later and was succeeded by his brother Kanemichi. At the time the highest ranking Minamaoto at court was Kaneakira, brother of Takaakira (both sons of the retired emperor Godaigo). He did not have any daughters married to emperors. In 977 he was officially restored to the imperial clan and given elevated rank, but was effectively removed from participation in government. It is not known whether this was at his request or forced on him by the Fujiwara.

Fujiwara Morosuke had 10 sons altogether (from 5 wives) and three of them became regent. Koretada and Kanemichi have been mentioned. The third was Kaneie. At the time that Reizei abdicated Kaneie was suddenly promoted to a higher rank than Kanemichi. There is no explanation as to why. In 972 when it seemed likely that Koretada was going to die there was discussion as to who would succeed him. A document written by the emperor's mother turned up which stated that the succession to the regency ought to go to the oldest. The emperor said that he could not go against his mother's wishes and appointed Kanemichi as regent. When the next high ranking spot for a Fujiwara opened up Kanemichi refused to appoint his brother and instead chose Fujiwara Yoritada, a son of Saneyori. In 977 when Kanemichi lay dying, Kaneie decided to go to the palace and petition the emperor to be allowed to succeed him. Some of Kanemichi's servants noticed this (their palaces were next door) and he dragged himself out of bed and raced Kaneie to the palace and told the emperor that it was his dying wish that Yoritada succeed him as regent. He died a month later. It appears that these two did not like each other very much.

Yoritada was the next regent, but the power of Kaneie's position became too much to resist. He was grandfather to four imperial princes whereas Yoritada had none. In 984 Enyu Tenno abdicated in favor of Kazan Tenno and the next heir designated was one of Kaneie's grandsons. Kazan was the grandson of the deceased Fujiwara Koretada. Yoritada continued as regent. The change of ruler benefited Koretada's son Yoshichika, who now joined the rapid-promotion track. It may be easily seen that political struggles between the Fujiwara and others had all but ceased and now the competition was among the steadily increasing number of active Fujiwara lineages.

Kazan Tenno's favorite wife died in an advanced stage of pregnancy in 986 and the emperor became distraught and started to talk of abdicating and becoming a Buddhist monk. If he did so Kaneie would be the grandfather of the next emperor and the inevitable next regent. Yoshichika would be shut out, and he formed a small conspiratorial group. One night in the 6th month of 986 they kidnapped the emperor and smuggled him out of the palace into a carriage. They started to head out of town but were intercepted by a party of soldiers who took the carriage away to an unknown location. It eventually transpired that the commander of this force was Minamoto Mitsunaka and he was acting under the instruction of Kaneie. Kaneie was in the palace and he seized the imperial regalia and posted guards, and dispatched his youngest son, the future regent Michinaga, to inform the regent Yoritada that the emperor had been taken away. Kazan was taken to a rural temple where he shaved his head and entered monastic orders. That same evening Ichijo Tenno was hastily enthroned. This was Kaneie's grandson, aged 7. Kaneie was designated regent on the spot. Yoshichika was now informed of the newly retired emperor's location and went to join him, also entering the priesthood and retiring from public life.

Up to this point Kaneie had been sufficiently in the shadow of his brothers and other Fujiwara that he had been unable to raise his own sons to the higher level of ranks. Now he set to work to make up for this. He had three sons (with high ranking mothers) and all were jumped up to sangi level almost simultaneously. As it happened this worked very much to the advantage of Michinaga. In the normal course of events he would have followed along well behind his older brothers. The advantage gained was not in respect to competition with his brothers, by the way, but with the other branches of the clan. It meant that when his older brothers unexpectedly died young he had the rank to compete.

Kaneie was regent for only 4 years when he died at the age of 62. He was followed by his oldest son Michitada. Michitada was a notorious drunkard who embarrassed himself in public many times. The next brother, Michikane was both able and ambitious and determined to replace his brother as soon as possible. However, in 995 there was a dangerous epidemic of measles (a new disease to Japan at the time) and 8 out of the 14 sangi level counselors died during a period of months. Michitada was one of them. It appears that he did not die of the epidemic but showed symptoms characteristic of diabetes, a disease common to heavy drinkers. He appealed to the emperor to designate his own son, Korechika, the next regent, but this was refused. Korechika was given all of the essential powers of the office but not the title. The reason was probably that he did not have the degree of relationship with the emperor felt necessary. This launched a power struggle between Korechika and Kaneie's second son Michikane. After 17 days of politicking Michikane was named regent. However, he died of the measles 7 days later and is remembered as the "Seven Day Regent." Two other sangi level officials died the same day. Now the fight began all over again, between Korechika and Michinaga. The immediate result was that the regency lapsed, not to be restored for 20 years.

