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(Continued from front flap) Ja pa n e se history he first three centuries of the Heian
kamens period (794 – 1086) saw some of
the importance of the early tenth century as matsumoto its most fertile innovations and
a watershed that highlights the institutional epochal achievements in Japanese
and political transformations at court whereby literature and the arts. It was also a time of

Heian Japan, Centers and Peripheries

provincial governors were allowed more “This exceptionally rich set of essays substantially advances our important transitions in the spheres of reli-

heia n japa n
freedom and, by extension, greater financial understanding of the Heian era, presenting the period as more gion and politics, as aristocratic authority was
benefits. The second point problematizes the consolidated in Kyoto, powerful court factions
fascinating, multi-faceted, and integrated than it has ever been before.
notion of a singular dichotomy between center and religious institutions emerged, and adjust-
This volume marks a turning point in the study of early Japanese ments were made in the Chinese-style system
and periphery in Heian Japan. The various
culture and will be indispensable for future explorations of the era” of rulership. At the same time, the era’s leaders
essays suggest instead that the nexuses of
power were in fact plural, and the periphery Andrew Edmund Goble, faced serious challenges from the provinces
was not as peripheral as had been imagined. that called into question the primacy and ef-
University of Oregon
Thus, rather than conceiving Heian society ficiency of the governmental system and tested
as a static and one-dimensional formation • the social/cultural status quo. Heian Japan,
Centers and Peripheries, the first book of its
centering on Kyoto alone, it might better be
understood as a society of multiple centers “As a Japanese historian, I enthusiastically recommend Heian Japan, kind to examine the early Heian from a wide
and peripheries. The third point challenges the Centers and Peripheries, the first multi-author English-language academic variety of multidisciplinary perspectives, of-
long-held view that the central government’s work to offer a synthetic treatment of the Heian period. Japan’s emperor fers a fresh look at these seemingly contradic-
lessening of administrative control of the tory trends.
system is the last remaining sovereignty of its kind in human history, and
provinces meant an increasing loss of power.   Essays by fourteen leading American, Eu-
this volume is indispensable when considering what sovereignty itself ropean, and Japanese scholars of art history,
Rather, the abandonment of a strict admin-
istrative approach in favor of a more effective means in the present. To that end, the classical patterns established in history, literature, and religions take up core
one allowed elites in the capital to strengthen the Heian period are superbly analyzed in this volume through texts and iconic images, cultural achievements
their hold on the provinces, reflecting an im- the dual approach of ‘centers and peripheries.’ ” and social crises, and the ever-fascinating
proved integration of centers and peripheries. patterns and puzzles of the time. The authors
Hotate Michihisa, tackle some of Heian Japan’s most enduring
Fourth, the methods and means of exercis-
ing power shifted from one relying solely on Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo paradigms as well as hitherto unexplored
official titles and procedures to one that was problems in search of new ways of under-
increasingly based on extra-governmental standing the currents of change as well as the
means, a process of “privatization” that re- processes of institutionalization that shaped
flected the development of multiple centers of the Heian scene, defined the contours of its
social, political, and economic practice outside
Uni v er sit y of H awa i‘i Pr ess legacies, and make it one of the most intensely
the official structures of the state. Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96822-1888 studied periods of the Japanese past. Through-
  Heian Japan, Centers and Peripheries pres-
ents not only a set of new interpretations of this
epochal moment in the Japanese past, but also
• center s a nd out, the widely deployed model of “centers and
peripheries” is tested as a guiding concept: It
serves here as a point of departure for a reex-

Per ipher ies

offers a host of new questions to be addressed amination of the dynamic tensions among and
in future international and interdisciplinary between literary languages, administrative
research modeled on this exemplary volume. structures, urban centers and rural regions,

orthodoxies and heterodoxies, the status quo
Mikael Adolphson is associate professor and the pressures for adaptation and change,
of history at Harvard University. Edward www.uhpress.hawaii.edu and many other powerful entities and socio-
Kamens is Sumitomo Professor of Japanese cultural forces.
studies and professor of East Asian languages Jacket illustration: In this scene from the Gaki zōshi (Hungry Ghosts scroll, twelfth century), Heian Edited by
  An introductory chapter lays out the vol-
courtiers enjoy a musical entertainment while hungry ghosts search for food from their human hosts.
and literatures at Yale University. Stacie
Condemned to this sorry state of invisibility, perpetual hunger, and eating human waste for their sins
Mikael Adolphson, Edward K amens, ume’s four main points. The first emphasizes
Matsumoto is a doctoral candidate in his-
tory at Harvard University.
in a previous life, the ghosts remind the viewer of the dangers of human pleasures. Courtesy of
Tokyo National Museum. Image by TNM Image Archives (source: http://tnmarchives.jp)
and Stacie Matsumoto (Continued on back flap)

Cover design: April Leidig-Higgins

Heian Japan, Centers and Peripheries
Heian Japan, 
Centers and Peripheries
Mikael Adolphson,
Edward Kamens, and
Stacie Matsumoto,

University of Hawai‘i Press  d  Honolulu

© 2007 University of Hawai‘i Press
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
12  11  10  09  08  07  6  5  4  3  2  1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Heian Japan, centers and peripheries / Mikael Adolphson,
Edward Kamens, and Stacie Matsumoto, editors.
  p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-8248-3013-7 (hardcover : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-8248-3013-X (hardcover : alk. paper)
  1. Japan — History — Heian period, 794–1185. 
I. Adolphson, Mikael S., 1961–  II. Kamens, Edward,
1952–  III. Matsumoto, Stacie, 1969–
DS856. H424  2007
952'.01 — dc22 2006024714

University of Hawai‘i Press books are printed on acid-

free paper and meet the guidelines for permanence and
durability of the Council on Library Resources.

Designed by April Leidig-Higgins

Printed by Edwards Brothers Inc.

List of Maps, Figures, and Tables  vii

Acknowledgments  ix
Terminology and Translations  xi

1 Between and Beyond Centers and Peripheries  1

Mikael Adolphson and Edward Kamens

Part I. Locating Political Centers and Peripheries

2 From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation:
Women and Government in the Heian Period  15
Fukutō Sanae with Takeshi Watanabe
3 Court and Provinces under Regent Fujiwara no Tadahira  35
Joan R. Piggott
4 Kugyō and Zuryō: Center and Periphery in the Era of Fujiwara
no Michinaga  66
G. Cameron Hurst III

Part II. Shifting Categories in Literature and the Arts

5 The Way of the Literati: Chinese Learning and Literary
Practice in Mid-Heian Japan  105
Ivo Smits
6 Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  129
Edward Kamens
7 The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century:
The Case of Eleven-Headed Kannon  153
Samuel C. Morse

Part III. Establishing New Religious Spheres

8 Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice: On Renovation in
the History of Buddhist Writing in the Early Heian Period  179
Ryūichi Abé
9 Institutional Diversity and Religious Integration:
The Establishment of Temple Networks in the Heian Age  212
Mikael Adolphson
vi  |  Contents

10 The Archeology of Anxiety:

An Underground History of Heian Religion  245
D. Max Moerman

Part IV. Negotiating Domestic Peripheries

11 Famine, Climate, and Farming in Japan, 670 – 1100  275
William Wayne Farris
12 Life of Commoners in the Provinces:
The Owari no gebumi of 988  305
Charlotte von Verschuer
13 Lordship Interdicted: Taira no Tadatsune and
the Limited Horizons of Warrior Ambition  329
Karl Friday

Part V. Placing Heian Japan in the Asian World

14 Cross-border Traffic on the Kyushu Coast, 794 – 1086  357
Bruce L. Batten
15 Jōjin’s Travels from Center to Center
(with Some Periphery in between)  384
Robert Borgen

References  415
Contributors  439
Glossary-Index  441
maps, figures, and tables

Map 1.1. Provinces and highways of Heian Japan  xii

Map 1.2. Central Japan  xiii
Map 1.3. Heian-kyō in the mid-Heian age  xiv
Map 2.1. The Imperial Palace compound (dairi)  20
Map 2.2. The Greater Imperial Palace precincts (daidairi)  24
Map 10.1. Late twelfth-century sūtra burial sites  254
Map 10.2. Sūtra burial sites in Kyushu  255
Map 12.1. Owari Province  306
Map 13.1. Bōsō peninsula  330
Map 14.1. Hakata and vicinity  359
Map 15.1. Jōjin’s travels  386

Figure 2.1. Imperial genealogy of the seventh and eighth centuries  17

Figure 2.2. Imperial genealogy of the early and mid-Heian period  21
Figure 4.1. Sekkanke genealogy during Michinaga’s times  71
Figure 6.1. Detail from Murasaki Shikibu nikki ekotoba  149
Figure 7.1. Eleven-Headed Kannon, Hokkeji, Nara  154
Figure 7.2. Eleven-Headed Kannon, Ryōsenji, Nara  154
Figure 7.3. Eleven-Headed Kannon, Chōenji, Osaka Prefecture  155
Figure 7.4. Eleven-Headed Kannon, Jikō Enpukuji, Wakayama Prefecture  155
Figure 7.5. Eleven-Headed Kannon, Tadadera, Fukui Prefecture  156
Figure 7.6. Eleven-Headed Kannon, Futagami Kannondō, Fukui City  156
Figure 7.7. Eleven-Headed Kannon, Kōgenji, Shiga Prefecture  172
Figure 9.1. Imperial genealogy of the early Heian age  216
Figure 10.1. Diagram of sūtra burial  249
Figure 10.2. Sūtra container  249
Figure 10.3. Chinese porcelain sūtra container  257
Figure 10.4. Bronze plate incised with text of the Lotus Sūtra  263
Figure 11.1. Drought and government orders to plant dry fields  290
viii  |  List of Maps, Figures, and Tables

Figure 11.2. Fluctuations in the price of brown rice in the famine

  year of 762  290
Figure 13.1. Heike genealogy  336
Figure 15.1. Portrait of Jōjin  385
Figure 15.2. Genealogy of Jōjin’s family  387
Figure 15.3. Genealogy of key individuals associated with Jōjin  399

Table 3.1. Fujiwara no Tadahira’s career  37

Table 8.1. Kūkai’s interpretive strategy  199
Table 8.2. Correspondence between the five Heart Sūtra sections  203
Table 9.1. Jōgakuji  223
Table 9.2. Betsuin  229
Table 9.3. Matsuji  234
Table 11.1. The incidence of famine in Japan by century, 600–1900  276
Table 11.2. Climatological trends for selected centuries  280
Table 11.3. Famine years, extent and causes, 670–1100  281
Table 14.1. Changes in military administration in Kyushu  362
Table 14.2. The raid of 869 and its aftermath  367
Table 14.3. The events of the 890s  369
Table 14.4. The Toi Invasion and its aftermath  375
Table 14.5. Foreign contacts during the tenure of Fujiwara no Korenori  379

Born as an afterthought following the conclusion of the Association for Asian

Studies conference in San Diego in March of 2000, this project began in earnest
in September of that year, when a planning group, consisting of Mikael Adolph-
son, G. Cameron Hurst III, Edward Kamens, Stacie Matsumoto, Joan Piggott,
and Mimi Yiengpruksawan, convened to propose a conference on Heian Japan.
Our goal was above all to stimulate interdisciplinary exchange and to further
promote discussions across national, continental, and generational boundaries
by addressing a common theme. To test the feasibility of such a project, a two-
day workshop, which served as a forum for scholars to discuss their proposed
contributions to the conference, was held in September of 2001. An international
conference was subsequently held at Harvard University in June of 2002, when
scholars from three continents gathered for three days to focus exclusively on
the Heian age, a first in the United States. The success of the conference made
a strong statement for the vitality of the field, and the discussions that followed
bore witness to the many new issues that are still in need of further scrutiny.
During the course of this project, we have relied on the good spirit, support,
and cooperation of a large number of people, whom we would like to acknowl-
edge. We would like to express our profound gratitude to the directors and staff
of the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University
for their financial and organizational support. The advice and encouragement
of Andrew Gordon, director of the institute, in the early stages and during the
conference were invaluable, and we are equally grateful for the continued support
by his successor, Susan Pharr. We should also like to acknowledge the crucial
financial support we received from the Council on East Asia Studies at Yale Uni-
versity (Mimi Yiengpruksawan, chair) as cosponsor.
The conference kept the Reischauer Institute staff busy beyond reason in May
and June of 2002, and we therefore extend our special thanks to M. J. Scott,
Galen Amstutz, Ruiko Connor, Mary Amstutz, and Margot Chamberlain. Yōichi
Nakano and Emi Shimokawa provided additional assistance during the busy days
of the conference. The formal and informal discussions during the course of the
conference provided direction and motivation for the further development of
our essays and arguments. We are grateful to our discussants — Martin Collcutt,
Janet Goodwin, Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis, Jac-
queline Stone, Michael Puett, Detlev Taranczewski, and Hotate Michihisa — for
many insightful comments and suggestions. We would also like to express our
special thanks to Mimi Yiengpruksawan and Yoshimura Toshiko for their formal
presentations during the conference, as well as to Ethan Segal, Akiko Takata
Walley, and Takeshi Watanabe for their assistance at those surprisingly rare mo-
ments when translation and interpretation were needed. Anne Rose Kitagawa,
  |  Acknowledgments

assistant curator of Japanese art at the Harvard University Art Museums; Anne
Nishimura Morse, curator of Japanese art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston;
and David Ferris, curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Harvard Law
School Library facilitated visits to these collections and arranged viewings of
rare items that greatly enriched the experience of the conference participants.
Our thanks also to W. David Garrahan, Jr., and Bruce Batten for their help with
several of the maps and charts included in this volume.
The conference organizers were particularly honored by the attendance and
participation of several distinguished scholars from Japan. In his remarks at the
conclusion of the 2002 conference, Professor Hotate of the Historiographical
Institute at the University of Tokyo noted with amazement that so many interna-
tional scholars from disparate disciplines had come together around one theme
to discuss the Heian age. The norms in Japan still call for separate meetings of
historians, art historians, religionists, literary scholars, and so forth, but we note
that this, too, is changing. But one absence from the conference was most pain-
fully felt. The late Professor Chino Kaori of Gakushūin University, whose works
on Heian and Kamakura art and gender have inspired many scholars in both
Japan and the West, was part of the small group of scholars who participated in
the workshop at Harvard in September of 2001, but she passed away suddenly in
January of 2002. It is our hope that this volume may in some measure pay hom-
age to scholars such as Chino, whose insights into and approaches to Heian Japan
have encouraged us to look beyond traditional scholarly paradigms. We dedicate
this volume to her and to many others who have sought to shed new light on this
rich and complex epoch of Japan’s past.
Terminology and Translations

In Japanese studies, scholars within the same field frequently disagree on ap-
propriate usages and translations, perhaps much more so if they belong to dif-
ferent disciplines. In our view, this is not necessarily a weakness since variations
may in fact indicate the actual historical usage of a term and point out the dif-
ferences more clearly between modern and premodern linguistic usages. Thus,
while we recognize the importance of consistency, and have indeed encouraged
it, the observant reader will also find variations within this volume, but they
are relatively few and should not impede interested readers from engaging with
the general arguments. Although Japanese terms have unavoidably been used
throughout this volume, translations have been provided both in the individual
chapters and in the glossary-index. We have followed common academic prac-
tices in citing Japanese names with the surname first, followed by the first name.
When appropriate, we have retained the genitive no in names of large and high-
ranking families (e.g., Fujiwara no Michinaga) since that was the practice during
the Heian era. For years and dates, we use the generally accepted hybrid form 
— that is, giving the Western year followed by the month and day of the lunar
calendar. To help the reader locate entries in diaries that are cited in this study,
Japanese era names are consistently listed in the notes.
Map 1.1. Provinces and highways of Heian Japan. Source: Reprinted from Bruce Batten, Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War
and Peace, 500 – 1300 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2006) with permission of the author.
Map 1.2. Central Japan.
Adapted from volume
4 of Nihon no rekishi:
Ritsuryō kokka (Tokyo:
Shōgakkan, 1974).
Map 1.3. Heian-kyō in the mid-Heian age. Adapted from volume 8 of Nihon no rekishi:
Ōchō kizoku (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1974).
1  d   Mikael Adolphson and Edward K amens

Between and Beyond Centers and Peripheries

his volume presents new approaches to and interpretations of the first
three centuries of the Heian period (794 – 1086), several interrelated
aspects of which are reexamined or are analyzed for the first time here,
in a group of studies that reach across disciplinary boundaries while
sharing a common theme or motif: the real or imagined configuration of “cen-
ters and peripheries” and their many manifestations. As we use the term here,
“centers and peripheries” can refer to geographical or spatial relationships, but
it may also suggest various dynamics in, among, and between institutions and
collectives, clans and families, social classes and gender groups, practices and
conventions, and other entities, physical and abstract, that come under observa-
tion by scholars of this age.
This particular part of the Heian period saw some of its most fertile innova-
tions and epochal achievements in literature and the arts, much of the process of
the consolidation of aristocratic authority in Kyoto, the emergence of powerful
court factions and religious institutions, and important adjustments in the Chi-
nese-style system of rulership as well. At the same time, the era’s leaders faced
serious challenges from the provinces that called into question the primacy and
efficiency of the governmental system and tested the social and cultural status
quo (if, indeed, there was such). This image of crisis needs to be integrated with
that of cultural and ceremonial splendor, with the capital as its primary source
and site, which many with an interest in Japan will most readily associate with
this period. For this reason, a number of scholars have looked outward from
the capital (miyako) and toward the provinces (kuni) in recent years in order to
understand more about both. In this process, a middle ground of interaction,
negotiation, and accommodation has emerged as a site even more key to under-
standing than any particular center or periphery, be it capital and province or
otherwise.1 The capital and its denizens could not have flourished as they did
without resources acquired in and from the provinces; those in the provinces fol-
lowed the cultural leads of those in the capital, but also put pressure on and made
their own distinctive contributions to cultural production at home, in adjacent
regions, and in the central metropolis itself. When challenges to the prevailing
order arose in the provinces, the tremors were felt at every level of the society
of the capital and in many of its modes of cultural expression; when structures
shifted in the capital, opportunities arose for altering the order in outlying areas
as well. The results of these new pressures, intermittent clashes, and ongoing
tensions were, of course, changes, some subtle, some more obvious, and not all
  |  mikael adolphson and edward kamens

at one time or in one place. For these reasons, the authors of the essays in this
volume believe that a conceptualization of Heian Japan must not only take into
account conditions at the center and the various peripheries, but must also, and
above all, address the interrelationships between and among these spheres.
The timing of the publication of this volume is especially fitting, given the
changes in approaches to texts and sources that have brought the methodologies
of many historians and scholars of art, literature, and religion closer together.
Hence it is not only a common interest in Heian Japan but also a new awareness
of commonalities in our modes of research that have energized this project and
have shaped its outcome. While this work self-consciously follows a tradition
of edited volumes of essays on premodern Japan, beginning with Studies in the
Institutional History of Early Modern Japan (1968), it also breaks with its prede-
cessors in its common focus on one theme explored assiduously and collectively
across disciplinary boundaries.2 It is not only in the study of premodern Japan,
or in research on this particular period or parts thereof, that the theme or image
of centers and peripheries has presented itself as a compelling model, a powerful
instigator for new efforts to represent our understandings of the shape and ex-
perience of the past — only to resolve or dissolve, chimera-like, as investigations
proceed still deeper into the texts and other artifacts of that past that inevitably
make the emerging new picture still more blurred and markedly more complex.
In the essays in this volume, “center and periphery” serves as a point of depar-
ture and in some cases also as a point of return; it emerges as a construct to be
contested, redefined, modified, augmented, or elaborated. It is illustrated or mir-
rored in an array of examples and phenomena that are juxtaposed as singular or
plural centers and peripheries, physical and abstract, topographical, institutional,
rhetorical, textual, and human. Some of these juxtapositions are explored within
individual essays; others will take shape as the investigations of one author or
another come into dialogue with still others.
This happens, for example, in the encounter between the figures of the well-
known courtier Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – 1027), treated in detail here by
G. Cameron Hurst III, and Taira no Tadatsune (967 – 1031), whose life and career
is the topic of Karl Friday’s essay. Michinaga was perhaps the Heian courtier par
excellence and the most powerful man at the time when what may be Japan’s
greatest literary work, The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari), was written, while
Taira no Tadatsune’s seizure of the provincial headquarters in three provinces
in the east from 1028 to 1031 (shortly after Michinaga’s passing) has tradition-
ally been interpreted as a sign of the imperial court’s decline. On the surface,
these figures can be said to represent the two contrasting (received) images of
the Heian world — tranquil, centralized, and civil at its core; unstable, dispersed,
and violent at the edges — and thus to personify the fundamental dichotomy of
capital versus countryside. However, as Hurst’s and Friday’s studies show, and
as many of the essays in this volume suggest, figures, events, relationships, and
policies in Heian society were much more complex than that, and the most in-
teresting part of such stories is often that which is played out in the spaces in be-
tween the sites in which such major characters perform and in the often tangled
Between and Beyond Centers and Peripheries  | 

account of what transpires in or as a result of their interaction. The complexity

that is suggested here represents a diffuseness, a multiplicity of forces and loci of
action, and a plurality of voices and actors in shifting roles rather than an isolated
society centered on one elite, one cultural modus operandi, one set of beliefs, or
any seemingly simple pairings of actors or sites. What emerges in place of the
former and simpler dichotomous image of a top and bottom, center and periph-
ery Heian Japan is a number of newly observed patterns, configurations, and
themes that deserve to be noted for what they indicate in the relations between
a variety of centers and peripheries — and in other spaces in between them. If
the Heian period was indeed an era of fundamental changes, then there are also
some fundamental changes in our images and understandings of it that should
be given serious consideration. These are suggested by the essays collected here,
and might be organized as follows.

The Early Tenth-Century Turning Point

Several of the essays in this volume indicate that there was something of a quiet
watershed in the first half of the tenth century, in which those holding power
at the political centers had no choice but to adopt a less rigid state apparatus.
The result was a new system of communicating, ruling, and administrating that
relied primarily on the personal and private powers and abilities of the people in-
volved while still retaining the basic structures of the general social hierarchies.
For instance, while the imperial court retained the right to appoint governors,
the latter were contracted to deliver taxes at a specific rate in return for less su-
pervision and the opportunity to reap financial benefits. Such adjustments were
crucial in that they helped avoid what might otherwise have been a debilitat-
ing crisis for the imperial court, which found it increasingly difficult to control
local powers and to collect taxes under the procedures of the ritsuryō (penal and
administrative code) state. Contrary to traditional interpretations, which saw
this change as a sign of the imperial court’s collapse, we see in it a means for the
capital elites to maintain, if not strengthen, their administrative control of the
various peripheries, by accommodating the needs of enough peripheral powers
to keep them at bay.
  The strongest indicator of the early tenth-century transformation is undoubt-
edly visible in the imperial court’s administration of taxes and the provinces. As
both Bruce Batten and Wayne Farris point out, the court came to shift from di-
rect control to a hands-off tax-farming approach. In Batten’s case, this is evident
in Kyoto’s involvement in decisions regarding foreign missions as well as attacks
in northern Kyushu. Although one might expect a tighter central grip in times
of foreign raids along the shores of Kyushu, the court instead came to rely en-
tirely on the individual capacities of officials selected to serve in the area during
frequent raids in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. If such officials were
incompetent or unable to deal with the situation, then a more competent person
was simply selected until the problems were dealt with. For Farris, the decline in
famine reports in the provinces in the tenth and eleventh centuries is not only
  |  mikael adolphson and edward kamens

an issue of a lack of sources, but also reflects the same kind of change in man-
agement of the provinces. Although it is difficult to ascertain how these famines
affected the courtiers and whether they represented a decline in revenues for the
capital elites, there can be no doubt of the lessening of direct capital management
of the provinces.
  Joan Piggott’s analysis of Fujiwara no Tadahira’s political career at the court,
based in particular on his own diary, also indicates that the first half of the tenth
century was a time of transition. Tadahira was the most important courtier for
close to two decades and was thus responsible for handling the provincial chal-
lenges of Taira no Masakado and Fujiwara no Sumitomo in the 930s. Piggott
argues that Tadahira was crucial in institutionalizing the regent’s role in the cen-
tral government, while utilizing both official appointments and patrimonial ties
in dealing with provincial matters. His influence over provincial appointments
reveal not a decline of central control of the provinces, but rather a mutual de-
pendence with Tadahira’s maintaining the upper hand. Less than a century later,
the capital elites had worked out the kinks of this new management style, and
the attitude in the court’s handling of Taira no Tadatsune’s rebellion in the early
eleventh century aptly demonstrates the success of the new strategies. As Karl
Friday argues, despite the seriousness of Tadatsune’s raids and resistance against
the first two captains appointed to arrest him, the court never seems to have pan-
icked or felt overly threatened. Rather, it simply replaced the inept representatives
with a courtier who was better equipped to handle the insurgence through his
own private resources and connections with Tadatsune. Hurst provides further
evidence of this change as he notes that a new system, where public land was
divided into smaller units (myō) to facilitate the collection of taxes and dues, was
put in place at the beginning of the tenth century. As part of these new proce-
dures, Hurst explains, the imperial court “essentially ceased its involvement in
the details of provincial administration in return for provincial governors serving
essentially as tax collectors.”3 For the influential Michinaga, the assignment of
governorships to his own kin and retainers became an effective and beneficial
way of maintaining a close tie with the provinces.
  In a similar way, Adolphson points out that the political elites gave up attempts
to control temples through a state network of approved designations in the tenth
century. But while one might expect an uncontrolled growth of religious institu-
tions beyond the reach of the capital elites, the central monasteries of Enryakuji,
Onjōji, Kōfukuji, Tōdaiji, and Tōji became the new nexuses to which smaller
temples came to look for recognition and support. In short, once the ideal of a
state-controlled religious hierarchy was firmly abandoned in the tenth century,
the well-connected temples emerged as centers in their own right, and peripheral
temples throughout Japan came to be more tightly linked to them as branches.
This process was above all fueled by the increasing popularity of the Tendai and
Shingon beliefs that had begun a century earlier. Similarly, Ryūichi Abé finds the
origins of the ideological emergence of more independent Buddhist strongholds
in the early ninth century, when Buddhist texts were disassociated from Confu-
cian modes of interpretation governed by the notion of service to the state. This
Between and Beyond Centers and Peripheries  | 

disassociation spurred further developments in the sphere of religious discourse,

as scholarship and writing were separated from the craft of politics that took
place in the tenth century. In short, the neatly centered bureaucratic imperial
state was replaced by a multicentered and broadened composite in which both
secular and religious elites were no longer controlled by the proscriptions of the
ritsuryō state, but were still part of the state itself.

Multiple Centers and Peripheries

It is clear from the essays in this volume that, contrary to the traditional view of
a dominating and static imperial court that eventually fell victim to its own rigid
ranking, a singular dichotomy between center and periphery is inadequate. We
find both within Kyoto and in the countryside several centers and various degrees
of peripheries with fluid boundaries and a substantial middle ground in-between.
Even within the imperial court itself, there was more than one nexus of power.
Fukutō Sanae demonstrates in her essay on women as rulers and imperial con-
sorts that although women were relegated to the periphery of the bureaucratic
and ceremonial workings of the imperial state from the late eighth century, they
continued to wield power behind the scenes in spaces symbolically and physi-
cally adjacent to the official halls. In that sense, the Japanese description of the
age dominated by regents (ca. 858 – 1086) as a royal court state (ōchō kokka) may
accurately reflect the centrality of the capital city of Kyoto (Heian-kyō), but it may
simultaneously give the false impression that other significant centers did not
exist. For example, during that age the most influential monasteries emerged as
centers of power in their own right. As Adolphson demonstrates, the creation of
branch networks by powerful temples strengthened the presence of the elites in
the provinces while also broadening the center itself, inviting more temples to be
part of the pyramid of power. Abé’s analysis of texts focusing on the Heart Sūtra
in the eighth and ninth centuries also indicates a broadening of the center as the
Buddhist texts themselves were disassociated and became independent from the
state, even as they continued to be crucial in rituals sanctifying it. In his study
of a surge in production of images of Eleven-Headed Kannon, Samuel Morse
focuses on Buddhist teachings that traditionally have been seen as peripheral
compared to the Tendai and Shingon schools. He criticizes such interpretations
for relying exclusively on textual analyses, where the esoteric schools have got-
ten most attention, in part because of their subsequent dominance in the second
half of the Heian age. Instead, Morse shows that the Kannon cult was yet another
important aspect of early Heian Japan, further reinforcing our impression of a
multifaceted and multicentered society.
If the political center thus appears substantially broader than previously
thought, then the periphery must also be characterized as appearing less periph-
eral. For example, both Batten and D. Max Moerman show that the Dazaifu — the
governmental headquarters in northern Kyushu — was a center in its own right.
Not only did it serve as the nexus for foreign communication in the Heian age,
but it was also the center of foreign trade during a period that has tradition-
  |  mikael adolphson and edward kamens

ally been seen as isolated. Thus, it earned the epithet “the capital of the western
periphery” (saikyoku no daijō), a clear reflection of the Dazaifu’s importance to
Kyoto’s own status.4 Thus, even as the court relaxed its direct control of the Da­
zaifu, its main official, the governor of Kyushu, was a man of and from the court.
Indeed, it might be argued that the Dazaifu was so important that had the court
lost control of it, it would have had a much more difficult time legitimizing its
rule. This notion is further supported by Moerman’s piece on sūtra burials, which
establishes the particular importance of northern Kyushu to the capital nobles,
as it was the most frequent region for such practices. Temples and shrines in
northern Kyushu were moreover tied to the court or temples close to the court,
and the Hachiman deity, with origins in northern Kyushu, had its own shrine
just south of Kyoto itself.
Robert Borgen examines the monk Jōjin’s (1011 – 1081) travels between two
political centers in East Asia, Kyoto and Kaifeng, both of which were not accus-
tomed to dealing with one another on an official level. It is clear both from Jōjin’s
own account and the Heian court’s reluctance to deal directly with the Chinese
court in the eleventh century that the Kyoto elites were unsure how to relate to
centers outside Kyoto’s direct sphere of influence. As Borgen demonstrates, the
Chinese court was eager to establish more frequent exchanges with its Japanese
counterpart, but the Chinese empire presented problems for the Japanese world-
view, so Japanese leaders, who allowed commercial and other ties to flourish,
avoided formal diplomatic exchanges. At the same time, however, there were no
intrinsic tensions in religious terms, since such centers were found in multiple
locations both inside and outside the urban centers in both countries. Jōjin him-
self can thus be characterized as the middle ground that connected political and
religious centers in eleventh-century Japan and China. Such interaction would
not have taken place without the support of members of the imperial court in
Heian-kyō. The notion of an isolated Heian world would thus seem exaggerated
and misleading. Indeed, Borgen even argues that a premodern and distinct idea
of “Japaneseness” is visible in the Heian age, not because of isolation, but in the
context of consistent contact with other centers outside the imagined realm of
the Heian state.
Both Edward Kamens and Ivo Smits demonstrate that the old notions of Japa-
nese writings at the center and Chinese writings in the peripheries, with women
identified with the former and men with the latter in the mid-Heian age, do not
hold up to closer scrutiny. Rather, there was considerable crossover between the
two spheres, open to both negotiation and co-opting. Kamens finds a terrain of
texts and usages of techniques between these two extremes, with a substantial
and salient middle ground in-between. Smits shows first of all that learning and
literary skills in and of themselves were central to the Heian elites, but he dem-
onstrates that, contrary to earlier assumptions, Chinese writing endured as the
core of this literacy. Like Kamens, he rejects the notion of a simple dichotomy
between women’s and men’s handwritings, claiming instead that there was much
more middle ground than exclusive modes for either sex.
The overall impression from several of the essays in this volume is that men
Between and Beyond Centers and Peripheries  | 

and women of the Heian age recognized spheres within competing centers both
inside and outside Japan. Moreover, by the mid-Heian age, this multitude of cen-
ters had been allowed to grow and become immersed in the state itself. In other
words, a broadening and diversification of the center occurred during the early
and mid-Heian age, a development that simultaneously resulted in an advancing
integration of centers and peripheries.

Integration of Centers and Peripheries

According to the traditional view, the relaxation of direct administration of the
provinces in the mid-to-late Heian age necessarily meant a decline of central
control and presence in the peripheries. However, as several essays in this volume
indicate, the abandonment of the bureaucratic management of the realm actu-
ally helped the central elites strengthen their control and make it more effective.
The establishment of private estates (shōen), a process that got under way during
the age under scrutiny here but that accelerated markedly during the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries, for instance, has often been seen as a sign of decline.
In truth, however, the patrons and proprietors at the top of the shōen pyramid
belonged to the class of capital elites, and their involvement in the collection of
taxes and management of the estates through local stewards shrunk the distance
between rulers and ruled. Granted, the relationship between the top and man-
agement levels was not always smooth, but neither was that between provincial
administrators and the court, as evidenced in Charlotte von Verschuer’s chapter.
In the first comprehensive analysis of four of the articles in the famous 988 peti-
tion from local officials in Owari Province, she highlights the tensions between
ambitious governors and those who were entrusted with matters of provincial
administration. By contrast, the private administration of public and private land
became more effective from the proprietors’ and administrators’ point of view
because of the contractual nature of their relationship. And because local no-
tables gained authority by representing central elites, the presence of the center
in the peripheries was more likely to be reinforced than weakened. If the balance
between the two parties shifted, then the contract could always be negotiated.
In short, the privatization of land helped to bring local elites into the centered
hierarchy, thus strengthening the integration of centers and peripheries.
  It must also be noted, however, that integration should not be taken to mean
a one-way exploitative relationship. Von Verschuer’s study reveals the important
codependent relationship between local administrators and the central authori-
ties, further proving the integrated nature of the relationship between them. We
detect an intricate power triangle of both codependence and competing interests
with the imperial court, the offending governor, and the local notables. The of-
fending governor was eventually deposed by the imperial court and could thus
not continue his innovative tax-collecting strategies without the endorsement of
the court. The capital elites were naturally materially dependent on the provin-
cial population, but local officials needed, and could utilize, the court to protect
their own position.
  |  mikael adolphson and edward kamens

  In Hurst’s treatment of Michinaga, the shift away from rigid bureaucratic

procedures again reminds us of the center’s concern with and strengthened
control of the provinces in the eleventh century. And the contributions by the
middle-ranking provincial governors (zuryō) and resident officials were signifi-
cant and important to the court elites, as indicated by the lavish gifts Michi-
naga received. In Hurst’s words, “The court depended upon the zuryō for their
livelihood — taxes, construction projects, and contributions both public and
private — while the governors themselves relied upon the nobles, especially the
Regents House, for appointments to the posts that guaranteed access to those
resources. Both parties seemed to appreciate this dependency.”5 Friday’s treat-
ment of the Tadatsune insurgence also confirms the multifaceted and codepen-
dent nature of centers and peripheries, involving farmers and provincial elites
in the local arena as well as ranking courtiers and temples in the capital region.
The enduring ties between the center and periphery, he explains, were part of
a complex and intense “interplay between the rural and urban elites, reflecting
a balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces.”6 Moerman notes that a
variety of sūtras from various schools were buried at a number of sites, all indi-
cating a multitude of religious centers and a close integration between regional
and national centers. The best example is undoubtedly northern Kyushu and
in particular the close cooperation and mutual support between the Hachiman
deity and Tōdaiji as well as the establishment of Iwashimizu Hachimangū south
of Kyoto. The change of administrative strategies of the Dazaifu in the early tenth
century provides further evidence of the increased integration and co-opting of
regional forces. In Batten’s words, local powers were “bound to the center by their
own parochial interests.”7 These are indications not merely of the capital elites’
co-opting powerful regional beliefs but in fact of strong religious and political
bonds. The Northern Kyushu periphery was, after all, not so distant from the
Kyoto center, nor even all that peripheral.
  Adolphson uses the term “centering” in describing the creation of temple net-
works, which came to stand as a successful sign of the central elites’ strategy of
tying provincial powers closer to the center, favoring inclusion over exclusion.
The difference from the Nara age (710 – 784) was that the representations of the
center were private temples, not state-controlled institutions. Morse’s essay also
points to an increased integration between the cults in the capital region and the
provinces. The artistic production in regional temples has left us with compelling
evidence that monks of the Hossō school centered in Nara actively contributed
to the spread of the Eleven-Headed Kannon cult among local residents, perhaps
even more so than Tendai and Shingon in certain regions. Regional spiritual pref-
erences as well as the artistic and religious ideas of monks educated at one of the
religious centers came together in the production of statues at provincial temples.
Finally, Smits offers an analysis of how the peripheries were brought closer to
the center through texts dealing with social fringes. The absurd was made acces-
sible through comedic texts, and people on the social peripheries, whether poor
or by occupation, were brought closer to the center through Chinese writings
(kanbun), the main medium of the learned at the center. In this way, the mode
Between and Beyond Centers and Peripheries  | 

of kanbun on the one hand reflected its centrality, while its usages — topics, cat-
egories, and social decorum — all show its depth as a terrain of negotiation and
integration with the peripheries.