In the first month of 996 a strange incident occurred. Korechika was keeping company with a certain woman and this woman's sister was also keeping company with the retired emperor Kazan. Korechika happened to see Kazan with the correct sister but leaped to the conclusion that it was the wrong sister and became enraged. He formed a gang of young aristocrats and went out at hight to hang around Kazan's house. When Kazan returned home from some expedition on horseback, with attendants, there was a confrontation during which some arrows were fired. Two of Kazan's guards were killed and Kazan claimed later of have had an arrow shot through the sleeve of his coat. Kazan reported an attack by bandits who he thought were trying to kidnap him, but the truth quickly came out. Korechika was dismissed from all rank and office and an order was issued to arrest him. However, when guards came to his house, he escaped them. A couple of months later the mother of the emperor became seriously ill and there were rumors that Korechika had had her magically cursed. This prompted the government to look for him more serously, and he was found hiding at the house of a sister who was one of the maids of honor at court. Korechika refused to come out and the kebiishi surrounded the place for four days before going in. When they did so, Korechika had escaped again. However, he was caught a few days later and packed off to exile. He wasn't finished. He escaped exile and sneaked back to the capital again, but was again captured and this time taken all the way to Kyushu and closely guarded.

Aristocratic Marriage Customs

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At this point in time it is possible to insert a pretty detailed discussion of marriage customs among the aristocracy. The proximate cause is the existence of the book Kagero Nikki. This is an autobiography in the form of a diary of one of the celebrated poets of the time who happened to have been one of the wives of Fujiwara Kaneie. Reference has already been made of the institution of "visitation marriage" in the context of the early origins of the regency. With Kaneie we are now just about at the end of the existence of this practice.

In its simplest form it was the custom that when a young man was accepted by the family of a young woman as her husband, the woman continued to live at home where she was visited for longer or shorter periods by her husband, who might have other wives in other homes. The children were raised in their mother's home in circumstances in which the social role of the father in what we would consider a more normal type of marriage was taken by the grandfather. A man's sons may never actually live with him or associate with him particularly closely. When his daughters reached marriageable age he usually claimed them and moved them into his own palace so that he might then assume the role of raising his own grandchildren. When a house was passed on through inheritance the heir was more likely to be a daughter than a son. The son would naturally have a mansion of his own long before his father died. The daughters, on the other hand, often had no other place to live.

Kaneie's wife, whose name is not known, discusses all of this in considerable detail. Kaneie appears to have been one of the last to live this life in its complete form. It was already considered old fashioned, and it mostly died out with the following generation. When Kaneie's son Michinaga married he acquired a house and moved his new wife into it and they lived together as long as they both lived.

When they married Kaneie's wife was probably 18 and he was 26. This was early in his career and his rank was not particularly high. His father-in-law was a member of the second tier of the nobility, whose highest ranking office was on about the same level as Kaneie's first office. This wife was not the mother of any of his sons who became regent, but a fourth one with a less distinguished career. In Japanese she is usually referred to as "Michitsune's mother."

The relationship began with the exchange of notes that took the form of short poems. This was absolutely mandatory. Even if you were the worst poet in the city, you could not avoid writing at least a few if you wanted to start up communication with a marriageable girl. It had to be in your own handwriting and it could not be copied out of a book of old poems. The primary subject should be passionate requests for the opportunity of a meeting in person, and it was expected that the first several would be rejected, probably in poems written by a maid or the girl's mother. When you got one written by the girl herself you were making progress.

If you did get a meeting, you were expected to sneak in after dark and to leave before dawn. In actual fact this visit would be expected and everyone would be careful to stay out of the way and make it easy. Both Kagero Nikki and the novel Genji Monogatari make it clear that the permission to visit would be extended only after discussion within the family, with the mother most of the time making the final decision. If you repeated the nocturnal visit for three nights you would then be approached by the girl's family before leaving the third dawn and invited to join them and from that point you would be considered a husband. You could visit any time and would be able to set up a room in the house where you could keep changes of clothing and anything else you might wish to have handy in that part of town. Divorce was equally simple. Sometimes the man simply stopped coming, sometimes he came in and removed his things and informed everyone that he was not planning to return. It sometimes happened that a woman who thought she had been divorced would accept a new husband only to have the old one show up again.

According to Kagero Nikki Kaneie was a pretty rotten husband by almost anyone's standards. He visited intensely for an initial period but that stopped when his wife became pregnant. After that his attendance was sporadic and it soon became common knowledge that he was spending his free time with other women. Sometimes he would even come to the house to change clothes before going off to visit another woman. Another time the servants reported that he was moving a woman from one house to another and everyone went up to peek out the front as the procession went right by the front gate. He did not completely abandon Michitsune's mother, though he never again visited her as a husband, but he did take a rather remote interest in the raising of the child. The husband was not expected in this model to financially support his wife, by the way. After her father died she lived on whatever she inherited from him. Kaneie sent an occasional present, but provided no regular income and this was perfectly normal.

At the time Kaneie married Michitsune's mother he already had a wife, the mother of his three politically important sons. Afterwards he acquired several more women and, as was often the case, it is sometimes hard to say which counted as wives and which as merely concubines. The difference was mainly whether the woman's father was important enough that you wished to be known as his son-in-law. If the woman was so poor that you needed to move her into your house, or at any rate into a house you owned, she was a concubine.

It appears that in very ancient times this type of marriage was normal throughout Japan and aspects of these customs survived into modern times in some rural areas. However, as early as the time of the Manyoshu poetry collection of the Nara period many, if not all, commoners had shifted over to a pattern featuring nuclear families.