The emergence of multiple centers outside the immediate structures of the bu-
reaucratic state reflects a phenomenon some scholars have referred to as a pro-
cess of privatization, an older interpretation that seems supported by the essays
in this volume even if today’s scholars may prefer a different terminology. This
was a slow yet clearly visible trend of increased use of extragovernmental means
to rule and administer, whose roots could be traced to well before the Heian age.
For example, before the Nara age, hereditary ties and private assets played an
important role in politics. The “century of reform” from the mid-seventh to the
mid-eighth centuries represented an overhaul to replace a conglomerate of pow-
erful families with a state based on bureaucratic rules and codes. John Whitney
Hall described the adjustments that began in the late ninth century as “a return
to familial authority.”8 It is safe to conclude that these trends toward extragov-
ernmental means of rulership and lordship are visible almost everywhere and
that they had a tremendous influence on developments both in the late Heian
age and well after. In Fukutō’s piece, we learn that principal imperial consorts
exerted enormous influence over political matters at the imperial court, not as
empresses, as during the seventh and eighth centuries, but as heads of the impe-
rial family and mothers or grandmothers of reigning emperors. Fukutō sees this
development as an important stage in the development of the imperial house
itself as a private entity and faction within the court, leading to the rule by retired
emperors (insei) that came to characterize much of the twelfth century. The same
trend is equally visible within the imperial court in the cases of Fujiwara no Ta-
dahira and Fujiwara no Michinaga as demonstrated by Piggott and Hurst respec-
tively. Hurst’s essay deals directly with the effects of the use of private ties and
offices in matters of the state. In Piggott’s contribution, Tadahira stands out as
one of the main figures in institutionalizing the usage of such extragovernmental
means and personnel. For example, when the Shingon center Tōji complained
against alleged intrusions into its property in the Ōyama estate in 920, it filed its
petition directly to Tadahira instead of using the official and established channel
through the Council of State.
The religious sector went through a similar transformation during this age.
Beginning with the imperial court’s acknowledgment and sponsoring of privately
funded and founded cloisters in the ninth century, influential patrons in the capi-
tal and provinces continued to support their own set of religious ceremonies and
networks. By the tenth century, the most popular temples came to cater directly
to the needs of the capital aristocrats, thus gaining increasing freedom from the
religious parameters proscribed in the bureaucratic codes. Abé’s description of
Kūkai’s disengaging of Buddhist texts from the state-mandated Confucian para-
digm speaks to the beginning of this process, and Moerman’s essay shows that
10  |  mikael adolphson and edward kamens

sūtra burials were frequently as concerned with the private welfare of the family
of the donor as with the public good. The Fujiwara also had a very active hand
in the final release of religious institutions into fully private units. According
to Adolphson, the court abandoned its efforts to regulate temples throughout
Japan, and allowed instead prestigious or important temples to serve the state
and receive official titles, something that the Northern Fujiwara promoted and
themselves benefited from. The establishment of private temple networks under
the most powerful institutions was the natural outcome of this privatization
In the end, perhaps it is in the provinces that we find the strongest evidence of
the move away from bureaucratic procedures to more reliance on private assets
and procedures. As Friday points out, Taira no Tadatsune’s insurgence was not
only caused by private competition but was also solved through an effective use
of private connections between the appointed officer and Tadatsune himself.
Von Verschuer’s essay on the Owari petition lends support to the idea of Kyoto
as the political center of the age, but it also reflects changes in its role since the
early Heian age. The provincial administration had already reached a consider-
able degree of privatization, a direct cause of the abuse by the governor, who
considered public land and fees as much his own as those of the state. And the
court’s lack of interest in making official reports of famines in the provinces, as
described by Farris, can in part be understood in terms of less direct involve-
ment by the organs of the state in provincial administration and the adoption of
a tax-farming system.
If these conclusions and the essays in this volume can further research in the
field of Heian studies and encourage new and innovative approaches along mul-
tidimensional and multidisciplinary lines, then this work has more than served
its purpose. In particular, we find the notion of inclusion rather than exclusion
especially significant. Whereas previous accounts have tended to emphasize the
isolationist and remote character of the capital elites as well as of Japan itself, the
essays in this volume suggest that although still heavily hierarchical, Heian soci-
ety moved toward a more inclusive system as part of the adjustments that took
place in the tenth and eleventh centuries. It was by including emerging powers,
be they provincial warriors, temples, or shrines, and recognizing other nexuses
that the imperial court survived as long as it did (by some accounts to the late Ka-
makura age) as a force and source of political authority. As a result, Heian society
became more diverse, more diffuse, and more complex through gradual, deliber-
ate, and controlled adjustments. Our studies have made it clear that this process
can never be fully understood if the focus remains exclusively on the centers and
peripheries as dichotomies; rather, we should direct our attention to, and include
the important terrains that lay between, the space of interaction, transformation,
integration, and seemingly unlimited potential for further change.
Between and Beyond Centers and Peripheries  |  11

1. The concept of the “middle ground” as not only spatial but also phenomenal and functional
is adapted here from Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics
in the Great Lakes Regions, 1650 – 1815 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press,
1991). See also Bruce Batten, To the Ends of Japan, 9. White states, “The middle ground is
the place in between: in between cultures, people, and in between empires and the nonstate
world of villages. . . . On the middle ground diverse people adjust their differences through
what amounts to a process of creative, and often expedient, misunderstandings. People try to
persuade others who are different from themselves by appealing to what they perceive to be the
values and practices of those others. They often misinterpret and distort both the values and
the practices of those they deal with, but from these misunderstandings arise new meanings
and through them new practices — the shared meanings and practices of the middle ground”
(p. x). It is in these shared meanings and practices that we may be able to understand the com-
monalities of those living in the various centers and peripheries.
2. Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan, ed. Marius Jansen and John
Whitney Hall (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968). Other works in this genre
include Medieval Japan: Essays in Institutional History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Press, 1974), ed. Jeffrey P. Mass and John Whitney Hall; Japan in the Muromachi Age, ed.
John W. Hall and Toyoda Takeshi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977); Japan before
Tokugawa, ed. John Whitney Hall (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); Court and
Bakufu in Japan: Essays in Kamakura History, ed. Jeffrey P. Mass (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford
University Press); The Bakufu in Japanese History, ed. Jeffrey P. Mass and William B. Hauser
(Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press); and The Origins of Japan’s Medieval World, ed.
Jeffrey P. Mass (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977).
3. See Hurst, p. 67 in this volume.
4. See Moerman, p. 258 in this volume; Nihon Montoku tennō jitsuroku, Ninju 2 (852) 2/8.
5. See Hurst, p. 91 in this volume.
6. See Friday, p. 349 in this volume.
7. See Batten, p. 381 in this volume.
8. See John Whitney Hall, Government and Local Power in Japan 500 to 1700, 99; and Jeffrey
P. Mass, Antiquity and Anachronism in Japanese History, 13 – 14.
part i

Locating Political Centers and Peripheries

2  d   Fukutō Sanae, with Takeshi Watanabe

From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation

Women and Government in the Heian Period

he Heian age stands out for the contributions made by noblewomen
in the production of literary works and as sponsors of the arts and
religious ceremonies. Their participation in political decisions at the
center, however, has traditionally been seen as limited, especially when
compared to the two hundred years between Empress Suiko’s accession (592) and
Empress Shōtoku’s death (770), when men and women reigned in equal numbers
and shared similar spans of rule. This context seems to be unique to ancient
Japan as one is unlikely to find this many female rulers during such an extended
period in other premodern societies. Still, scholars have until now understood
female sovereigns primarily as interim rulers, who came to reign when confu-
sion surrounded the succession of a male to the throne or when the heir was still
a child. According to this view, female sovereigns wielded little actual power
as rulers because they owed their position to male sponsors. However, recent
research now suggests that empresses matched emperors in demonstrating real
authority, though their accession may have been considered provisional.1 Still, a
momentous change occurred at the end of the eighth century, when female sov-
ereigns came to yield less power in the government and all but disappeared from
the throne. But they continued to exert considerable influence through other
means, as mothers of emperors, and were often granted titles such as kōtaibunin
(imperial mother) or kōtaigō (grand imperial dowager). Commenting on these
new positions, Satō Nagato recently observed,
We should not exaggerate the influence of the temporary courts of the grand
imperial dowagers (kōtaigō) during this period. Although one might expect
that her opinion be solicited for political matters because of her daily contact
with the emperor, we must not automatically conclude that she was actively
participating in matters of the state. And, when the emperor was an adult,
other than in minor matters, she was not directly or publicly participating in
governmental affairs, even if she maintained a strong relationship with the
Satō accordingly refutes the notion that imperial consorts were involved politi-
cally. It is true that the imperial government structured itself around male sov-
ereigns, especially after the reign of Emperor Kanmu (r. 781 – 806). From that
time on, women were excluded not just from rule, but also from the bureaucracy,
16  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

and were driven from the center of politics to the peripheries. However, Satō’s
interpretation raises several important questions. Did empresses, who until the
eighth century stood on nearly equal terms with their male counterparts, really
relinquish their political rank? Did this marginalization of official duties within
the imperial court mean a complete loss of influence? In short, did female partici-
pation in government truly disappear? In this chapter, I will explore the place of
women within the Heian court government from the ninth through the eleventh
centuries, a period usually seen as one dominated by rule of regents and known
as the royal court state (ōchō kokka). I will examine the sociopolitical relationship
between men and women at the core of the Heian state. To understand these
developments, an overview of the status of female rulers in the preceding era
will be helpful.

Women and Government in the Seventh and

Eighth Centuries: The Era of Female Sovereigns
In recent years, research on female sovereigns has flourished along with scholarly
interest in imperial rule in the seventh and eighth centuries. This has allowed
us to reevaluate the role of women as rulers during this early period. The first
verifiable female sovereign was Empress Suiko (r. 592 – 628), who ascended the
throne in 592.3 Her road to rulership was complicated, but she began her career
at court as the principal consort of Emperor Bidatsu (r. 572 – 585), who died in
585. After his death, his half brother Yōmei ruled, but he died after only two years
on the throne. Another brother, Sushun, then ascended the throne in 587, but
power struggles between the Mononobe and Soga clans led to his assassination
five years later. It was in the midst of such tumultuous dispute over the imperial
succession that influential court aristocrats selected the previous consort as their
ruler, thus making Suiko empress.
  The influential historian Inoue Mitsusada asserted that it became customary
for consorts to assume leadership as female sovereigns during such succession
disputes. Inoue’s ideas came to be known and accepted as the “provisional fe-
male sovereign theory” (jotei chūkei setsu).4 Although Empress Suiko did in fact
become sovereign during such circumstances, this theory has as its backdrop a
gender-biased presumption that women could not exercise political authority.
Not only were female sovereigns provisional in this line of thinking; they were
also merely puppets for their male sponsors.
  The provisional female sovereign theory has recently been subject to reexami-
nation. Newer research shows that while the circumstances may have dictated
their accession, and their role may have been considered provisional, female sov-
ereigns actively possessed and exercised political power equal to that of their
male counterparts.5 For example, the consort of Emperor Tenmu (673 – 686)
is believed to have fought alongside her husband during the Jinshin War of
671 – 672, when they battled Tenmu’s nephew for the throne. After the death
of their son, Prince Kusakabe (662 – 689), she became Empress Jitō (645 – 702; r.
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  17

Figure 2.1. Imperial genealogy of the seventh and eighth centuries

690 – 697), until her grandson, Prince Karu, who would rule as Emperor Monmu
(r. 697 – 707), reached adulthood (figure 2.1).
  During her reign, Empress Jitō promulgated the Asuka Kiyomihara Law Codes
and transferred the capital to Fujiwara, in effect establishing the foundation of
the bureaucratic ritsuryō (penal and administrative codes) state. These accom-
plishments are commonly accepted, and would seem to contradict Inoue’s in-
terpretation.6 Moreover, recent scholarship indicates that Empress Jitō not only
ascended the throne without the customary selection process headed by the
nobles, but also removed competitors, such as Tenmu’s sons by other consorts,
and forcefully took control by herself.7 In the following century, political condi-
18  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

tions changed as nobles close to the throne gained more influence, but empresses
continued to exercise authority in the same fashion. For example, both Empress
Genmei (r. 707 – 715), who ascended the throne without any experience in gov-
erning, and Empress Kōken (r. 749 – 758), who was a forceful sovereign groomed
to rule, ascended the throne without having ruled alongside a male emperor as
principal consort.
  Of the female sovereigns who ascended the throne in the seventh century,
many were imperial dowagers (ōkisaki). Women were esteemed within the impe-
rial family, and as the mother of the emperor, the ōkisaki was involved in deter-
mining the succession. In the imperial bureaucratic state of the seventh century,
the principal imperial consort (kōgō) assumed the role of imperial dowager. As
suggested by the phrase “rule from behind” (shirie no matsurigoto),8 the principal
consort stood equal in importance to the sovereign in state affairs and inherited
all the authority of the throne after the death of the emperor. This provides an
interesting contrast with China, where only the kōtaigō retained an official rank,
and presided over a special court to support the child emperor. Even if she were
not the birth mother, she had to hold that title to effectively rule in his place while
helping the young emperor maintain his position. In Japan, the Taihō Law Codes
of 701 stipulated that even if the birth mother of the emperor did not become
the principal imperial consort, she could become either senior imperial consort
(kōtaihi) or imperial mother. These titles made it possible for nonprincipal con-
sorts to wield the same authority and power as the empress dowagers to support
the emperor. In other words, it allowed the imperial consort to exercise power in
her own name by prolonging the emperor’s reign after his death.9
  The eighth century saw new developments that further augmented the role
of imperial consorts. The principal consort of Emperor Shōmu (701 – 756; r.
724 – 749), Fujiwara no Kōmyōshi (701 – 760), established the Office of the Impe-
rial Consort (Kōgō gūshiki) outside the inner Imperial Palace, which was inde-
pendent of the emperor’s bureaucracy and maintained its own assets.10 Kōmyōshi
became Grand Imperial Dowager Kōmyō when her and Shōmu’s daughter as-
cended the throne as Empress Kōken in 749. After Shōmu’s death in 756, Kōmyō
came to support her daughter’s rule as mother of the empress, and it was her
nephew, Fujiwara no Nakamaro (706 – 764), who took command of court affairs
by becoming chief of the Office of the Imperial Consort.
  Women who participated in politics did not consist only of imperial consorts.
In the seventh century, female officials (miyabito) served at the center of the
palace, and they were organized into twelve bureaus of the rear palace, in accor-
dance with the ritsuryō codes. Their main responsibility was to serve as channels
of communication between the court council and the emperor or empress. The
miyabito continued to act as the emperor’s liaison to the bureaucracy into the
eighth century.11 In this way, male and female officials both worked as one to run
the government; and on ritual occasions, men and women took on comparable
work, though they were segregated.12
Empress Kōken retired in 756 in favor of Junnin, but she reascended the throne
in 764 as Empress Shōtoku, reflecting the uncertain and competitive conditions
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  19

at the imperial court at the time as she asserted her own control at the expense
of her Fujiwara opponents. In either case, her second reign marks an important
boundary, since the position of women in the court would change drastically
after her death in the tenth month of 770, followed by the ousting of her main
ally, the monk Dōkyō. First, we find no more female sovereigns following Shōtoku
until they appear as puppet empresses in the Edo period, but as we shall see, this
is only part of the story.13 Without a doubt, the loss of imperial power signaled a
fall in the political standing of women. Second, the office of the principal consort,
which had been located outside the inner palace and functioned independently,
was moved inside the main palace area, beginning with the principal consort of
Emperor Kōnin (r. 770 – 781), Princess Inoue.14 The principal consort, who used
to stand alongside the emperor as a ruler and who used to have a right to suc-
ceed after her husband’s death, now stood below her spouse. From this time,
the prerogatives of the throne rested solely with the male emperor. Third, the
governmental responsibilities of female officials gradually lessened. Conversely,
and in part to replace the roles of these female officials, an increasing number
of consorts and relatives of the imperial family began serving at the court. In
short, while the status and role of female officials began to erode in the public
domain, the participation of noblewomen in the private sphere continued to be
prominent, if not increased.

Women and Government in the Ninth Century:

The Power of the Kokumo
From the age of Emperor Kanmu to that of Emperor Saga (r. 809 – 823), the po-
litical role of women and their standing changed greatly. Female sovereigns no
longer appear from the late eighth century, and the role of principal consorts
changed as well. The introduction of the imperial consort’s palace inside the
inner Imperial Palace at the very end of the Nara period under Princess Inoue
continued and was institutionalized in the new capital of Nagaoka (784 – 794)
and in Heian-kyō. A hall named the Jōneiden was designated as an office for the
public affairs of the imperial consort in the center of the rear palace within the
palace compounds of Kyoto (map 2.1). On occasion, this hall also came to be used
by the imperial consort for various ceremonies.15 Thus, although the Office of the
Imperial Consort was incorporated into the inner Imperial Palace, indicating a
diminished formal function, the public rituals held at the Jōneiden reflect a con-
tinued official function still played by the imperial consort. On the other hand,
Tachibana no Kachiko (786 – 850), the imperial consort of Emperor Saga, had the
emperor’s officials running her office. When one considers how Grand Imperial
Dowager Kōmyō had her own freestanding office, the loss of independence for
the imperial consorts and mothers seems clear.16
  The change of the imperial consort’s administrative office also meant a change
in her role. Fujiwara no Otomuro (760 – 790) was appointed kōgō of Emperor
Kanmu on the fourteenth day of the fourth month of 783 because of her status
as the mother of Kanmu’s eldest son, later Emperor Heizei (figure 2.1). Emperor
Map 2.1. The Imperial Palace compound (dairi)
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  21

Figure 2.2. Imperial genealogy of the early and mid-Heian period

Saga, whose imperial consort was Tachibana no Kachiko, instituted a number of

Chinese-inspired reforms with an emphasis on virtue, and there was a renewed
emphasis on the spouse of the emperor in accordance with Chinese notions of
how each gender had its respective roles.17 Until that point, Japan had developed
its own tradition by having the imperial consorts, along with the emperor, receive
white robes for sacred ceremonies (haku no kinu), in stark contrast to the habits
of Tang China. However, in the second month of 820, it was stipulated that the
imperial consorts’ robes be “auxiliary” (josaifuku). It is thus beyond any doubt
that the position of the imperial consort became secondary to the emperor’s
from Emperor Saga.18
  From the time of Tachibana no Kachiko onward, the phrase “within the pal-
ace” (konchū) was added to edicts appointing imperial consorts: “I hereby declare
22  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

[Tachibana no Kachiko] imperial consort and the ruler within the palace.”19 In
other words, the imperial consort’s authority was defined as being within the
compound of the rear palace, reflecting a major change in her function and sta-
tus.20 Until then, the imperial consort stood next to the emperor in the Audience
Hall (Daigokuden) to hear the New Year’s greetings on the morning of the first
day of the year. However, from the time of Kachiko, the imperial consort with-
drew and no longer participated in the audience on New Year’s Day. Instead, a
new ceremony was initiated on the second day, when she received New Year’s
greetings from the crown prince, retainers, and female officials, a format that
followed the Chinese model for the imperial consort and empress dowagers.21 In
China, however, the imperial consort received greeting only from higher-ranking
female attendants, whereas in Japan, all female attendants participated, symbol-
izing her position at the apex of all ranking women at the imperial court.22
  A political transformation among female officials also occurred within the im-
perial court. From the New Year’s Day greetings to many other ceremonies and
banquets, the participation of women, who at first stood side by side with men,
lessened between the time of Emperor Kanmu and the early Heian period.23 The
promotions ceremony (joi no girei) used to occur with women and men gathered
together in rows at the court. However, from 813, the ceremonies were divided,
with the men holding their ceremony on the seventh and the women on the
eighth, although in reality the women’s ceremony became an all but empty shell
as the actual lining up of the women to be promoted was eliminated.24 Rather,
the female officials (naishi), who formerly held responsibilities in the adminis-
trative apparatus of the state, came to be replaced by male secretaries known
as kurōdo in the aftermath of the Kusuko Incident of 810, which pitted Retired
Emperor Heizei against Emperor Saga.25 From then on, as female officials came
to serve the emperor mainly in minor matters, their political role declined.26 The
responsibilities at the court, which had formerly been executed by both men and
women, were now divided: the political authority rested with men, while the
private, including the sexual, rested with women.

New Developments in the Latter Half of the Ninth Century

As noted, in the early Heian period, especially at the court of Emperor Saga, the
roles of men and women underwent a radical transformation. In the latter half of
the ninth century, there would be further change. First, the power of the mother
of the reigning emperor, as kōtaigō or kōtaibunin, became more pronounced. The
change is first apparent on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of 842, two days
after Retired Emperor Saga died. In what came to be known as the Jōwa Distur-
bance, Crown Prince Tsunesada was deposed under pressure from the Fujiwara.
However, the imperial decree following the incident also notes that the decision
was made in accordance with “the words of the senior grand imperial dowager
[taikōtaigō].”27 To further complicate matters, Kachiko was the grandmother of
Tsunesada, and the prince’s mother, Princess Seishi, was naturally upset with
her own mother. Seishi is said to have “shaken in anger, cried out in grief, and re-
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  23

sented her mother.”28 The involvement of Kachiko in this incident indicates that,
after Saga’s death, she assumed actual control of the imperial house.29
  The new crown prince following the Jōwa Disturbance was Michiyasu, the son
of Fujiwara no Yoshifusa’s sister Junshi and Emperor Ninmyō, reflecting also the
increased influence of the Northern Fujiwara (see figure 2.2). Since “the ranking
nobles repeatedly submitted [that Michiyasu be appointed],”30 it is clear that the
twelve ranking courtiers supported and accepted Kachiko’s decision. Emperor
Ninmyō and Princess Seishi were twins, but in choosing Prince Michiyasu, Ka-
chiko favored the paternal line, a stance apparently shared by the courtiers and
obviously strongly promoted by the influential Yoshifusa.
  Prince Michiyasu ascended the throne as Emperor Montoku (r. 850 – 858). Ex-
tant documents do not reveal exactly how his birth mother, Fujiwara no Junshi,
supported Montoku, but the imperial edict four years later promoting her to
kōtaigō offers a glimpse. On the twenty-first day of the third month of 850, Em-
peror Ninmyō died in his imperial palace. Crown Prince Michiyasu then moved
into the Eastern Palace (Tōgū), where he received the imperial regalia (map 2.2).
On the seventeenth day of the fourth month, Junshi was promoted from consort
(nyōgo) to imperial mother. The imperial proclamation of four years later explains
how this came about:
The senior grand imperial dowager of Saga [Tachibana no Kachiko] and the
grand consort of Junna [Princess Seishi] were both present at the imperial
court at the same time. Although it is clear from ancient customs that I [Em-
peror Montoku] revere my mother [Fujiwara no Junshi], I can only lament
that merit in life and death are different. Thus, I could only grant my Fujiwara
mother the title kōtaibunin. I hope that this modesty will invite happiness in
the next world.31
This statement reveals that Emperor Montoku had actually wanted to give his
mother the honorific title of kōtaigō from the beginning, but he could not, since
two senior consorts were already present. Having no choice, he thus made her
On the fourth day of the fifth month of 850, however, Senior Grand Imperial
Dowager Tachibana no Kachiko died. Four years later, on the twenty-sixth day
of the fourth month of 854, Emperor Montoku was finally able to elevate Junna’s
consort Seishi to senior grand imperial dowager and Junshi to grand imperial
dowager. To modern readers, such squabbling may appear pedantic, especially
since both titles in question referred to the imperial dowager. However, in the
world of the Heian court, such titles not only reflected status and hierarchy, but
also provided important precedents for future successors to the throne and thus
had a tremendous impact on the fate of individual noble families. It is therefore
not surprising that Princess Seishi disagreed with attempts to promote Junshi.
In fact, when Seishi herself was promoted to taikōtaigō, she declined the honor
because she did not want to vacate her current kōtaigō title, which would then
have been granted to Junshi.32 There was naturally some tension between Seishi
and Junshi, since the latter’s son had become crown prince at the expense of
Map 2.2. The Greater Imperial Palace precincts (daidairi)
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  25

Seishi’s own son in the Jōwa Disturbance. In any event, one can tell that, at this
time, the kōtaigō was considered higher in rank than the kōtaibunin even though
they occupied the same rank according to the Taihō Codes.33 The elevation of the
kōtaigō in the latter half of the ninth century above that of the kōtaibunin is prob-
ably derived from the Chinese classics, which mention grand empress dowagers
running the imperial court.
  Following the death of Emperor Montoku in the eighth month of 858, Junshi
is recorded as doing the following:
On the twenty-seventh day, the kōtaibunin34 [Junshi] went to the Eastern Gojō
Palace [where the crown prince resided]. Two days later, the crown prince and
the kōtaibunin returned to the crown prince’s eastern palace, riding in the
same palanquin. The procedure was the same as for imperial progressions,
except that no announcement was made for the cart. She did this to support
the accession of the young prince.35
Nishino Yukiko believes that this is a strong indication of Junshi’s support in
making her young grandson emperor.36 In particular, the words “to support the
accession of the young prince” unmistakably point to the sovereign’s grand-
mother, Junshi, as the head of the imperial house, supporting the first docu-
mented accession of a child emperor. She accordingly played a role similar to that
played by Tachibana no Kachiko, dominating matters at court as the head of the
imperial house. This notion is further reinforced by her placement behind the
elevated throne during the enthronement ceremony held at the enthronement
hall, an expression of her central role in the accession of the child emperor.37
  The following year, Junshi moved to the Eastern Gojō Palace, after which Fuji-
wara no Meishi (also read Akiko), the mother of Seiwa (r. 858 – 876), came to live
with and support the young sovereign. Meishi became imperial mother on the
seventh day of the eleventh month of 858, less than three months after her son’s
accession to the throne.38 Emperor Seiwa’s coming-of-age ceremony was held
on the first day of 864, a few days after which Meishi was promptly promoted
to grand imperial dowager. Following Emperor Seiwa’s move from the Eastern
Palace to the Jijūden, centrally located within the Imperial Palace compound, on
865/11/4, Meishi moved to the Jōneiden soon afterward (see map 2.1).39 As already
noted, the Jōneiden was the official administrative hall of the principal imperial
consort from the late eighth century, but it was now taken over by the mother of
the emperor, who became known as “mother of the nation” (kokumo), a new title
that reflected the position of imperial mothers from the time of Princess Seishi.
In fact, the kokumo subsequently became the main supporter of the emperor’s
rule.40 Thus, while Emperor Saga promoted the sinified ideal of an empress dowa-
ger controlling the court, it was the mother of the nation that came to assume
that role.
  Meishi moved to the Shiki no Mizōshi (located just east of the imperial com-
pound; see map 2.2), in the northeastern part of the palace compound, where
the office of the grand imperial dowager was located, on the seventeenth day of
the second month of 874. The Shiki no mizōshi was also where the influential
26  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

Chancellor Fujiwara no Mototsune (836 – 891), Meishi’s brother, had his imperial

palace office. An entry in Nihon sandai jitsuroku from 881 states,
After being appointed chancellor, [Fujiwara no Mototsune] declined the honor
four times.41 During that time, the Council of State was deadlocked in many
matters. The noble council therefore held meetings, and sent a secretary to
report governmental matters to Mototsune at his office within the palace
(he used the Shiki no Mizōshi for his office). After Mototsune, this became
The quarters of sisters or daughters serving at the palace often became the offices
of noblemen, and so Mototsune, the most powerful courtier of his time, made
his office in his sister’s Shiki no mizōshi. By sharing space with Meishi, who was
the mother of Emperor Seiwa as well as the grandmother of Emperor Yōzei (r.
876 – 884), Mototsune could use the authority of the mother and grandmother
of the emperor to solidify his own power, acting as the kokumo’s deputy.43 There-
fore, the Northern Fujiwara chieftains’ successful rise to power as regents, and
by extension the regency age (858 – 1086) itself, occurred against the backdrop of
the authority of the “mother of the nation.”
  The origins of the regent’s power have in fact not received enough attention
by scholars. It is important to note, for example, that the regent could control
the imperial court from the Shiki no Mizōshi, which he shared with the koku-
mo — usually the mother or grandmother of the sovereign — precisely because of
the kokumo’s history of supporting the emperor. At the beginning of the ninth
century, consorts and women were no longer allowed to ascend the imperial
throne themselves: women had been pushed from the center toward the periph-
ery of the government. Instead, the emperor’s mother assumed a new status as
mother of the nation and came to take power behind the throne, a position that
became even more powerful in the case of child emperors. It was against the
backdrop of such parental authority and informal influence on reigning emperors
that Fujiwara fathers and brothers were also able to exercise power.

The Mother of the Nation in the Tenth Century:

Princess Hanshi and Fujiwara no Onshi
From the latter half of the ninth century, the imperial mother thus assumed the
role of the caretaker of the child emperor. Her role gradually became institution-
alized, a trend that was further reinforced when the imperial mother’s office also
came to serve as the living quarters of the kokumo. This trend continued in the
tenth century.44
  The mother of Emperor Uda (r. 887 – 897), Princess Hanshi (853 – 900), ex-
erted great influence over the selection of a consort for her grandson, Emperor
Daigo (r. 897 – 930). It is well-known that she made her daughter, Princess Ishi,
the consort of Emperor Daigo.45 A later source explains: “Retired Emperor [Uda]
received a command from his mother [Hanshi], and stopped the imperial con-
sort [Onshi] from entering the palace.”46 From this statement, we can see that
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  27

Retired Emperor Uda followed his mother’s orders regarding the selection of a
consort for his son, Emperor Daigo. If an imperial consort gave birth to a prince,
the child would naturally become a candidate for the throne. The selection of a
consort was consequently of great importance for the imperial succession and
the lineage, and the imperial mother’s ability to influence such decisions reflects
her powerful position in the mid-Heian age.
  Emperor Daigo greeted his grandmother, Princess Hanshi, and Retired Em-
peror Uda on the third day of the seventh month of 897, when he entered adult-
hood and ascended the throne. When the new emperor moved to the imperial
residence at the Seiryōden, the previous emperor moved to the Kokiden, a palace
just north of the imperial residence.47 Just after that, on the ninth day of the
eighth month, Princess Hanshi and Retired Emperor Uda both moved to a palace
at Higashi Sanjō where they lived together until the second month of the follow-
ing year, when Uda moved to the Suzaku Palace, located south of the Greater
Imperial Palace area.48 From their choice of residences, we can deduce that Han-
shi, as the mother of the nation, lived with her son not only while he ruled, but
after his reign as well, continuing to exert her influence. The mother of Emperor
Daigo, Fujiwara no Inshi, had died by the time of Emperor Daigo’s accession, so
the daughter of Mototsune, Fujiwara no Onshi (882 – 907), became his adopted
mother. She was promoted to imperial mother “and her office was established the
same day,”49 when Onshi moved from the Imperial Palace to the Horikawa Palace
in the Higashi Sanjō area. The following year, she “moved from the Gojō Palace
to the Suzaku Palace,” an indication that she was not active in political matters.50
She did not, in other words, assume the role of mother of the nation.
  It was another Fujiwara no Onshi (885 – 954), the birth mother of Emperor
Suzaku (r. 930 – 946), who proceeded to strengthen the power of the kokumo.
After the untimely deaths of the crown princes Yasuaki and Yoshiyori, widely
believed to have been caused by the angry spirit of the unfortunate Sugawara no
Michizane (845 – 903), the crown prince who was to become Emperor Suzaku
was raised with much care and caution.51 In 930, Suzaku became emperor at the
mere age of nine. Seven days after the enthronement ceremony, Retired Emperor
Daigo died; the following year, Retired Emperor Uda died as well, leaving Onshi
as the head of the imperial house to look after Suzaku. Onshi continued to reside
with her son not only after his adult initiation ceremony, but also after his acces-
sion, as well as after the designation of imperial consorts.52
  Onshi’s influence over imperial succession matters aptly reflects her high sta-
tus. According to the Ōkagami, a chronicle describing the rise to prominence
of the Northern Fujiwara, Onshi appealed to Emperor Suzaku about the selec-
tion of his younger brother, Prince Nariaki (926 – 967). Nariaki ascended the
throne as Emperor Murakami (r. 946 – 967), and Onshi continued to exert great
influence on succession matters after his enthronement as well. For example,
when Murakami wished to make his son by Fujiwara no Anshi, Prince Norihira
(950 – 1011), heir to the throne, Onshi mediated between Retired Emperor Su-
zaku and Murakami, ensuring the stability of the imperial lineage. According to
Satō Nagato, Onshi “privately discussed the matter with Morosuke [the Fujiwara
28  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

chieftain], and demanded cooperation from Suzaku” in order to make Norihira

crown prince.53
  Emperor Reizei’s maternal grandfather, Minister of the Right Fujiwara no Mo-
rosuke (908 – 960), describes in his journal Kyūreki how his daughter’s words car-
ried great weight in the selection of Prince Norihira as the heir.54 In fact, Prince
Norihira was born at Morosuke’s residence on the twenty-fourth day of the fifth
month of 950. Upon receiving the news, Emperor Murakami was delighted to
have an heir from a ranking consort, although a lower-ranking consort, Fujiwara
no Yūhime, had already given birth to another prince (Hirohira). Murakami im-
mediately ordered prayers for the newborn prince’s protection and, in his re-
sponse to the news of the birth, expressed a strong desire to make him the crown
prince.55 Onshi’s response was said to be the same as the emperor’s.
  The gifts brought to the third-night banquet celebrating the birth also reveal
Murakami’s intention to name Norihira the crown prince. Morosuke noted with
a mix of joy and concern that the gifts Onshi had received upon giving birth
to Emperor Daigo’s heir, Crown Prince Yasuaki, were the same, confirming in
Morosuke’s view the likelihood of Norihira’s becoming emperor. By the same
token, however, it also reminded him that Yasuaki had died before it was time
for him to ascend the throne.56
  According to Morosuke’s diary entry for the tenth day of the sixth month of
950, Murakami was already pushing hard to name Norihira crown prince, while
Morosuke suggested that the following year would be more suitable. The details
of this negotiation are complicated, but suffice it to say that a direct meeting
between the emperor and Morosuke occurred on the fifteenth day of the sixth
month. At that meeting, Murakami ordered that the investiture of the crown
prince be held the following month, and that Onshi be notified. Ten days later,
Murakami noted to Morosuke that he had sent a letter to Onshi and received her
reply stating that the ceremony should be carried out with care, since Onshi was
concerned about a possible falling out between Murakami and his brother, the
former Emperor Suzaku. On the twenty-seventh, when she and Morosuke met
face to face, Onshi expressed her doubts, saying, “Recently, I have heard rumors
of an investiture of a crown prince of Emperor Murakami. I stated that Retired
Emperor Suzaku should be informed if this ceremony is to take place soon, yet
the emperor says he will only report it after it has taken place. I don’t know what
he is thinking.”57 Satō claims that Onshi “met secretly with Fujiwara no Moro-
suke and sought Suzaku’s cooperation regarding Prince Norihira’s investiture.”58
However, the reason for her asking Murakami to inform Suzaku about Prince
Norihira was not to seek his assistance. Until then, Retired Emperor Suzaku
did not have a child, but that year, his imperial consort, Kishi, gave birth to a
princess.59 Therefore, there was still a strong possibility for the young Retired
Emperor Suzaku to father imperial offspring. Onshi, the birth mother of Suzaku,
must have considered that a son who would be eligible to become crown prince
might be born as well. For this reason, Onshi considered Suzaku’s approval for
Prince Norihira’s investiture a necessary step to avoid a rift within the imperial
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  29

family. In the end, Emperor Murakami did not follow Onshi’s advice, and secretly
made his son crown prince without obtaining his elder brother’s consent.
  From this sequence of events, one may argue that the mother of the nation did
not have much say in the selection of the crown prince. However, I would like
to emphasize that Murakami did speak with the kokumo about the investiture
of the crown prince, and sought her approval. On the other hand, he kept the
matter a secret from Retired Emperor Suzaku. I concur with the interpretation
of Fujiki Kunihiko, who stated that Onshi’s “opinion as the most senior member
and actual head of the imperial family was sincerely respected.”60 It should also
be noted that Onshi’s influence over the selection of consorts (kisaki) is another
salient manifestation of her powers as kokumo.61 Such influence was not as pub-
licly visible as in issues of imperial succession, yet it was tremendously important
in shaping the imperial lineage.