The main change was that it became common for the new husband to actually move into the father-in-law's house and make it his principal residence. This was accompanied by a reduction in the number of wives. It became rare to visit elsewhere. When Michinaga married he did not do this, but he borrowed a house from his father-in-law and moved into it along with his wife. It has been suggested that the mansion in question, the Tsuchimikado mansion (after the street it was on), was the inherited property of Michinaga's mother-in-law which she was thereby passing to her daughter. Afterward it became the property of one of Michinaga's daughters. The custom gradually shifted to the point that a man would only have one woman considered a wife, though he might, if he could afford it, also have concubines. Once a man started to live in the same house as his wife he also assumed a more intimate involvement in the raising of his children. Michinaga had a second wife and at the time that he married her she was living in the former mansion of his father, Kaneie, the Higashi Sanjo mansion. This had been inherited by one of Michinaga's sisters who had loaned it to his new wife (as she was living in the palace as empress). Michinaga is also credited with two children born to women who were not considered wives. He had two sons and four daughters with his first wife and four sons and two daughters with the second, so he does not seem to have been a hit-and-run husband in either case.

The imperial household was different and it remained different for some time. Emperors did not ever (as far as there is evidence) visit wives in their father's houses, the wives moved into the palace. However, it was common for the wives to return home for long visits, often months at at time. It was almost the rule that a pregnant wife would go home to have the baby and probably stay there for a significant time afterward. When she returned to the side of the emperor, she normally left the child behind with its grandparents. Most imperial children, including the future emperors, were raised in their grandparents' homes and only started coming to the palace when they were old enough to behave properly.

Status and Promotion

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The original administrative codes called for an annual review process for considering the awarding of official rank and promotions within the ranks, to be held in the 1st month, and a semi-annual process to similarly deal with assignments to office. This system was still in effect and was of great importance to those whose livelihoods depended on it. There are several surviving examples of letters written by people to senior officials in which they advocated their own appointment to rank and office.

The system held 30 grades of rank which fell into four categories. Holders of the 9th rank were humble laborers, holders of the 6th, 7th and 8th ranks were low level bureaucrats, holders of the 4th and 5th ranks were middle managers, and holders of the 3rd rank and higher were the rulers of the state. This last group consisted of some 20 persons if all of the offices at this level were filled. Often the number was much smaller than that. By the late 10th century the ranks below 5th were essentially meaningless. Nearly all of the bureaucratic apparatus, the "8 ministries and 100 offices," had disappeared. The exceptions were the six guards units, the kebiishi police force (which was not in the ritsuryo structure) and the two high level secretarial offices, the Udaiben and Sadaiben. To these may be added the staffs that ran the numerous palace operations (emperor's palace, retired emperor's palace, empress's palace, crown prince's palace) and the emperor's private secretariat, the Kurodo (also outside the ritsuryo structure). Far more people were employed in the private offices, mandokoro, run by the leading aristcrats from within their private mansions to manage their properties, incomes, and retenues of servants.

It would appear that the bureaucratic center was the Kurodo which took care of the preparation of all official documents and handled the flow of documents within the government. The two regular secretarial offices provided low level scribes for the use of officials and handled the document archives. The two joint heads of the Kurodo, called Kurodonoto, controlled all of this activity. The official career of a relatively humble member of the aristocracy would begin as either an officer in a guards unit or a clerk in one of the secretarial offices, and might rise as high as 5th rank and appointment as governor or zuryo of a province. A higher ranking aristocrat might start at 5th rank (rank only, no actual office for a teen-ager) with his first real job at 4th rank and a solid chance of promotion to 3rd rank late in his career. The sons of senior aristocrats started at 4th rank and the eldest son of the Fujiwara regent usually started at 3rd rank, already eligible to move up if his father should die young.

The officials of 3rd rank and higher were collectively known as Sangi (Sangi was also an office, the lowest ranking one that counted as part of the Sangi group) or Kugyo. They formed the members of the Dajokan, which was a committee that functioned as the decision making center of the government. It met only when needed. This also was an informal body, not mentioned in the administrative codes. When a meeting was called it was because of some problem that needed a decision and there would be an agenda, prepared by the Korodo and personally delivered to the meeting by one of the Kurodonoto along with any supporting documentation. The matter would then be discussed. The formal structure called for all except for newly appointed Sangi to speak in order, lowest rank first. Newcomers spent their first year just listening. If a consensus emerged, the matter was decided. If there was any dissent, the matter was postponed. If there was a decision, a clerk would be called in to write it up under the direction of the Dajokan members, and this would be delivered to the Kurodo, which would convert everything into documents of the proper form to be submitted to the emperor or the regent for signature. If the decision required action by governors or others, the Kurodo would handle that communication. By very ancient custom in Japan really important business was supposed to be conducted before dawn. In a rare case where the information is available, an important Dajokan meeting is known to have started at 2 am and finished at dawn.