Fujiwara no Senshi (961 – 1001)

In the Eiga monogatari, a tale glorifying the rule of the Northern Fujiwara, we
find a famous story of how kokumo Higashi Sanjō’in (Fujiwara no Senshi) forced
her way into the bedchamber of her son, Emperor Ichijō (r. 986 – 1011), and co-
erced him into granting her brother Michinaga (966 – 1027) private inspection
powers (nairan), a move tantamount to naming him a regent.62 From this story,
we see how Senshi was able to intervene in important personnel appointments
at the imperial court. Her influence over appointments can be seen in other rec­
ords as well. On the fifth day of the seventh month of 997, Fujiwara no Michi­
tsuna (955 – 1020) was promoted to the post of grand councilor (dainagon), even
though he had just become middle councilor (chūnagon) in the fourth month
of the previous year. Fujiwara no Sanesuke (957 – 1046) had served longer and
was senior to Michitsuna as middle councilor, and would thus be ranked higher,
since he had been named supernumerary middle councilor (gon no chūnagon)
in the eighth month of 997. Sanesuke became upset and resentfully complained
about Michitsuna: “He has written his name for yet a little while, and knows
neither one nor two [about matters at the imperial court].” He then added, “The
emperor’s officials control matters of the state, as the imperial mother (bokō)
makes affairs of the court solely her own.”63 From Sanesuke’s critical remarks,
it is clear that ranking courtiers were well aware of the kokumo’s influence over
  In fact, many more documents exist demonstrating Senshi’s intervention in
court personnel appointments. The aforementioned Sanesuke was on the receiv-
ing end of her grace in 990, when he was promoted to junior third rank for his
work in supervising the constructing of gates in the palace area. In the previous
year, Regent Fujiwara no Kaneie (929 – 990) noted to Sanesuke, “I have added you
to the project of building gates, since Senshi has recommended you. Therefore,
you were appointed.”64 Other more senior courtiers, such as Fujiwara no Yasu-
chika and Fujiwara no Kinsue, had also hoped for this appointment. Kinsue even
30  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

had the recommendation of his elder brother, Minister of the Right Fujiwara
no Tamemitsu, but the decision was made in accordance with Senshi’s wishes.
Having achieved junior third rank, Sanesuke promptly went to Senshi’s palace
to express his gratitude. Experiences such as these must have prompted him to
write, only a few years later, that “the imperial mother makes affairs of the court
solely her own,” regarding Michitsuna’s rapid rise in the court hierarchy, which at
that point, ironically enough, worked against Sanesuke himself.65 In either case,
such interventions were commonplace during Senshi’s time.
  As with many of her predecessors, Senshi exercised tremendous authority in
the selection of consorts. When Fujiwara no Shōshi (988 – 1074; later known as
Jōtōmon’in) was appointed principal imperial consort on the twenty-fifth day of
the second month of the year 1000, it was Senshi who made the formal appoint-
ment. The decision was made late in the previous year, when the head chamber-
lain (kurōdo no tō) of Emperor Ichijō, Fujiwara no Yukinari (972 – 1027), served
as an emissary, delivering messages between the emperor, Senshi, and Fujiwara
no Michinaga, Shōshi’s father. It was also decided that her investiture as consort
should be made even though Ichijō already had a principal imperial consort.66 On
this occasion, Yukinari forcefully argued that having two principal consorts for
one emperor was acceptable, especially since the Fujiwara-born consorts had all
taken the tonsure and were thus dedicated to Buddhism. They would therefore
not be able to worship the Fujiwara ancestral gods as required. In other words, he
claimed that although there was already a current principal consort, it would be
appropriate to appoint another one, who could be devoted to the Fujiwara kami.
This argument came to serve as the foundation for the principle of two principal
consorts for every emperor henceforth, and it is well-known that Michinaga was
greatly impressed with Yukinari’s argument. It made it possible to initiate an un-
precedented arrangement, which beyond any doubt must have had the consent
of the mother of the nation, Higashi Sanjō’in Fujiwara no Senshi.67
  Finally, it should also be noted that Fujiwara no Senshi was the first mother of
the nation to become a “retired lady” (nyoin), by taking the tonsure, yet remain-
ing active in palace politics. In part, this took place because the three positions
of taikōtaigō, kōtaigō, and kōgō were becoming less effective. By leaving the three
posts to her junior consorts, she not only secured their future positions,68 but
she also began to demonstrate the authority she could exercise as a nyoin, as the
matriarch of the imperial family.69

Jōtōmon’in Fujiwara no Shōshi: Bridging the Regency

Government and Rule by Retired Emperors
Acting as the head of the imperial house, Jōtōmon’in Shōshi was the mother
of the nation who exercised the most authority by looking after her grandsons
and great-grandsons. Shōshi was born the daughter of Fujiwara no Michinaga
and Minamoto no Rinshi in 988. In 999, at age eleven (twelve according to con-
temporary Japanese custom), she entered the palace of Emperor Ichijō as his
consort. The following year, on the twenty-fifth day of the second month, she
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  31

was named a principal imperial consort. Another principal consort, Fujiwara

no Teishi (977 – 1000), was eleven years her senior and a rival. However, Teishi
died while giving birth on the sixteenth day of the twelfth month of 1000, and
Shōshi then adopted Teishi’s son Prince Atsuyasu. In 1008, Shōshi gave birth to
Prince Atsuhira (later Emperor Go-Ichijō), and the following year, Prince Atsu-
naga (Emperor Go-Suzaku) was born. From Emperor Ichijō’s death in 1011 until
her own death at the age of eighty-seven in 1074, she oversaw, for a span of more
than sixty years, the rule of her sons Go-Ichijō (r. 1016 – 1036) and Emperor Go-
Suzaku (r. 1036 – 1045), her grandsons Emperor Go-Reizei (r. 1045 – 1068) and
Emperor Go-Sanjō (r. 1068 – 1072), and the first years of the reign of her great-
grandson Emperor Shirakawa (r. 1072 – 1086). During this period, her younger
brother Fujiwara no Yorimichi (992 – 1074) acted as regent, and the path toward
rule by retired emperors (insei), which came about after Shirakawa’s retirement
in 1086, was initiated. Many studies have been devoted to this late period of the
regency, but little attention has been paid to the important role of Fujiwara no
Shōshi in this transition. For instance, the shift in balance in favor of the imperial
family can be seen in Shōshi’s support of reigning emperors over her own brother
Yorimichi. Below, I will point to a few characteristics of Shōshi’s authority as the
head of the imperial house.
First, Shōshi had great influence over court appointments. The following quo-
tation from the diary of Fujiwara no Sukefusa speaks for itself: “The emperor, the
regent [Yorimichi], and the principal imperial consort [Jōtōmon’in] fill positions
with people with whom they have strong connections. Such behavior can only be
a sign of an age of decline.”70 Moreover, I have shown elsewhere how records in
the Kojidan, a thirteenth-century tale, report that Yorimichi tried to have his son
Morozane succeed him as regent, but when he went to announce this to Shōshi,
the lady, who was already in bed at the time of the visit, abruptly arose and stated
that her father’s will prescribed that the office should be passed to Yorimichi’s
younger brother Norimichi.71 Fujiwara no Sanesuke’s frequent visits to Shōshi,
his adopted son Sanehira’s success in climbing the court hierarchy, and his use of
the well-connected court lady and writer Murasaki Shikibu as his intermediary
to send messages further reflect the private nature that a control of the imperial
court entailed, as well as Shōshi’s authority over personnel appointments.72
Second, Shōshi had the right to determine consorts. As already noted, the se-
lection of a consort was the first step in the continuation of the imperial line, and
the ramifications of such decisions could be far-reaching, as all nobles in Kyoto
knew. Fujiwara no Yoshinobu, Shōshi’s younger brother by a different mother,
sought to have his adopted daughter become consort of Crown Prince Takahito,
and he clearly felt compelled to gain the approval of Shōshi: “The other day, I re-
ceived the blessing of the regent [Yorimichi], and when I went to the retired lady
[Shōshi] in the same matter, I received her permission as well.”73 The experience
must have been similar for other ranking nobles hoping to have their female
relatives climb the ladder at the court in this fashion. However, from Emperor
Go-Ichijō to Emperor Go-Sanjō, all consorts were descendants of Michinaga on
either the maternal or the paternal side. Using her powerful position, Shōshi
32  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

forged enduring connections between the imperial house and Michinaga’s de-
scendants. Her success came to set Michinaga’s lineage apart from the rest of the
aristocratic class, especially when it came to matters of the imperial succession,
which in turn enabled the imperial house to reassert its control over imperial

Until the latter half of the eighth century, the status of men and women at the
court did not differ significantly. In the ninth century, the roles and physical
spaces of men and women began to be segregated, and the political standing
of women diminished from an official perspective, as women were pushed to
the periphery of the political sphere. Yet to place all the emphasis on this trend
would be to ignore the foundations of power in the regency age. The power of the
kokumo allowed her male relatives to use the political space in the rear palace,
where the senior consorts and empress dowagers lived, and to build political
offices close to that area in order to represent or assist the emperor. Moreover,
the strengthening of the parental authority of the imperial house, and the con-
firmation of Michinaga’s line as the house of the regency, were the results of
Fujiwara no Shōshi’s dominance as nyoin, in which she used her authority to
select consorts.
  While pushed to the periphery in public spaces, women could participate in
politics at its core privately inside the imperial house. This participation was
based on the way in which power evolved from the ninth century, when senior
members of the imperial house began to exercise their authority, initially as
parents of the rulers. In fact, it was because of this removal from the spotlight
outside of the immediate center of the imperial court that leading women of the
imperial house were able to continue to exert a profound influence on political
issues. Still, it would not be until the end of the eleventh century, from the rule
of Retired Emperor Shirakawa, that the imperial lineage could establish itself as
one of the elite houses (kenmon). And it was through the power of the kokumo
that this autonomy came to fruition.

1. For these views, see Kobayashi Toshio, Kodai jotei no jidai; and Araki Toshio, Kanōsei
toshite no jotei. For an analysis in English of this topic, see Joan Piggott, The Emergence of
Japanese Kingship.
2. Satō Nagato, “Kodai tennō sei no kōzō to sono tenkai,” 45.
3. The establishment of the title of emperor (tennō) has been the topic of much debate in
recent years. The current consensus points to the court of Tenmu, but for convenience, I will
use the title for earlier rulers as well.
4. See Inoue Mitsusada, “Nihon no jotei.”
5. See the aforementioned works by Kobayashi and Araki (n. 1).
6. Araki, Kanōsei toshite no jotei, 5.
From Female Sovereign to Mother of the Nation  |  33

7. Yoshie Meishi, “Kodai jotei ron no kako to genzai,” 34.

8. Shoku Nihongi, Tenpyō 1 (729) 8/24.
9. See Haruna Hiroaki, “Kōtaihi Abe no kōjo ni tsuite: ryōsei chūgū no kenkyū.”
10. Kitō Kiyoaki, “Kōgōgūshiki ron.”
11. See Yoshikawa Shinji, “Ritsuryō kokka no jokan.”
12. See Haruna Hiroaki, “Naishi kō”; and Katsuura Noriko, “Kodai kyūtei soshiki to seibetsu
13. In the early modern period (kinsei, 1600 – 1868), political fighting between the bakufu
and the court led to the enthronement of two female sovereigns. See Araki, Kanōsei toshite
no jotei.
14. See Misaki Hiroko, “Kisaki no miya no sonzai keitai”; Hashimoto Yoshinori, Heiangū
seiritsu shi no kenkyū; idem, “Kōkyū no seiritsu.”
15. See Hashimoto, Heiangū seiritsu shi no kenkyū.
16. See Kitō, “Kōgōgūshiki ron.”
17. Nishino Yukiko, “Bokō to kōgō.”
18. See Okamura Sachiko, “Tennō shinsai saishi to kōgō.”
19. Nihon kōki, Kōnin 6 (815) 7/13.
20. See Hashimoto, “Kōkyū no seiritsu”; and Yoshikawa, “Ritsuryō kokka no nyokan.”
21. Kuribayashi Shigeru, “Kōgō juga girei no seiritsu to tenkai”; idem, “Heian chō ni okeru
sangō girei ni tsuite.”
22. See Hashimoto, “Kōkyū no seiritsu.”
23. Ibid.
24. Okamura Sachiko, “Onna joi ni kansuru kisoteki kōsatsu.”
25. Translator’s note: The establishment of male secretaries may also be related to the role
played by Fujiwara no Kusuko, Heizei’s favorite consort, in the insurgence against Emperor
26. Haruna, “Naishi kō.”
27. Shoku Nihon kōki, Jōwa 9 (842) 7/23.
28. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Gangyō 3 (877) 3/22.
29. Nishino, “Kyū seiki no tennō to bokō.”
30. Shoku Nihon kōki, Jōwa 9/8/4.
31. Nihon Montoku tennō jitsuroku, Saikō 1 (854) 4/26.
32. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Gangyō 3/3/23.
33. See Haruna, “Naishi kō.”
34. Junshi is referred to as imperial mother even though she had already become grand
imperial dowager on Saikō 1 (854) 4/26. The mother of Seiwa, Fujiwara no Meishi became im-
perial mother on Ten’an 2 (858) 11/7. Therefore, there was no kōtaibunin on Ten’an 2/8/29, and
one needs to look elsewhere to deduce the identity of this figure. In an entry for the following
year, Jōgan 1 (859) 4/18, there is a reference to the kōtaigō riding in the same palanquin as the
emperor on the twenty-ninth day of the eighth month the previous year, making it clear that
Junshi was the grand imperial dowager.
35. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Ten’an 2/8/29.
36. See Nishino, “Kyū seiki no tennō to bokō.”
37. See Suematsu Hiyoshi, “Sokui shiki ni okeru bokō no tōdan.”
38. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Ten’an 2/11/7.
39. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Jōgan 7 (865) 11/4. On 8/21, however, Emperor Seiwa temporarily
moved from the Eastern Palace to one of the Grand Council’s official halls (daijōkan no zōshi)
to avoid a directional taboo (hake monoimi).
34  |  fukutō sanae with takeshi watanabe

40. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Gangyō 3 (879) 3/23; Nishino, “Kyū seiki no tennō to bokō.”
41. This was common practice in the Heian age, and as long as the emperor did not accept
the rejection, the appointment would be remade, as it was in Mototsune’s case.
42. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Gangyō 5 (881) 2/21.
43. See Hashimoto, “Kōkyū no seiritsu”; Okamura Sachiko, “Shiki no mizōshi ni tsuite.”
44. I have treated this topic in more detail in my “Ōken to kokumo: Ōchō kokka no seiji to
45. See Tsunoda Bun’ei, “Taikōtaigō Fujiwara no Onshi”; idem, Heian jinbutsu shi. By con-
trast, Kōchi Shōsuke does not address Princess Hanshi’s role in his Kōdai seiji shi ni okeru
tennō sei no ronri.
46. Kyūreki, Tenryaku 4 (950) 6/15.
47. Senso burui shō, Emperor Daigo, Kanpyō 9 (897) 7/3.
48. Nihon kiryaku, Kanpyō 9/8/9; Shōtai 1 (898) 2/13.
49. Nihon kiryaku, Kanpyō 9/7/26.
50. Nihon kiryaku, Shōtai 1/4/25.
51. Translator’s note: Untimely deaths, epidemics, and other natural events caused many at
the imperial court to believe that the scorned spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, who died in exile
in 903 during the reign of Emperor Daigo, had caused these calamities. For an extensive account
of these events, see Robert Borgen, Sugawara no Michizane and the Early Heian Court.
52. This point is discussed in greater detail in my article “Ōken to kokumo.”
53. Satō Nagato, “Kodai tennō sei no kōzō to sono tenkai.”
54. Kyūreki, Tenryaku 4 (950) 5/26.
55. A prince born from a nyōgo took precedence over one from a kōi (female attendant). For
more on this topic, see Yamamoto Kazuya, “Nihon kodai no kōgō to kisaki no joretsu.”
56. Kyūreki, Tenryaku 4 (950) 5/26. Morosuke’s deduction regarding Norihira’s selection
as crown prince from a comparison of gifts is suggested by Kojima Naoko, “Monogatari no
gishiki to ‘hi’ junkyo.”
57. Kyūreki, Tenryaku 4/6/15, 25, 27.
58. Satō Nagato, “Kodai tennō sei no kōzō to sono tenkai,” 45.
59. The directive issued by the Council of State on the tenth day of the eighth month shows
that Princess Shōshi was born in Tenryaku 4, but the date remains unclear. However, imperial
consort Kiko died on the fifth day of the fifth month, and it is believed her death may have been
caused by childbirth. See Dai Nihon shiryō, 1:9, entries for Tenryaku 4/5/5 and 8/10.
60. See Fujiki Kunihiko, “Fujiwara no Onshi to sono jidai.”
61. See Tsunoda, “Taikōtaigō Fujiwara no Onshi.”
62. See the works by Tsunoda and Fujiki (nn. 60 and 61).
63. Shōyūki, Chōtoku 3 (997) 7/5.
64. Shōyūki, Eiso 1 (989) 8/23.
65. Shōyūki, Eiso 1/8/23; Shōryaku 1 (990) 8/29.
66. Gonki, Chōhō 1 (999) 12/7, Chōhō 2 (1000) 1/28, 12/7.
67. Tomita Setsuko, “Heian jidai chūki ni okeru rikkō jijō to gaiseki kankei — toku ni Michi-
naga no baai wo chūshin toshite.”
68. Takamatsu Momoka, “Nyoin no seiritsu — sono yōin to chii wo megutte.”
69. Ryō Susumu, “Nyoin sei no seiritsu”; Hashimoto Yoshihiko, “Nyoin no igi to enkaku.”
70. Shunki, Chōkyū 1 (1040) 6/8.
71. Fukutō, “Ōken to Kokumo”; Maki Michio, Insei jidai shi ronshū.
72. For example, see Shōyūki, Chōwa 2 (1013) 1/19.
73. Shunki, Eishō 1 (1046) 10/22.
3  d   Joan R. Piggott

Court and Provinces under Regent

Fujiwara no Tadahira

Let Minister of the Left Lord Fujiwara no Tadahira protect and help the young
lord. . . . And while [the tennō] is not yet familiar with the plenipotentiary powers
of rulership, let him [the Minister of the Left] protect and aid the sacred person
and take charge of governmental affairs.

eceiving such royal orders from the dying Daigo Tennō (r. 897 – 930),
Fujiwara no Tadahira (880 – 949) became regent (sesshō) for the seven-
year-old Suzaku Tennō (r. 930 – 946) in 930.1 Later, Tadahira would also
serve as chief of staff (kanpaku) to Suzaku and as regent to Suzaku’s
younger brother, Murakami Tennō (r. 946 – 967). Tadahira was not the first scion
of the Northern Fujiwara family to serve as regent; he was the fourth son of
Fujiwara no Mototsune (836 – 891), the adopted heir of Fujiwara no Yoshifusa
(804 – 872), and both Yoshifusa and Mototsune had served as regent before Ta-
dahira. Nevertheless, Tadahira’s tenures as sesshō and kanpaku saw the regu-
larization of many of the precedents and protocols that came to structure these
offices of court leadership, making Tadahira’s a particularly important historical
moment. In this volume dedicated to better understanding the relations between
center and periphery up to the late eleventh century, it is important to consider
how Regent Tadahira presided over provincial administration. Well documented
as his activities are in various types of records including entries from his own
journal, the Teishinkō ki, it is time to revise the old view of Tadahira as an urban
and aristocratic leader too alienated from and uninterested in the provinces to
involve himself in their governance. The record demonstrates instead that Tada-
hira had long training in provincial administration before 930, which experience
served him well later as court leader. But the same record shows that the court of
Tadahira’s day suffered from a lack of consensus on successful provincial policy
as violence in both capital and countryside was increasing. My argument here
is that a major cause of contention was the increasing contradiction between
two systems of management and provisioning — one more bureaucratic and the
other more patrimonial — that linked rulers of the tenth-century capital with the
periphery of their realm. We shall also see that court leaders such as Tadahira
were deeply invested in both systems, making resolution of the contradictions
36  |  joan r. piggott

The Training of a Future Regent, 895 – 930

Long before he became regent, Tadahira’s early postings as a royal chamberlain

(jijū), senior controller (daiben), and then as middle councilor (chūnagon) and
minister of the right (udaijin) on the Council of State (Daijōkan) provided him
with broad training in court operations, including issues of provincial admin-
istration. Tracing Tadahira’s early career through the following narrative and
accompanying table (table 3.1) provides substantial insights into how the court
actually functioned in the early tenth century, both in terms of how it governed
the provinces and how it extracted resources from them.
After his coming-of-age ceremony at the age of sixteen in 895, Tadahira was
promoted to the senior fifth rank lower step by the sitting monarch, Daigo Tennō.
He was also given his initial posting in the court bureaucracy as a chamberlain
in the Royal Affairs Ministry (Nakatsukasashō). The following year Tadahira was
named provisional senior governor (gon no kami) of Bingo Province, from which
posting he gained a share of provincial taxes as livelihood, although likely he
never left the capital. At that point Tadahira doubtless became more aware of the
challenges facing tax collection, because they affected him personally.
The tenth-century polity — some researchers have called it the “court-centered
polity” (ōchō kokka) in contrast to the “tennō-centered polity” of the eighth and
early ninth centuries — had two separate systems for drawing provincial resources
into the capital.2 On the bureaucratic side, the monarch, whose court and pro-
vincial administration was originally structured by the Chinese-style ritsuryō
codes, had come to depend on a regent or chief of staff, who on the monarch’s
behalf oversaw policy deliberations by the senior nobles (kugyō) of the Council of
State. In turn, the senior nobles supervised provincial administration by custodial
governors (zuryō) who acted as the monarch’s emissaries and tax collectors in the
countryside.3 In many respects this system perpetuated the integrative hierarchies 
— officialdom, a network of central places, and a network of ritual centers — that
had given shape to the original tennō-centered realm.4
But with the failure by the early ninth century of ritsuryō-mandated processes
of cultivator registration, field distribution, and taxes based thereon, those who
had lived off such arrangements — nobles, official religious institutions, and even
lesser officials with the means to do so — began investing in the opening of rental
fields to provide themselves with an alternative source of livelihood. One re-
sult was the proliferation of absentee interests across the Kinai and beyond, ac-
companied by increasing bonds of clienthood between powerful patrons in the
capital and wealthy local elites (known as fugō no tomogara in contemporary
sources). The latter signed up as housemen (kenin, keishi), attendants (toneri), or
staff (zōnin) of capital patrons to gain tax exemptions and other favors.5 Mean-
while, sons and grandsons of governors who were taking up residence in the
provinces were frequently accused of interfering with official tax collection. Soon
provincials were turning to the households of their noble patrons rather than to
provincial governors for an array of adjudicative and other services.6 Directives
Table 3.1. Fujiwara no Tadahira’s career

Rank/post/privilege Month/year Monarch/comment

Senior first 08/949 d. Tadahira 08/14

Chief of staff 05/946 Murakami Tennō 946 04/–>
Chief of staff 11/941
Equal of the three queens 02/939
Prime minister 08/936
Junior first 11/932
Regent 09/930 Suzaku Tennō 930 09/–>
Court liaison for Enryakuji 12/929
Crown prince preceptor 10/925
Senior second, minister of the left 01/924
Junior second 02/916
Minister of the right (Council of Nobles) 08/914
Commander of the left (Inner Palace
  Guards) 04/913
Senior third 01/913
Senior counselor (Council of Nobles) 01/911
Middle counselor (Council of Nobles) 01/910
Commander of the right (Inner Palace
  Guards) 09/909
Director, Royal Secretariat 05/909
Fujiwara clan leader 04/909
Provisional middle counselor (Council
  of Nobles) 04/909
Junior third 04/909 d. Fujiwara no Tokihira
Director, Royal Police Office 09/908
Director, Left Gate Guards 08/908
Director, Crown Prince’s Household 02/908
Advisor (Council of Nobles) 01/908
Provisional provincial governor, Bizen 01/905
Junior fourth, upper 01/903
Senior right controller 05/900
Advisor (Council of Nobles) 01–02/900 marriage to Uda’s daughter
Junior fourth lower, chamberlain 11/898 Daigo Tennō 897 07/–>
Provisional provincial governor, Bingo 02/897
Chamberlain 01/896
Permit to enter royal presence 09/895
Senior fifth lower 08/895
38  |  joan r. piggott

(kanpu) sent by the senior nobles to prohibit such practices from the mid-ninth
century onward indicate the serious nature of the challenge to governors. Three
examples follow.
In recent years various noble households (ōshin no shoke) produce their seals
and claim to be owed goods. They compete at the residences of district chiefs
(gunji) and wealthy locals (fugō), where they amass a fortune in rice. When
there is a quarrel with the governor [over such goods] they manufacture some
excuse. This degrades not only the governor’s authority but also that of the
court. (Jōwa 12 [845] 6/23)7
Whether locals or wanderers, all call themselves housemen of royals or minis-
ters (ōshin). They fear neither the authority of the provincial governor nor that
of the district chieftain. They become ever more aggressive, even resorting
to violence. Moreover, they fraudulently claim that they are exempt from tax
levies. (Jōgan 2 [860] 9/20)8
Residents of this [Mino] province are skilled only at collusion, resulting in loss
of tax goods. When the provincial governor confiscates private goods [to make
up for delinquent tax goods] and tries to transport them to an official store-
house, they immediately claim that [such goods] belong to a noble household.
They request that a missive (chō) be sent to the provincial office stating that
the goods [in question] are profits from private lending or repayment for loans.
Sometimes [the noble household] displays a banner or erects a wooden marker.
There is no crime greater than this! (Kanpyō 7 [895] 9/27)9
At the same time, staffs of the great noble houses in the capital — those serving
the retired monarch, queens, crown princes, and senior nobles — continued to
expand in size, in part because by the turn of the tenth century only senior nobles
and those closest to the throne — such as royal secretaries (kurōdo), controllers,
and royal intimates (tenjōbito) — were receiving regular salaries from govern-
ment coffers. Even gifts (roku) that had once been given out at royal banquets as
livelihood for officials declined because of shortages in tax goods. Lower rankers
in the capital who had once received salaries could thus but turn to the great
households for their sustenance.
The senior nobles of the Council of State began issuing directives like those
above to prohibit alliances between locals and capital patrons as early as 824, but
persistent interdictions thereafter indicate that such efforts had little effect. In
896 the Council was still inveighing against noble households quarreling “over
fields, houses, and other goods when presented with complaints by cultivators,”
and in 905 the households were forbidden to send out agents to investigate crimes
or attacks on locals.10 On the other hand, provincial governors were petitioning
the court to authorize the appointment of police agents (kebiishi) in the provinces
to halt crime and resistance to taxes. Thus the conflict between two different sys-
tems linking capital and provinces — one more bureaucratic and focused on the
provincial governor, versus one more patrimonial and employing great house-
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  39

holds as actors — was surging when Tadahira was beginning his official career at
the court of Daigo Tennō.11
As the grandson and son of two previous regents, the young Tadahira naturally
enjoyed great advantages at court, but he also enjoyed the support of a powerful
living patron as well. In 900 the retired Uda Tennō (r. 887 – 897) chose Tadahira
to marry his daughter, Princess Nobuko, and become his son-in-law (muko).12
Likely it was also Uda’s influence that secured Tadahira’s appointment as right se-
nior controller (udaiben) with the privileges of a royal intimate.13 Tadahira could
thus function in the important role of controller-cum-royal-intimate (tenjō no
ben), whose responsibility it was to be a liaison between the Controllers’ Office,
the Council of State, the throne, and the retired monarch. At the time the high-
est-ranking minister on the Council was Tadahira’s eldest brother, Fujiwara no
Tokihira (871 – 909), who was then serving as minister of the left.
Controllers coordinated key elements of the tennō’s government, which meant
that Tadahira’s posting as senior right controller put him at the heart of court
operations. Extant entries from Tadahira’s journal begin in 907 but are sketchy for
the early years. Nonetheless we know from the tenth-century Collected Commen-
taries on Administrative Law (Ryō no shūge) that as right senior controller Tada-
hira would have overseen the ministries of Defense, Justice, and the Royal House-
hold for his bosses, the senior nobles of the Council of State.14 Senior controllers
worked closely with middle controllers (chūben), junior controllers (shōben), and
controller-secretaries (shi), receiving incoming petitions and reports from min-
istries and provinces and sending back directives promulgating policy decisions
made by the senior nobles and the throne.15 Senior controllers also joined Council
secretaries (geki) in preparatory sessions called katanashi to organize documents
for Council discussions. When further information was required, controllers
summoned knowledgeable officials for questioning. They determined where to
make their report to the Council’s noble in charge (shōkei), who would then pre-
side over Council deliberations either in the Council Secretariat (Gekichō), the
Chamberlains’ Room (Jijūsho), or in one of the guard-post chambers (jin) near the
royal throne room of the residential palace (map 2.2).16 After such deliberations,
a memorial reporting Council members’ views (called the jin no mōshibumi) was
submitted to the tennō, who then responded with his command. Were a Council
directive subsequently sent out to promulgate that decision — either to official
agencies or the provinces — a senior controller would also sign the repository
copy (an).17 Finally, controllers also served as directors (bettō) of various offices
in the residential palace, overseeing its smooth functioning in concert with mem-
bers of the extracodal Royal Secretariat (Kurōdo dokoro).
This description of how a senior controller worked closely with officials both
in the capital and at provincial headquarters makes it clear that Tadahira would
have become well acquainted with all the reasons provincial governors typi-
cally gave for their failures to pay the requisite taxes: drought, poverty, famine,
plague, banditry, and interference by powerful court patrons. Tadahira would
have helped draft, promulgate, and execute the directives known as the Engi
40  |  joan r. piggott

reforms in the third month of 902. They called for enforcing traditional ritsuryō
procedures such as requiring field registration and redistribution, higher stan-
dards for the quality of goods remitted as taxes, stricter evaluation of provincial
governors’ performance, the prohibition of royal grant fields (chokushiden) that
drew cultivators away from public lands, and other strictures against aristocratic
land opening and cliental recruitment in the countryside.18
The year 908 was an important one in Tadahira’s career because it saw him
named an advisor (sangi) on the Council of State, with concurrent appointments
as commander of the Right Palace Guards and director of both the Office of Royal
Police (Kebiishichō) and the Crown Prince’s Household. There can be no doubt
that the triumvirate then leading the court — the retired Uda, the sitting mon-
arch Daigo, and Minister of the Left Tokihira (Tadahira’s elder brother) — looked
to Tadahira to help them solve a host of critical problems. One such was a dearth
of qualified candidates for governorships: the office responsible for evaluating
governors’ performances, the office of Discharge Examiners (Kageyushi), was
extremely behind in its workload, leaving few candidates for reappointment on its
approved list.19 Another challenge was famine: in 909, royal banquets had to be
canceled, and emergency stores of rice in the capital were sold to relieve inflation-
ary food costs and hunger resulting from widespread wasted fields.20
Adding to these difficulties, Tokihira died suddenly in the fourth month of
909. His passing left Daigo Tennō and his queen consort, Yasuko — a full sister
to both Tokihira and Tadahira — more reliant than ever on Tadahira. The latter
was quickly named provisional middle counselor (gon no chūnagon). In that post
he could finally oversee particular court projects or events as noble in charge.21
At the same time, Tadahira was named right commander (utaishō) of the Inner
Palace Guards (Konoefu) and director of the Royal Secretariat, assignments that
essentially made him responsible for the operation and security of the tennō’s
residential palace. Over the next few years Tadahira continued to rise rapidly
in the Council and in the palace: in 911 he was named senior counselor (daina-
gon); in 913 he became left commander of the Inner Guards; and in 914 he was
named minister of the right. The latter posting made him, in the absence of
a higher-ranking minister of the left, leader of the Council (ichi no kami). But
then Tadahira’s dynamic rise stalled: it took another decade before Tadahira was
finally promoted to minister of the left (sadaijin) in 924. Most scholars think
that Tadahira’s unusually long term as minister of the right resulted from Daigo
Tennō’s willful determination to lead his own court.22
During these years Tadahira nonetheless remained busy taking matters of
provincial administration before the throne. Tax shortages and the dearth of
qualified appointees for governorships remained serious problems.23 In 910, for
instance, Middle Counselor Tadahira noted in his journal that the director-
controller (bettō no ben) who oversaw Council of State stores (mikuriya) had re-
ported a shortfall of 4,132 koku of rice due from the provinces (enough rice to feed
4,132 people for a year).24 Such rice, normally collected as rent from public fields
in every province, was to be used to support the activities of the Council, and
replacement rice had to be located. On the advice of a member of the controllers’
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  41

staff, Tadahira and his colleagues decided that eleven provinces should send in
special shipments of polished rice (shōmai) in lieu of other tax goods to cover
this shortage.25 And to avoid such occurrences in future, Tadahira proposed es-
tablishing a new system of receipts by which tax payments were to be verified at
the end of a governor’s term. Meanwhile, with regard to fallow fields, Tadahira
memorialized the throne in 913 to report the dire news that provincial gover-
nors had reported extensive wasted fields in forty-four of sixty-six provinces. In
response, he and his fellow senior nobles recommended that the Bureau of Taxa-
tion (Shuzeiryō) should decide annual limits for fallow fields in every province
and that thereafter governors whose reports indicated excessive wasted fields
would not be recommended for reappointment. This policy gained the tennō’s
support and became law.26
Provincial administration continued in such disarray that Daigo Tennō un-
usually called for reform proposals directly from provincial governors in 914. A
twelve-point memorial authored by the scholar and former governor Miyoshi
Kiyoyuki (847 – 918) provides insight into an experienced governor’s views of cur-
rent problems. Specifically, he urged Tadahira and his colleagues on the Council
to assure further economies in administering the capital, larger and better-paid
provincial staffs, and more attention to provincial matters.27 The fact that Miyo-
shi was eventually appointed an advisor on the Council suggests that Tadahira
and his fellow senior nobles valued Miyoshi’s views.
Tadahira was then minister of the right, and his name appears in connection
with numerous directives promulgating pragmatic and innovative strategies. For
instance, he ordered an unprecedented 5,400 koku of rice collected from official
rental fields to pay official salaries in that same year.28 Cornelius Kiley has also
argued that it was under Tadahira’s leadership about 925 when the Council of
State proposed to the throne that innovative land-based taxes be levied on so-
called named units (myō). Such a policy meant that wealthy members of rural
society were being given increasing responsibility for overseeing the extraction of
tax payments from their less-wealthy neighbors.29 Meanwhile, in the residential
palace the Royal Secretariat over which Tadahira then presided was devising a
new system of daily tributes (hitsugi nie) meant to supply the royal table with
fowl from six provinces near the capital. These new arrangements emphasizing
both geography and special benefits for royal provisioners were intended to free
the palace from the tax shortages faced by other units of government. Notably
here the bureaucratic system of taxation was thereby replaced with a more patri-
monial one: tax payers became provisioners who looked to the palace as patron.
Moreover, in another similar instance Tadahira went so far as to solicit an order
from the throne that all tribute goods from the sea to be used for royal banquets
known as sechie should be shipped to the Queen Consort’s Agency (Chūgūshiki)
rather than the Kitchen Bureau (Ōiryō), as had been the rule in the past.30 Such a
change would have made provisioners of such banquets into clients of the Agency
while strengthening the role of Tadahira’s own sister staff in the residential pal-
ace. In this regard Amino Yoshihiko has argued that from Tadahira’s era onward,
the Northern Fujiwara Regents House (sekkanke) became increasingly involved in
42  |  joan r. piggott

marine transport via the Inland Sea as a result of its oversight of both the tennō’s
Royal Secretariat and the Queen Consort’s Agency.31
Governors who abused their authority or ignored responsibilities presented
challenges to which Tadahira, the Council, and the throne had to respond. In
914, for example, Senior Counselor Tadahira solicited a royal order prohibiting
cruel treatment of post station workers by governors coming from and going to
their provinces.32 And in 918 Tadahira again went before the throne arguing that
no governor should be reappointed without fulfilling requirements for discharge
from his previous appointment, including the submission of all receipts to verify
tax payments.33 During these years the Office of Discharge Agents was frequently
ordered to determine whether a governor’s negligence of his duties was serious
enough to justify criminal charges, and the office was ever behind in its work,
which meant few candidates made its cleared-for-reappointment list.34
Besides Tadahira’s involvement in activities supervising and evaluating gov-
ernors’ service, there were frequent reports of bandits and pirates to be dealt
with. In 914, for instance, Tadahira’s kinsman, Fujiwara no Toshihito, was sent
out against bandits attacking tax shipments in the east country. Toshihito is an
early example of a martial governor. He had served previously in the Bandō prov-
inces of Shimotsuke and Kazusa where he married into a local elite family, de-
spite Council of State directives from the ninth century onward warning against
governors settling outside the capital. In 915 Toshihito reportedly defeated “a
thousand massed evildoers” as a barbarian-suppressing commander (chinjufu
shōgun).35 Governors had good reasons for arming themselves: they were fre-
quently targets of violence.36 Researcher Abe Takeshi has identified fifty-nine
incidents of assassination between 795 and 1104.37
Competing interests of powerful noble households also led to conflicts in the
provinces. One such instance was a quarrel in 913 over ownership of rice fields at
Takaniwa Estate in Inaba Province claimed by the royal temple Tōdaiji of Nara,
as well as by the households of a princess and a Council member. In this case we
have extant documents that recite competing claims; but with royals, aristocrats,
and a royal temple involved, neither the provincial authorities in Inaba nor the
Council of State found the dispute easy to resolve.38 Unfortunately, the record
does not reveal the outcome, but later records suggest that Tōdaiji succeeded in
keeping its property.39 In the early tenth century, high-rankers at court carefully
looked after the needs of favored Buddhist institutions: members of the Council
and the Controllers’ staff served as their lay directors (zoku bettō, kengyō), and
represented their interests at court. Their monastic leaders also enjoyed substan-
tial influence vis-à-vis the court.
Entries in Tadahira’s journal demonstrate how Tadahira, other members of
the Council, and the monarch relied on controllers and controller-secretaries as
investigators, reporters, policy proposers, and liaison personnel to help decide
provincial policy. As we have already seen, controllers were in contact with pro-
vincial headquarters and governors and were therefore familiar with conditions
in the sixty-six provinces. According to the Benkan bunin, a register of appoin-
tees to the Controllers’ Office, excepting fifth-ranked junior controllers, most
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  43

controllers held the fourth rank.40 The following sampling of their activities in 931
provides a picture of their comings and goings between the royal residence, the
Council Secretariat, the guard-post chamber of the senior nobles, and Tadahira’s
own residence.
• Having heard a report on pirates by the right junior controller, Tadahira
ordered the report memorialized to the throne.41 Probably the report had
come to Tadahira’s attention from the Council’s noble in charge, who would
have received it from the Controller’s Office, who would have received it
from provincial authorities. Notably, even though Suzaku Tennō was a child,
Tadahira ordered the report memorialized to him, indicating that the pro-
tocols of tennō-centered government were still being carefully observed. We
do not know the effects of the memorial, but it is likely that a royal order for
appointment of a pursuit agent was handed down, drafted in writing, and
sent out.
• Tadahira ordered the left middle controller to investigate why special levies
of exchange (kōeki) silk remained unpaid by certain provinces, and he asked
the same official to determine which provinces should be ordered to send
in polished rice needed by the Kitchen Bureau to feed officials working in-
side the palace precincts.42 We do not know the official’s responses, but they
would later have been discussed by the Council, memorialized to the throne,
and promulgated after a royal order.
• Tadahira ordered the left junior controller to investigate and report concern-
ing a complaint from the Stable Bureau that Bizen Province had failed to
pay it both horses and beans.43 Presumably the complaint reached Tadahira
through a report sent from that bureau to the Council by way of the Con-
troller’s Office. Were the claim deemed correct, the Bizen governor would
have faced pressure to pay what was owed.
• Tadahira ordered the left senior controller-secretary (sataishi) to study prec-
edents and report whether it was permissible to order a province to repair
and clean up various facilities by the beginning of the following year.44
• Tadahira commanded a controller to bring him reports from various prov-
inces concerning exchange items that had been levied on an extraordinary
basis.45 It seems likely that in this case, like that above, Tadahira was check-
ing up to see who was paying what, in order to chasten malingerers sooner
rather than later.
All of these instances show not only how busy with affairs of provincial gov-
ernance Tadahira was, but also how personally involved he was in overseeing
governors’ tax payments.
Indeed the early tenth century witnessed a grand effort to routinize processes
and rituals of court government through compilation of the Procedures of the
Engi Era (Engi shiki). Beginning about 912, Tadahira is known to have worked
closely with Right Senior Controller Tachibana no Sumikiyo to compile this mas-
sive handbook.46 Daigo Tennō had begun the project in 905, but compilers were
beset by sickness and death and so made slow progress. Entries in Tadahira’s
44  |  joan r. piggott