As an example of how the distribution of offices was handled, in 996 Minamoto Kunimori was appointed governor of Echizen. This was a very good appointment as Echizen was a first grade province (out of four grades) and its governor could reasonably expect to become wealthy, if he was not so already. On the same occasion Fujiwara Tametoki was appointed governor of Awaji province, a fourth grade province. Tametoki was a poor man (by aristocratic standards) with a large family and he was upset about this. Tametoki was a well known writer of poetry and he was also the father of Murasaki Shikibu ("the Murasaki Lady," after the main female character in her book), the writer of Genji Monogatari. It is not known whether an early version of her novel was already in circulation at this time as the earliest mention of it is dated 1007. Tametoki complained in the form of a poem and made sure that the poem was shown to Emperor Ichijo. Ichijo was supposedly sympathetic but indicated that he had no control over those appointments. However, the incident caused gossip and news came to Michinaga, who called in Kunimori and "suggested" that he turn down the appointment. Tametoki was then made governor of Echizen, and his daughter accompanied him to his province, so the bits in her book about provincial life may have been based on her own experiences. A few months later Kunimori received a replacement appointment to Harima province, also a first grade province. Neither the Emperor nor Michinaga could change the official appointment once the appointments had been published.

Sei Shonagon's well known book Makura no Soshi, "The Pillow Book" also discusses poor aristocrats and their efforts to gain appointment to office.


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After the fall of Fujiwara Korechika Fujiwara Michinaga was appointed to 2nd rank and Sadaijin, the highest available rank and office. He was the effective ruler even though Emperor Ichijo still declined to permit the appointment of a regent. He had already been given the power of "nairan" which was the core of the regency. This was the power to control the flow of documents to and from the emperor and to issue edicts in the name of the emperor. As it happens, Michinaga and Emperor Ichijo got along quite well together so the somewhat anomalous situation did not cause any problem. Michinaga had no standing to try to force anything because, having been brought to the top office at an early age though the deaths of his brothers, his oldest daughter was only 9 years old and it would be years yet before he might have an imperial grandson of his own.

He certainly tried to push the process along as fast as he could. He held the "coming out" ceremony for his daughter in the 2nd month of 999 when she was 12 (Japanese count, 11 by our method). This ceremony proclaimed that the girl was of marriageable age and it was usual to hold it at 16 or 17. The next day she was assigned 3rd rank (women got rank, and some got office, working in the women's apartments of palaces). This made her officially eligible to enter the palace as Imperial concubine. There was a delay because the palace burned down in one of the many fires of the period, but she was accepted as a resident in the 11th month. The actual process officially started 5 weeks earlier when a committee was appointed to organize it. A new resident needed a new apartment set aside somewhere in the palace, and it had to be furnished and supplied with a force of servants. There is reason to think that Fujiwara Shoshi had 40 attendants of all levels as this was the size of the party that followed her into the palace. Michinaga almost certainly paid for setting up her apartment. He is known to have arranged for the privacy screens used in lieue of internal walls to be painted by the most famous painter of the day Asukanobe Toshikata.

All of the leading courtiers sent in congratulatory poems that were copied into a book by the most famous calligrapher, Fujiwara Kozei. Only one refused, Fujiwara Sanesuke. This is important because Sanesuke was the author of the most invaluable book from this period, a political diary Shoyuki that covers the time from 982 to 1032 with gaps. The majority of what we know about the daily interactions among the ruling group comes from this book. Sanesuke consistently appears in his own book as rival and enemy to Michinaga. There is no clear statement as to exactly how this enmity arose, but the rivalry was natural as the rise of Michinaga threated to permit his descendants to crown Sanesuke's out of the top aristocracy.

At the time that Ichijo became emperor there were three living empresses Reizei's widow, Enyu's widow, and Ichijo's mother who had been a secondary wife of Enyu with the title nyogo. This had come to replace the variety of earlier titles for imperial women. The principal wife was called chugu and all others were nyogo. The old Nara period "empress" titles were reserved for the widows and imperial mothers. Fujiwara Shoshi was made nyogo soon after her arrival in the palace. Ichijo already had a chugu, Minamoto Teishi, the mother of a prince, Atsuyasu. Michinaga desperately wanted his daughter to become chugu, but thought that the only way he could do that was to elevate Teishi to empress, opening up the position. It took him a year of negotiation with Ichijo and his mother to get their agreement. This was finally done in 1000. Then Teishi died in childbirth at the age of 25 before the end of the year, so it proved unnecessary, though it did establish a new precedent. Michinaga did not get his imperial grandchild until 1008 when Atsuhira was born. Then, in 1011 Ichijo became seriously ill and abdicated in favor of the crown prince, who was prince Iyesada, like Ichijo himself, a grandson of Fujiwara Kaneie. Ichijo died 9 days later at the age of 32. The new ruler is known as Sanjo Tenno as he was raised in Kaneie's Sanjo palace. Sanjo was also an adult emperor and refused the appointment of a regent. This became much more important than before because both Michinaga and Sanjo were domineering types and they soon began to fight each other, with Sanesuke offering Sanjo encouragement while carefully avoiding coming out into the open himself as an enemy of Michinaga. As soon as Sanjo was put on the throne Michinaga's grandson was made the crown prince, so Sanjo had to have known that Michinaga would try to pressure him into an early abdication.