journal indicate that he spent considerable time and energy on this assignment,
which was finally completed only in 927. The Procedures mandated proper pro-
tocols for government not only in the capital but in the provinces as well. Ten out
of fifty rolls concern the propitiation of deities and shrines distributed all over the
realm; and another section devoted to the Council of State details how that body
was to conduct itself when receiving requests for decisions from provincial head-
quarters. Other groups of rubrics laid out how the court and capital offices were
to be provisioned with taxes collected, stored, manufactured, and transported
from every province of the realm. There were procedures for recruiting guards
and palace attendants in the provinces as well as prescriptions for evaluating
the service of provincial governors and organizing the provincial military. By a
rough estimate, twenty-nine out of fifty rolls of the Procedures concern aspects
of provincial affairs.47 As a meticulous courtier who cared deeply about following
proper procedures and precedents, Tadahira must have been particularly well
suited to this work of compilation.
Before turning to the second half of Tadahira’s career, when he served as court
leader and preeminent advisor to the throne as both regent and chief of staff, it is
important to consider the development and activities of Tadahira’s noble house-
hold in the provinces. Above we have focused on Tadahira’s official (bureaucratic)
involvement with the provinces, through his posts in the tennō’s court. What
follows is a discussion of the alternative patrimonial system by which resources
from the countryside were also drawn into the capital through the authority of
noble households.
Like that of other high-rankers, Tadahira’s household received revenues from
prebendal sustenance households called fuko.48 As minister of the right in 920,
for example, Tadahira and his family and entourage would have been supported
by two thousand households in various provinces. Fuko were assigned to their
holder in units of 50 ko each, representing a township.49 According to the Engi
shiki, the holder received all the tax proceeds from his prebendal households.50
Although provincial authorities were charged with delivering such proceeds to
the beneficiary in the capital, some noble households worked out deals to receive
the proceeds directly from the district chieftains who collected them. When
this happened, the authority of the provincial office was compromised, which is
why in 891 provincial governors requested a royal order forbidding the agents of
prebendal beneficiaries from entering a province without the governor’s permis-
sion.51 We do not know in which provinces Tadahira held prebendal households,
but records of the 930s indicate that at the time he held fuko at least in the eastern
province of Shinano and the Inland Sea province of Sanuki.52
How was Tadahira’s household organized? There is not much evidence, but an
extant missive initiated by the household in 920 was signed by fourteen house-
men including a provincial governor and others serving concurrently in various
government posts. Nishibeppu Motoka has argued that missives like this began
to wield increasing influence in the mid-ninth century, as the activities of royal
and aristocratic households in the countryside expanded. Indicative of the thick
web of relations in which Tadahira’s household was involved, this missive was
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  45

addressed to the provincial governor of Tanba Province on behalf of an official

temple in the capital, the “Eastern Temple” — Tōji. Apparently the temple had
sent its own letter to Tadahira complaining that the Tanba governor was confis-
cating temple fields at Ōyama Estate, putting the temple and its monks in eco-
nomic jeopardy. Following what we assume was Tadahira’s orders, his household
staff urged the governor to treat the temple generously; supporting the Buddha’s
work, they opined, was critically important.53 Why might the temple have com-
plained to Tadahira rather than to the Council of State? Perhaps it was easier,
faster, and more reliable. Or perhaps the temple knew that it was on uncertain
legal ground; government policy concerning rental fields, which had not been
dealt with in the original ritsuryō codes, was only gradually taking shape. In any
event, what is notable is that the temple had a choice as to which of two parallel
command systems linking court and province it would utilize to influence the
Tanba governor’s views, and it chose the unofficial one. And yet we must also
note that in 920 Tadahira was the preeminent member on the Council of State,
which body oversaw appointment and evaluation of governors, so the Tanba gov-
ernor would certainly have held the counsel of this ranking council minister in
the highest regard.
Since the services of provincial governors in the countryside were so critical
to the urban nobility, it is not surprising that Tadahira reportedly had at least
one provincial governor’s daughter as a consort. According to the genealogical
compendium Sonpi bunmyaku, the governor in question, Fujiwara no Tsunekuni,
served at one point in Musashi.54 It is probably no coincidence that Tadahira re-
portedly held rice fields in that province; they may well have been opened when
Tadahira’s ancestors served as provincial governors there at the turn of the ninth
century. Some of his prebendal households might have been there as well.
Another province in the east country of special interest to Tadahira was
Shimōsa, home place of the rebel Taira no Masakado (? – 940). We know from the
Masakado ki (alt. Shōmonki) that Masakado, whose ancestors included Kanmu
Tennō (r. 781 – 806) and the prince-governor Takamochi (? – ?) who went out to
Shimōsa in the mid-ninth century, spent part of his youth in Tadahira’s house-
hold in the capital. Fukuda Toyohiko has suggested that Masakado’s family may
have served as wardens of a royal horse ranch in Shimōsa.55 Masakado’s experi-
ence suggests that other sons of provincial notables would also have served in
Tadahira’s household. Given that the Masakado ki claims that the young Ma-
sakado was personally acquainted with Tadahira, those provincials could have
provided Tadahira with firsthand information about their home places.56 Some
of Tadahira’s fourteen housemen who signed the missive in 920 would have spent
time outside the capital, while agents coming and going from countryside estates
would also have been additional informants about the world beyond the capital.
As the highest-ranking courtier in the Fujiwara clan after Tokihira’s death,
Tadahira served as Fujiwara clan head (chōja), which meant that his household
oversaw clan operations like the clan temple Kōfukuji in Nara. That temple in
turn possessed estates (shōen) like Kada no shō in Bizen, Katakami no shō in
Echizen, and Kuzuha Horse Ranch (maki) in Kawachi.57 Indeed, Tadahira’s jour-
46  |  joan r. piggott

nal records that in 927 he appointed the overseer at Katakami no shō. Agents,
reports, and provisions from properties such as these would have arrived at Ta-
dahira’s residence frequently, which meant that however urban and aristocratic
Tadahira was, he and other members of his household staff were certainly neither
ignorant of nor cut off from the provinces.
This review of Tadahira’s involvement with the provinces during his preregency
career makes it clear that as a controller and then as a Council member Tadahira
was deeply involved in the bureaucratic processes of appointing, supervising,
and evaluating the provincial governors who served as the monarch’s emissaries
to the provinces. At the same time, as head of a noble household that supported
itself by marshaling resources and personnel in the countryside through cliental
relations, Tadahira was also deeply invested in a patrimonial system linking capi-
tal and countryside. In the latter role, he was inclined to frown on any governor
who dared to interfere with his household agents or those of a favored religious
institution such as Tōji or Tōdaiji. As we shall see below, contradictions implicit
in this two-track involvement in the countryside by high-ranking courtiers such
as Tadahira grew noticeably worse in the second half of Tadahira’s career, as fis-
cal conditions at court and violence in the realm worsened.

Tadahira as Court Leader, 930 – 949

The accession of his nephew, the eight-year-old Suzaku Tennō, led to Tadahira’s
appointment as regent in 930. The charter of his regental office is partially pre-
served in the Abstracted Records of Japan (Nihon kiryaku), which reports, “The
Heavenly Sovereign [Daigo Tennō] retired from the throne, and passed it to
Crown Prince Hiroakira. A royal order instructed, ‘Minister of the Left Fujiwara
no Tadahira shall protect and help the young lord, and take charge (setsugyō)
of governmental affairs (matsurigoto).’ ”58 An additional fragment elsewhere pro-
vides us with another part of Daigo Tennō’s command: “While he [Suzaku Tennō]
is not yet familiar with the plenary powers of rulership (banki), [you, Fujiwara
no Tadahira, shall] protect and aid the sacred person and take charge of govern-
mental affairs.”59 Key terms here include setsu, meaning to grasp or steer, and
banki, denoting the plenary powers of the monarch. To courtiers in the early
tenth century, both terms would have brought to mind accounts in the eighth-
century Nihon shoki that describe how the famous Prince Shōtoku (574 – 622) had
been charged with “overseeing (sōsetsu) the plenary powers of the throne (banki)”
during Suiko’s reign at the turn of the sixth century.60 And later on in the ninth
century, the same term, setsugyō, was used in royal orders given to Tadahira’s
ancestors. In 866 an order empowered Seiwa Tennō’s maternal grandfather, Fuji-
wara no Yoshifusa, as prime minister (daijōdaijin), “to oversee governance of all
under Heaven” — Tenka no matsurigoto wo setsugyō seshimeyo — in the wake of
the Ōtenmon Coup (866). This order has long been regarded the first articula-
tion of Yoshifusa’s regental powers.61 The second order, dated 876, directed that
Yoshifusa’s heir (and Tadahira’s father), Minister of the Right Fujiwara no Mo-
totsune, “take up decision making within and without the palace, and serve day
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  47

and night without cease. As the monarch’s uncle, look after and protect him, and
let the young lord [Yōzei Tennō)] depend on your advice. As long as he remains
unfamiliar with royal plenary powers (banki), carry them out (setsugyō) and serve
nearby as the faithful and just minister.”62 Thus the royal command appointing
Tadahira regent in 930 purposefully recalled both the hoary and more recent
pasts.63 Thereafter Tadahira would remain regent until 941 when, some years after
Suzaku Tennō had had his coming-of-age ceremony, Tadahira was appointed
Suzaku’s chief of staff.64
In his new post Tadahira’s service to the monarch was shaped by precedents
set down by Fujiwara no Mototsune as kanpaku for Uda Tennō. Uda’s command
to Mototsune in 887 had read as follows:
Being of faint virtue, I take up the regalia. Gazing at the throne, it is as though
I tread on the thinnest ice, touch the dragon’s scales, or cross a fathomless
pool. But for the protection of the senior minister [Mototsune], how could
I proclaim my royal will throughout the realm and make straight the way
of heavenly governance in the palace? He has overseen governmental affairs
(matsurigoto) for three reigns, always with a loyal heart. He makes clear the
sacred words of my predecessor monarchs, and so do I look up to his advice.
In my youth I am a foundling, but he wields all plenary powers and all officials
obey him. So should he oversee (kanpaku) every matter, and afterwards let it
be memorialized and [then] promulgated as in the past.65
An oral proclamation (senmyō) of the following year clarified Mototsune’s re-
sponsibility for inspection of memorials sent to the throne and for edicts sent out
from the throne, a prerogative dubbed nairan, “royal inspection.” “From this time
on, aid the throne by carrying out government and leading officialdom. Oversee
all that is to be memorialized [upward] and ordered [downward]. Render advice
as in the past, that I might follow it in my decision making.”66 As chief of staff
with this power, Mototsune became the gateway to and from the monarch.
Only remnants of the royal order issued to Tadahira in 941 are extant. One
in the Nihon kiryaku commands, “Let the preeminent minister fully com-
mand all royal powers, great and small, and let him superintend all officialdom.
Only afterward shall anything be memorialized or ordered, as in the Ninna era
(885 – 889).”67 Whereas as regent Tadahira had represented and acted for a child
monarch at the behest of a retiring elder monarch, as chief of staff Tadahira was
to manage an adult monarch’s court following the mandate of the sitting mon-
arch. The two posts of regent and chief of staff were alike in their court leadership
function but different in the nature and source of their charters.68
In terms of provincial administration, as court leader — whether regent or
chief of staff — Tadahira was involved in appointing and supervising provincial
governors, coordinating realm-protecting ritual, and overseeing efforts to keep
the peace. At the same time, Tadahira’s noble household expanded and became
more powerful, thereby increasing the potential for conflict between his official
responsibilities and the patrimonial authority and interests of that household.
48  |  joan r. piggott

Appointing and Supervising Provincial Governors

At the nexus of court government was the official appointment process, which
was accomplished through the Appointments Ceremony (Jimoku). Two such
ceremonies were held annually, and although most provincial governors were
appointed at the beginning of the year, others were appointed in the summer.
The Teishinkō ki and other contemporary records provide some insight into how
appointees were chosen. At the end of the first month in 931, for instance, once
a list of provinces needing new governors had been drawn up, Regent Tadahira
received written evaluations of the past performances of two provincial gover-
nors.69 But because he was ill, the ceremony for official deliberations known as
Jimoku no gi was postponed until the third month. At that time two members
of the Council — a middle counselor, who probably represented the Council as
noble in charge of the appointments process that year, and an advisor who was
concurrently serving as right senior controller — presented their views concern-
ing the administrative skills of two candidates during a discussion in which
Regent Tadahira represented the young tennō.70 This discussion took place fol-
lowing nominating meetings attended by Council members — while he him-
self was ranking minister on the Council, as regent (and therefore the tennō’s
stand-in), Tadahira did not usually join Council deliberations.71 These meetings
to determine appointees that involved Regent Tadahira and Council representa-
tives frequently continued over three or four days, after which the decisions were
formally memorialized to the throne by the throne-room report (ōmagaki).72 At
that time the child monarch Suzaku Tennō would have accepted the slate of ap-
pointments as presented, but additions and changes (naoshimono) could be made
even after appointments had been announced.
By 945, by which time Tadahira was serving as chief of staff for the adult
Suzaku Tennō, the monarch himself was participating in these discussions of
candidates with Council members.73 But in 946 the journal notes that a royal
emissary nevertheless delivered a large sheaf of evaluations (kōka sadame kan-
mon) for governorship candidates to Tadahira, and that pattern of the monarch
seeking his chief of staff’s counsel continued into the reign of Murakami Tennō
(926 – 967).74 During this same period, we also see controllers continuing to play
critical roles, coming and going from Tadahira’s presence whether at his home or
in his quarters in the back palace of the royal residence, the shiki no sōshi.75
Evaluation of provincial governor candidates’ credentials was also becoming
increasingly strict; specifically, there was more auditing of a governor’s accounts
and demands for performance evaluations from offices verifying tax payments.76
In 939, for instance, Tadahira noted in his journal,
The governor of Ise was promoted to senior fifth rank for [past] meritorious
service in Higo. He should have been promoted at the Appointments Cer-
emony, but he did not obtain the comprehensive receipt for one year’s taxes in
kind and labor and so was not promoted. Today, however, he was promoted
because there were precedents for doing so and also because he submitted a
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  49

In 931 Regent Tadahira and his colleagues on the Council had decided that only
after a governor had set out for a new appointment should he receive a promotion
in rank, presumably to encourage such embarkation. Here in 939 such a promo-
tion was actualized.78
In Nara and early Heian times the tennō himself would have sent a governor
off with exhortations to govern well, but Regent Tadahira took over such tasks for
the child monarch. In the fourth month of 931, for example, Tadahira personally
entertained two departing governors.79 And similarly in 939 he sent a stockade
commander off to Dewa Province, on the distant eastern frontier, with sake and
horses.80 Alternatively, when a governor failed to leave the capital in a timely fash-
ion the culprit was obliged to write a suitably penitent missive, after which a legal
expert would give his opinion to the Council as to whether punitive measures
were warranted. One such case concerned the governor of Shimōsa in 949.81 The
written statement of views that emerged from Council of State deliberations over
such cases, known as jin no sadame, was scrutinized by Chief of Staff Tadahira
in his capacity as nairan because ultimately it was the monarch who had to make
a final decision based on advice from the senior nobles included in their jin no
sadame statement.82
Besides appointing and exhorting provincial governors to govern well in the
tennō’s name, as court leader Tadahira was deeply involved in evaluating their
performances. As mentioned earlier, the Office of Discharge Examiners had been
established to evaluate governors in early Heian times, and over the course of the
ninth century the focus of its concern had become increasingly fiscal: its mem-
bers were to certify that governors had met all their tax-paying obligations before
being cleared for reappointment to another governorship. According to Corne-
lius Kiley and others who have studied these developments, by the mid-ninth
century the head (kami) of a team of custodial governors was required to sub-
mit a discharge report (geyu) summarizing his full performance of tax-payment
responsibilities up to the end of his tenure.83
This evaluation system for governors developed dynamically from the late
ninth into the early tenth century, as the court sought ways to compel good
provincial administration. Materials in the mid-Heian compilation, Abstract of
Government Affairs (Seiji yōryaku), indicate that when Tadahira was regent, the
examiners’ office was staffed by controllers and members of the Royal Secre-
tariat, all of whom worked closely with Tadahira and some of whom had had
actual experience as governors.84 For instance, in 933 the examiners indicted
the Tanba governor with failing to keep Buddhist images, ritual objects, and
provincial headquarters facilities in good repair, and with neglecting to carry out
mandatory field distribution (handen). They likewise found that the governor of
Awaji had failed to maintain official temples or even to report their ramshackle
condition.85 They also indicted the governor of Echizen for failing to pay his tax
obligations from the interest earned from the public-lending (suiko) program,
as was required of governors who could not pay the full taxes owed from their
province.86 A penitent admission of wrongdoing could sometimes get the gover-
nor pardoned for such offenses: in 932 Tadahira remanded such a case to a legal
50  |  joan r. piggott

scholar for his opinion.87 Such increasingly detailed checks made the work of
the examiners more costly, which was no doubt why in 936 governors filing the
mandatory report known as the fuyogeyujō to explain their failure to complete
their discharge paperwork were directed to personally provide the necessary
paper, ink, and other supplies.88 The trajectory toward ever more lengthy dis-
charge reports reached a high point in 949, the year of Chief of Staff Tadahira’s
death, when governors were directed to submit statements from the Ministry of
Popular Affairs, the Bureau of Taxes, and the Bureau of Statistics (Shukeiryō) as
part of their discharge reports.89
The high incidence of fallow and ruined fields that deprived the court gov-
ernment of tax income was another cause of consternation to Tadahira, and he
insisted on strict measures by provincial governors to control them. Every year
provincial governors were required to survey and report the total number of such
fields, on which basis the Council of State would deliberate and then submit the
Fallow and Ruined Fields Memorial (Fukan denden sō) to the throne. Required
annual tax payments for each province were figured based on that memorial; ac-
cording to his journal, in 941 Chief of Staff Tadahira inspected and approved the
memorial after it was brought to him at his home by the right senior controller.90
Later it was presented to Suzaku Tennō in his royal residence, the Seiryōden,
with two counselors (nagon) and two advisors from the Council present.91
There were instances when governors unable to collect the requisite tax-
es — Kiley thinks obstruction by local elites was the major cause of the prob-
lem — shielded themselves by using the excuse of fallow fields.92 But Tadahira’s
government was unwavering in its determination to put pressure on the gov-
ernors, and fourteen of them were charged with the crime of overstating the
number of fallow fields in 946. Similarly, in 948 the governors of Ise, Tajima,
Bingo, and Iyo were all indicted for exceeding by more than 10 percent the limit
on derelict fields set for their provinces.93 If stated policy were actually followed,
none of these governors should have received new appointments as governors.
As another defense against governors’ plaints of fallow and therefore untax-
able fields, under Tadahira’s leadership the Council of State mandated that each
governor should open an increasing number of fields every year, to the extent that
by the end of his term more fields should have been opened than those opened by
his predecessor.94 By midcentury Tadahira as court leader was having this rule
vigorously enforced. All of this evidence indicates that Tadahira was a hands-on
and tough boss of provincial governors.
Entries in Tadahira’s diary after he became regent indicate that a very dif-
ficult challenge was securing adequate resources to pay for the costs of govern-
ment. According to the eighth-century ritsuryō codes, proceeds from two types
of poll (head) taxes — the handicrafts tax (chō) and the labor tax (yō) — were to be
shipped to the capital to support government activities there. But the collection
and quality of both sorts of resources dwindled during the ninth century, and
by Tadahira’s day other means of provisioning had to be devised. One response
was to declare extraordinary levies on specific provinces. In 931, for example, the
Council ordered a special levy in coin and goods to pay for the construction of
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  51

Daigoji, a royal-vow temple to be built near the Heian capital. And in 938, when
an earthquake destroyed the wall around the palace precincts, the Council de-
cided that nine provinces — the five Kinai provinces plus Ōmi, Tanba, Harima,
and Mino on its periphery — were to support the rebuilding effort. A Council
directive was drafted, sent on to the chief of staff for viewing and then to the
tennō for signing, and finally to the governors concerned.95 Provincial authorities
did not always pay these levies gladly or quickly; for instance, goods to be sent in
from Sagami, such as limestone and thick paper, were not fully paid in 934, occa-
sioning a complaint from the Repairs Office (Shurishiki) through the controllers
to the Council.96 And on another occasion, following an opinion rendered by an
expert in the office of the Royal Police, Tadahira ordered the head of the Left Gate
Guards to confiscate lumber that should have been sent in but had not been. In
that case, enforcement agents were ordered to divide the take equally between
the Repairs Office and the Carpentry Bureau (Mokuryō).97
Since the court continued to have difficulty getting provincial governors to pay
taxes and special levies, the court experienced dire fiscal circumstances into the
940s. In the spring of 940, for example, a Council secretary advised Tadahira that
Council storehouses (mikuriya) were too depleted to provide for the customary
banquet in the fourth month (shun-no-za).98 Tadahira sent the secretary to the
Chamberlain’s Office (Jijūsho) in the residential palace, which apparently had
adequate provisions.99 This action would seem to confirm that the royal tribute
system developed by Tadahira for the residential palace — which treated provi-
sioners as clients rather than as taxpayers — was working more effectively than
was the provincial tax system. In another instance, in 945 the Prelates’ Office
complained that they could not perform the usual official Buddhist rites in the
precincts of the Hall of State (Chōdōin) because it was in ruins.100 Rites for the
Kamo princess-priestess (sai’in), which received careful attention during Tada-
hira’s era, were similarly affected by shortages.101 To provision the latter, in 946
planners decided to sell items from Council stores to purchase needed goods.102
By that point it seems that the problem was greater than a lack of tax stuffs: the
capital itself was starved for resources. Conditions were so bad in 947 that senior
nobles offered to return a share of the take from their prebendal units, and bandit
attacks in the capital were common.103 These were very difficult times indeed for
the court government over which Chief of Staff Tadahira was presiding.

Keeping the Deities Happy

Long before Chinese-style law was adopted in Japan at the turn of the eighth cen-
tury, the predecessor of the tennō, the Yamato Great King, had established him-
self as the preeminent ritual coordinator for worship of both buddhas and deities
(kami) in the realm.104 In Tadahira’s time too the court continued to support of-
ficial temples and to send regular offerings called hōhei to provincial shrines, to
pray for realm protection and prosperity. From the mid-eighth century onward
the list of official shrines expanded: the Engi shiki lists 3,132 shrines to which
yearly offerings were to be sent to celebrate the Annual Prayer Festival (Kinensai)
in the second month.105 While special agents sometimes carried these offerings,
52  |  joan r. piggott

the provincial governor frequently delivered them during his regular round of
visits to shrines in his province. Such shrines also received promotions in court
rank on occasion; deities, like local notables, appreciated receiving a share of the
tennō’s symbolic capital.
There were years during Tadahira’s tenure as court leader, however, when no
dispatch of offerings to provincial shrines was recorded in the extant sources.106
Ninomiya Masahiko interprets this to mean that the official shrine system, hav-
ing expanded so exuberantly up to the era of the Engi shiki, was losing currency.
It may have been that Tadahira and his colleagues hoped to focus what had be-
come an overly diffuse and costly system of propitiation by concentrating on
key shrines, such as that of the royal ancestress’ Great Shrine of Ise, the Kamo
Shrine, and the Usa Hachiman Shrine in Kyushu. Providing substantiation for
that theory, Tadahira actually makes reference to “the fifty-four great shrines” in
his journal.107 And yet in 944 the governor of Chikugo was ordered to prepare a
detailed register of the deities in his province so that promotions in rank could
be made.108 And even if there were years without the regular dispatch of shrine
offerings, there were also years when extraordinary offerings were sent out. It
would therefore be wrong to claim that Tadahira’s court was lackluster about
maintaining its links with provincial shrines or that a policy of focusing on fewer
regional shrines was being established.
There were, however, deities that Tadahira’s court found it difficult to integrate
into its system of realm protection. An entry from 945 in the Annals of Our
Realm (Honchō seiki), compiled from a variety of sources in the later Heian age,
In recent days there are rumors in the capital that various deities from the west
and east are approaching. Some claim it to be a deity called Shidara; others call
it the Oigasa deity; and still others call it Hachiman. There is a request from
the Settsu governor for the Council’s guidance.109
Accompanying reports indicate that the district chieftain of Teshima in Settsu
had reported to provincial authorities that three sacred palanquins were on the
move toward the capital.110 Unfortunately, there is no record in Tadahira’s jour-
nal about this event, but Prince Shigeakira, who was Tadahira’s son-in-law and
intimate, notes in his journal that one of the deities was thought to be none other
than Sugawara no Michizane, the angry ghost (goryō) of the minister exiled in
901 by Daigo Tennō and Fujiwara no Tokihira.111 Such a rumor excited fear at
court because Sugawara’s spirit had been blamed for numerous deaths among the
family and supporters of both Daigo and Tokihira, including the death of Daigo’s
first crown prince in 932 as well as for a lightning strike on the royal residence
that had killed a courtier in 930.112
Even more alarming to authorities, the mysterious palanquins were accompa-
nied by hundreds of clerics and secular people, elites and commoners, who were
beating drums and dancing madly. Over several days throngs assembled, and
the sacred palanquins moved to the royally patronized Iwashimizu Hachiman
Shrine on the Yodo River, whence monastic authorities sent additional reports to
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  53

the court.113 They noted that the three palanquins had increased to six, while the
singing and dancing throng had grown to include tens of thousands.
Who was this deity from the countryside that dared to approach the royal
center without invitation? A few songs (wazauta) archived in the Honchō seiki
tell of a deity that promised successful land opening after properly propitiation.114
Moreover, the deity’s association with Hachiman, who in turn was associated
with both the exiled Sugawara no Michizane and the rebel Taira no Masakado,
marked it as a power outside the court’s control.115 It is surely no coincidence that
it was about this same time that the court over which Tadahira presided decided
to establish the Kitano Tenman Shrine (Tenmangū) north of the palace, thereby
taking steps to propitiate the wrathful spirit and incorporate it into the official
program of realm protection.116

Making Peace in the Provinces

Tadahira’s tenure as regent and chief of staff witnessed a dynamic increase in the
posting of armed enforcement agents in the provinces to fight bandits, pirates,
and rebels. Such agents were generally appointed in response to a request by a
governor, and they were called variously envoys to pursue and destroy (tsuibushi),
envoys to protect (keigoshi), and envoys to protect against crimes (kebiishi). In
some instances these agents were sent out from the capital; in others, local ap-
pointees were nominated by provincial authorities for confirmation by the
The problem of pirate activity in the Inland Sea was particularly acute during
the 930s and 940s. On the twenty-eighth day of the fourth month in 932 Tada-
hira noted in his journal that he had transmitted to the left senior controller
a royal order for the Council to appoint a tsuibushi to suppress pirates in the
Inland Sea province of Bizen.117 There were additional requests for keigoshi in
934, when soldiers from Musashi were dispatched to Bizen together with private
guards that served great households in the capital.118 Nevertheless the governor
of Tosa Province, Ki no Tsurayuki, wrote in his Tosa Diary that he was chased
by pirates on his return to the capital in 935, meaning that even the significant
force sent in 934 had not pacified the pirates.119 Then again in 935 the Council
ordered two secretaries replaced with kebiishi at the Dazaifu in Kyushu.120 In 936
there were also complaints that sons of former governors were obstructing tax
collection there, resulting in a Council directive ordering enforcers to suppress
the troublemakers.121
As court leader, Tadahira played a major role in developing strategies respond-
ing to both Taira no Masakado’s uprising in the Kantō and Fujiwara no Sumi-
tomo’s piracy in the Inland Sea.122 Of the two, the court’s strategy in the east 
— relying largely on martial provincial elites to suppress Masakado — was no-
tably more successful than the hesitant and tardy campaign in the west against
Sumitomo.123 But the Masakado affair is dealt with in detail elsewhere in this
volume and so will not be a focus here.
Why did the strategy against Fujiwara no Sumitomo’s pirates not go as well
as that against Masakado? Sumitomo had been named second in command at
54  |  joan r. piggott

Iyo’s provincial headquarters in 932. He was subsequently deputed as tsuibushi

in 937, under the command of a martial governor, Ki no Yoshihito.124 But by the
twelfth month of 939, reports of Sumitomo’s own criminal acts began to appear
in Tadahira’s journal.125 By that time both Masakado and Sumitomo were in open
rebellion, and the Council appointed additional tsuibushi for the Tōkai, Tōsan,
and San’yō circuits. Provincial governors were also ordered to reward any who
would join the court’s side in the fighting.126 At the same time, however, even into
the second month of 940, Tadahira and his colleagues on the Council were trying
hard to avoid all-out war by bribing Sumitomo with a promotion. The court was
desperate to reestablish law and order in the Inland Sea because official stores
were so low that, as we saw above, even the most important royal banquets had
been canceled, and it was understood that there would be no improvement in
the situation as long as pirates blocked transport from the west. Meanwhile, the
debate over how many forces should be conscripted and how many enforcers
would be needed continued.
In the midst of these troubles, pirates succeeded in setting fire to the port
at Yamazaki quite near the capital.127 Nonetheless, even faced by that blatant
challenge the court took another seven months to assemble fighting forces, and
fourteen months passed before Sumitomo was finally killed in the seventh month
of 941. By that time, a great deal of havoc had been wreaked by the pirates from
the Kinai to the Dazaifu. The burning historical question is, Why were Tadahira
and his colleagues so reticent to send an army west against Sumitomo?
The best answer is surely the lack of resources possessed by the court and
provinces with which to recruit and provision the needed army. Another reason
was that the court had no recent experience mobilizing a large army, nor was
there confidence that such an army would decisively deal with the pirates, who
had been an ongoing if lower-level threat for years. It is also quite possible that
Sumitomo, like Masakado, had links to Tadahira’s household, making the regent
hesitant to send troops against him.128 Indeed, that the problem was bigger than
Sumitomo was confirmed when, even after the latter’s death in battle, violence
failed to abate, and requests for kebiishi appointments continued through 948.129
Doubtless the shortage of resources at the center made it difficult to reward en-
forcers’ good service adequately, such that those sent to put down pirates and
bandits frequently turned against the very authority they once supported. Such
was the case in 942, when an official sent out to Suruga as an enforcer soon
turned to stealing tax goods in that province.130
One more challenge to peace in the provinces continued to come from feud-
ing noble households and religious institutions. In the sixth month of 945, for
example, two official temples in the old Nara capital were quarreling over repair
work to be undertaken at Hōryūji, a third temple some distance away. The crux
of the matter was likely a dispute over Hōryūji’s status at the time: was it a branch
(matsuji) of the royal Tōdaiji or of the Fujiwara clan temple, Kōfukuji? In any
event, Kōfukuji’s monastic authorities sent charges to the court against Tōdaiji,
probably through its secular director, asking that a royal police agent be sent to
investigate. Instead, Suzaku Tennō ordered Tadahira as his chief of staff to per-
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  55

sonally adjudicate the matter and advise him later concerning its resolution.131
Unfortunately we do not know Tadahira’s decision on the matter.

Tadahira’s Noble Household, 930 – 949

For the period of Tadahira’s tenure as regent and chief of staff, the activities of his
noble household — which would have been the most powerful household in the
realm after that of the royal residence itself — are surprisingly little in evidence
in the extant record. On one occasion, however, conflict broke out between Ta-
dahira’s staff and a provincial governor. Specifically, in the late summer of 945 the
Harima second in command, Fujiwara no Narikuni, complained to the Council
that an envoy from Tadahira’s household had committed violent acts in Harima.
A district chief there was involved, perhaps as a collector and transporter of
prebendal dues. Given his post as preeminent minister (daijōdaijin) at the time,
Tadahira would have been receiving proceeds from as many as three thousand
households in various provinces annually.132 The chieftain’s report concerning
the episode supported Tadahira’s emissary against Narikuni’s charges.133 Then,
subsequent to Narikuni’s initial complaint, there were ongoing discussions be-
tween Narikuni and members of the Royal Secretariat, who apparently urged
Narikuni to drop the matter. But he would not relent, and he soon learned the
results of taking on the most powerful man at court. He was punished by the
loss of both his privilege of entering the throne room (shōden) and his Harima
We do not know specifically what happened in Harima in 945, but a list of
sore points inflaming relations between noble households and governors at the
time was enumerated in a Council directive sent to the provinces in the summer
of 947. Therein governors were accused of setting up private repositories for tax
goods near the capital, selling and exchanging goods to maximize their personal
profits, and conspiring to pay as little as possible of taxes and other levies owed
to the court and its leaders.135 In that same year, when reports of bandits in the
capital were rife and rice was scarce, there were even rumors that the governors
of Bitchū and Iyo were hoarding rice; these suspicions led Chief of Staff Tadahira
to send royal police agents to investigate.136 Not only was the provincial tax sys-
tem functioning poorly at this point. The conflict between official interests and
the nonofficial interests of both noble households and provincial governors was
causing tension as well.
Meanwhile, since the tax system was no longer providing adequate income,
government offices and courtier households increasingly turned to opening their
own rental fields. As noted earlier, such fields expanded the patrimonial sector
of the economy, in which relations between patrons in the capital and provincial
clients took precedence over bureaucratic ties. I have found only one extant rec­
ord documenting such private holdings of Tadahira’s household. It is a district
report (ge), dated 949, which claims that Yoshida name-holding (Yoshida myō)
and Kiyomi township (Kiyomi hō) in Musashi’s Chichibu district, comprising
privately opened fields amounting to 718 chō and 893 chō respectively, had be-
longed to Tadahira’s family since Fujiwara no Yoshifusa’s day in the ninth cen-
56  |  joan r. piggott

tury. These properties were said to have become holdings of Tadahira’s house-
hold by the 930s.137 The initiator of the report was the Chichibu district chief,
who would likely have been friendly with a noble household claiming 4,736 acres
(1 chō = 2.94 acres) in his jurisdiction. Still another signer of the 949 report was its
addressee, the sitting governor of Musashi, Minamoto no Mitsunaka (913 – 997).
This Mitsunaka is famed as the martial governor who later supported Tadahira’s
sons, Saneyori (900 – 970) and Morosuke (908 – 960), in the Anna Incident of
969.138 If this document from Chichibu district is legitimate, it would mean that
Minamoto no Mitsunaka was already involved with Tadahira’s household before
Tadahira’s death in 949, twenty years before the Anna Incident.
On the other hand, it was not always the case that locals were friendly to noble
households holding property in their midst, particularly when there were several
such patrons whose interests, and whose clients’ interests, might clash or com-
pete. An incident of this sort was recorded in 949, when some servants (ge’nin)
of the then-retired Suzaku Tennō attacked houses belonging to attendants of
the palace guards’ headquarters (shoeifu no toneri). Then two days later several
hundred such attendants took revenge by trashing the dwelling of an overseer
from the Royal Affairs Ministry (Nakatsukasashō) sent out by the retired mon-
arch to manage one of his properties.139 The sources do not tell us the venue for
these clashes, but it was likely somewhere in the Kinai provinces, where royal
holdings and guards’ attendants were especially numerous.140 In this case, as in
Inaba in 913, the interests of two capital patrons and those of their provincial
clients clashed. Tadahira was on his deathbed at the time; but his sons, Minister
of the Left Saneyori and Minister of the Right Morosuke, were then coleaders of
the Council of State. They and their colleagues would have been called upon to
resolve the dispute and restore law and order.

As court leader Fujiwara no Tadahira was generally successful at keeping court
and realm functioning despite numerous challenges, including the deaths of
Daigo Tennō and the retired Uda Tennō, rule by the sickly child monarch Suzaku
Tennō, climatic disasters, accompanying fiscal woes in the capital, and rebellion
in the east and the west. Entries from Tadahira’s journal indicate that even as an
adult, Suzaku Tennō lacked the inclination to lead the court himself, preferring
to rely heavily on Tadahira as his chief of staff. Suzaku’s little brother Murakami
Tennō followed the same pattern as long as Tadahira lived. As a result, Tadahira’s
two decades as court leader certainly contributed to the institutionalization of
the regent and chief of staff offices as key elements of the mid-Heian monarchy.
And as we have seen here, that monarchy depended on a sort of consensus sys-
tem in which members of the royal family with their staff in the palace, includ-
ing the sesshō or kanpaku as their deputed court leader, worked with Council
members and their staff — the controllers and secretaries — to govern capital and
provinces.141 Satō Sōjun thus termed the court government of Tadahira’s day as
“an aristocratic alliance” with Tadahira as its leader.142
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  57

We have also seen here, however, that Tadahira’s era saw growing conflicts
both within the bureaucratic system of provincial management and between the
bureaucratic and the patrimonial systems of provisioning the capital. By the late
ninth century, it was clear which of these systems was most vulnerable: provin-
cial governors were constantly pleading with the office of Discharge Examiners
and the Council to accept their reports concerning wasted fields, proposals for
lower tax payments, and requests for more armed agents to collect taxes and keep
the peace. The same governors often complained about sons of former governors
allied with local notables who were claiming tax exemptions because of special
relations with patrons in the capital. Governors were frequently the targets of
assassins, and they attracted the suspicion of senior nobles, who regarded many
of them as venal and self-serving. While some have argued that provincial gov-
ernors were growing ever stronger during the course of the tenth century, my
conclusion here is that it was not yet the case during Tadahira’s lifetime.
As court leader in the 930s and 940s, Tadahira surely recognized the inher-
ent conflict between the bureaucratic and the patrimonial systems of drawing
resources from the provinces. And he must have found himself torn about how
to deal with those conflicts inasmuch as he, like his fellow nobles who presided
at court, had vested interests in both systems. As regent and chief of staff for the
monarch, his objective was to uphold tennō-centered government, including the
efforts of governors to collect taxes from the households and cultivators of their
provinces. He wanted the larders of the Council of State and the Kitchen Bureau
full, the various shops and offices of the government well provisioned, and of-
ficials duly recompensed for their labors.
At the same time, however, Tadahira was a noble whose household depended
for much of its livelihood on far-flung interests in the provinces. He understood
well that government offices like the guards’ headquarters had become depen-
dent on rental fields and client cultivators, and he himself had established a cli-
ental system of provisioners for the tennō’s residential palace under the Royal
Secretariat. Nor could Tadahira be unsympathetic to the plaints of an official
temple such as Tōji when it found its newly opened rental fields confiscated by
an aggressive provincial governor. Tadahira was angered in 945 by what he saw as
inappropriate accusations against his household agents by a provincial governor,
the likes of which were often thought of as greedy and dishonest. Such conflicted
views made it difficult for court leader Tadahira — and his fellow nobles — to gain
leverage on the contradictions besetting provincial administration during the
first half of the tenth century.
And yet we also know that this did not remain the situation for long. By 960
governors were reportedly doing better managing their tax payments.143 And by
988, when the well-known Owari Petition complained about the illegalities and
violent measures of the Owari governor, at least some provincial governors had
obviously learned to organize their tax-collecting operations in new and effec-
tive ways while arming themselves with formidable entourages.144 Ōtsu Tōru
has concluded as well that provincial governors successfully reorganized their
authority by the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, including their cadas-
58  |  joan r. piggott

tral surveying and tax-collecting authority within districts and townships.145 In

the early eleventh century, when Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – 1027) was able
to secure full leadership of Council, court, and back palace, the most powerful
governors served him as housemen.146 What therefore remains to explore are
the changes that came about in the decades following Tadahira’s death, when his
sons led the court. Increasing specialization — based on the idea that nobles at
court should concentrate on ritual while provincial governors should concentrate
on provincial administration, together with the attitude that those governors
capable of getting the job done should be left alone to do so — seems one devel-
opmental trajectory worthy of future investigation.

1. The text of the epigraph is an amalgam of two distinct quotes from the royal order, one
cited in the late Heian-period chronicle Nihon kiryaku and the other in a missive by Tadahira
in the mid-Heian compendium of belles lettres, Honchō monzui. For both, see the convenient
compilation of records on the regency compiled by the Royal Household (Kūnaichō): Kōshitsu
seido shiryō Sesshō, 2 vols. Specifically, see vol. 1, 22; 8 – 9.
2. Japanese scholars who presently use the periodizing rubric “court-centered polity” in-
clude Morita Tei, Sakamoto Shōzō, Sasaki Muneo, and Hotate Michihisa. Others, including
Yoshikawa Shinji, argue that since substantial ritsuryō structures remained in place, the rubric
“later ritsuryō polity” (kōki ritsuryō kokka) is preferable. On the debate see Morita Tei, Ōchō
kokka; Sasaki Muneo, Nihon ōcho kokka ron; and Yoshikawa Shinji, “Sekkan seiji no tensei.”
3. For a detailed account of this reconfiguration of ritsuryō court and monarchy, see Yoshi-
kawa Shinji, “Sekkan seiji no tensei,” and “Ritsuryō kanjin sei no saihen.”
4. On the ritsuryō process and these integrative hierarchies see Joan Piggott, The Emergence
of Japanese Kingship, 176 – 226.
5. Such patrons included agencies such as the six guards’ headquarters (rokuefu) and the
Ministry of Defense (Hyōbushō). See Ichi Hiroki, “Kyū seiki Kinai chiiki no fugōsō to inkyū
ōshinke, shoshi,” 31 – 47, 52 – 53.
6. For a useful discussion of this process see Maeda Sadahiko, “Kebiishi bettō to shichō.”
7. Ruijū sandai kyaku, vol. 2, in Shintei zōhō kokushi taikei (1983), pp. 603 – 604. For a discus-
sion of the context see Ichi, “Kyū seiki,” 48.
8. Ruijū sandai kyaku, 638. For a discussion of the context see Nishibeppu Motoka, “Ōshinke
chō no seiritsu no dōkō ni tsuite,” 19.
9. Ruijū sandai kyaku, 604 – 605. See Nishibeppu, “Ōshinke chō,” 13.
10. Ruijū sandai kyaku, 605 – 606, 618. See Nishiyama Ryōhei, “Heian-kyō to shūhen
11. I use the term “patrimonial” following Weber. By “patrimonial relations,” Weber meant
a decentralized relationship in which the patron’s household has dependents dwelling on ex-
tended landholdings, and they deliver rent in kind. In Weber’s parlance it represents an at-
tenuation of patriarchal authority. Dependents are bound to the patron by relations of loyalty
and fidelity, and they expect a degree of reciprocity in terms of protection and help in case of
need. Patrimonial administration, says Weber, knows no clear separation between private and
official spheres. The patrimonial ruler governs his territory by personal fiat and draws on wide
discretionary powers. In contrast to a bureaucratic system of authority, there are no statutory
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  59

practices or formal procedures. Personal considerations and personal connections are critical.
See Max Weber, Economy and Society, 212 – 301 and 1010 – 1011.
12. On Uda Jōō, see Mezaki Tokue, “Uda jōō no in to kokusei.” An account of this marriage
appears in the early thirteenth-century Kojidan. Bridegroom-beckoning marriage (mukotor-
ikon), by which a father chose his daughter’s groom and provided a home and resources for the
new couple, was quite common among courtiers in the tenth century (see Sekiguchi Hiroko,
Nihon kodai kon’in shi no kenkyū, 41 – 122).
13. In 900 Tadahira was briefly granted a seat on the Council of State as advisor but resigned
it. Some researchers have hypothesized that the retired Uda may have been worried that as a
Council member Tadahira was more likely to be implicated in Sugawara no Michizane’s quar-
rel with Tadahira’s brother, Tokihira. Sugawara was exiled to Kyushu in 902.
14. The Ryō no shūge is a compendium of legal commentaries on the ritsuryō codes compiled
by Koremune no Naomoto around the turn of the tenth century. The oldest commentaries date
from the eighth century while others were written in the Heian Period.
15. See Ōsumi Kiyoharu, “Benkan no henshitsu to ritsuryō daijōkan sei,” 23 – 24; and Hashi-
moto Yoshihiko, “Kanmu-ke Ōtsuki-shi no seiritsu to sono seikaku,” 4. To get a sense of the ex-
tant documents for Tadahira’s time, consult Dai Nihon shiryō (subsequently cited as DNS).
16. Matters of lesser import were resolved in informal deliberations (gekisei) in the Sec-
retariat, while more serious issues were discussed in formal meetings of the full Council in
a guard-post chamber. See Tamai Chikara, “Jū, jūichi seiki no Nihon, sekkan seiji,” 34; and
Takemitsu Makoto, “Sekkan ki no daijōkan seiji no tokushitsu,” 3 – 4. According to the ritual
handbook Saikyūki, compiled in the late tenth century, participants in informal deliberations
in 913 included a middle counselor and three advisors who met in the Controllers’ Office. In
925 such a discussion included a middle counselor, an advisor, a controller, and a junior coun-
selor (shōnagon). See DNS 1:5, 665, Enchō 3 (925) 3/25.
17. See Abe Takeshi, Heian zenki seiji shi no kenkyū, 57 – 58, Ōsumi, “Benkan no henshitsu.”
18. For more detail see Cornelius Kiley, “Provincial Administration and Land Tenure in
Early Heian,” 291. The directives are archived in the Ruijū sandai kyaku. Satō Sōjun (“Fujiwara
no Tadahira seiken no keisei”) and Morita Tei (“Fujiwara no Tadahira seiken no dōkō”) both
paint Tokihira as a traditionalist and guardian of ritsuryō structures, given the character of
these reforms.
19. Saikyūki, Jimoku section, Engi 9 (909) 1/11 in DNS 1:4, 4.
20. Fusō ryakki, Engi 9/1/21 in DNS 1:4, 5.
21. On the development of the noble in charge (shōkei) system, see Tsuchida Naoshige,
“Shōkei ni tsuite.”
22. It was unusual for there to be no minister of the left (sadaijin). Kurosaka Nobuo points
out that while Tokihira became minister of the left at the age of twenty-eight, Tadahira reached
that post only at the age of forty-five (“Fujiwara no Tadahira seiken ni taisuru ichi kōsatsu”).
Tsunoda Bun’ei (in “Fujiwara no Tadahira”) argues that Daigo Tennō and even Queen Consort
Yasuko expected Tokihira’s heir, Yasutada, to become court leader as his father’s heir. They did
not, therefore, want to appoint Tadahira minister of the left. Tadahira’s promotion in 924 came
only months after his sister Yasuko gave birth to the son who would become crown prince,
and it was meant to protect the interests of both his sister and new nephew. Here we have
yet another instance of the throne’s resort to an “affinal strategy,” making affines into royal
ministers. See Audrey Richards, “African Kings and Their Royal Relatives”; idem, “Keeping the
King Divine”; and Piggott, Emergence, 76. Japanese scholars describe a “familial monarchy”
(miuchi tennōsei), which seems similar. For instance, see Kurosaka, “Fujiwara no Tadahira”;
Ihara Kesao, “Sekkan, insei to tennō”; and Kuramoto Kazuhiro, Sekkan seiji to ōchō kizoku.
23. Terauchi Hiroshi, “Zuryō kōka seido no seiritsu to tenkai,” 57 – 58; and his recent book,
60  |  joan r. piggott

Zuryō sei no kenkyū. See also Tamai, “Jū, jūichi seiki,” 47 – 48. Tamai notes that according to
records archived in the late Heian-period Nihon kiryaku (Shōtai 2 [899] 7/11), only sixteen of
sixty-six provinces had paid taxes in full the previous year.
24. Concerning the original ritsuryō tax system see Piggott, Emergence, 200.
25. Seiji yōryaku, a Council of State directive (kanpu) dated Engi 10 (910) 12/27, cited in
DNS 1:4, 272 – 273. This Seiji yōryaku is a compendium of Heian governmental records and
processes compiled by the legal scholar Koremune no Tadasuke during the first half of the
eleventh century.
26. TKK 44, Engi 13 (913) 9/9; and Seiji yōryaku, a royal order (senji) dated Engi 13/8/13, cited
in DNS 1:4, 528 – 529.
27. For a good analysis of Miyoshi’s “Iken jūnikajō,” see Tokoro Isao, Miyoshi Kiyoyuki, as
well as Sato’s “Fujiwara no Tadahira seiken no keisei.” There is an English abstract of Miyoshi’s
memorial in David Lu, Sources of Japanese History, 1:60 – 65.
28. Seiji yōryaku, Engi 14 (914), 308 – 312. As Terauchi Hiroshi has suggested, such large
shipments of grain for the capital demonstrated increasing urbanization. See Terauchi, “Kyō­
shinmai to tojō.”
29. Kiley, “Provincial Administration,” 302 – 304. Kiley cites a Council directive dated Enchō
3/12/14 in Seiji yōryaku, vol. 2, in Shintei zōhō kokushi taikei (1983), 503.
30. Saikyūki, a Council of State order (kanpu) dated Engi 11 (911) 12/2, cited in DNS 1:4, 347.
The provinces were Yamashiro, Yamato, Kawachi, Izumi, Settsu, and Ōmi. See also the order
in Besshū fusenshō dated Enchō 1 (923) 9/9, cited in DNS 1:5, 499. The Besshū fusenshō is a
compendium of 130 government orders issued between 902 and 971 and categorized by topic.
Its compiler and date are uncertain.
31. Amino Yoshihiko, Nihon chūsei no hinōgyōmin to tennō, esp. 133 – 135 and 246.
32. DNS 1:4, 614, a Council of State directive (daijōkanpu) dating from Engi 14/6/13. See also
Fujiki Kunihiko, “Fujiwara Onshi to sono jidai.”
33. Ruijū fusenshō, Engi 13/5/22 and Engi 18 (918) 10/21, cited in DNS 1:4, 512 – 513; and 1:5, 22.
The Ruijū fusenshō (alt. Sajōshō) is a compendium of more than seven hundred orders (kanpu,
senji, kansenji) dating from 737 to 1093 and emanating from the Council of State. They are
categorized by topic and appear together with the requests (gejō) by lower-ranking officials
that resulted in each order. The compilation predates 1121.
34. Seiji yōryaku, Engi 13/11/09, Engi 17 (917), and Engi 23, all cited in DNS 1:4, 557 – 558,
957 – 958; and DNS 1:5, 400.
35. On Toshihito, see DNS 1:4, 692. On prohibitions against provincial governors “going
local,” see Karl Friday’s Hired Swords, 96. Other martial governors in the early tenth century
included some Southern House (nanke) Fujiwara, on which see Noguchi Minoru, “Nanke Ku-
romaro ryū Fujiwara shi no Shimōsa ryūju to ‘hyōoke’ ka.”
36. In 915, for instance, a local elite murdered the second-in-command (suke) at the Kōzuke
provincial headquarters. See Nihon kiryaku, Engi 15 (915) 2/10, in DNS 1:4, 717.
37. See Abe Takeshi, Heian zenki seiji shi no kenkyū, 329 – 332.
38. DNS 1:4, 541 – 545. Additional documents from Tōdaiji’s archives can be found in Dai
Nihon komonjo, iewake, Tōdaiji monjo, vol. 3, doc. 820; and vol. 2, docs. 568 – 570.
39. In 940 – 941, Takaniwa Estate was still in temple hands. See Tōdaiji monjo, vol. 2, docs.
536, 571.
40. For the names and ranks of controllers in any given year, see the register of appoint-
ments, Benkan bunin. Its compilation began in the late tenth century.
41. TKK 134, Jōhei 1 (931) 1/21.
42. TKK 135, Jōhei 1/1/28.
43. TKK 137, Jōhei 1/2/17.
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  61

44. TKK 135 – 136, Jōhei 1/2/1.

45. TKK 137, Jōhei 1/2/14.
46. Engi shiki, cited in DNS 1:4, 423.
47. For an overview, see Torao Toshiya, Engi shiki.
48. For an English account concerning these official households, see G. Cameron Hurst III,
“Structure of the Heian Court.”
49. Yoneda Yūsuke, Fujiwara sekkanke no tanjō, 153.
50. According to the first Engi shiki section devoted to the Ministry of Popular Affairs
(Minbushō jō), a residence unit (ko) was defined as comprising four adult taxpayers and one
young male (chūnan) between the ages of seventeen and twenty. Each township included fifty
residence units totaling approximately two hundred adult taxpayers and fifty young males.
51. See Nishibeppu, “Ōshinke chō,” 17 – 18.
52. DNS 1:6, 755, Jōhei 3 (933) n.d. There is also a note in the Kugyō bunin, a record of mem-
bers of the Council of State from Nara to late medieval times, next to Tadahira’s name for
Tenryaku 3 (949). See Kugyō bunin, 190.
53. See Heian ibun, vol. 1, doc. 217, Engi 20 (920) 9/11; and DNS 1:5, 235 – 236. Concerning the
process by which household missives became official orders, see Nishibeppu, “Ōshinke chō.”
For a useful chart tracing the development of the Sekkanke household organization beginning
in Tadahira’s time, see Satō Kenji, Chūsei kenmon no seiritsu to kasei, 71.
54. Sonpi bunmyaku, 1:51. Compilation of the Sonpi bunmyaku — a massive compilation of
aristocratic genealogies — began in the fourteenth century. But a modern register of provin-
cial governors compiled by Miyazaki Yasumitsu, Kokushi bunin, does not list Tsunekuni as a
governor in Musashi.
55. Fukuda Toyohiko, Taira Masakado no ran, 66 – 69. According to Tadahira’s journal,
other such wardens received special treatment. See TKK 184, Tengyō 2 (939) 2/13. In English
see William Wayne Farris, Heavenly Warriors, 131 – 146.
56. For the Masakado ki in English see Judith Rabinovitch’s translation: Shōmonki: The
Story of Masakado’s Rebellion. As one more instance of Tadahira’s provincial interests, Mori
Kimiyuki suggests that Tadahira maintained close relations with Munakata Shrine and its
vicinity in Kyushu. He thinks that the Takada Horse Farm there may have been in existence
in Tadahira’s time, and that someone from there might well have spent time in Tadahira’s
household. See Mori Kimiyuki, “Ōshinke to gunji,” 14.
57. Concerning these properties, see Hashimoto Yoshihiko, “Fujiwara shi chōja to wata­
riryō,” esp. 247 – 255. Also see Fukutō Sanae, “Heian jidai no uji,” 15 – 17. An early reference to
Katakami Estate is found in Tadahira’s TKK, in the entry dated Enchō 5 (927) 12/5.
58. Nihon kiryaku, Enchō 8 (930) 09/22. See it in Kōshitsu seido shiryō: Sesshō, 1:22.
59. Honchō monzui, sec. 4, cited in Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 1:8 – 9, 158 – 159. Honchō monzui is
a collection of belles lettres compiled in the mid-eleventh century by the scholar-official and
literatus Fujiwara no Akihira (? – 1066).
60. Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 1:4, 16. Concerning Shōtoku’s role in Suiko’s court, see Piggott,
Emergence, 79 – 83.
61. Jōgan 8 (866) 08/19, in Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 1:4, 46. There is substantial new research
on the Jōwa (842) and Ōtenmon (866) coups. See Yoshida Takashi, “Kyū, jū seiki no Nihon;”
Tamai, “Jū, jūichi seiki”; Endō Keita, “ ‘Shoku Nihon kōki’ to Jōwa no hen”; and Kamiya Masayo-
shi, “Jōwa no hen to Ōtenmon no hen.” The earlier Jōwa Coup in 842 strengthened Yoshifusa’s
position at court after the death of the retired Saga Tennō. In the aftermath, the succession
was settled in favor of the future Montoku Tennō, Yoshifusa’s nephew. Modern historians have
viewed the Jōwa Coup as a plot by Yoshifusa in league with Saga’s widowed queen consort,
Tachibana no Kachiko, and supporters of the future ruler Montoku. See Satō Sōjun, “Saga
62  |  joan r. piggott

Tennō ron,” in Heian zenki seiji shi josetsu, 99 – 120. In English, see William McCullough, “The
Heian Court, 794 – 1070,” 48 – 50.
62. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Jōgan 18 (876) 11/29, cited in Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 1:20 – 21.
Earlier this epithet, “the faithful and just minister,” had been bestowed on Yoshifusa.
63. In the twelfth month of 930, another royal order granted Regent Tadahira two inner
palace attendants (udoneri) and eight outriders (zuijin) from the Inner Palace Guards, follow-
ing precedents from Yoshifusa’s era. See Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 1:112 – 113.
64. For Kuroita Nobuo, a key moment came in 936, when Yasutada, Tokihira’s son, died.
Only then was it clear that Tadahira’s own line would replace that of Tokihira in leading the
court. See Kuroita, “Fujiwara Tadahira seiken ni taisuru ichikōsatsu,” 135 – 136.
65. Seiji yōryaku, Ninna 3 (887) 11/21, cited in Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 1:4 – 5.
66. Seiji yōryaku, Ninna 4 (888) 6/2, cited in Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 2:178 – 179.
67. Kōshitsu seido shiryō, 2:178; and DNS 1:8, 36 – 37.
68. Five years later, when the twenty-year-old Murakami Tennō succeeded to the throne,
that monarch ordered Tadahira to serve as his chief of staff as well. See TKK 288, Tengyō 9
(946) 4/21. A particularly useful recent discussion of the development of the sesshō and kan-
paku posts is Takinami Sadako, “Akō no fungi.”
69. TKK 135, Jōhei 1/1/29. For the drawing up of a list of provinces needing new governors,
see TKK 156 – 157, Jōhei 2 (932) 6/23 and 7/3. And for discussions concerning appointments,
see entries from the third month of 939, TKK 138 – 139. On 3/15 the results were memorial-
ized to the throne by Minamoto no Kintada, concurrently a fifth-ranking royal secretary (go’i
kurōdo) and right junior controller. See TKK 138 – 139. Kintada’s post in the Royal Secretariat
(Kurōdo dokoro) gave him access to the throne while his controller’s post gave him access to
the Council.
70. TKK 138, Jōhei 1/3/13.
71. The Teishinkō ki records such a meeting in the third month of 940, with Tadahira’s elder
brother, Minister of the Left Fujiwara no Nakahira, presiding as the ranking Council member
(ichinokami). Two days later, Council members met with Tadahira. At that time Nakahira
became note taker while Tadahira, the senior official in the group, presided. In this case, office
trumped age: Nakahira, while Tadahira’s elder brother, did not have Tadahira’s interest or tal-
ent for politics. Entries in the Teishinkō ki record that Nakahira was always leaving meetings
early. For instance, see TKK 204, Tengyō 3 (940) 3/19.
72. TKK 204. See also Ōmanaribumishō, ed. Yoshida Sanae.
73. See TKK 214, Tengyō 8 (945) 3/27. In fact, the tennō had his coming-of-age ceremony in
937. But only in 941 did he accept Tadahira’s resignation as regent, and then he reappointed
him chief of staff.
74. TKK 226, Tengyō 9 (946) 2/6. The discussions began on 2/3 and continued through 2/7.
See also TKK 252 – 254, Tenryaku 2 (948) 1/4, 1/26, 1/29, 1/30.
75. On the Shiki no mizōshi, the shiki of which denoted the Queen Consort’s Household
Agency (Chūgūshiki), see Okamura Sachiko, “Shiki no mizōshi ni tsuite.”
76. Morita and Yoshikawa argue that the full evaluation process had developed by about 945.
See Morita, Zuryō, and Yoshikawa, “Sekkan seiji no tensei.”
77. TKK 189 – 190.
78. TKK 144, Jōhei 1/int. 5/5.
79. TKK 141 – 142, Jōhei 1/4/23. Also see TKK 192, Tengyō 2/8/17 (departure banquet for
Mutsu governor); and DNS 1:9, 339 (Tenryaku 3 [949] 3/2), when, because Tadahira was sick,
his son Minister of the Right Morosuke bestowed gifts on the departing Iyo governor in Ta-
dahira’s stead.
80. TKK 187, Tengyō 2/4/26.
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  63

81. Nihon kiryaku, Tenryaku 3/8/2, in DNS 1:9, 390.

82. See, for instance, TKK 139, Jōhei 1/3/25.
83. Kiley, “Provincial Administration,” 238 – 239.
84. Seiji yōryaku, in DNS 1:6, 766.
85. DNS 1:6, 765 – 768. According to Terauchi, after 888 provincial governors were respon-
sible for repairing and cleaning official facilities in their provinces, even those that had not
been kept in repair by a former governor. See Terauchi, “Zuryō kōka seido no seiritsu tenkai,”
46 – 52.
86. Seiji yōryaku, cited in DNS 1:6, 817.
87. TKK 156, Jōhei 2/6/8. Tadahira was contacted about the case by Minamoto no Kintada,
who was serving as the fifth-ranking secretary (go’i kurōdo) and as right junior controller
88. DNS 1:7, 53, Jōhei 6 (936) int. 11/5. See also DNS 1:8, 428, 442 – 443, Tengyō 8/1/6, 2/19.
89. Ruijū fusenshō, a Council order dated Tenryaku 3/6/13, cited in DNS 1:9, 375. Earlier in-
stances can be seen in Honchō seiki, Jōhei 3/8/15, cited in DNS 1:6, 746. See also Ruijū fusenshō,
Tengyō 8/3/8 in DNS 1:8, 446 – 448. The Honchō seiki is a compendium of court records as-
sembled by Fujiwara no Michinori (alias Shinzei, 1106 – 1159), beginning about 1150.
90. TKK 139, Jōhei 1/3/22.
91. For examples, see TKK 139, Jōhei 1/3/22; and TKK 195, Tengyō 2/11/2.
92. Kiley, “Provincial Administration,” 312.
93. Taxes from the San’in circuit were particularly deficient in 943. So the court called for
governors’ proposals as to how to resolve problems on 943/12/12 and again in 944. Tadahira
read the responses on Tengyō 8/1/4, according to the Teishinkō ki. The proposals confirmed
that no governor should be reappointed before his last tenure had been carefully evaluated
(kōka sadame, lit. “deliberations as to praise or blame”) and “failings large and small” were
to be considered. See Seiji yōryaku, Tenryaku 2/12/1, cited in DNS 1:9, 297; and Tengyō 8/1/6,
cited in DNS 1:8, 428.
94. For an example, see TKK 143, Jōhei 1/5/25. Tadahira approved Council directives or-
dering the opening of new fields (tsukuda) in the provinces (TKK 143, Jōhei 1/5/25). And he
instructed the left middle controller to send directives (kanpu) to the various provinces con-
cerning the opening of new fields the following spring (TKK 149, Jōhei 1/11/17).
95. Kinai provinces were to pay in coins, but other provinces were to send rice from their
emergency stores (fudōkoku). See Honchō seiki, Tengyō 1 (938) 10/17, in DNS 1:7, 289 – 290.
96. DNS 1:6, 801, Jōhei 4 (934) 8/29.
97. TKK 195, Tengyō 2/11/10.
98. These were banquets that had been held more frequently in earlier times. By the later
ninth century, they were held only on the first day of the fourth and tenth months.
99. TKK 205, Tengyō 3/4/1.
100. TKK 218, Tengyō 8/8/23.
101. TKK 213, Tengyō 8/3/16 – 3/19.
102. TKK 228, Tengyō 9/4/11.
103. TKK 244, Tenryaku 1 (947) 3/29.
104. See Piggott, Emergence, 144 – 149, 208 – 231. On propitiating kami, see the Jingiryō
chapter of the Yōrō Code in Inoue Mitsusada, Ritsuryō, 211 – 215. An excellent overview is
Ninomiya Masahiko, “Kodai saishi seido no kōsatsu.”
105. On the annual prayer festival (kinensai) in English see Felicia Bock, “Engi-shiki”: Proce-
dures of the Engi Era, 1:59 – 65, and 2:66 – 70, 107 – 171.
106. Ninomiya, “Kodai.”
107. TKK 172, Tengyō 1/6/22.
64  |  joan r. piggott

108. The order came from Suzaku Tennō, after it was requested in a memorial by Tadahira’s
son and heir, Senior Counselor Fujiwara no Saneyori. See DNS 1:8, 339 – 349, Tengyō 7 (944)
109. Honchō seiki, Tengyō 8/7/7.
110. Kuroda Hideo traces the songs to Kyushu and the Kantō, which he thinks represent
the “west” and “east” of the record. See Kuroda Hideo, “Nōgyō gijutsu to minshu ishiki,”
412 – 415.
111. Rihōō ki, Tengyō 8/8/2.
112. Rihōō ki, Tengyō 8/8/2. Concerning the lightning strike on the Seiryōden, see the entry
dated Enchō 8/6/2 in the late Heian-period Buddhist chronicle Fusō ryakki. For a complete
discussion of the entire Sugawara onryō phenomenon, see Tsunoda Bun’ei, “Fujiwara no Ta-
dahira no eitatsu,” 257 – 272.
113. Honchō seiki, Tengyō 8/8/3.
114. Concerning the arrival of the Shidara deity in the vicinity of the capital, see Hayashiya
Tatsusaburō, ed., Kyōto no rekishi, 1:419 – 424; Toda Yoshimi, “Atarashii kami to ‘fugō no to-
mogara’ ”; and Kuroda, “Nōgyō gijutsu.” A convenient abstract of the extant sources can be
found in DNS 1:8, 473 – 475.
115. Rabinovitch, Shōmonki, 111 – 112.
116. For various interpretations of the Shidara deity, see Shibata Minoru, “Hachiman no
kami no ichi seikaku,” Kuroda, “Nōgyō gijutsu”; and Kawane Yoshiyasu, “Ritsuryō kokka no
henshitsu to bunka no tenkan.”
117. TKK 155, Jōhei 2/4/28.
118. TKK 163, Jōhei 2/12/16; DNS 1:6, 629, 679, 762, 797 – 798.
119. There are several English translations including one by G. W. Sargent in Donald Keene,
Anthology of Japanese Literature, 82 – 91.
120. Besshū fusenshō, Jōhei 5 (935) 11/24, cited in DNS 1:6, 948. Also see Kintada Ason shū,
Jōhei 5/12/3, in DNS 1:6, 952. The delegate’s title was karamonoshi, “Emissary to Seek Goods
from China.” The record shows that another ship docked and still another delegation was sent
just a year later, so this was not an isolated incident. See also DNS 1:7, Jōhei 6 (936) 7/29, 29.
121. DNS 1:8, Jōhei 6/11/17, 744. The order was authorized by Tadahira’s heir, Minister of
the Right Saneyori. It would have been approved during “royal inspection” (nairan) by Regent
122. For instance, bandits attacked the Akita district office in Dewa Province in the sum-
mer of 939, where onlookers reported that the marauders took demonic form. See TKK 187,
Tengyō 2/5/6.
123. On Sumitomo’s piracy see Fukuda Toyohiko, “Fujiwara no Sumitomo to sono ran”;
Taira no Masakado shiryōshū tsuke Fujiwara no Sumitomo shiryō, esp. the documents (shiryō)
section; and Matsubara Hironobu, Fujiwara no Sumitomo.
124. According to Matsubara Hironobu, Sumitomo was probably already in league with the
pirates by 936, which would mean that his appointment in 937 was an attempt to lure him over
to the court’s side. See Matsubara, Fujiwara no Sumitomo, 131 – 142.
125. If there were earlier entries in the TKK, they may not be extant. We have no entries for
933 through 937. See the entries of TKK for 939, passim.
126. DNS 1:7, 581 Tengyō 3/1/1.
127. TKK 202, Tengyō 3/2/26. For more references to this important transport node, see
TKK 141 – 142, Jōhei 1/4/23, 12/2; and on the Yodo port, see TKK 149 – 50, Jōhei 1/12/2.
128. Kobayashi Shōji, “Fujiwara no Sumitomo no ran sairon.”
Court and Provinces under Fujiwara no Tadahira  |  65

129. See DNS 1:8, passim. For instance, on Tengyō 9/12/10, kebiishi were appointed to Izumi,
Tanba, and Kii to deal with violent forces in those provinces. Also see Taniguchi Akira, “Sho-
koku shinsei zatsuji,” 58.
130. Nihon kiryaku and Honchō seiki, Tengyō 5 (942) 6/30, in DNS 1:8, 144 – 145.
131. TKK 217, Tengyō 8/6/30.
132. See the Emoluments (Rokuryō) chapter in Inoue Mitsusada, Ritsuryō, 307. For the rec­
ord of Jōhei 3 (933) concerning the decreasing of the queen’s prebendal units, see DNS 1:6,
133. TKK 218, 219, Tengyō 8/7/14, 8/19; DNS 1:8, 486 – 488.
134. Honchō seiki, Tengyō 8/10/14, cited in DNS 1:8, 428, 518; TKK 218, Tengyō 8/7/14, 8/19.
Narikuni lacked political skills. He appears subsequently as the provisional second in com-
mand of the Right Palace Guards in 947, when he was accused of violating a royal order (Nihon
kiryaku, Tenryaku 1 [947] int. 7/23, cited in DNS 1:9, 38). For a biography see Tsunoda Bun’ei,
Heian jidai shi jiten, 2159 – 2160. This was not the only run-in between provincial authorities
and agents of powerful houses that year. In the late spring, Tadahira received a royal missive
charging that agents of his elder brother, Senior Minister of the Left Fujiwara no Nakahira, had
committed crimes. In that instance, the household director (bettō) was actually jailed (TKK
215, Tengyō 8/4/13, 4/14).
135. Seiji yōryaku vol. 2, Tenryaku 1/int. 7/23, 271 – 272; Morita, “Fujiwara no Tadahira seiken
no dōkō,” 270.
136. TKK 259, Tenryaku 2/6/4.
137. Heian ibun, vol. 11, fu 262, Tenryaku 3/3/n.d. It should be noted that the editor of Heian
ibun, Takeuchi Rizō, found these documents suspect.
138. In 969 the senior member of the Council, Minamoto no Takaakira, was accused of
plotting and exiled to the Dazaifu in Kyushu. Takaakira’s misfortune was the good fortune
of Tadahira’s sons, Saneyori and Morosuke, whose leadership at court was then unrivaled.
An important ally to both Saneyori and Morosuke at the time was Minamoto no Mitsunaka,
a martial governor whose Seiwa Genji descendents thereafter flourished as the “claws and
fangs” of the Regents Line. See Yamamoto Nobuyoshi, “Reizei chō ni okeru Ononomiyake,
Kujōke wo megutte”; Oboroya Hisashi, Seiwa Genji, 42 – 84; and DNS 2:3, 29 – 44 (Chōtoku 3
[997], n.d.).
139. Nihon kiryaku, Tenryaku 3/6/6, DNS 1:9, 374.
140. The special circumstances of the Kinai are described in Ichi, “Kyūseiki Kinai.”
141. For current overviews and evaluations of Tadahira’s court leadership see Satō Sōjun,
“Fujiwara no Tadahira seiken no keisei”; Morita, “Fujiwara no Tadahira seiken no dōkō”; Yo-
shikawa, “Sekkan seiji no tensei”; Sasaki Muneo, “Sesshō sei kanpaku sei no seiritsu”; and Ōtsu
Tōru, Kodai no tennō sei.
142. See Satō Sōjun, “Fujiwara no Tadahira.”
143. See, for instance, Tamai, “Jū, jūichi seiki no Nihon, sekkan seiji,” esp. 23. In English see
Bruce Batten’s “Provincial Administration in Early Japan.”
144. See Charlotte von Verschuer’s discussion in this volume.
145. Ōtsu, Kodai no tennō sei, esp. 103 – 105.
146. Indeed, Terauchi Hiroshi has traced the emergence of wealthy governors to the late
tenth and early eleventh centuries. See Terauchi, “Sekkan ki no zuryō to seifu no chikusei.”
And for one approach to these changes, see Ōtsu Tōru, “Sekkanki no kokka kōzō.”
4  d  G. Cameron Hurst III

Kugyō and Zuryō

Center and Periphery in the Era
of Fujiwara no Michinaga

onsiderations of center and periphery in Heian Japan involve at the
highest level the relationship between the central political apparatus
and the hinterlands, the sixty-six provinces and two islands (Iki and
Tsushima) that constituted the conceptualized polity. Indeed, the very
existence of a state presupposes control over the human and material resources
of the space thought to constitute the geographical area of that conceptualized
state. This was never an easy task for Japanese rulers, despite the insular charac-
ter of Japan that seems to lend itself to simple mapping of a discrete geopolitical
entity. Recall, for example, the court’s hard-fought campaigns against the Emishi
to extend its control over the northeast.
  Central government – provincial interaction over the entire Heian period is
too broad a topic for this chapter. I have already considered this issue, at least
tangentially, in several other works dealing with the late Heian period.1 And with
the publication of volume 2 of The Cambridge History of Japan, other aspects of
the changes the central government adopted in order to control the provinces in
the early and mid-Heian eras have been treated.2 But the exact nature of central-
provincial relations in the mid-Heian period, from 967 to 1068, when the Fujiwara
Regents House (sekkanke) enjoyed its greatest political influence, remains under-
studied. Below, however, I will focus primarily on the period considered to be the
height of the regency period, the era of Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – 1027).
Given the information available in the Cambridge History, my analysis need be
only partially institutional; instead, it will concentrate on the human elements.
That is, I am concerned with how the regent ruled. Certainly Michinaga was the
effective ruler of Japan in mid-Heian, and he ruled by controlling both politics at
the center (Heian-kyō) and the flow of resources from the periphery (provinces).
Below, I hope to demonstrate the nature of personal relationships between and
among the various kugyō (ranking noble) houses, including the Fujiwara Regents
House and the Imperial House. What was the overlap between personal and
political relations? How did marital relations affect politics? How was Michinaga
able to dominate the organs of state? Turning to the periphery, I will examine
the relationship between Michinaga and the middle-ranking provincial gover-
nors (zuryō) who provided the resource base for his opulent lifestyle. How were
appointments to governorships decided? How did governors form relationships
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  67

and curry favor with Michinaga? Years ago I sketched out in outline form the way
in which marital and patron-client relationships worked in the Heian period.3 In
this essay I hope to flesh out that earlier work.
By the mid-Heian age the Fujiwara Regents House had secured what must have
seemed to others permanent control over the court, through the domination of
two extracodal offices: regent (sesshō) and chancellor (kanpaku).4 The seeds of
this exercise of power lay in the close marital alliance that the lineage was able
to form with the Imperial House, virtually monopolizing the several positions of
principal imperial consort over a long period. Imperial offspring were thus nor-
mally born of mothers from the Fujiwara regental line; and in the predominantly
uxorilocal residential pattern of the period, Fujiwara kinsmen exercised consid-
erable power over sovereigns, especially when it became common to enthrone
children. Acting on behalf of child emperors, Fujiwara politicians served as re-
gent; continuing to exercise power even after an emperor reached adulthood,
they held the position of chancellor, noticeably weaker yet still most powerful
among the senior nobility.5
  This mid-Heian period is currently referred to in Japan as the ōchō kokka, a
widely used term rendered in the Cambridge History as “the royal court State.”6 It
postulates a basic change in the original ritsuryō, or statutory, system of the Nara
and early Heian eras in which the court essentially delegated the details of pro-
vincial rule to local governors in return for a steady flow of income to Kyoto. By
the end of the ninth century the statutory state could no longer effectively man-
age the provincial taxation and census mechanisms of the borrowed Tang-style
codes, and the central government was at loggerheads with provincial officials
on how to solve the issues. The “new” system that unfolded under the adminis-
trations of Fujiwara no Tokihira (871 – 909) and Tadahira at the beginning of the
tenth century can be summarized in two main points. First, the public (taxable)
lands in each province would now be organized into units called myō for the
purpose of levying taxes and tribute. Second, the central government essentially
ceased its involvement in the details of provincial administration in return for
relegating provincial governors to little more than tax collectors.
  The ramifications of these changes were major, and the secondary literature on
their implications is extensive. I will return to them in more detail when consid-
ering Michinaga’s relations with the periphery, but I will first examine the center
of the ōchō kokka, the capital at Heian, in Michinaga’s era. The most prominent
political features of the period were the establishment of the Fujiwara regency
and a widespread tendency to privatize formerly public functions, as well as to
monopolize certain offices within designated families.