The style of the struggle is well suggested by the following entry from Sanesuke's diary (from 1011): “Michinaga suggested that something he wanted to do should be done on the fifth day, but I secretly communicated to the emperor through one of the servants that the fifth would be a bad day, and, as I had hoped, the emperor agreed with me and ordered otherwise.”

The most famous incident in the political cold war occurred in 1012. When he took the throne Sanjo already had two important wives, a daughter of Michinaga named Kenshi and a daughter of Fujiwara Naritoki named Seishi. Kenshi had been promoted to chugu at the time that Shoshi was made empress but Seishi remained merely nyogo. Naritoki had died 16 years earlier, so Seishi was without an external protector. However, Michinaga had an even bigger problem that Kenshi was already either 18 or 19 and had no children, whereas Seishi was the mother of Prince Atsuakira and 5 other children. Sanjo was unhappy that this woman, whom he considered as his wife, merely had the status of nyogo. He therefore decreed that she would be raised to the status of Empress, following the precedent recently established for Shoshi. However, there was no precedent for elevating a woman whose father had the relatively low status of Fujiwara Naritoki, who had never held a higher office than Dainagon. Sanjo got around that by posthumously appointing Naritoki to the office of Udaijin. Michinaga found out about this long before Sanjo's edicts were made public. He did nothing public to oppose Sanjo's plans.

What he did do was arrange that his daughter Kenshi, who was currently staying at his palace, would make her ceremonial return to the imperial palace on the same day as that scheduled for the elevation of Seishi to Empress. The leading noblemen were forced to decide which ceremony they would attend. According to Sanesuke's diary, it was a rainy day, but nearly all of the nobles felt that they had no choice but to go to Michinaga's palace and join the procession carrying Kenshi to the palace. Michinaga had a notable temper and no one wanted to cross him. Sanesuke, of course, went to the enthronement ceremony and ended up being the highest ranking official present, accompanied by only 3 others. One of the others was Fujiwara Takaie, who had just been appointed the administrator of the new Empress's palace, the second was Sanesuke's brother, and the third was Seishi's brother. Messengers were sent to Michinaga's palace to attempt to round up some others, but the messengers were jeered at and, Sanesuke says, one of the Sangi threw rocks at them.

Then Michinaga began making trouble about the paperwork. It seems that Sanjo's original edict had been written in Japanese and it had to be translated into Chinese to become an official document. Michinaga was in control of the office that handled that and the edict disappeared within and never emerged. Then he started complaining about the wording of it and demanded changes. Still later he made difficulties about arranging for guards for the new palace. This style of a steady barrage of annoyances was evidently his standard way of expressing his displeasure. As of this incident everyone was aware that there was a conflict between Michinaga and the Emperor. The next fight occurred when the Emperor wished to appoint a son of Sanesuke to the office of Kurodonoto. Michinaga absolutely obstructed that.

In 1013 there was another public humiliation of the Emperor on the occasion of the annual festival of the Kamo Shrine, the famous Gion festival which is still performed much the same way it was then. Sanesuke had previously proposed that something be done to reign in the extravangance of the parade floats constructed by the nobles and the Emperor had issued an appropriate degree that limited the number of participants and regulated the lavishness of their costumes. Michinaga made no public opposition to this. Indeed, one of the other noble diarists of the time wrote that Michinaga had proposed the limits in numbers and Sanesuke was responsible for the part limiting the cost of the costumes. However, when the day of the festival came around the display was even more extravagant than in previous years, and it came to be known that Michinaga had told everyone to ignore the edict and hold nothing back. When Sanesuke saw this he hid in his cart and had it sneak away from the parade area. The Kebiishi police, who were supposed to enforce the edit, did nothing, and Michinaga did nothing to punish those who had ignored the edict. Four days after the parade the Emperor asked Michinaga to investigate why the police had done nothing, and Michinaga turned the task over to Sanesuke. Sanesuke collected testimony and wrote a report which he sent to Michinaga, who ignored it.

After this it appears that Michinaga decided that it would be necessary to force the Emperor to abdicate so that his grandson Prince Atsuhira (a son of Empress Shoshi who was born in 1008) could take the throne. However, it took a long time. During the course of 1014 the emperor went blind in his left eye and deaf in his left ear, and by the end of the year he was almost completely blind and unable to do any paper work. Sanesuke's diary for a date early in 1015 says that "someone" said that it appeared that the Emperor could no longer perform his duties, and in the 10th month Michinaga proposed that under the circumstances the regency ought to be revived. In the 11th month the palace burned down only two months after it had been repaired after a fire the year before. Michinaga now claimed that these calamities were the result of the inadequacy of the Emperor. Sanjo finally agreed and abdicated in the 1st month of 1016, on condition that his son Prince Atsuakira be appointed crown prince to the new emperor. Atsuhira was enthroned at the age of nine and is known as Goichijo Tenno. Naturally, Michinaga was appointed regent. Sanjo died in 1017 at the age of 42.