Michinaga Controls the Center

How are we to regard Fujiwara no Michinaga? Standard historical accounts are
consistent. He is referred to as the “greatest statesman in the Heian period” or the
most powerful of all Fujiwara regents, the “Fujiwara regent par excellence,”7 ac-
cording to William McCullough, or in George Sansom’s assessment, the “greatest
68  |  g. cameron hurst iii

of the regents.” But what do we mean by that, exactly? Was he the most influential
man the Fujiwara ever produced? And if so, measured by what standard? Was
Michinaga the wisest man of Heian times? Was he the greatest poet? The richest
man? Did he institute administrative or fiscal policies that dramatically altered
the course of Heian history? Did he bring peace and prosperity to the realm?
Did he leave behind a physical legacy upon which subsequent generations might
gaze in awe and say, “Michinaga built that”? One can only answer most of these
questions in the negative. To be sure, Michinaga was intelligent, talented, and
wealthy, but not markedly more so than his associates. He did not devise great
political or economic programs; he did not renew the realm and propel it to new
heights of power and prestige. Even such temporarily successful fiscal reforms
as shōen regulations were the product of earlier or later times; none date from
Michinaga’s era. In fact, it could be argued that the Heian court was not at its
zenith in Michinaga’s time, at least not politically or economically. Certainly, the
realm was none too pacific during his days.
But Michinaga enjoyed great personal power, and could dominate the political
process as few others in Heian times. In terms of office and rank — and the as-
sociated social and economic perquisites — Michinaga held sway over his world.
In that sense his famous poem, composed upon the appointment of his daugh-
ter Ishi as Emperor Go-Ichijō’s principal consort in 1018, sums up the situation
This world, I think,
Is indeed my world.
Like the full moon
I shine,
Uncovered by any cloud!8
His offspring flourished, and the regency was secure within his line.
Perhaps Michinaga’s main claim to fame as a great figure is that he presided
over a society at its cultural zenith. As Ōe no Masafusa (1041 – 1111) noted in his
Zoku honchō ōjōden, pointing to eighty-six men and women of talent in twenty
different fields, the era produced an uncommon number of talented people.9 In-
terestingly, he did not include in this group either Sei Shōnagon or Murasaki
Shikibu, probably because the writing they produced was not considered in the
“public” realm. Be that as it may, one can certainly not credit Michinaga for
the appearance of all these talented figures. Indeed, Masafusa does not even list
Michinaga in any of these categories, and he refers collectively to them as great
figures at the court of Emperor Ichijō.
  Compared to many civilizations, the Heian age did not produce great monu-
ments: no pyramids like those of the pharaohs, no massive tombs like the Japa-
nese rulers of the fifth and sixth centuries. Yet Michinaga loved extravagance
and splendor, as attested to by many contemporary accounts. His Tsuchimikado
mansion was certainly luxurious, appropriately so as the locus of many impe-
rial visits. The construction of his Hōjōji temple-residence complex was a major
project for its day, as “Michinaga urged the work on with floods of orders, chaf-
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  69

ing at the slowness of dawn and bemoaning the gathering of shadows at night”;10
and the glory of Michinaga’s house was displayed for all to see. Yet today, noth-
ing physical remains of his legacy, save perhaps the Byōdōin at Uji. But even
that magnificent compound is more properly associated with his son Yorimichi,
who, after inheriting it from his father, turned it into the historical building and
grounds we now enjoy.
How then are we to judge Michinaga’s “power”? How was Michinaga, in the
words of William McCullough, able to “carry all before him at Kyoto, crushing
his enemies, disposing of people and official posts mostly as he saw fit”?11 How
did a regent such as Michinaga — and he was actually regent for just over a year
after Go-Ichijō’s accession in 1016 — exercise such seemingly dictatorial powers?
Despite the Ōkagami’s insistence upon his bravery and portrait of him as an
excellent horseman and archer,12 Michinaga commanded no physical resources
to force men to his will, in the normal sense of that term. Michinaga’s skills
were civil rather than military. He was able to defeat potential enemies through
marriage politics and by guile and intrigue, by control of the administrative ma-
chinery of state, and by control of the fiscal resources of the realm to achieve a
dominance that few others have enjoyed in Japanese history

“Family Ties”: Michinaga’s Kin

Michinaga’s ability to effect decisions of state depended upon both the rank and
office he achieved and his personal relationships with the Imperial House. Power
and success by mid-Heian Japan had to do as much with personal relationships as
anything else, as the privatization of the organs of state proceeded apace. Michi-
naga orchestrated things so that family members, kinsmen, and clients obtained
important positions at both the center and the periphery, providing him with
allies almost everywhere and no political opponents of consequence anywhere.
  The Ōkagami attributes Michinaga’s phenomenal success to “his boundless
good fortune,”13 and indeed fate seems to have taken a hand all along the way.
No one in Heian times — indeed at any time in premodern Japanese history — 
enjoyed the kind of family ties that allowed him to control the allocation of po-
litical, economic, and social resources as did Michinaga. Later warrior leaders
enjoyed more raw personal power than Michinaga, served by legions of vassals.
But that was power won by the sword. Michinaga’s power was achieved within
the system, by strategic marriages, shrewd political moves, and much luck.
As the fifth son of Regent and Chancellor Kaneie (whose daughter Senshi was
Emperor Ichijō’s mother), Michinaga certainly must have anticipated a successful
career, but he could not have dreamed of becoming the most notable politician of
his age. In 995, however, several senior courtiers were carried away in a virulent
epidemic or died suddenly. Included in this group were his two older brothers,
Michikane and Michitaka, both of whom had served as chancellors after the
death of their father Kaneie in 990 (figure 4.1). Indeed, the Ōkagami notes that
“the explanation for all those deaths is simply that Michinaga is a supremely
lucky man. He would never have risen so high if others had kept the offices to
which they were entitled by seniority.”14 When his two brothers passed away at
70  |  g. cameron hurst iii

ages forty-two and thirty-four respectively, Michinaga was appointed document

examiner, minister of the right, and Fujiwara clan chieftain when he was only
twenty-nine.15 The next year, he vaulted over all other courtiers when he became
minister of the left, a post he held for the next twenty-one years until his appoint-
ment as prime minister in 1017.16
If Michinaga was lucky that the death of many other nobles opened for him
an unimpeded path to success, his success nonetheless depended more upon the
distaff members of his family. He married three daughters to successive emper-
ors and made three more consorts to crown princes, and thus for much of his
career Michinaga was closely related to the imperial family as uncle, father-in-
law, and grandfather of sovereigns. Michinaga was truly blessed in his family
relations, especially in his selection of wives. He married Minamoto no Rinshi in
987, when he was twenty-one years old and had just become a kugyō. Rinshi was
the daughter of the senior court noble, Minister of the Left Minamoto no Ma-
sanobu, grandson of former Emperor Uda and son of Prince Atsuzane. Rinshi’s
mother was the daughter of the minister of the right in the late Daigo era, Sada-
kata. According to the Eiga monogatari, Masanobu was not initially pleased with
Michinaga’s proposal of marriage.17 Perhaps the deciding factor in his accepting
Michinaga’s proposal was that his elder brother Michitsuna was already married
to another of Masanobu’s daughters. But Michinaga’s desire for a bride from this
powerful Uda Genji lineage was fully in the tradition of Fujiwara Regents House
males seeking brides from princely houses.
  Yet just a year later Michinaga married another powerful Minamoto family
woman, Meishi. She was the daughter of the late minister of the left Takaakira,
victim of a Fujiwara plot in which he was exiled to Kyushu in the Anna Inci-
dent of 969. Michinaga’s elder sister Senshi became the guardian of Meishi, and
according to Ōkagami, she rejected the petitions of her two younger brothers
Michitaka and Michikane and ensured that her favorite younger brother Michi-
naga would marry Meishi.18 These two women provided Michinaga with twelve
children in all, six males and six females, almost as though they were “compet-
ing in the production of offspring.”19 The daughters were of course the key to his
future political success, since all but one became a principal imperial consort or
a consort to a crown prince.
His senior wife Rinshi presented Michinaga with six children, four daughters
and two sons. Both sons, Yorimichi and Norimichi, became chancellors; but it
was the daughters who were really responsible for Michinaga’s long period of
dominance at court. The eldest daughter was Shōshi, principal consort of Ichijō
and the mother of two sovereigns — Go-Ichijō and Go-Suzaku. Better known
by her honorary title Jōtōmon’in, Shōshi was raised to the position of senior
grand imperial dowager and was the most notable lady in the realm. Kenshi,
Michinaga’s second daughter, became Sanjō’s bride while he was crown prince
and was raised to principal imperial consort upon his accession. Although she
had no sons, she did bear an imperial princess and also enjoyed considerable
status at court.
The third daughter, Ishi, married Go-Ichijō just after his capping ceremony
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  71

Figure 4.1. Sekkanke genealogy during Michinaga’s times.

Source: Adapted from Mikael Adolphson, The Gates of Power (Honolulu: University of
Hawai‘i Press, 2000).

and bore him a princess. Finally, Kishi, the fourth daughter, became the consort
of Go-Suzaku while he was still crown prince and was the mother of Go-Reizei.
Rinshi not only provided Michinaga with very successful children: she herself
was so revered that she was accorded status equivalent to that of an empress.
According to the Ōkagami, she was at the time of its writing “mother of three
principal imperial consorts, the crown prince’s consort, the regent and the palace
minister (to say nothing of her being the grandmother of the emperor and the
crown prince). She is certainly the mother of the nation.”20
These children were produced over a long period, so that there was a signifi-
cant age difference between elder and younger siblings. Thus Michinaga married
Shōshi, his eldest daughter by Rinshi, to Emperor Ichijō; and she bore him two
male offspring who became emperors as well: Go-Ichijō and Go-Suzaku. In turn,
these emperors were married to Shōshi’s younger sisters Ishi and Kishi respec-
tively, making Michinaga grandfather of both emperor and crown prince. More-
over, when seventeen-year-old Ishi married her eight-year-old nephew Emperor
Go-Ichijō in 1018, Michinaga was simultaneously the emperor’s grandfather and
father-in-law, as complex a web of marriage relationships that intertwined impe-
rial and regental houses as ever existed in Japanese history.
By contrast, Meishi’s offspring were less successful. Although her sons Yori-
mune, Yoshinobu, and Nagaie all became major court figures, none rose to regent
or chancellor. Another son, Akinobu, became a monk. Moreover, Yorimichi suc-
ceeded his father and served as chancellor for almost a half century during the
reigns of his nephews Go-Ichijō and Go-Suzaku and his grandnephew Go-Reizei,
thus limiting the advancement of his half brothers. Likewise, Meishi’s daughters
72  |  g. cameron hurst iii

never became mothers of emperors, but Kanshi did marry Ko-Ichijō’in, a son of
Emperor Sanjō who was driven from the position of crown prince by Michinaga
and replaced with Michinaga’s own grandson Atsuyoshi (future Emperor Go-
Suzaku) — who was then married to Michinaga’s daughter Kishi.
This review of the complex marital relationships illustrates how closely inter-
twined Michinaga was with the Imperial House. The politics of Heian marriage
were explained by the late William McCullough,21 but it behooves us here to re-
view a few of the features, since it is the key to understanding Michinaga’s ability
to effect decisions of state. Although marital institutions were changing in mid-
Heian Japan, uxorilocal practices were still prevalent. Whether a major court
figure resided with his wife (wives) or lived alone and visited them alternately,22
women most often remained at their parents’ house after marrying, and thus
children were raised by their maternal kinsmen rather than their paternal ones.
Marriage was arranged to secure a bridegroom for the daughters of ranking
families, and the Japanese term — mukotori — literally means “bridegroom wel-
coming.” In mid-Heian times, it was most common for a bridegroom to move
into the residence of his in-laws, who provided the couple with rooms, furnish-
ings, food, and so on. In fact, the wife’s parents were usually far more solici-
tous of their new son-in-law than of their own sons, who were sent off to other
families as bridegrooms themselves. Financially, it meant that in the first half of
married life, a man would normally be supported by his wife’s family; and only
on their death might he be obligated to provide some financial support for his
wife — although it was common for the daughter to inherit her parents’ residence
in which the couple may have been living.23 Children of the marriage resided with
their mothers at the home of their maternal grandparents, who had the primary
responsibility for their upbringing. A Heian man, then, may have depended upon
his father for rank and office in his public life; but in his private life, much more
influence lay with the families of his mother and his wife, or wives.
Understanding Heian marriage patterns helps to explain the significant influ-
ence that regents and chancellors had as grandfathers, uncles, and fathers-in-law
of emperors of the time. It was based upon the maternal connection (gaiseki).
It should be noted, however, that the Imperial House operated somewhat dif-
ferently as far as marriage was concerned. Daughters of higher nobles such as
Michinaga were introduced into the Imperial Palace as consorts. Such was the
case with his daughter Shōshi, for example, where Michinaga provided all the
furnishing for her apartments within the palace and to which the emperor then
went for the formal “marriage,” thus maintaining the form at least of its being a
mukotori situation.24
However, we need to pursue the matter further. There is a tendency toward
impreciseness in claiming that a Fujiwara lord was able to become regent because
he had established a gaiseki relationship with an emperor, which means little
more than that he was a maternal relative of the emperor. Another term often
used to refer to the regent-emperor connection is miuchi, which is also vague,
meaning that one is an extremely close relative of the emperor. Such relations
to a sovereign could take a number of different patterns, and the proximity of
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  73

that miuchi bond made each relationship between regent and emperor different,
depending on a number of factors: whether both, one, or neither of the emperor’s
parents survived; the relationship of those parents to the regent; the relationship
of emperor and the main consort; and, of course, the key relationship between
regent and emperor.25 Naturally, throughout the Heian period the nature of this
complex web of relationships varied for each regent, and the sovereign(s) those
regents served differed. It was clearly most advantageous from the point of view
of the Fujiwara leader to be the grandfather of a very young emperor. But even
then, it mattered a great deal what other miuchi were still around.
When he first came to power under Emperor Ichijō, for example, Michinaga
enjoyed reasonably close relations as the emperor’s uncle. The emperor was only
fifteen when Michinaga received the right of document examination. Ichijō died
in 1011 at only thirty-one, ending his career at almost the same age that Michi-
naga began his. So Ichijō was only in his teens and twenties during his associa-
tion with Michinaga. His mother Senshi, Michinaga’s doting elder sister, was still
alive; but his father, Retired Emperor En’yū, had passed away in 991. Thus Ichijō
naturally looked to his mother and her favorite brother, his uncle Michinaga, for
support. The regent-emperor relationship seems to have been especially close.
After Ichijō’s death, Michinaga faced a radically different situation when thirty-
six-year-old Emperor Sanjō ascended the throne. He was the son of the late Reizei
(who also died in 1011) and Michinaga’s sister Chōshi. Again, as uncle of the
sovereign, Michinaga was a close kinsman; but his sister Chōshi was also long
since dead. Moreover, Sanjō had four sons by his wife, who was only a daughter
of Michinaga’s cousin Naritoki. Only later, right before Sanjō’s accession, did
Michinaga arrange to have his daughter Kenshi married to the sovereign and
soon raised to the honorific position of principal imperial consort, although she
had produced no male heir. Since he had more difficulty dominating politics
in the reign of Sanjō, Michinaga put considerable pressure on the sovereign to
abdicate. Fortune again cooperated: Sanjō suffered from failing eyesight, and Mi-
chinaga was able to persuade him to abdicate after only five years on the throne.
He died only a year later. Michinaga further was able to coax Sanjō’s son Crown
Prince Atsuakira to yield that post in favor of Shōshi’s son Prince Atsuyoshi.
Thus Michinaga’s grandson Atsuyoshi, as Go-Ichijō, succeeded Sanjō, and his
daughter Ishi was raised to grand imperial consort, occasioning the “full moon”
poem quoted earlier. As grandfather and father-in-law of the eight-year-old em-
peror, Michinaga was far more readily able to exercise control over the imperial
position than he had been with Sanjō. Confident of his powers, he resigned the
regency in favor of his son Yorimichi.
Thus the core of Michinaga’s power lay in his close relationship with several
successive emperors. Thanks were due in large part to the role played by his sister
Senshi in getting Michinaga properly married and brokering his relationship with
Ichijō; and even greater credit must be given to his daughter Shōshi as consort
and mother of two emperors. Here, too, Michinaga was extremely lucky. Early
in Ichijō’s reign, Shōshi was far too young to become a consort, and Michinaga
could only stand by as his brothers and others sent their daughters off to the pal-
74  |  g. cameron hurst iii

ace. Yet none of the consorts was able to produce a future emperor. So although
Michinaga’s eldest daughter was quite a bit younger than Ichijō’s other consorts,
matters transpired to favor her as grand imperial consort and ultimately mother
of two emperors herself. This was the key to Michinaga’s success.

Michinaga’s Domination of the Court

After the deaths of his brothers, Michinaga found himself in power, as minister
of the left and with the right of document examination (nairan) for his nephew
Emperor Ichijō, when he was only thirty years of age. Even from the outset he
had no political rivals of importance. In fact, the only rival he had known — his
nephew Korechika — had virtually self-destructed at about the time Michinaga
was coming to power. While Korechika’s father Michitaka was alive, Korechika’s
star was in the ascendancy; and he had even temporarily been granted the right
of document examination during his father’s illness in 995, when he was only
twenty-two years old. He and Michinaga were rivals as young men. The famous
incident in 994 recorded in the Ōkagami, in which Michinaga bested Korechika
in an archery match, highlights their rivalry.26 And Sanesuke records an incident
in 995 when the two of them erupted into a verbal argument so loud that their re-
tainers heard it from the other room.27 Only a few days later, Michinaga’s retain-
ers and those of Korechika’s younger brother Takaie clashed on Shichijō Street.28
And just after that one of Takaie’s retainers killed a follower of Michinaga, and
Takaie was forced to surrender the culprit to the authorities.29
  But Korechika and Takaie were banished from the capital by their own rash
act in 996. Korechika mistakenly believed that Retired Emperor Kazan was a rival
for the affections of his own paramour, Senshin no Onkata, a famous beauty of
the day. Takaie and his retainers accosted the retired emperor one night and
shot an arrow through his sleeve.30 Shooting at a former sovereign was a serious
matter; but because of the delicate nature of the affair, no immediate action was
taken. On the eleventh of the next month, however, the nobles were ordered to
debate the guilt of Takaie and Korechika; but it was late, and they retired with
no decision.31 More than two months later, the nobles gathered in council and
appointed Korechika the provisional governor-general of Dazaifu and Takaie the
provisional governor of Izumo; and an imperial edict was issued announcing
their exile. The charges against them were three: the incident involving Retired
Emperor Kazan, having cast a curse on Higashi Sanjō’in (Ichijō’s mother), and
having carried out a very special Buddhist ceremony (the daigen no hō) forbid-
den to subjects.32
Thus politically Michinaga was also very lucky. Korechika might have re-
mained a rival, especially after Higashi Sanjō’in passed away. But his fate was
sealed; and although his exile was brief, Korechika was never a political factor
after his return to the capital, and he died in 1010 while still in his thirties. Michi-
naga seems to have been uninvolved in the fall of Korechika and behaved with a
good deal of restraint throughout the affair. Unlike earlier Fujiwara regents, who
plotted to remove rivals, Michinaga did not have to resort to trickery to best his.
Indeed, the Ōkagami claims that after Takaie returned to court, Michinaga dis-
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  75

cussed the exile with him on a visit to the Kamo Shrine. In the story, Michinaga
addresses Takaie: “Everyone says I was the person who proposed your exile and
pushed it through. . . . But that wasn’t what happened. Do you believe I could
visit Kamo Shrine like this if I had added a word to what His Majesty said?”33
Michinaga may have been disingenuous, but there is no evidence of his having
concocted anything here. Once again, luck favored Michinaga.
Michinaga’s luck was not unqualified. For example, his health was seriously
compromised. He was often ill, and sometimes suffered debilitating effects of
the symptoms of diabetes that periodically afflicted him.34 Still, he was able to
have his way for much of this time, and his ability to secure the appointment of
kinsmen and clients at court and in the provinces was greater than that of any
other Heian statesman. Since his era also is that of great cultural florescence,
represented by the works of such redoubtable authors as Sei Shōnagon, Mura-
saki Shikibu, and Akazome emon; calligraphers such as Michinaga’s kinsman
Yukinari (Kōzei); and poets such as Fujiwara no Sanekata (and in fact, Michinaga
himself), there is a tendency to assume that all was well in the realm. But that
would be a misjudgment. There was in fact considerable unrest.
A brief perusal of the Nihon kiryaku, for example, confirms this state of affairs.
Two years after Michinaga’s birth, Fujiwara no Chitsune rebelled in Shinano
Province, presaging a solid record of unrest throughout the provinces. In 974 the
protests of residents of Owari led to the replacement of the governor there. And
two years later the Imperial Palace was largely destroyed by fire, and a process of
removal to temporary palaces began that was to continue throughout the period.
In 982 the repaired palace burned again, and armed forces were sent against
pirates. In 988 the farmers and officials in Owari presented their well-known
petition against the misdeeds of yet another governor, Fujiwara no Motonaga,
as discussed in Charlotte von Verschuer’s chapter. In 997, “foreigners” attacked
Tsushima and Iki; and in 999 the Awaji governor was dismissed because the local
residents complained of his actions. More palace fires occurred in 1001, 1005,
1009, 1014, and 1015, before larger, citywide fires ravaged Kyoto in 1016 and 1024.
As we shall see in detail below, provincial unrest continued unabated: complaints
lodged against governors are recorded in Settsu in 1003, Owari (again) in 1008,
Yamato and Kaga in 1012, and Tanba in 1017. A major invasion of northern Ky-
ushu by the Jurchen pirates in 1019 was followed just over a year later by pirates
attacking Satsuma as well (see Bruce Batten’s chapter herein). In 1028, only a year
after Michinaga passed away, came the major uprising in several eastern prov-
inces of Taira no Tadatsune, discussed in the chapter by Karl Friday; this uprising
caused serious, long-lasting damage to the productive capacity of the region.
Besides fires, the capital was also beset by numerous incidents of murder and
armed attacks on the street. Breaking and entering appears to have been ram-
pant; targeted were not only the houses of the nobility but also the Imperial
Palace and the several temporary palaces to which the emperor moved while the
palace was being repaired. Not even Michinaga was immune from this crime
wave. Although he simply mentions it in a straightforward account in his diary,
Michinaga was robbed of some clothing and kitchen items on two successive eve-
76  |  g. cameron hurst iii

nings in 1011.35 More egregious was the theft of two thousand ryō of gold money
from his storehouse in 1017.36 Less than a month later, Fujiwara no Sueyoshi, who
lived just to the west of Michinaga, was attacked and wounded in his house by an
intruder.37 And just two months after that, someone was apprehended breaking
into Minister of the Right Kinsue’s stable at night.38
From just this random selection of occurrences, it should be obvious that Mi-
chinaga’s era was not particularly peaceful, and perhaps ought not be considered
the high point of good government in the Heian era either. It was notable for the
lavish lifestyle enjoyed by a small circle of courtiers and their immediate follow-
ers in the capital, supported by access to provincial wealth — largely made pos-
sible by Michinaga’s appointment of kinsmen, associates, and clients to lucrative
provincial posts.
How exactly was Michinaga able to dominate politics? Despite McCullough’s
statement, Michinaga was not a classic dictator who could crush enemies at will.
That was not his style, and besides, there were institutional and familial restraints
on his exercise of power. How then did he exercise control? Most important was
the crucial familial relationship with the Imperial House upon which the Fu-
jiwara regency was predicated. Although his diary is called Midō kanpaku ki,
Michinaga was never chancellor, and he actually served as regent for just over a
year. Thus the post itself was not that important. Access to power depended upon
familial relations; and as historian Kuramoto Kazuhiro has explained, several
factors determined the degree of power that a regent or chancellor could exer-
cise. Kuramoto has constructed a number of informative charts that graphically
display the nature of blood and marital ties between successive emperors and
regents.39 Essentially, the ability of the regent to exercise power was normally
greater when both sets of ties were close. But Kuramoto has also factored in other
elements of the immediate familial situation of the emperor, such as whether
the emperor was an adult with political abilities or interests, whether either his
father or mother or both were still alive, whether there was another kugyō with
close marital relations, and so forth. Basing his construct on those factors, he
creates sixteen different models of the power structure over several periods in
the Heian era.
Expanding our analysis in this way allows us to discern several patterns in
Michinaga’s career as major figure at court. For example, from 995, when he was
named document examiner at the death of Michikane, until Ichijō’s death in 1011,
Michinaga held that position and was senior noble (ichi no kami) as minister of
the left. But his access to power changed depending on the configuration of the
Imperial House. As I have noted elsewhere40 but Kuramoto has explained in far
greater detail, it was possible for there to be parental authority constraining the
emperor from both the imperial family side — usually in the form of a senior
retired emperor (in), but often from the emperor’s mother, especially if she had
been given an in designation — as well as the Fujiwara Regents House. On oc-
casion, there could be animosity between a retired emperor and a regent, but
normally there was a tendency to work in concert.
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  77

From that point of view, Michinaga’s situation differed quite a bit from that of
his father, Kaneie, and his brother Michitaka. When Ichijō came to the throne,
Kaneie was first regent during his minority, and then became chancellor after
his genpuku (coming-of-age) ceremony in 990. He was father of En’yū’s principal
consort, Senshi, and thus grandfather of the young Ichijō (see figure 4.1). En’yū,
however, was still alive and exercised some degree of parental authority, so that
Kaneie as regent and En’yū apparently shared power on the basis of consider-
able consensus while Ichijō was a youth.41 When Michitaka took over from his
father, he faced an adult Ichijō beginning to assert his will in politics. En’yū still
exercised a degree of parental authority, and Michitaka was both his uncle and
after his daughter Teishi entered the palace, his father-in-law. En’yū was ill for
much of the time, so Michitaka appears to have been the most powerful figure.
But once En’yū died, Michitaka apparently enjoyed even more power because
Senshi, his younger sister, was the ranking member of the Imperial House with
the title Higashi Sanjō’in (see Fukutō Sanae’s chapter herein). When Michinaga,
who was Senshi’s younger brother, took over, Senshi herself became ever more
active in court politics.
As mother of the nation (kokumo) and ranking member of the Imperial House,
she now began to assert her will in the political realm.42 Indeed, it was supposedly
at her instigation that Michinaga was given the designation as document exam-
iner in the first place.43 There appears to have been a reasonable political con-
sensus among the three — Senshi, Ichijō, and Michinaga — in determining state
policies.44 Although both retired emperors, Kazan and Reizei, were still alive, nei-
ther was closely enough related to Ichijō to exercise any parental guidance, and
neither seems to have intruded in politics whatsoever. When Higashi Sanjō’in
passed away in 1001, Michinaga and his nephew Ichijō formed the nexus of politi-
cal power; and their relationship was sufficiently close — Teishi had also died, and
Michinaga’s daughter Shōshi became Ichijō’s sole surviving consort — to allow
Michinaga to control the direction of state affairs.
But despite that close relationship with Ichijō, how did Michinaga control
politics? He was not regent and thus could not sign imperial documents, nor did
he have influence that a formal chancellor enjoyed. He was a co-participant in
ruling through the right of document examination, but that seems to have been
mostly a formality. Received wisdom for many years, including my own writings,
has tended to emphasize that not only during the Fujiwara regency period, but
in the insei era as well, court decisions were largely made in the kugyō (senior
nobles) council, most frequently in the jin no sadame process.45 The Saigūki,
Hokuzanshō, and other works of court procedure explain the process as follows.
The senior ranking noble present (called the shōkei), in accord with the emperor’s
instructions, has one of the secretaries (geki) inform the nobles to assemble. Once
they have assembled, the senior noble transmits the matter to be decided. Then,
beginning with the lowest-ranking member of the group, each noble states his
opinion. The senior noble has one of the imperial advisers (sangi, the junior-most
among the members) draft a decision (sadamebumi) summarizing the opinions,
78  |  g. cameron hurst iii

which the head chamberlain (kurōdo no tō) reports to the emperor. Then, a deci-
sion ought to be proclaimed in an imperial edit or edict of the Grand Council
of State.
There are, however, problems in evaluating the validity of the process. For
one thing, most documentary references to council decisions, such as the jin no
sadame, are greatly abbreviated. They do not describe the process or the differ-
ences of opinion, but simply report that “the council decided on several matters
submitted from the provinces” or the like. Just exactly how the decision was
made remains, in other words, unclear. We know that in some cases, council
meetings were canceled because so few nobles appeared, or that a decision was
made by simply the few in attendance, suggesting that the kugyō themselves may
not have regarded council meetings as the most important of state affairs. There
are also references to matters that were decided at the private residence of the
regent and to appointments and other matters of import that were decided by the
regent alone, or by the emperor, or by the two in tandem.46
In fact, for those reasons, scholars have begun to question the importance of
this noble council form of decision making, suggesting that such decisions were
often no more than an ex post facto approval of a decision that had already been
made by the core power holders, normally emperor and regent. The only histo-
rian to study these types of decisions in detail is Kuramoto, who has examined
all the decisions he could identify over the twenty-five years of Ichijō’s reign.47 He
has identified 388, which cover more than eighty separate categories of issues,
major and minor, ceremonial and substantive. But of the 388, there are only 14
cases for which we actually have the whole picture before us: who assembled,
what their various opinions were, and what action the court actually took subse-
quent to the council meeting.
Let us examine a few council meetings in the diaries of Michinaga, Sanesuke,
and Yukinari to see if we can determine the importance of the meetings, the deci-
sions they reached, their role in shaping official actions, and perhaps Michinaga’s
role. Recall that during Ichijō’s reign, Michinaga was neither regent nor chancel-
lor, but only had the right of document examination prior to their submission
to the sovereign. This may have actually worked in his favor, since the sekkan,
as extracodal officers, did not sit at the council meetings. But Michinaga did,
as minister of the left, attend them, unless illness or something else otherwise
prevented him. Although there are many references to meetings in Michinaga’s
diary, they are usually brief, stating that a meeting took place or simply noting
the decision. Other courtiers, however, often record the process, the outcome,
and sometimes the role of Michinaga himself.
One decision about which we have considerable internal information is the one
in 997 to pardon Fujiwara no Korechika, Michinaga’s nephew and former rival,
and Takaie, after their exile, discussed above.48 In the third month, a general am-
nesty was declared in order to alleviate the illness of Imperial Dowager Higashi
Sanjō’in. The courtiers debated whether Korechika and Takaie should fall under
this amnesty. As Sanesuke describes the process, Emperor Ichijō summoned
Michinaga, as senior noble, and instructed him to call a council meeting, which
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  79

he did, presenting to the nobles the sovereign’s instructions: they should decide
(sadamemōsu) whether the amnesty ought to apply to the two men, whether they
ought to be recalled to the capital, or even if they were pardoned, whether they
ought to remain in their current posts.
  Kugyō opinions varied widely. Two other courtiers agreed with Narinobu that
Korechika and Takaie should be pardoned but that the court ought to seek the
opinion of legal specialists regarding their return to the capital. Kinsue and Ko-
retada also thought that they should be pardoned but that precedent ought to be
consulted regarding their recall. The dominant opinion, offered first by Mina-
moto no Toshikata and joined by three more members, was that Korechika and
Takaie ought to be pardoned but that their recall should be left to the emperor’s
decision. (Sanesuke himself favored that position.) Fujiwara no Sukeyoshi sug-
gested the option of a pardon but having them remain in their current posts.
Michinaga expressed no opinion, but he reported the outcome himself to Ichijō
(according to Sanesuke, Michinaga simply “committed the purport of the opin-
ions to memory” and reported them). Michinaga reported back to the nobles the
emperor’s decision that if there were past examples of exiles having been brought
back at the will of the sovereign, then they should be recalled. Michinaga then
called a secretary and ordered him to have messengers dispatched to recall the
  In this case, the nobles’ opinions were diverse; there were four different opin-
ions, with the “votes” split 4, 3, 2, and 1. Thus, there was no consensus on what
action to take, other than that the two men ought to be pardoned. But the em-
peror, after discussion with Michinaga, seems both to have pardoned and re-
called them. Takaie was even reported to have arrived back in the capital on
the night of the twenty-first.49 Kuramoto reads much into the series of actions
involved here. First, by ordering the nobles to decide one of three specific courses
of action, the emperor seems to have had considerable influence in shaping the
decisions of the noble council. Second, the emperor ordered the action taken on
the basis of a consensus among Ichijō, his mother, and Michinaga. Thus, the fact
that Michinaga did not offer a formal opinion on the issue, and in fact did not
even present a written decision of the nobles’ opinions to the emperor but de-
livered it orally from memory, suggests that the decision had already been made
elsewhere and that the jin no sadame in this case was no more than a procedural
formality.50 Michinaga’s behavior in the matter was unusual, at least if we accept
the description of proper procedure in such sources as Hokuzanshō. Not only did
Michinaga not report the nobles’ decision in written form — only “unimportant
matters” were to be transmitted to the sovereign orally — but the reporting itself
should have been done by a head chamberlain.
  Another jin no sadame for which there is some detail is one in 1004 involving
Usa Hachiman Shrine, the major shrine in Kyushu and perhaps second only to
Ise Shrine in national importance. In this case, the shrine had been protesting
the harsh rule of the senior assistant governor-general of Dazaifu, Taira no Ko-
renaka. The nobles were to debate whether to send a special envoy to investigate
charges against Korenaka.51 Their decision was to send a messenger, and when
80  |  g. cameron hurst iii

Michinaga duly reported it to the emperor, Ichijō asked Michinaga’s opinion.

Michinaga suggested that sending an envoy was fine but that they first needed
to select one and then reply to the shrine by imperial edict. The two of them — a
head chamberlain was also in attendance — selected the envoy without any input
from the nobles, and the edict, with the envoy’s name, was duly sent. Kuramoto
therefore argues that the noble council did not really make the final decision and
that Michinaga’s ability to get his way was less as leader of the council than in his
capacity as document examiner and adviser to the emperor.52
Another well-documented case dealt with foreign trade. A Nihon kiryaku no-
tation for the second month of 1005 states simply that Dazaifu reported the ar-
rival of Song merchant Zeng Lingwen.53 Michinaga’s diary is perfunctory as well.
He arrived at midday at the palace, where there was a recitation of the Sūtra of
the Golden Light attended by most senior nobles; the most interesting notation,
it would appear, is that Fujiwara no Tametomo presented him with two horses,54
a frequent occurrence, as we shall see. Michinaga takes no note of the Chinese
trader Zeng, but he was mentioned in the Nihon kiryaku before, and thus the
compilers deemed his arrival noteworthy. As is often the case, Michinaga’s kins-
man and sometime critic, Fujiwara no Sanesuke, does go into the incident in
some detail.55
Apparently, Zeng’s arrival occasioned considerable debate among the kugyō
because he violated rules governing Chinese traders decreed in an edict a year
earlier. The debate was resolved in favor of Michinaga, who displayed a tactic of
handling the noble council that appears to have been common for him — and
to have provoked Sanesuke. Most of the entry for the day refers to the Buddhist
sūtra reading held at the palace, with a long discussion of what Buddhist im-
ages were placed where and who the various notable prelates in attendance were.
Sanesuke records that at the end of the discussion Michinaga raised the matter
of the arrival of the Song merchant (no name given) and requested a decision
on the matter, but it was postponed because of the lateness of the hour. On the
twenty-first the nobles gathered in council at the Office of the Palace Guards to
decide how to deal with Zeng. The two options presented to the nobles appear to
have been to allow him to stay or to send him back immediately. Sanesuke argued
that because Zeng came earlier than the date set in the imperial edict, he should
be sent back to China. And the ten courtiers besides Michinaga all concurred
that he ought to be sent back. Michinaga asked if Zeng really ought to be sent
back immediately simply because he had come earlier than stipulated. Perhaps,
he suggested, Zeng ought to be allowed to remain in Japan while awaiting a favor-
able wind. In which case, Michinaga argued, was it necessary to have imperial
permission? Two of the group agreed with Michinaga, but the rest still felt that
Zeng ought to be sent back.
Three days later, an imperial edict was issued allowing Zeng to remain. Em-
peror Ichijō was in agreement with Michinaga. Kuramoto notes that ever since
the arrival of the message from Kyushu, Michinaga had visited the palace on the
fourteenth and fifteenth, the eighteenth through the twenty-first, and the day of
the edict itself. Although there is no record as to what was discussed between
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  81

Michinaga and the emperor, he reads this as Michinaga’s and the emperor’s ar-
riving at a “consensus” as to the action taken.56 At any rate, it seems clear that
Michinaga and Ichijō were able to have their way, despite the views of the council.
Kuramoto goes so far as to suggest that the two had probably arrived at a decision
before the meeting: thus when Michinaga brought up an alternate solution to the
matter, a few courtiers switched their opinion, most likely because they assumed
that Michinaga was going to get his way in the end anyway.57 We will see later
why Michinaga might show favorable treatment to a Chinese trader.
That same month the noble council faced another interesting issue, one that
struck at the heart of the whole complex of ideology involving imperial rule. It
captures nicely the degree of disorder in the realm, and it also illustrates well how
decisions appear to have been made during Michinaga’s regency. One night near
the end of 1005, another terrible fire consumed much of the palace.58 It had been
an eventful day at the palace for Michinaga; he and the other kugyō had begun
the day by debating the guilt of the Dazaifu official Nagamine no Tadanori, who
was the subject of a complaint by Usa Hachiman Shrine. There were archery
matches and much other business to dispense with. Michinaga returned home,
viewed the lunar eclipse that evening, then retired. But he was awakened in the
middle of the night with news of a fire to the west, the location of which he
soon learned was the palace. Rushing there, he met several other courtiers. They
determined that both the emperor and Michinaga’s daughter Shōshi were safe.
Michinaga felt that they ought to protect the Kashikodokoro, where the sacred
mirror was kept, but they were too late. The fire had destroyed the building.
When they searched the ruins of the building, they found the mirror, or what
was left of it, among the ashes atop a roof tile. The various accounts refer to it
being “burned up” or having lost its “circular shape.” Exactly what shape it was
in is hard to glean from the sources, but it must have melted and congealed into
a blob of bronze no longer resembling its original form. This was of course the
famous Yata no kagami, one of the three Imperial Regalia symbolic of the legiti-
mate sovereign. Recounted in the Kojiki as having been passed on to Ninigi no
mikoto by Amaterasu, the regalia were the most sacred emblems of state, and
the “loss” of the mirror was as grave a matter as the courtiers could face. What
to do?
The next day Michinaga told Sanesuke to call the kugyō together to decide
what was to be done. When Sanesuke arrived at Michinaga’s, he found a number
of other courtiers discussing the matter and seemingly having reached a decision
that another mirror ought to be cast. Then on the seventeenth, they assembled
for a formal jin no sadame. The topic of discussion was announced as “whether
the mirror ought to be recast.” Sanesuke records his opinion that they consult
various specialists (shodō, presumably meaning Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist ad-
epts and legal scholars) before taking any action. He felt that they ought not take
regular bronze and forge it with the remains of the original mirror, which was
of course considered sacred. (The unspoken fear is that such an action might
seriously impair the sacred quality of the mirror.) If they wanted to preserve the
shape of the mirror, he argued, they ought to forge a new one and enshrine it
82  |  g. cameron hurst iii

along with the damaged original. Still, he said, they ought to consult everyone,
and certainly do nothing before informing Ise Shrine; and the recasting ought to
be done only after proper divination. The other courtiers agreed.
Michinaga had that decision relayed verbally to Ichijō, who in turn ordered
the consultations. More than half a year later the opinions came in. Michinaga
and Yukinari both record the gozen no sadame — a council meeting in front of
the emperor — that was called for the third day of the seventh month of 1006.59
The emperor had Michinaga, as senior noble, announce the topic to be decided.
In turn, Michinaga had Yukinari read the various opinions of legal scholars and
yin-yang specialists. Based upon their recommendations, Yukinari offered the
opinion that the mirror ought not to be recast. Although it no longer retained its
original shape, he argued, it was still a sacred item, and when enshrined, it would
retain its sacred splendor. Several courtiers agreed, until Kinsue offered a differ-
ent opinion: that tortoise-shell divinations be conducted and shamans consulted,
and based on the outcome, another meeting called to reach a decision. Korechika
and Michinaga joined in that view. The emperor was displeased that there was no
consensus and ordered them to debate the issue again.
A second discussion yielded no change in the opinions of the two groups, so
that it remained seven in favor of not recasting the mirror and three wanting
further clarification from divine sources. Michinaga opined that the matter was
difficult to decide, and the courtiers departed the meeting. Yet about ten days
later, a divination was ordered,60 in accord with the minority opinion favored
by Michinaga. No further notations are found, and it appears that no divination
altered the decision to cast a new mirror and enshrine both of them.
Finally, in 1006, there is an interesting decision, recorded in some detail in
both Gonki and Midō kanpaku ki, dealing with the appointment of the new abbot
(bettō) at Tōdaiji.61 When Saishin resigned the position, a council meeting was
held; Ichijō told Michinaga to have the council decide a successor. Two monks
were recommended: Chōshin (933 – 1014) and Seiju (959 – 1016). When he got the
report, the emperor had the message relayed back to the council to choose one
of the two. The nobles were split, with six choosing Seiju, three, Chōshin. Michi-
naga, noting that both were qualified men, suggested that messengers be sent to
their respective temples to find out who was the more competent and then ap-
point that one. It was this lone opinion that was reported to Ichijō, who ordered
the dispatch of the messengers in accord with Michinaga’s advice. Almost three
months later, Chōshin, who was apparently a close associate of Michinaga, was
appointed to the position.62 It appears that even though the nobles as a whole
favored Seiju, Michinaga engineered the appointment of Chōshin, suggesting
once again that Michinaga enjoyed power that transcended that of the kugyō as
a deliberative body.
More examples could be provided, but suffice it to say that careful consider-
ation of extant council decisions leads one to question the centrality of this pro-
cess. It seems that Michinaga was able to get his way because the core authority
figures — emperor and regent — were in fact not bound by the opinions expressed
in the council. The court seems to have valued the meetings as an important
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  83

format for expressing the individual and collective opinions of the nobility. But it
seems obvious that discussions between Ichijō and Michinaga permitted them
to structure issues to preclude unwanted decisions. Moreover, there were appar-
ently informal discussions between Michinaga and some of the courtiers before
the meetings were held, perhaps the functional equivalent of what the Japanese
today call nemawashi (informal consultations).
Moreover, for most of the era the noble council was composed of close kins-
men of Michinaga from the Fujiwara clan, including his own sons (Yorimichi
became a kugyō in 1006 at age fifteen); other Fujiwara clan members of different
lineages but often with close ties to Michinaga, such as Yukinari; and Minamoto
clan members related by marriage. Thus at the center in Heian, Fujiwara no Mi-
chinaga enjoyed extensive personal ties with the Imperial House that allowed
him control over what we may call the private, authoritative aspects of imperial
rule. At the same time he dominated the bureaucratic structure that represented
the public aspects of the state. In the latter sphere, there were few real opponents
likely to propose policies or decisions inimical to Michinaga’s interests, and in
the former sphere he and Ichijō saw eye to eye on most issues. He had only minor
problems during the short reign of his cousin Sanjō (both his father, Reizei, and
his mother, Michinaga’s elder sister Chōshi, were dead and unable to exercise
any parental authority). And of course, when his grandson Go-Ichijō came to the
throne at age ten, Michinaga was in total control.

Michinaga and the Periphery

Provincial Governorships: The Appointment Process

Having seen how thoroughly Michinaga was able to orchestrate the organs of the
central government to his and his family’s advantage, we turn now to see how he
controlled the periphery, more precisely how he was able to guarantee the flow
of resources from the countryside to the capital. As noted at the beginning of
this chapter, the ōchō kokka was predicated upon a major restructuring of the
way the provinces were governed. First, the central government relaxed its mi-
cromanagement of the provinces. The state did not totally neglect the provinces;
but governors were given almost blanket authority to administer their provinces,
in return for an agreed-upon tax remittance. Second, there was a shift from the
imposition of taxes on persons to units of land called myō. The ritsuryō allotment
system (kubunden) was predicated upon centrally “owned” land that was allotted
to families according to size and gender differentiation and taxed accordingly.
As the size of families rose or fell, the taxes and tribute levied upon the families
were supposed to rise or fall accordingly. But the process of periodic census read-
justment was unmanageable, and the populace found various ways to evade the
system. Thus from the tenth century various holdings were lumped together into
myō, a prominent cultivator was assigned to represent the unit, and taxes were
assessed on that unit. The system was far from perfect because the central gov-
ernment relied upon provincial registers (kokuzu) produced in the tenth century
84  |  g. cameron hurst iii

to calculate the taxable lands in each province, and the provincial governor was
responsible for producing a tax quota based upon that assessment. The taxable
land in each province thus became fixed, and the governor was responsible for
meeting the tax quota assigned to his province.
  Provinces were divided into four categories according to productivity, and they
ranged widely — from Mutsu, with over 51,000 tan of taxable lands and Hitachi
calculated at slightly over 40,000, all the way down to Izu, which registered only a
bit over 2,110 tan. (The islands of Iki, Tsushima, and Oki had the smallest amount
of taxable lands, about 400 – 600 tan, and the island province of Awaji ranked
just above Izu at 2,650.) The size of provinces, or more accurately, the rankings
according to the productive capacities of these provinces, mattered greatly to the
Heian courtiers. Applicants for governorships sought the most prestigious, or
wealthiest, and they could be devastated when they found themselves appointed
to “minor” provinces.63
  One well-known story from the Kojidan, for example, involves Fujiwara no
Tametoki, the father of Murasaki Shikibu, who in 996, after ten years without
an official posting, was appointed governor of Awaji.64 Disappointed because he
had sought appointment to the then open and far more prestigious Echizen, the
despondent Tametoki composed a Chinese poem expressing his emotion and
had a court lady show it to Emperor Ichijō. A scholar of some repute, Tametoki
so touched the emperor with his verse (“Bitter study on winter nights brought
blood-red tears to soak my sleeves; but in the spring morning on Appointments
Day my hopes were high in the blue heaven”65) that the young sovereign even
shed tears over Tametoki’s fate. When Michinaga learned what was troubling
Ichijō, he took decisive action, even though the new appointments had already
been posted. He summoned Minamoto no Kunimori, who had already celebrated
his good fortune at having been made governor of Echizen, and had him write
a letter of resignation. Michinaga then appointed Tametoki to the post, and he
and his daughter set off for Echizen later that year. Poor Kunimori fell ill; and
although he was appointed governor of Harima in the fall round of appointments
in the same year, he died without being able to take up the post.66 True or not,
the story underscores the decisive influence that Michinaga could have in the
appointments process, an influence that goes a long way to explaining the nature
of the relationship he enjoyed with provincial governors.
  That Michinaga personally intervened to overturn the appointments, after
the kugyō had their deliberations and Michinaga and Ichijō had issued the final
postings, is fully in line with the argument developed above, that power lay with
the regent (or in Michinaga’s case document examiner) and emperor, with the
opinions of the noble council considered nonbinding. In fact, it is probably true
that decisions regarding appointments, especially those for governorships, were
more important than others as far as Michinaga was concerned inasmuch as it
was through them that he maintained control over center and periphery alike.
  At any rate, the court had an expectation of income based upon the assessed
value of paddy fields in the provinces; and the governors served as tax collec-
tors, answering to the senior nobility in Heian. Although the technical term for
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  85

governor was still kami, as in Echizen no kami, the post Tametoki sought, the ge-
neric term for governors during this period was zuryō (custodian), its widespread
adoption attesting to the primary role now played by provincial governors. Zuryō
is a nominal form of what was originally a verb, in fact part of a couplet of verbs
that described the process of discharging a retiring governor. That is, under the
ritsuryō stipulations when a new governor was appointed, he was to proceed to
the province, where he met with the departing governor in an official banquet
at the border of the province. The former governor turned over the documents
related to provincial affairs, most important an accounting of tax receipts and
the tax-grain fund held in provincial granaries. This process involved the trans-
fer (bunsuke) of the “stuff” of office — the provincial land register, storehouse
and granary keys, the provincial governor’s and other official seals, a registry of
monks and nuns, and other documents67 — and its receipt into custody of the
new governor. Thus the term originally referred to the new governor’s taking ac-
tual custody of what was needed to carry out his job and was applied specifically
to those who actually journeyed to the province to serve there.
  This is the important meaning that zuryō maintained into the mid-Heian
period: it referred to resident governors (in “custody”) in contradistinction to
absentee governors, who might send a deputy in their place. Commonly, such
people were called yōnin governors — literally, “appointed at a distance” — that
is, they held important official posts at court and thus served as governors only
as concurrent (ken) appointments. Thus it was possible that there might be two
governors for a particular province, a zuryō actually serving in the province and
another, also middle-ranking courtier, perhaps one appointed in the Chamber-
lain’s Office, resident in the capital and serving concurrently (for income pur-
poses) as governor. Thus zuryō means “custodial governor” in the sense that such
a governor journeyed to the province and took custody of the articles of office
and served there — even though, of course, he might make regular trips between
Heian-kyō and the province of appointment, depending upon its proximity to
the capital.68
The competition for office and rank was fierce at the Heian court, as one’s
entire social, political, and economic life depended upon the place one occu-
pied in this highly stratified society. Although many offices at the lower levels of
the bureaucracy had seen their emoluments and stipends drastically reduced or
even in some cases eliminated, higher nobles continued to receive theirs. At any
rate, the only hope for furthering one’s fortunes lay in securing appointment to
office. The excitement and apprehension as appointments approached, as well
as the often desperate nature of the measures taken to obtain posts, especially
lucrative governorships, was captured in the writings of court ladies of the time,
even if in their pampered existences they minimized the importance of the out-
come to the participants. This is strange, given the fact that many, including
the author below, were daughters of courtiers who themselves lived and died by
the economic assets derived from their official appointments as governors. Sei
Shōnagon’s father, Kiyowara no Motosuke, was governor of several provinces,
including Suo, to which post she accompanied him in 971 when she must have
86  |  g. cameron hurst iii

been about ten years old. Below, Sei Shōnagon comments on an upcoming round
of official appointments:
It is fascinating to see what happens during the period of appointments. How-
ever snowy and icy it may be candidates of the fourth and fifth ranks come
to the palace with their official requests. Those who are still young and merry
seem full of confidence. For those candidates who are old and white-haired
things do not go so smoothly. Such men have to apply for help from people
with influence at Court; some of them even visit ladies-in-waiting in their
quarters and go to great lengths in pointing out their own merits. If young
women happen to be present, they are greatly amused. As soon as the can-
didates have left, they mimic and deride them — something that the old men
cannot possibly suspect as they scurry from one part of the Palace to another,
begging everyone, ‘Please present my petition favorably to the emperor’ and
‘Pray inform Her majesty about me.’ It is not so bad if they finally succeed, but
it really is rather pathetic when all their efforts prove in vain.69
Again, when she is cataloging “depressing things,” she notes with somewhat greater
Most depressing is the household of some hopeful candidate who fails to
receive a post during the period of official appointments. Hearing that the
gentleman was bound to be successful, several people have gathered in his
house for the occasion; among them are a number of retainers who served
him in the past but who since have either been engaged elsewhere or moved
to some remote province. Now they are all eager to accompany their former
master on his visit to the shrines and temples, and their carriages pass to and
fro in the courtyard. Indoors there is great commotion as the hangers-on help
themselves to food and drink. Yet the dawn of the last day of the appointments
arrives and still no one has knocked at the gate. The people in the house are
nervous and prick up their ears. . . . ‘Tell us,’ they say, ‘what appointment did
His Excellency receive?’ ‘Indeed,’ murmur the servants, ‘His Excellency was
governor of such-and-such a province.’ Everyone was counting on his receiving
a new appointment, and is desolated by this failure.70
On yet another occasion, the lady shows much greater compassion for those who
actually fared well in the process, and she tells us that
I enjoy watching the officials when they come to thank the Emperor for their
new appointments. As they stand facing His majesty with their batons in their
hands, the trains of their robes trail along the floor. Then they make obeisance
and begin their ceremonial movements with great animation.71
Doubtless upon occasion some of the newly appointed officials were those very
“white-haired” ones that the ladies-in-waiting had so ridiculed, rushing about,
leaving no stone unturned to attain their goal.
  The selection of governors was part of the larger official appointment process,
jimoku no gi, with one round held in the spring — always in the first month — and
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  87

another late in the fall. There could also be special appointments at other times
during the year. In the diaries of courtiers such as Michinaga, the process of
selecting governors is referred to as zuryō kōka no sadame, “decisions on the
merits of provincial governors,” because for the most part, it required the nobles
to assess the records of those currently appointed governors before reappointing
them or transferring them to a new province. Applicants for an initial provincial
appointment had their previous bureaucratic record closely scrutinized, with
special attention to seniority; but apparently they were at a disadvantage vis-à-
vis applicants with prior experience as governors.
  As noted in The Pillow Book, applicants for positions were required by mid-
Heian times to submit “official requests.” This is Ivan Morris’ translation of the
term mōshibumi, an official petition in which an applicant stated his desire to be
appointed to a vacant position, usually specifying exactly what post he sought.
Everyone at court knew what offices were vacant at each round of appointments,
both by word of mouth and because of the creation of a record called the ōma or
ōmagaki (great space), so called because the various posts were listed on a large
sheet of paper with blank spaces after those that were vacant so that the newly
appointed officials’ names could be written in. Individual nobles, on their copies,
would write in their nominations (zuryō no kyo) for the vacant posts, which were
then considered and debated. The selections were then presented to emperor and
regent for final decision, after which they were announced.
Petitions of courtiers seeking official positions are filled with phrases of frus-
tration over the inability to obtain appointment. Tachibana no Naomoto, then
professor of literature (monjō no hakase) and submitting a mōshibumi for a
concurrent appointment in the Ministry of Civil Affairs, lists case after case of
similar concurrent appointments in the past, but complains that men his junior
have passed him by to enjoy far greater imperial favor.72 There are more than a
dozen extant petitions seeking new provincial appointments, reappointment to
the same post, or transfer to another one. Most are artificially elegant, dripping
with hoary Chinese phrases trying to catch the attention of the nobles sitting in
judgment; and often a petition might be polished by a courtier more skilled in
Chinese composition than the submitter himself.
Historian Murai Yasuhiko divides these petitions into two types, which might
be rendered the pitiful and the boastful.73 The former, including that from Nao-
moto, seek favorable action by appealing to the sentiments of the nobles. Several
lament unrewarded but diligent service at court while others received lucrative
provincial appointments. Ōe no Masahiro, for example, laments that his dilapi-
dated house no longer keeps out the wind and rain and that his aged mother is in
pitiable condition. Listing relevant precedents of men in his post receiving con-
current governorships, Masahiro asks that in consideration for past service, he be
made governor of either Echizen or Owari.74 Such appeals obviously worked. In
980 Sugawara no Fumitoki, provisional governor of Owari, petitions for appoint-
ment to the junior third rank, which would represent entry into the kugyō.75 He
lists his long years of service as Confucian scholar-official and points to several
men his junior who have been appointed before him. Recalling his illustrious
88  |  g. cameron hurst iii

grandfather Michizane, Fumitoki notes his advanced age (he was eighty-two at
the time); although little time was left to him, he wistfully observes that it would
be splendid if he could be raised to the third rank. Sure enough, the Kugyō bunin
notes that next year he was granted his wish and became senior noble — just
eight months before his death.76
The second type is more positive, the applicants choosing instead to boast
of their accomplishments in past or current posts to make their case for ap-
pointment. Perhaps the quintessential boastful petition is that of former Mino
Governor Minamoto no Tamenori, who was seeking appointment as governor of
Mino, Kaga, or any other vacant province in 1014.77 Favorably comparing himself
to all other eight governors appointed at the same time as himself, he claims that
when he took over his former Province, it was in total decline. Whereas the for-
mer governor could only hand over to him 1,200-plus tan in rice fields, Tamenori
boasts that his administration expanded that amount to more than 3,500 tan.
The extant petitions do not break down so readily into the two types; many mix
descriptions of the woeful state of the applicant at the moment while stressing
his stellar service in the past.78

Michinaga and Zuryō

This sojourn into the appointment process barely scratches the surface of a com-
plex process, involving officials from several bureaus, a large number of docu-
ments, boxes in which the petitions were kept, and the like. As we have seen
from literary works, the tension was high, the celebrations for success were tri-
umphant in nature, and the dejections at failure deeply felt. The competition was
also fierce. Of course, the number of vacant posts varied annually, depending
upon the number of governors completing their term or ones who died while
in office, or others who may have been dismissed, a not uncommon occurrence.
Just to pick one year for which the ōmagaki remains, in 996 there were only ten
provincial governorships open, and there appear to have been perhaps one hun-
dred qualified applicants.79
  Michinaga, as the highest-ranking kugyō and co-participant in the emperor-
ship of three successive sovereigns, was responsible for most decisions at court
for the three decades of his career, including those involving the appointment
of provincial governors. What was Michinaga’s attitude toward governors, their
appointment, and their behavior? To state my conclusion at the outset, it was pas-
sive, reactive, and ultimately supportive of governors, no matter their behavior.
The mutual interdependence of Michinaga and the zuryō seems to have out-
weighed all other considerations.
  First, there was the economic consideration on both sides. Since bureaucratic
emoluments continued to decline over the Heian period (although kugyō such
as Michinaga continued to receive their income regularly), appointment to of-
fice with the possibility for economic gain was most eagerly sought. Thus on
virtually every appointment involving provincial positions, activity around the
houses of nobles such as Michinaga and Sanesuke was intense, with the comings
and goings of governors or would-be governors. It was common for the visitors
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  89

to bestow presents (kokorozashi) on the nobility as tokens of appreciation of fa-

vors rendered or expected. A reading of the major diaries reveals that the most
commonly mentioned present was horses. For example, in the tenth month of
1016, the first year of Michinaga’s grandson Go-Ichijō’s reign, several governors
visited Michinaga’s Tsuchimikado residence. Minamoto no Tadataka, governor
of Suruga, arrived on the fifth with ten horses.80 On the nineteenth, Hitachi Vice-
Governor Taira no Koretoki brought forty horses for Michinaga, twenty male
and twenty female.81 Michinaga received ten more horses on the twenty-second,
courtesy of Mutsu Governor Fujiwara no Sadanaka.82 Two days later the governor
of Kaga brought two more horses, and Michinaga remarks frankly that lately
people tend to bring horses as kokorozashi.83
The parade continues in the next month, with Chinjufu Shōgun Taira no Ko-
reyoshi bringing five horses on the sixth and Izu Governor Sukenori four more
on the ninth.84 Thus, in just two months we know that Michinaga received at
least sixty-nine horses as a form of tribute. Other than the brief mention of the
frequency of horses as kokorozashi, Michinaga makes no comments on why
these horses ought to be donated to him. There was a minor round of provincial
appointments on the sixth, and then a major round of appointments from the
twenty-third through the twenty-sixth of the eleventh month, so it could well
have been in anticipation of favorable consideration.85 From just the extant en-
tries in Midō kanpaku ki alone, Murai Yasuhiko has identified 301 horses and 29
cows donated to Michinaga.86 Since there are many missing entries in the diary, it
is likely that he received far more than this. In fact, Murai missed the five horses
brought by Koreyoshi referred to above, bringing the total to at least 306.
One wonders what Michinaga did with all these animals. He owned several
large properties, and there were stables within his mansions. But the numbers are
staggering: sixty-nine in one month is a substantial herd to be kept in Kyoto. One
is led inevitably into contemplation of the practicalities of stabling and cleaning
up after so many animals. However, it seems that “recycling” was an established
practice. Michinaga donated some of these horses to his nephew Takaie, and he
also notes that lately people have taken to requesting horses from him.87 There
are numerous other references in his diary to Michinaga’s offering horses as
gifts, so it appears that, perhaps in much the same way that people today recycle
New Year’s and summer presents, Michinaga and other kugyō redistributed any
number of those horses, and other goods, that they received as gifts from those
seeking or returning favor.88 The exchange of such gifts appears to have been an
important social and political lubricant of the ōchō kokka.
Zuryō contributed in several ways to the lives of the higher nobility. First, as
essentially tax managers, they forwarded to Kyoto the basic tax receipts that
formed the core of nobles’ stipends, allotted on the basis of both rank and office.
This was their primary function. Second, they presented various kinds of pay-
ments. One form was the above-mentioned kokorozashi, or special gifts in antici-
pation of or in thanks for favors rendered, usually assistance in the appointment
process. Another was a more direct shipment of goods from the provinces once
appointed to various nobles, usually brought by messengers while the governor
90  |  g. cameron hurst iii

was still in province. (See, for example, the chart Murai has constructed on the
various goods received from zuryō by Sanesuke just in the extant months of his
diary for 1025.)89
By Michinaga’s time, however, the zuryō were relied upon to do far more than
forward their regular tax receipts. The various fires that racked the city of Kyoto,
either accidental or the result of arson, required a constant round of building and
rebuilding. The rebuilding, public and private, was handled in several ways. One
was simply to allot the construction, especially of the Imperial Palace, to various
governors, who would then assign the work to men from their province. After
the major fire in the fall of 1005, for example, the nobles met to allot the various
construction tasks to governors — the governor of Ōmi to construct the Bifuku
Gate, the Tanba governor to build the Burakuin, et cetera — at the direction of
Michinaga.90 Sanesuke records his displeasure that the cost of all this reconstruc-
tion is ruining the provinces.
Such reconstruction was considered a normal public function of governors
when disasters befell the state. But there was a “private” aspect to this construc-
tion as well, through the practice of jōgō, by which wealthy governors made private
contributions to the construction of public buildings. It was an institutionalized
form of purchase of office, which was common in the Heian period, becoming
ubiquitous in the insei era. In the discussion above, Sanesuke records in his diary
that the Harima Governor Fujiwara no Munemasa had submitted a petition in
which he agreed to rebuild the Jōneiden and Sen’yōden in return for being re-
appointed governor of Harima. The nobles decided the issue, and an edict was
issued confirming Munemasa’s reappointment.91 Michinaga records that there
was considerable disagreement over whether to approve Munemasa’s reward of
extended appointment inasmuch as the actual work had yet to completed. But
they agreed, because it was deemed to be a public benefit (kōeki).92 The term is not
used here, but it is common to read in public and private documents of the time
reference to governors being appointed, or having their appointments extended,
for having made “special contributions” (bekkō) as in the example above. In 1010
a round of appointments was made late in the third month, and Michinaga lists
many of the governors who were appointed. Two governors had died while in
office, and so their places were now filled — the Owari governorship by a man
Michinaga called the “biggest office buyer [in the land]” (jōgō daiichi no mono
This type of reward for special contributions appears to have been well ac-
cepted by the nobles at the time, but when it came to such contributions and
levies for more private purposes, then there was disagreement. In the reconstruc-
tion of his Tsuchimikado mansion, for example, Michinaga allocated the con-
struction and furnishings to different provincial governors,94 and the governor of
Iyo, Minamoto Yorimitsu, according to Eiga monogatari, “provided the interior
furnishings for the entire establishment, supplying everything that could pos-
sibly be needed by the three personages — to say nothing of blinds, mats, jugs,
basins, and other furnishings for the ladies’ apartments, and equipment for the
offices occupied by retainers, chamberlains, and escorts.”95 Sanesuke confirms
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  91

virtually everything claimed, noting that this allocation among zuryō was “un-
heard of,” and he is critical of the excess of opulence. He carries on at great length
about the contributions made by Yorimitsu — “the rarest of the rare” — noting
that citizens are reputedly copying down the list of goods donated by Yorimitsu.
Once again, he repeats his shock that the sum total of Yorimitsu’s contributions
was “unheard of.”96
  The mutually dependent relationship of the kugyō and the zuryō is obvious
from the above. The court depended upon the zuryō for their livelihood — taxes,
construction projects, and contributions both public and private — while the gov-
ernors themselves relied upon the nobles, especially the regent, for appointments
to the posts that guaranteed access to those resources. Both parties seemed to
appreciate this dependency.
  For the nobility, however, there was the problem that governors by the mid-
Heian period had developed a reputation for gouging the provincial populace.
The avarice of governors is underscored by the numerous complaints lodged
against them by the farmers and lower officials of the province, as in the case
of the famous complaint against Owari Governor Fujiwara no Motonaga men-
tioned earlier. There are certainly other cases mentioned in diaries and histories,
such as the thirty-two articles of complaint against Kaga Governor Minamoto no
Masamoto in 1012, the complaint in twenty-four articles against the governor of
Tanba, Fujiwara no Yoritō, in 1019, and others; but in none do we have the level of
detail that Motonaga’s case provides. We can glean from all these documents that
governors enjoyed a relatively free hand in managing the provinces. Motonaga
seems to be simply an extreme case, since most of complaints allege not that his
deeds were unheard of, just excessive. The former tax rates set by the ritsuryō
codes were no longer in force, and governors raised and lowered taxes in accord
with local custom, harvest conditions, and what they could get away with. But
Motonaga exceeded customary bounds.
  The attitude of the court in Michinaga’s era seems ambivalent, but in the long
run, the nobles did little to alleviate governors’ abuses in the provinces. In the
regency period, there are records of sixteen petitions of complaints against gov-
ernors, either forwarded from the provinces or more commonly brought up to
Kyoto by representatives of the populace and the lower officials.97 Early on, the
action of the nobles under Michinaga, and his immediate predecessors, was to
terminate the governor’s appointment, as in Motonaga’s case. In one case, that of
Fujiwara no Yoritō in 1019, the governor himself used mounted troops to drive
away the complainants when they went up to Kyoto to deliver their petition.98
Although both Michinaga and Regent Yorimichi rebuked him a few days later,
Yoritō was not dismissed from office. And since the complainants were driven
away, the case was never heard.99 The historian Sakamoto Shōzō argues that the
nobility was largely unaware that the bitter complaints presaged changes in the
provinces and that they simply felt obligated to dismiss governors who behaved
in such a lawless manner. Even Michinaga, whom he sees as being aware of the
severity of the situation, seems to have adopted this attitude.100
  Later on, however, the Heian authorities seem to have adopted a more lenient
92  |  g. cameron hurst iii

view of the actions of provincial governors, covering at least, if not condoning,

their actions. Sakamoto attributed this not to the will of the nobility in general
but of Michinaga personally.101 Several examples of court action demonstrate this
change. In 1023, for example, a group of seven Tajima officials went to the capi-
tal to protest the actions of Governor Fujiwara no Sanetsune, Yukinari’s son.102
They were held hostage in Yukinari’s house, for which action both father and
son “lost face” according to Sanesuke.103 Over the course of the next few days,
the Tajima officials were questioned, and Yukinari had to report to Michinaga
what he knew of the affair. It was clearly very difficult for Yukinari: Sanesuke
reports that he was under tremendous stress (shinrō kiwamari naku) over the
Tajima governor affair.104 Sanetsune was questioned several times over the next
few months; a written account of the affair was presented to the emperor; and
finally in the sixth month Sanetsune was determined to be guilty of misdeeds
and dismissed.105
  But just several months later, Sanetsune’s dismissal was lifted, and he was
once again able to resume his duties as governor of Tajima.106 Sanesuke makes
only a perfunctory reference to this action, and there seems to be agreement
that it was probably the work of Michinaga.107 Yukinari was a long-time associ-
ate of Michinaga, that year serving as provisional major councillor and holding
the second rank.108 This was an exceptional case: it was the first example faced
by Michinaga and the rest of the nobles of one of their own class serving as
governor — and the subject of complaints as well. Sakamoto notes an incident
in which Sanesuke’s adopted son Sukeyori, then governor of Hōki, was the sub-
ject of an informal complaint in the form of a note (rakugaki) that was passed
to Michinaga. After some passage of time and frequent discussion, Michinaga
dismissed the matter.109 While it is true that both of these cases involved close
associates among the kugyō whose sons now held zuryō posts, it apparently was
more than just Michinaga’s desire to please friends or protect the nobles as a
whole. Sakamoto argues persuasively that Michinaga’s attitude had changed,
from one of dismissing governors accused of excessive exploitation to one of
responding with force to drive away the complaining farmers and lower officials.
He sees Michinaga as now adopting an attitude of covering for the offending
  Perhaps we should not be surprised at this attitudinal change. With his two
major construction projects disrupting life in the capital, drawing off consider-
able resources from the provinces and earning criticism from other nobles, Mi-
chinaga was hardly unaware that all was not well in the realm. In fact, a group of
senior nobles paid him a visit at the Hōjōji residence, then still under construc-
tion in 1021, and Major Councillor Fujiwara no Narinobu confronted Michinaga
with the fact that “society is unsettled.” But Michinaga refused to engage him on
the issue, preferring to watch the horse races he was hosting there.111 Perhaps Mi-
chinaga, having reached the heights of power with three daughters as principal
imperial consorts, a son as chancellor, and two grandsons as emperor and crown
prince, was concerned simply to protect the realm as he knew it. He was already
suffering frequently from effects of his diabetic condition and must have been
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  93

aware that he was not likely to live to a ripe old age (he was fifty-six in 1021). The
illness, I have argued elsewhere, was affecting his behavior, often leading him to
bouts of anger and irrationality that the younger Michinaga had not displayed.112
Besides reviling the senior courtiers, dismissing two secretaries, and scolding his
own retainers for nonattendance at court,113 Michinaga also lost his temper with
his son Yorimichi, bawling him out in front other courtiers.114 At any rate, Saka-
moto too detects a change in Michinaga that led him to ignore the complaints of
provincial officials and farmers and instead to support the zuryō.
  No one can argue that it was not in Michinaga’s best interests. Under him,
the Regents House had developed a firm network of support in the provinces
from governors who were kinsmen, friends, and clients. The historian Tamai
Chikara argues that there was a pattern to Regents House zuryō appointments
in Michinaga’s era.115 His analysis of such appointments shows a large number
of household retainers (keshi) appointed as governors.116 Tamai notes the impor-
tance of the provinces controlled by such appointments: in the capital region,
Settsu; in Tōkaidō, Owari and Kai; in Tōsandō, Ōmi, Shinano, and Mutsu; in
the San’in, Tanba, Tajima, and Hōki; in San’yōdō, Harima, Mimasaka, Bitchū,
Bingo, and Suō; and in Nankai, Awa, Sanuki, Iyo, and Tosa. Tamai relies upon
the work of Tsuchida Naoshige, who classified all these provinces and found that
they represented six out of the seven top-ranked provinces (in terms of produc-
tivity). From this evidence, it is clear that the Regents House under Michinaga
monopolized the most fertile and wealthy of Heian Japan’s provinces through
zuryō appointments.
  The locations of these Fujiwara-controlled provinces are also instructive. That
is, they include almost the entire Inland Sea area, suggesting how the Regents
House under Michinaga and Yorimichi was able to control the flow of trade
goods from China and Koryŏ on the Korean Peninsula. Earlier I discussed a jin
no sadame in 1005 in which Michinaga engineered a favorable decision on behalf
of the Song trader Zeng Lingwen. It was not the first time Zeng had arrived in
Japanese waters; in fact, he may even have been a resident. Along with another
intrepid trader, Zhu Rencong, Zeng seems to have arrived in Japan several times
and moved around the country trading various goods. As far back as 987, Zhu
and Zeng appear in many notations in the diaries of Yukinari and Sanesuke, as
well as in annalistic histories such as Nihon kiryaku. In the year 1000, for ex-
ample, Yukinari reported directly to Emperor Ichijō regarding a Dazaifu commu-
nication on Zeng and his goods.117 He reported at length on the negotiations for
an appropriate exchange rate for Zeng’s trade goods. The matter was reported to
Michinaga, and the rate was set the next day. There are many other notations, but
a telling notation in Nihon kiryaku for 995 records that more than seventy Chi-
nese went to Wakasa from Echizen.118 Later notations by Yukinari and Sanesuke
have Zeng among the group. In all the communications, Michinaga is involved,
although he makes no mention of the dealings in his own diary. At any rate, it
is very likely that Michinaga was closely connected with the Chinese trade, and
the provinces his men controlled were well placed to facilitate the transport of
such goods.
94  |  g. cameron hurst iii

Not only that, but internal transportation was largely in the hands of Michi-
naga’s supporters as well: ports on Lake Biwa; Kai and Shinano, well-known for
horse ranches; and Mutsu, noted for gold as well as horses. Thus the Regents
House controlled the tribute routes from the western provinces, as well as those
from Hokuriku, which provided gold and horses.119 This all of course was depen-
dent upon the development of a relatively sophisticated system of transportation
and specialized handlers of goods; but through that system the Regents House
seems to have developed a broad network of zuryō who managed to supply Mi-
chinaga with all the resources he required.

Michinaga and Shōen

Another important issue of land management that directly addresses the issue of
control of the periphery during the height of the Fujiwara regency is the matter of
shōen (estate) holdings. This has been an issue long debated by Japanese scholars
from an earlier generation that saw the realm as uncomplicated: the Fujiwara as
a private entity ruled through the family’s administrative office, and its economic
base was located in vast shōen throughout the country. Indeed, Sanesuke once
lamented that all the land was under the control of Michinaga’s house, so that no
public land remained.120 The next generation of scholars turned that explanation
on its head, however, arguing that the Fujiwara power base in the mid-Heian pe-
riod was in public lands rather than shōen. The situation seems to have stabilized
somewhat at a middle ground, with the importance of shōen recognized but not
exaggerated. Indeed, in perusing the diaries of Michinaga, Sanesuke, and Yuki-
nari, one finds scattered references to shōen, but they are few and far between.
For example, the occasion of Sanesuke’s above lament was an incident involving
an act of violence by one of the residents of the Yamashiro estate of Michinaga’s
son Yorinobu. Sanesuke does not even provide the name of the estate: it is the be-
havior of the residents that he first criticizes. Then, in a sort of indignant manner,
he laments the sad state of the world in which all the land is in Michinaga’s hands.
It is, of course, a great exaggeration; and Sanesuke himself was a significant shōen
holder, so we should not take the statement literally. Perhaps it is little more than
one of the many barbs aimed at his associate and rival.
But what can we say about Michinaga’s attitude toward shōen? For one thing,
I am unaware of any statements about shōen either by him or attributed to him
by anyone else. Thus it is hard to get a clear picture. The Heian ibun is also of
little help since there are few documents relating to Fujiwara Regents House
estates there. Still, there can be no doubt that Michinaga was a substantial estate
holder for the period,121 and it is clearly during this era that the expansion of
shōen in the form of commendations by local cultivators becomes noticeable. At
this time, local lords (zaichi ryōshū), in order to avoid being organized into the
state’s new myō system, were beginning to commend their lands to nobles and
to temples and shrines to gain certain exemptions as shōen. As the most power-
ful figure in the land, Michinaga was quite naturally the focus of such acts of
The evidence on whether in the Michinaga era there was any deliberate attempt
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  95

to protect estates or not is mixed: in some cases the regent took action against
a governor who had attempted to collect unpaid taxes on a sekkanke estate; in
others he was boycotted by the monks of the Kōfukuji for not having taken action
against a governor who confiscated one of their estates. I mentioned earlier as
well that there were no ordinances regulating shōen during this period either. The
evidence suggests a passive attitude on the part of Michinaga. If he did not ag-
gressively seek to accumulate estates, he neither sought to control their spread. In
addition, for all his lamentations, Sanesuke seems never to have championed any
legislation himself. But that Michinaga became the focus of commendation from
local cultivators and gathered a number of shōen that proved to be economically
beneficial to the Regents House is undeniable. Apparently, the public income that
Michinaga and his family received from all the public emoluments and gifts from
various clients was sufficient to underwrite the elegant lifestyle they enjoyed;
shōen increased their opulent lifestyle but seem not to have defined it. That would
not be true of the late Heian period by any means, nor, as Sakamoto reminds us,
does that mean that lower-ranking, non-sekkanke courtiers did not rely far more
heavily upon income from estates than did Michinaga.123

I have reviewed the career of Fujiwara no Michinaga, generally conceded to be the
greatest and most powerful of the Heian-period Fujiwara regents, even though he
served only briefly as regent. Above all, Michinaga was born in the right place at
the right time, into the right family, and with the right genetic makeup. He began
his political life with considerable help from his influential sister Senshi, who fa-
vored him above two elder brothers, Michikane and Michitaka, who held power
briefly before him. Although the deleterious effects of his diabetes compromised
his health, he lived to a relatively advanced age for a Heian courtier, far outliving
his brothers. More important, he married two very comely and clever Minamoto
women who provided him with abundant sons and daughters over a long time,
again unlike his brothers. His daughters proved to be his most valuable assets,
with three of them becoming empresses and producing heirs to the throne.
  Blessed with excellent family ties, Michinaga was shrewd at playing marriage
politics, which allowed him unparalleled ability to share in the exercise of impe-
rial authority. As I pointed out many years ago, the Japanese imperial institution
thrived by turning an apparent weakness into strength.124 That is, authority and
power tend to be bifurcated in the Japanese case, with the sacred authority of the
imperial position the most important asset of the Imperial House, a sacerdotal
role in state ceremonies that could be performed only by members of the Sun
line, however young they might be. Power, on the other hand, was most often
decoupled from sacred authority, and others, both members of the imperial kin
group (imperial consorts, prince regents, retired sovereigns, and ladies [in]), as
well as members not of the imperial line (regents, shogun) were able to exercise
power, usually in cooperation with the reigning sovereign but sometimes without
it. Michinaga, and the Fujiwara Regents House as a whole, enjoyed such close re-
96  |  g. cameron hurst iii

lationships with the imperial kin group through a complex web of intermarriage
that it is difficult for the outsider to discern what separates the two houses.
  The secondary literature often presents this as a nefarious Fujiwara scheme de-
signed to wrest “legitimate” power away from the Imperial House, but it was not a
new strategy, just a more successful one than had been attempted even earlier by
the Soga, for example. At some point in time, this bifurcation was creatively es-
tablished, and it protected the Imperial House from destruction by other power-
hungry actors. Totally distancing themselves from other kin groups, by such
devices as the Amaterasu descent myth and its physical embodiment in the Ise
Shrine, as well as the intentional dropping (or never adopting) a surname like all
other groups, the Imperial House reserved to itself the exercise of sacerdotal au-
thority but left open the exercise of power by others. Once thus established, this
tradition of “outsourcing” of the exercise of effective power proved unshakeable,
and it guaranteed the survival of the Japanese ruling line in ways unavailable to
its counterparts in China or Korea. That even men as powerful as Minamoto no
Yoritomo, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, or Tokugawa Ieyasu never seem to have harbored
designs on casting out this tradition and totally remaking the realm with them-
selves at the core proves the genius of this institution of corulership.
  But Michinaga must be credited as the most skillful manipulator of this sys-
tem. As uncle, father-in-law, and grandfather of sovereigns, he was able to co-
operate when necessary to effect political decisions favorable to his immediate
family or to oppose when necessary to get his way. But he rarely saw decisions go
against his will. Moreover, he successfully played the political game of his day,
which represented a sort of compromise between imperial authority and noble
power. That is, authority for state decisions legally resided with the emperor and
the co-participants in that authority (his parents or Fujiwara maternal relatives),
while a certain amount of power was delegated to the noble council, representing
the pinnacle of nonimperial society. Formal council meetings were frequently
held to debate major issues of state, but the emperor and regent were not bound
to accept them. There seemed to be a great deal of deference to the opinions of
the nobles, and it was certainly a measure of their status in society to be able to
voice opinions on such issues. While the form of such meetings, representing
a shared ideology of rule, was carefully maintained, as we have seen, they were
not binding on the actual decision makers, often no more than de facto ratio-
nalizations for decisions that had already been made — or whose outcome was a
foregone conclusion.
  If Michinaga was able to control the imperial part of this equation, he also held
sway over the noble council as well. The members were largely relatives from the
regental house or other close lineages of the Fujiwara, or Minamoto relatives of
his wives, or clients. The kugyō were associates who occasionally disagreed with
Michinaga; but for the most part, he was able to maintain control. At the next
level of the bureaucracy, the chamberlains and secretaries who controlled ac-
cess to the emperor and handled the important documents of state, Michinaga
also managed to insert kinsmen and clients. And, finally, many of the zuryō in
the provinces were related to or beholden to Michinaga in some fashion. Other
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  97

regents enjoyed similar relationships and associations and shared the outlines
of the political networks of Michinaga, but none were able to attain the same
heights. Thus Michinaga had control over a wide and deep network of personal
and material resources that allowed him to enjoy a true life of splendor, in which
his poetic exclamation “This world is indeed my world!” was as much a statement
of fact as it was a boast.