Only a year later Michinaga resigned his office and his son Yorimichi was appointed to replace him. Michinaga continued to run things from behind the scenes. This was unprecedented. No one as young as Yorimichi (who was 26) had ever been regent, and no one had ever resigned the regency so as to turn it over to someone else. In this Michinaga was behaving much more like an emperor than any official had dared to do before.

Michinaga's next problem was Prince Atsuakira. Up to this time almost all princes who found themselves in Atsuakira's position were accused of treason and either killed or exiled. Once again, Michinaga did things differently. Historians cannot be sure whether it was Michinaga or Atsuakira who came up with the solution, but it was both clever and humane. Atsuakira was 24 years old and the father of several children. In the 8th month of 1017 Prince Atsuakira requested a meeting with Michinaga and Michinaga went to the palace to see him. Atsuakira told him that he wished to resign from the position of crown prince. The diaries all say that Atsuakira's father in law and mother were horrified and tried to talk him out of it, but he remained firm. Atsuakira was given a suitable title and an establishment that were both comparable to those of an abdicated emperor or a widow empress. It was noted that one component of his new establishment was the right to the income of one province and the power to appoint the zuryo.

Later the same year Michinaga allowed himself to be appointed Dajodaijin, the highest office in the ritsuryo structure and normally left vacant. Only men whose powers were essentially dictatorial ever had the nerve to assume this office. He resigned it only 4 months later, but was entitled to be styled "the former Dajodaijin" for the remainder of his life.

In early 1018 the coming of age ceremony of Emperor Goichijo was held. He was only 11 years old, but this made him eligible to marry. Michinaga's daughter Ishi was soon received in the palace. The diaries allow us to know something of the details, not unlike a normal aristocratic marriage though the status of the emperor was so high that he could not visit outside the palace to court a girl. A letter from the Emperor to Ishi was delivered by a Kurodonoto to Michinaga's palace where all of the senior nobles were gathered. The letter was received by Michinaga's younger brother who carried it into the women's quarters. There was no reply. A couple of days later there was a second letter and this one received a reply. Two days after that Ishi's procession went from Michinaga's mansion to the palace. Ishi was 20 years old but was very small and everyone said that she and the Emperor looked good together. Ishi was a sister of the Emperor's mother. As has been noted earlier, this would be considered incest only if she had been a sister of the Emperor's father. Rather soon after Ishi was promoted empress. That meant that there were four empresses alive, one of Michinaga's sisters and three of his daughters.

Michinaga's last years were politically quiet. He had been seriously ill in 1016 and made preparations to retire from public life and become a monk, but he recoverd. In 1020 and 1025 the measles returned. People noted that it seemed to affect only persons who were too young to have been touched by it during the first epidemic. In 1025 two of Michinaga's daughters died, one at least partially due to the measles (she caught it, but died during childbirth). Emperor Goichijo and his Empress Ishi both caught the measles but survived. During this year Michinaga moved into the Buddhist temple Hojoji, which he had constructed and which seems to have occupied most of his attention since at least 1019. Almost the only occasions where he is mentioned during these years are when he complained to Yorimichi about things related to the construction project. In 1027 a son who was a Buddhist monk died, then the retired Empress Kenshi and at the end of the year Michinaga himself, after a lengthy illness. He was 62 years of age.

He makes a suitable ending for this phase of history because he stands at the very pinnacle of Fujiwara power, and also at the end of the time when it can be said that the ritsuryo system of government still had relevance. The next stage is mainly the story of the decline of the Fujiwara and the rise of new contenders for power and of the beginnings of new types of institutions to replace the surviving remnants of the ritsuryo state. Discussions of the power of the Fujiwara usually focus on the regency and the ability to ride on the back of the emperor, as it were. However, it was equally important that the Fujiwara were able to use their position to make sure that the dominant lineage also controlled the Dajokan through secure control of most of the highest offices in the bureaucratic system. The main thing that is different about the next period is that while the emperor remained important the importance of the Dajokan and the offices that conferred membership faded to almost nothing.

Foreign Relations

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Very little has needed said about Japan's foreign relations since the end of the wars with Silla over the Mimana region of southern Korea for the good reason that there were essentially no foreign relations to write about. However, there were two instances during Michinaga's time where the government had to take note of the outside world.

On the 1st day of the 10th month of 997 an emergency messenger arrived from Dazaifu in Kyushu and interrupted a ceremony at court to deliver his message. He had ridden all the way using the post system of relays of horses that had been set up for this purpose. The courtiers initially had the idea that the message concerned an invasion by Koreans, but when Michinaga read the letter from the commander at Dazaifu, it became clear that what had happened was an attack by pirates from Amami Oshima, the second largest island of the Ryukyu chain, south of Kyushu. The Ryukyus were not made a part of Japan until the 19th century and did not come under Japanese political control until the 17th century. This is the only time that they caused a problem that reached the central government. Michinaga decided that this was not a real emergency and the ceremonial was resumed. A meeting of the Dajokan was set for the next day.

The report stated that 3 coastal provinces of Kyushu and the two island provinces of Iki and Tsushima had been raided and that some 300 persons had been captured by the pirates. The Dajokan prepared instructions for Dazaifu to fight the pirates, arrange for prayers at shrines and temples, and be prepared to reward anyone who accomplished anything. Even though it wasn't a real war, they also decided to have prayers performed at shrines and temples in the capital. One month after the original message Dazaifu sent word that 40 pirates had been captured and that the situation had been restored to normal.

Twenty-two years later, in 1019, there was a similar event that was more serious in nature, announced by another emergency messenger from Dazaifu. This one took 10 days. The previous messenger had needed 17 days. The message stated that a people called "Toi" had attacked Iki island with about 50 ships, killed the governor in battle, and captured many people. They then proceeded south and landed on the mainland of Kyushu. Sanesuke was sick that day and at home, but he received a private visit from the messenger who carried a letter from a friend of his who was at Dazaifu that provided details which are found in his diary.

The first response of the Dajokan was identical to that of 997 except that this invasion seemed larger and it was arranged to send messengers to all governors in provinces in the west telling them to gather forces and prepare to fight any invaders. Sanesuke was put in charge of this task and he went to the archives and looked up letters sent to governors in 893 and 894 when Korean pirates were a problem at the time of the collapse of the kingdom of Silla and its replacement by Koryo. He then copied those letters. This was shortly before the Gion festival and preparations for that continued as normal.

A few days later a second message arrived saying that the raiders had been defeated. It said that among the raiders captured were three Koreans who claimed that they were prisoners of the raiders. The Dajokan ordered that an investigation be held to find out whether the raiders were actually Koreans and not "Toi" barbarians as originally claimed. It also said that Dazaiful could handle all of this and there was no need to send prisoners to the capital. Dazaifu was urged to send troops to Iki and Tsushima to aid their defense. After that the Dajokan pretty much ignored the entire issue and the Gion Festival went off as scheduled.

However, in Kyushu this event was a major issue as the raiders did a lot of damage before they were driven off. They came in large boats described as being about 15 meters long on average with 30 or 40 oars and able to move very fast. Each carried 50 or 60 men. When they landed they combined the crews of different boats into companies of 100 men. 20 or 30 men would carry halberds or long swords, the rest were armed with bows. The total force that landed was between 1000 and 2000 men. All horses and cattle that were encountered were killed and eaten, as were dogs. They killed the old and weak and took healthy persons captive. They looted food and burned all houses. On Iki about 400 people were killed or taken prisoner.

When the raiders reached the Ito district on the north coast of Kyushu the local district magistrate raised a force of men and claimed to have killed several dozen of them. The raiding force proceeded to Dazaifu itself and attempted to capture it. There was a desperate battle and they were eventually driven off. During the fighting Japanese prisoners aboard some of the beached ships called to nearby Japanese soldiers and told them that all of the able bodied men were fighting on shore and only the sick had been left to guard the boats. These men then attacked the boats and rescued many of the prisoners.

It was reported that the enemy arrows were short but their bows were very stong and men who did not have shields were often killed or wounded. On the other hand, Japanese war arrows had arrowheads that were designed to make a loud noise in flight and these appears to frighten the raiders.

For two days after the fight at Dazaifu the weather was bad and there was no fighting. The Japanese took the opportunity to try to scrounge up boats they could use. They were then able to send out a squadron of 37 boats to search for raiders. They found beached ships at Ito and attacked them, capturing 40. Then the raiders appeared a few miles further west, around Matsuura, where they were resisted by the locals. They were no longer seen after that.

The results were then totaled up. 365 Japanese were killed and 1289 were taken captive. 380 horses and cattle were killed. Most of the casualties were on Iki island and the Ito district.

None of the surviving materials says anything about where the name Toi came from, but it is presumed to have been supplied by the Koreans. There is no certain knowledge as to where the raiders came from except that it was somewhere in the north, possibly Hokkaido, possibly eastern Siberia, possibly Manchuria north of the area controlled by the Korean kingdom. About 4 months after the attack a document showed up in Kyushu from the Korean government warning about Toi raiders who had attacked many places on the east coast of Korea, and two months after that a Korean fleet arrived in Kyushu to return 270 prisoners who had been rescued.

During the attacks a man named Nagamine Morichika had been captured on Tsushima along with 9 other persons, members of his family and servants. They were carried along during the subsequent attack on Kyushu and passed by Tsushima on their way back north, where he was able to escape by jumping overboard and swimming ashore. After things had quieted down, he stole a small boat and proceeded to cross to Korea to attempt to find his family members. He came into contact with Korean armed forces. As the raiders passed the Korean coast a large Korean fleet went out to attack them and mostly wiped them out. When the raiders realized they were doomed they attempted to kill all of their captives. Many were thrown overboard and 300 of these were picked up by Korean ships. The rescued included no members of Morichika's family, but one of his servants was saved. Morichika knew that he had broken the law by leaving the country, and arranged with the Koreans an official appointment to lead a mission returning 10 captives. This party arrived several weeks before the Korean fleet carrying the bulk of the people who had been saved. Most of this information comes from interviews with three of the persons brought back by Morichika. Dazaifu officially recommended that Morichika be punished else others might think they could get away with breaking the law. It is not known what the central government decided to do.

As to the Korean fleet, Sanesuke recommended that it be driven away, but the Dajokan ruled that it had been proven that the raiders were Toi and the Koreans were only trying to help and should be treated well. The Korean commander was invited to Dazaifu and banqueted. It is mentioned that during this general period two Korean merchant ships showed up claiming to have been blown off course by storms. They were sent away and not permitted to trade (as they had apparently been hoping) and Japan returned to its customary isolation.

These incidents do show that Japan maintained an official policy of refusing to deal with foreigners and especially Koreans, something that would otherwise not show in the record for this era. Given the thinness of government in Japan it is impossible that such a ban could have been enforced rigorously. It is entirely likely that in quieter times when the Dajokan was not thinking about Kyushu that the occasional Korean or Chinese ship was able to sneak in and do a bit of trading and that Japanese fishermen would be able to cross to Korea and do a little smuggling. There is no doubt that in the following century there was a significant amount of Chinese coinage in circulation in Japan and it had to have some way of getting in.

Bandits etcetera

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In this part of the Heian period the appearance of unofficial writing in the form of diaries provides a lot of information about events that do not show up in surviving government documents. It is hard to tell how much conditions might have changed from the previous few generations because we don't have similar information about those periods, but it is notable that the government was clearly doing a rather poor job of taking care of security in the capital. It is possible to name a significant number of professional criminals and to give some detail about some of their exploits.

There were criminal gangs and there is one account of an event that looks very much like gang warfare, in which a group of armed men surrounded a house in the poor section of the city and massacred the inhabitants. This happened on a day when the Emperor was being taken to visit a shrine so that most of the police must have been involved with the procession. A common tactic of the gangs was to set fire to a mansion and then break in during the resulting confusion to steal as much as they could grab. Michinaga himself was once robbed of a considerable quantity of gold and silver in what looked like an inside job involving his servants. The police put a lot of effort into this case and arrested a number of men two weeks later in Harima province and recovered a considerable portion of what had been taken. Robbers were encountered inside the imperial palace on numerous occasions, and in one incident two ladies in waiting were attacked and robbed of their finery.

Our newspapers are full every day of incidents of robbery and violence. Someone took the trouble of cataloging known incidents for the first 4 months of 1019. There were 10 instances of major fires including one definitely set by robbers in which one woman died, the only reported casualty. There were two instances of daylight robbery by gangs of armed men, one group broke into a mansion, the other rampaged in the streets. One woman was robbed inside the imperial palace by a man who threatened her with a sword. These are just the incidents that made surviving diary entries.

In some sense all this really means is that Kyoto had become a real city in which the kinds of things happened that happen in all cities. However, the brazenness of the armed gangs and the clear lack of security even in the imperial palace indicate that the police forces were not nearly large enough to maintain a reasonable degree of order. The handling of the wars with Sumitomo and Masakado and the response in Kyushu to the raids of 977 and 1019 show that the government no longer had the resources to field properly organized military forces. The wealthier men living in the countryside were all armed and they dealt with incidents that arose by forming themselves and their servants into impromptu militia units. The same applies to policing. All of the nobles had walls around their mansions and considerable numbers of servants and also owned estates in the countryside near the capital from which they were able to import additional servants when they needed them, such as for construction projects. They provided their own security. In that roundup of incidents in early 1019 it is mentioned that when a nearby mansion was set afire one of the leading nobles posted armed servants on the roof of his own mansion to keep watch all night long.

Ever since the latter part of the 9th century delegations of farmers had come to the capital to protest against crooked governors and other things that bothered them. They continued to do this through the time of Michinaga. When it eventually stopped that was a sign that the government had become so ineffective as to be unnoticeable to such people. 1019 affords an interesting example based on entries in Sanesuke's diary. A delegation of farmers arrived from Tamba province, just north of the capital and part of modern Kyoyo Prefecture, to hand in a petition against the governor Fujiwara Yorito. Yorito was in the capital and presumably was relying on a zuryo to manage the province. They gathered outside a gate of the palace and since the officials inside refused to accept their petition, they came back day after day. After 5 days, without warning, soldiers on horseback appeared and attempted to arrest the farmers, who scattered. 10 of them ran into the palace and sought shelter in various offices. When Michinaga and Yorimichi heard about this they loudly denounced Yorito and dismissed him from his post. A few days later the farmers reassembled and Michinaga retracted the firing and ordered Yorito to go out to his province. Sanesuke was amused at this because it seems Michinaga had been forced to change his mind, something that didn't happen often. Then just two months later the farmers were back. Sanesuke was astounded to discover that this time they wanted to hand in a document praising Yorito as a good governor, or at least better than the zuryo. My guess is that Yorito spotted an opportunity and grabbed it. This was a period when middle ranking nobles from the capital were beginning to be squeezed out as the number of salaried posts continued to shrink. Many governors started to go to their provinces again and quite frequently failed to return. They made connections, married into a powerful local family, and settled down. This practice is reflected in Genji Monogatari also. There was an incident involving a different governor of Tamba in 1023 and that man also was out in his province when it happened.

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