The notes include several abbreviations: GK for Gonki, HI for Heian ibun, MKK for Midō
kanpaku ki, and SYK for Shōyūki. I have used a number of works of literature from the Heian
period. Since most of them have been translated into English, I have referenced the English
translation where available.
1. G. Cameron Hurst III, Insei: Abdicated Sovereigns in the Politics of Late Heian Japan.
2. Cornelius Kiley, “Provincial Administration and Land Tenure in Early Heian”; and Dana
Morris, “Land and Society.”
3. See Hurst, Insei, chap. 2; and idem, “The Structure of the Heian Court.”
4. Another title — nairan, or document examiner — was used, predominantly by Michinaga,
as a titular office that allowed its holder to influence the direction of court decisions. About
that, more below.
5. The ability of the regent or chancellor to act in the political realm was predicated entirely
upon the marital alliance with the Imperial House. The system worked best for the Fujiwara
when a young emperor born of a Fujiwara woman came to the throne while her father was
still alive. As grandfather of the new sovereign, father of the principal consort, and likely head
of the Fujiwara clan, a Fujiwara lord such as Michinaga was in a position at the head of the
government, his power almost unimpeachable. But many regents did not enjoy such close
relationship, and were often only uncles of the sovereign, or even further removed. For the
complexity of this relationship, see Kuramoto Kazuhiro, Sekkan seiji to ōchō kizoku, esp. 2 – 41.
See also Fukutō Sanae’s chapter in this volume.
6. Many secondary sources discuss the concept of ōchō kokka. See, for example, Sakamoto
Shōzō, Nihon ōchō kokka taisei ron, or his more accessible Nihon no rekishi, vol. 6: Sekkan
7. William H. McCullough, “The Heian Court, 794 – 1070,” 68.
8. SYK, Kannin 2 (1018) 10/16. The translation is from Ivan Morris, The World of the Shining
Prince, 60 – 61. McCullough translated it a bit more tersely: “No waning in the glory of the full
moon — this world is indeed my world!” (McCullough, “The Heian Court,” 70).
9. See Tsuchida Naoshige, Ōchō no kizoku, 163 – 164.
10. Helen Craig McCullough and William H. McCullough, A Tale of Flowering Fortunes,
499 – 503, covers the construction of this complex in detail.
11. W. McCullough, “The Heian Court,” 71.
12. Helen Craig McCullough, trans., Ōkagami, 195 – 197.
13. Ibid., 190.
14. H. McCullough, Ōkagami, 185.
15. Kugyō bunin, 1:241 – 242 (Shōryaku 6/Chōtoku 1 [995] — the era name changed in the
second month on the deaths of eight men of rank of shōnagon and above). The previous year
Michinaga had been provisional major councillor, the sixth in rank among the kugyō. Now
he stood at the pinnacle of the court after the death of Minamoto no Shigenobu, the seventy-
four-year-old minister of the left.
98  |  g. cameron hurst iii

16. Ibid., 265.

17. McCullough and McCullough, Flowering Fortunes, 141 – 142. See also H. McCullough,
Ōkagami, 39 – 40 and 198.
18. H. McCullough, Ōkagami, 187.
19. Two other women — the daughter of Minamoto no Shigemitsu and another whose name
remains unknown — also produced a child each by Michinaga, a boy and a girl respectively.
Kitayama Shigeo, Fujiwara no Michinaga, 37.
20. Ibid.
21. William McCullough, “Japanese Marriage Institutions in the Heian Period,” 103 – 167.
22. Michinaga’s father, for example, had at least six wives, including the famous “mother of
Michitsuna,” author of Kagerō nikki. He did not live constantly with any of them but visited
them in no discernible order or regularity; his children were largely reared at their mothers’
residences, and none of his wives ever seems to have lived with him at his Higashi Sanjō man-
sion. Michinaga, by contrast, settled down mostly with his wife Rinshi but also spent much
time at the residence of Meishi as well. Thus Michinaga lived more of what might be called
a settled life with his two wives as married couples. Even though Michinaga seems to have
been devoted to Rinshi and indeed spent more time with her, scholars argue that it would be
a mistake to designate her as a “principal wife,” with Meishi as somehow lesser in stature. See
Tsuchida, Ōchō no kizoku, 85 – 98.
23. Michinaga’s magnificent Tsuchimikado mansion was in fact the property of his father-
in-law, Minamoto no Masanobu.
24. Tsuchida, Ōchō no kizoku, 104.
25. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji to ōchō kizoku, esp. 2 – 42. Kuramoto has extensively examined
the relationships between all the Heian regent and chancellor figures and the Imperial House
and been able to document many different patterns in the pages above.
26. H. McCullough, Ōkagami, 196 – 197.
27. SYK, Chōtoku 1 (995) 7/24.
28. Ibid., Chōtoku 1/7/27.
29. Ibid., Chōtoku 1/8/3.
30. Ibid., Chōtoku 2 (996) 1/16.
31. Ibid., Chōtoku 2/2/11. The Imperial Police had already searched the house of one of
Korechika’s retainers on the fifth of the second month (ibid).
32. Ibid., Chōtoku 2/4/24.
33. H. McCullough, Ōkagami, 175 – 176.
34. G. Cameron Hurst, “Michinaga’s Maladies: A Medical Report on Fujiwara no Michi-
naga,” 101 – 112.
35. MKK, Kankō 8 (1011) 12/8 – 9.
36. Ibid., Kannin 1 (1017) 5/27.
37. SYK, Kannin 1/1/22.
38. Ibid., Kannin 1/3/19. (The break-in occurred on the previous night.)
39. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, esp. the chart on 13.
40. Hurst, Insei, 576 – 583.
41. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 30.
42. In reviewing the shifts in the locus of power over several reigns, Sanesuke notes that
several ministers have controlled affairs and that the “imperial mother” now dominates the
court (SYK, Chōtoku 3 [997] 7/5). See also the essay by Fukutō Sanae in this volume.
43. Honchō monzui, Chōtoku 4 (998) 3/12. In this document, where Michinaga tries to give
up his office as minister of the left and return some of his prerogatives of office because of his
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  99

illness, he mentions his own lack of merit and virtue, attributing his success, among other
things, to the support of his sister Senshi.
44. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 30.
45. Hurst, Insei, esp. chap. 2. See also McCullough and McCullough, Flowering Fortunes,
46. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 49.
47. Ibid., 42 – 77.
48. SYK, Chōtoku 3/4/5. See Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 54 – 56, for a discussion of the case.
49. SYK, Chōtoku 3/4/22.
50. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 55 – 56.
51. MKK, Kankō 1/4/28. See also Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 60.
52. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji.
53. Nihon kiryaku, Kankō 2 (1005) 8/14.
54. MKK, Kankō 2/8/14.
55. SYK, Kankō 2/14 – 24. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 62 – 64.
56. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 64.
57. Ibid.
58. See MKK, Kankō 2/11/15 – 17; SYK, same dates; and GK, Kankō 2/11/15. Kuramoto, Sekkan
seiji, 64 – 65, and 79 – 85.
59. MKK, Kankō 3 (1006) 7/3; GK, same date.
60. GK, Kankō 3/7/15. Michinaga makes no mention of it in his diary.
61. GK, Kankō 3/12/29; MKK, same date. Kuramoto, Sekkan seiji, 69 – 70.
62. GK, Kankō 4 (1007) 3/28. Kuramoto notes that he appears on some twelve different occa-
sions in Michinaga’s diary performing various Buddhist rites on Michinaga’s behalf, whereas
Seijū is mentioned only three times (Sekkan seiji, 76, n. 32).
63. On the other hand, sometimes a candidate eager for a job might be satisfied with even
a minor province. In 973, as an example, Fujiwara no Atsushige submitted a petition for ap-
pointment to the governorship of Awaji, which he noted was a minor province, and thus there
was no need to appoint an experienced governor, suggesting that he would do just fine (Honchō
monzui, 134, Tenroku 4 [973] 1/15).
64. Kojidan, ed. Kobayashi Yasaharu, 18:8 – 9.
65. The extant lines of the poem — the text indicates there was more — have been translated
by Richard Bowring, The Diary of Lady Murasaki, xxxiv.
66. The story is likely true. We have the ōmagaki for the series of appointments in the
spring of Chōtoku 2, which clearly shows Kunimori appointed to the vacant governorship of
Echizen (697 – 698) and Tametoki named governor of Awaji (701). See Chōtoku ninen Ōmagaki.
Sanesuke makes no mention of the incident, and there is no extant record of that year in ei-
ther Michinaga’s or Yukinari’s diary. But we do know that Tametoki did serve as governor of
Echizen, returning to the capital in 1000. Sonpi bunmyaku, vol. 2, 53, lists Tametoki as having
served as governor of Echizen. Likewise, the outline of the incident appears in Nihon kiryaku,
Chōtoku 2/1/28. The text reads, “The minister of the right arrived at the palace and suddenly
canceled the Echizen governorship of Kunimori. He appointed the Awaji Governor Tametoki
to that post.”
67. There is a detailed description of all the paraphernalia exchanged between old and new
governors in Kokumu jōjō no koto, in Chōya gunsai, 517 – 525. This catalogue of provincial ad-
ministrative matters (kokumu) gives all the details about how a new governor was supposed to
act, from appointment to assumption of duties, including all the various procedures for receipt
of the symbols of office, visits to local shrines, and so forth. The document is undated.
100  |  g. cameron hurst iii

68. Among the famous series of thirty-one complaints against Owari governor Fujiwara no
Motonaga, for example, was the accusation that he spent too much time in the capital. Even
when he was in the province, the complainants allege, Motonaga neglected his provincial
duties, such as hearing the suits of locals (“Owari no kuni gunji hyakuseira no ge,” in HI,
2:473 – 485, Eien 2 [988] 11/8).
69. Ivan Morris, trans., The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, 23 – 24.
70. Ibid., 42 – 43.
71. Ibid., 34.
72. Naomoto’s petition is collected in section 6 of Honchō monzui (see n. 40), Tenryaku 8
(954) 8/9.
73. Murai Yasuhiko, Heian kizoku no sekai, 260 – 262.
74. Honchō monzui, Chōtoku 2/1/15.
75. Ibid., Tengen 3 (980) 1/5.
76. Kugyō bunin, 1:230, Tengen 4 [981].
77. Ibid., 145 – 146, Chōwa 3 (1014) 1/23.
78. Murai, Heian kizoku no sekai, 262.
79. Chōtoku ninen Ōmagaki, 689 – 706. The speculation that there were one hundred ap-
plicants is that of Abe Takeshi, Sekkan seiji, 121.
80. MKK, Chōwa 5 (1016) 10/15.
81. Ibid., Chōwa 5/10/19.
82. Ibid., Chōwa 5/10/22.
83. Ibid., Chōwa 5/10/24.
84. Ibid., Chōwa 5/11/6-9.
85. Ibid., Chōwa 5/11/7.
86. Murai, Heian kizoku no sekai, 337 (totals from chart). Not surprisingly, Murai notes
that most of the horses came from eastern Japan, where there were public and private horse
“ranches” (maki), whereas the cows were largely from more agriculturally advanced areas west
of Kyoto (338).
87. MKK, Chōwa 5/11/10.
88. Ibid., Kankō 7 (1010) 3/13. Michinaga is visited by three zuryō on their way to their prov-
inces, and he gives a horse to each of them.
89. Murai, Heian kizoku no sekai, 275. Murai provides a chart of the various goods Sanesuke
received from provincial governors in the extant months of his diary for 1025.
90. SYK, Kankō 2 (1005) 12/21.
91. Ibid.
92. MKK, Kankō 2/12/21.
93. Ibid., Kankō 7/3/23.
94. SYK, Kannin 2 (1018) 6/20. Michinaga makes no mention of the matter.
95. McCullough and McCullough, Flowering Fortunes, 2:485.
96. SYK, Kannin 2/6/20.
97. See the chart in Sakamoto, Nihon no rekishi, 6:309.
98. SYK, Kannin 3 (1019) 6/20. The struggle between the Tanba folks and Yoritō’s warriors
was apparently quite heated, and they caused a good deal of commotion within the palace
99. Ibid., Kannin 3/6/21, records the confrontation with Yoritō, noting that Michinaga and
Yorimichi’ s reprimand was “extremely severe” and that the governor’s actions were “unthink-
able” (ryogai no koto nari).
100. Sakamoto, Nihon no rekishi, 6:316.
101. Ibid., 316 – 317.
Kugyō and Zuryō  |  101

102. SYK, Jian 3 (1023) 3/18. The notation of their arrival comes on the eighteenth, but it is
discovered that they were held at Yukinari’s only on the twenty-first.
103. Ibid., Jian 3/4/21.
104. Ibid., Jian 3/4/29.
105. Ibid., Jian 3/5/1 – 6/2. Rather than saying he was dismissed (genin), Sanesuke says that
his duties (rimu) were terminated.
106. Ibid., Jian 3/7/3.
107. Sakamoto, Nihon no rekishi, 6:317.
108. Kugyō bunin, 1:272, Jian 3.
109. SYK, Jian 3/11/3, 5, 8, 17. Sakamoto, Nihon no rekishi, 6:317.
110. Sakamoto, Nihon no rekishi, 6:317 – 318.
111. SYK, Jian 1 (1021) 3/19.
112. Hurst, “Michinaga’s Maladies,” 111 – 112.
113. SYK, Kannin 4 (1020) 9/11 – 13.
114. Ibid., Jian 3/6/19.
115. Tamai Chikara, “Jū, jūichi seiki no Nihon, sekkan seiji,” 51 – 52.
116. In many ways, the keishi zuryō of this era are the forerunners of the inshi zuryō of the
late Heian period, discussed in Hurst, Insei, 237 – 253.
117. GK, Chōhō 2 (1000) 7/13 – 14.
118. Nihon kiryaku, Chōtoku 1/9/6.
119. Tamai, Heian kizoku to tennō, 52.
120. SYK, Manjū 2 (1025) 7/11.
121. Sakamoto, Nihon no rekishi, 6:263.
122. Ibid., 268.
123. Ibid., 273 – 274.
124. Hurst, Insei, 217 – 218, n. 1. See also Hurst, Insei, 576 – 583.
part ii

Shifting Categories in Literature and the Arts

5  d  Ivo Smits

The Way of the Literati

Chinese Learning and Literary
Practice in Mid-Heian Japan

nlike those who study Japanese history, scholars of Japan’s literature
have long been reluctant to seriously take into account texts written
in Chinese, or Sino-Japanese. While this peripheral position of Chi-
nese texts is shifting, it is necessary to restate the obvious: insofar as
the written word is concerned, premodern and early modern Japan was a bilin-
gual country. The marginalization of Chinese some two centuries ago resulted
in a fading awareness of a large cultural heritage. With the rise of kokugaku (na-
tional learning) in the late eighteenth century, the bias against Chinese grew
steadily and was consolidated in the late nineteenth century with the distinction
made between kangaku (Chinese studies) as an academic field devoted to texts
from China and kokubungaku (national literature) studies as a field dealing with
texts in Japanese. This has resulted in an institutional neglect of kanbun, or Chi-
nese written by Japanese, as a language of Japan’s cultural and literary heritage.1
This neglect, as well as the relative inaccessibility of texts written in Chinese to
those of us trained mainly in reading Japanese, partially explains why modern
scholars have maintained a long-standing bias against the corpus of kanbun. The
situation has changed in the past two decades or so, especially in Japan, and the
importance of both literary and documentary kanbun texts for any assessment
of the Heian period’s cultural production is generally acknowledged even if many
of them remain unread.
  This essay explores the ideological centrality of Chinese writing in Heian cul-
tural practice and suggests some areas in which kanbun texts could shed light
on hitherto unexplored textual terrains of literature in Japanese (kana bungaku),
namely what I would call literature of the social fringe, and eroticist parody; both
in their own way constitute a textual periphery. I hope to restore kanbun to its
proper place alongside kana literature and to consider its centrality in modern
literary histories of the Heian period. This task implies more than a mere recog-
nition of Heian kanbun as a factor in shaping Japan’s cultural past; it also involves
an understanding of the texts themselves. Such comprehensive views of literary
history are an important step toward revising our preconceived notions of Japan’s
literature during the Heian period.
106  |  ivo smits

Uncomfortable Balances: Literature in

Chinese as the Ideological Center
One reason for Heian kanbun’s ugly duckling’s position has to do with its nature
as a perceived antithesis of poetry and narrative in the vernacular. In the tradi-
tional grand narrative of Japanese literary history, the Heian period is presented
as the age in which poetry in Japanese (waka) finally gained status as one of the
highest literary arts through the first imperial waka anthology, the Kokinshū
(Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern, 905). It is also seen as a period in which
narrative fiction and memoir literature came of age with such masterpieces as the
Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) and the Makura no sōshi (The Pillow Book).
However, despite the prominence of these now famous works, they counted for
little on the surface of the largely male-oriented world of Heian Japan. In his
study of Japanese canon formation, Haruo Shirane, for example, mentions a Bud-
dhist text of about 1176, Genji ippon kyō (A Genji Offering with Sūtra Chapters)
by the monk Chōken (1126 – 1203), that makes the genre hierarchy very clear:
Buddhist and Confucian texts (in Chinese) and Chinese histories and poetry
collections ranked above waka, and at the bottom are narrative texts in kana.2
That Chōken’s text accompanied an offering ceremony (kuyō) to counter the “bad
influence” of fiction such as The Tale of Genji and its author’s suffering for it in
hell only reinforces the textual hierarchy.
  While The Tale of Genji was canonized within two centuries after it was writ-
ten and became a cultural icon worth stealing, as in the case of Fujiwara no
Teika’s (1162 – 1241) collated edition,3 by contrast the library of the statesman,
scholar, and poet of Chinese verse (kanshi) Fujiwara no Michinori (1106 – 1159)
contained not one book in the Japanese vernacular script.4 This was also likely
the case regarding the collection of Fujiwara no Kin’aki, who died sometime
after 1133. When his brother, the monk Renzen (1082? – ?), visited Kin’aki’s house
shortly after his death, he recorded in a poem, “His books and scrolls lie uselessly
thrown about under the moonlit window. (All the books that had been handed
down through time, both those from Japan as well as from China [wakan]: there
was no one to organize them. That is why I write this.)”5 Although wakan might
mean “[books] in Japanese and Chinese,” here it more likely means “[books] from
Japan and China” and one should be careful in assuming that this necessarily
implies that any of the books from Japan in Kin’aki’s library were written in
  Compared to prose, the situation was somewhat different for poetry. During
the ninth century, the time of the three imperial kanshi anthologies Ryōunshū
(Cloud-topping Collection, 814), Bunka shūreishū (Collection of Beauties among
the Literary Flowers, 818), and Keikokushū (Collection for Governing the State,
827), and personal kanshi collections offered to the throne, such as Sugawara
no Michizane’s (845 – 903) Kanke bunsō (Michizane’s Writings, 900), bunjin or
literati scholar-poets were cultural heroes who potentially embodied forces that
countered the rising Fujiwara Regents House.
The Confucian ideal honored learned men who stood by their monarch. Suga-
The Way of the Literati  |  107

wara no Michizane is a prime example of a courtier from a family of limited in-

fluence who, through his usefulness as a scholar-bureaucrat, rose to a prominent
position by the emperor’s side, from which he could threaten Fujiwara domi-
nance.6 Following Michizane’s exile in 901, we find the emergence of a new aris-
tocratic ideal, described by Joshua Mostow as being “antiprofessional, antimeri-
tocratic, and, to some extent, anti-intellectual.”7 The rise of the Regents House
was made possible largely by a system that brokered power through marriages
and therefore the political center shifted toward the supposedly private quarters
of the palace complex, where the prevailing script was kana and the cultural
emphasis rested with writings in vernacular Japanese.8 Indeed, as tenth-century
emperors no longer seemed to care for kanshi collections, the Regents House
gradually overtook the role as its patrons and simultaneously coerced the literati
into underwriting the new power relations. Fujiwara marriage politics and sup-
port of women’s writing went hand in hand with more traditional use of kanbun
production. From the tenth century onward, public kanshi collections as a rule
were sponsored by the Regents House.
  Kanbun’s saving grace rested largely with its role in matters of ceremony and
state. Official documents, law codes and petitions, poetry at state banquets,
seemingly private texts such as journals or religious dedications (ganmon), and
public yet unofficial texts that hovered somewhere between state edict and per-
sonal essays (encyclopedias or manuals on ceremonial) were to be composed in
kanbun. Given this convention, it is tempting to assume that kanbun might have
been ideologically central but peripheral in practice and that the political and
cultural elites of Heian-kyō paid only lip service to kanbun’s role in the textual
landscape. This is far from the case. The Heian government evolved around ritu-
als of which the language was Chinese. This realization in particular helps to
explain why so many Heian kanbun texts have remained.9
  It would also be misleading to assume a marginal role for kanbun in Heian
literary history because it was seldom practiced in court circles. In Shikyōki (Rec­
ord of the Poetic Realm), a minihistory of Chinese poetry written in kanbun, the
scholar, bilingual poet, and raconteur Ōe no Masafusa (1041 – 1111) wrote,
In our country Chinese poetry originated in the Kōnin and Shōwa eras
[810 – 847]. It was at its peak during the Jōgan and Engi eras [859 – 922], was
revived during the Shōhei and Tenryaku eras [931 – 956], and prospered again
in the Chōhō and Kankō eras [999 – 1011]. Broadly speaking, there were about
thirty-odd poets. If I narrow it down to the truly talented of these periods,
then we are left with no more than six or seven people.10
The number of poets may not impress us partly because Masafusa probably lim-
ited himself to those whom he perceived to be truly outstanding poets. In fact,
the actual number of kanshi poets for these periods is much higher. In either case,
there can be no doubt that the court of Emperor Ichijō (980 – 1011; r. 986 – 1011)
was a period of kanbun revival. While we now tend to think of The Tale of Genji
and The Pillow Book as classic masterworks of this age, Masafusa had in mind
such kanbun collections as Nikkanshū (Collection of Japanese Views, ca. 930s;
108  |  ivo smits

compiled by Ōe no Koretoki, 888 – 963) in twenty books,11 Fusōshū (Japanese

Collection, ca. 995 – 998; compiled by Ki no Tadana, 957 – 999) in sixteen books,12
Honchō reisō (Beautiful Poems from Our Court, ca. 1010; compiled by Takashina
no Moriyoshi, ? – 1014) in two books,13 and Honchō monzui (Literary Essence of
Our Court, ca. 1058; compiled by Fujiwara no Akihira, 989? – 1066) in fourteen

The Construction of a Canon: Indigenous Chinese

The mid-Heian period did not merely witness a revival of kanbun writing after
the dominance of waka throughout the tenth century. It also ushered in a pe-
riod in which Japanese literati began building a new kanbun tradition and with
it a new canon of poetry in Chinese. This new canon focused on Japanese au-
thors, not Chinese poets, with the eventual result that by the late-Heian period
(1086 – 1185) kanshi became an indigenized notion.14 This tendency is also evident
in kanbun manuals of the late-Heian and very early Kamakura periods such as
Sakumon daitai (Basics of Composition, 1108), compiled by Fujiwara no Munetada
(1062 – 1141), and Tekkinshō (Throwing Metal Notes, ca. 1206 – 1210).15 Practically
all the examples given in these two manuals are by Japanese poets. One reason
for the focus on Japanese examples was the widespread habit of composing verse-
topics (kudai; see below). Extensive rules existed for the breakdown of the verse-
topic into the poem’s first couplet and ways to work up the theme in the remain-
ing three couplets. While kudaishi, or verse-topic poems, were not unknown in
China, this particular genre with its specific compositional rules was very much
a Japanese phenomenon; consequently available examples were Japanese.
  This development suggests that mid-Heian literati were engaged mostly in a
dialogue with earlier Japanese literati, much less so with authors from the Asian
mainland. However, not everyone was given a voice within this dialogue. It is
striking to see that Japan’s very first anthology of Chinese poetry, Kaifūsō (Fond
Recollections, 751), contemporaneous with Japan’s oldest waka collection, the
Man’yōshū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), was as good as ignored through-
out the Heian and Kamakura periods. The near denial of this anthology in later
centuries is perhaps symbolic of the clear break that Heian culture and society
seems to have made from the previous era. While not necessarily a conscious
program, Heian literary and cultural life appears to have been bent on reinvent-
ing itself through a process in which the ninth century functioned as an impor-
tant episode. This century witnessed the compilation, in quick succession, of
three imperial kanshi anthologies that were relatively vague about the history of
Chinese verse in Japan. A past was acknowledged, but in terms that obfuscated
a need to explicitly pay homage to a previous court.16 This feeling was reinforced
by later Heian kanshi histories that associated the beginning of kanshi composi-
tion in Japan with the court of Emperor Saga (786 – 842; r. 809 – 823).17 The ninth
century was also the period when waka poets created a new body of poems that
would officially be sanctified with the compilation of Kokinshū. Its preface se-
lected early Heian poets for inclusion in its hall of fame, the rokkasen or six poetic
The Way of the Literati  |  109

immortals; and while Man’yōshū poetry generally is a clear point of reference, the
only Man’yōshū poets similarly identified are Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (? – 710?)
and Yamabe no Akahito (? – 736?).18
  The three imperial kanshi anthologies of the early ninth century, although
quickly recognized as an important milestone in literary history, also seemed to
have very little actual impact on later generations. In fact, this seems symptom-
atic of kanshi histories in general. Where it is relatively easy to write a history of
waka that suggests a strong continuity and historical awareness, the history of
kanshi writing in Japanese seems to be one of fits and restarts. It is only in the
Edo period (1600 – 1868) that attempts were made to be comprehensive in con-
structing a kanshi canon. In Heian Japan, on the other hand, the history of kanshi
apparently was the history of Chinese poetry only after it regained a place on the
map following the imperial patronage of waka. This view was still endorsed by
the Kyoto scholar and kanshi poet Emura Hokkai (1713 – 1788), who in his Nihon
shi shi (History of Chinese Poetry in Japan) of 1771 devotes curiously little space
to Kaifūsō, skims over the three imperial anthologies, but dwells considerably on
post-900 kanshi production.
  Adaptation of its Chinese cultural heritage is a recurrent theme in Japan’s his-
tory. Chinese notions of the forms and functions of literature were not borrowed
wholesale; instead Japan selected what seemed useful, and soon “China” became
a construct that was only tangentially related to the state across the East China
Sea. This construction can be aptly described as “China within Japan,” or even
multiple Chinas within Japan. It suggests Japanese perceptions of China and
their role in incorporating elements of that culture in molding a tradition to fit
contemporary ideas of literature. China was indeed the model for many facets of
Japanese cultural life, but this archetypal China within Japan was one of Japanese
making. The result was an integration of Japanese and Chinese elements that cre-
ated a dynamic blend that, while not always harmonious, extended to the domain
of kana literature as well.19
  The continuous appropriation between Japanese and Chinese elements is often
indicated by the term wakan, “Japan and China” (or “Yamato and Han/Kara”).
The term itself suggests that it is not very productive to think in binary opposi-
tions between Japan and China. Rather, the process resulted in what Thomas La-
Marre has called “a binary machine that could synthesize and organize multiple
forms of expression and production: the Yamato-Han or ‘wa-kan’ assemblage.”20
LaMarre’s study focuses on script and the ways in which its varieties, from mana
(or what we now would call kanji or Chinese characters) to kana, are best seen as
different modes of calligraphic performance, that is, how they may visually repre-
sent a text. In doing so, he attempts to steer our focus away from obsessing about
the language of texts in favor of blurring the notion of a distinctly “Japanese”
language and culture, as opposed to Chinese cultural and linguistic dominance.
Indeed, as Tomiko Yoda suggests, it is more fruitful to allow for “the possibility
that multiple cultural values and logic may have operated in Heian court society
without necessarily constituting a sharp dichotomy.”21
  In this context, it is simply inadequate to suggest that gender identifications
110  |  ivo smits

of script — “male writing” (otoko moji, that is, mana) and “the female hand” (on-
nade, that is, kana) — equate to mutually exclusive ideas about public and private.
“China” could be seen to invade the private quarters of women when Fujiwara
no Michinaga’s (966 – 1027) daughter Shōshi (or Akiko, 988 – 1074) moved into
the palace in 999. She made a tremendous social impact with the screens she
brought with her. Such screens were regularly ornamented with cartouches in-
scribed with poetry that was not necessarily limited to waka, for it appears that
women owned screens filled with Chinese texts, set in Chinese designs, and even
trimmed with Chinese brocade.22 Shōshi, who would become a long-lived and in-
fluential imperial dowager, showed an active interest in things Chinese, it seems.
Well known is the instance when she asked Murasaki Shikibu (973? – 1014?) to
teach her to read the “new ballads” (xinyuefu) of the famous Chinese poet Bai
Juyi (772 – 846).23 Similarly, literati could slip in and out of different languages at
will, composing kanshi and waka, as well as Chinese prefaces to poems in Japa-
nese. Within the realm of kanshi composition itself they might use idiosyncratic
forms of kanbun, and even, on occasion, refer openly not to Chinese classics or
even earlier kanshi, but to poetry in Japanese (waka) as the orientation points for
kanshi composition.
  While active participation in kanbun production was an exclusively male pre-
rogative throughout the Heian period,24 there were quite a few women at court
who had varying degrees of understanding of how to read Chinese texts. In this
sense women should be taken into account as producers of meaning of these
texts despite their exclusion from authorship. Historical records for this period
abound with meetings to compose kanshi to which women were never invited.
Such educational opportunities were available only to male literati. This situa-
tion seems to compare to the development of schools or “houses” (ie) in the field
of medieval waka, where women were active as poets but were excluded from
positions of influence.

Training Poets: Chinese Learning as a Way

The building of a new kanbun canon went hand in hand with yet another devel-
opment, namely that of Chinese studies as a “way” or michi. This in turn was ac-
companied by the emergence of a tradition of family learning (kagaku), in which
different scholar families or houses attempted to gain monopoly over certain
types of scholarship. By the early tenth century, Ōe no Asatsuna (886 – 957) spoke
of “the way of scholarship” (gakumon no michi) in the preface to his kanbun man-
ual.25 And when the scholar-poet Ōe no Masahira (953 – 1012) died in 1012, Fuji-
wara no Sanekane lamented that “the way of literature (bundō) has vanished.”26
  Ever since Konishi Jin’ichi’s studies of the concept, michi has been recognized
as a leading principle of Japanese medieval arts, centering on the dedicated pur-
suit of an art or technique and valuing anyone who committed to it.27 This theo-
retically egalitarian idea valued craft over breeding and was antithetical to the
Heian code of miyabi (courtly refinement) for the arts and family connections
for politics. Chinese studies was the only art for which a training trajectory and
The Way of the Literati  |  111

dedication to specialization was accepted, but this very fact seems to have pre-
vented scholars from rising very high in the echelons of power and the court
circles of what Ivan Morris once called the “good people.” Consequently, unlike
waka poets, kanshi poets may at first sight seem to have started out as “medieval”
poets, by which I mean that they experienced poetry as an art form that required
tremendous dedication and not a mere social expression.28 For waka poets, this
notion of poetry as an art or a way took shape from about 1100 onward. In that
respect the literati’s situation in the mid-Heian period did not significantly dif-
fer from that of waka poets from the twelfth century onward: expertise had al-
ways been at the core of their existence, both artistically and socially as well as
  It is partly for such reasons that when Sei Shōnagon (966? – after 1017) listed
scholars as splendid things (medetaki mono) in her Pillow Book, there was a cer-
tain ambivalence in her praise.
I need hardly say how splendid I find a learned professor (hakase). He may be
lowly of appearance, and of course he is of low rank (gerō), but he is free to ap-
proach the most eminent members of the emperor’s family, and he is consulted
about all sorts of special matters, serving as an imperial tutor (onfumi no shi),
so that the world at large regards him as an impressive figure. When he has
composed one of his religious dedications (ganmon) for the emperor, a petition
to the throne (hyō), or some poem preface (mono no jo), he becomes the object
of universal praise.29
While learning was an essential prop for state matters, Sei Shōnagon took issue
with “learned professors,” for their value lay in their learning despite their lack
of general sophistication and their unimpressive family background. Her per-
ception of literati as “of low rank” is accurate enough: although they came from
court families, the world of the elite nobility was highly restricted. The famous
mid-Heian scholar and poet Fujiwara no Akihira, for instance, who had fulfilled
many distinguished academic positions, was promoted to junior fourth lower
rank only at the advanced age of seventy.
  Sei Shōnagon’s ambivalence toward the cult of miyabi and its problematic rela-
tion to the low-ranking class that produced the learned professors likely stems
from her own upbringing in such a family of scholars. Her father, Kiyohara no
Motosuke (908 – 990), was acting governor of Kawachi and governor of Suō and
Higo provinces. While best known as a waka poet and the cocompiler of the
second imperial anthology, Gosenshū (Later Collection, mid-tenth century), he
was also a man of Chinese learning and an early scholar of the Man’yōshū. A
closer look at the family background of literati reveals that several other women
whom we associate with the building of narrative fiction in kana and the creation
of court-oriented literature were born to families of literati serving in the prov-
inces. The father of Murasaki Shikibu, Fujiwara no Tametoki (dates unknown,
active 997 – 1018), was a student at the State Academy (Daigakuryō) and served at
the Ministry of Ceremonies (Shikibushō) before his appointment as governor of
Echizen Province, where he exchanged poems with the Chinese merchant Zhou
112  |  ivo smits

(or Qiang) Shichang.30 The author of Sarashina nikki (The Sarashina Memoirs,
ca. 1060), the daughter of Sugawara no Takasue (973 – ?), was born to a family de-
scended from the illustrious Michizane with a well-established tradition of Chi-
nese learning and served as assistant governor (suke) in Kazusa and Hitachi prov-
inces. In their youths, these women accompanied their fathers to the provinces
where they spent what historian Tanahashi Mitsuo calls “their impressionable
girlhood,” implying that the “female hand” wrote in a wakan world from an early
age.31 To a large degree, the association of each of these women with her father’s
tradition of Chinese learning seems to be at odds with the court culture of mi-
yabi, which is said to characterize women’s writing in the mid-Heian period.
  As Sei Shōnagon points out, it was not unusual for literati to regularly meet
with emperors because of their expertise in kanbun literature. In creating and
shaping a way of Chinese learning, comments on texts and poets became the
basis from which a new canon of kanbun was built, the pattern typical of Chi-
nese scholarship transmitted throughout the Heian period.32 In this sense, the
anecdotal quality of many remarks in the Gōdanshō (The Ōe Conversations, early
twelfth century), and many prefaces to both kanshi and waka should probably be
regarded as an essential element in transmitting an established attitude toward
texts and literature. These anecdotal remarks, similar to Chinese poetry talks
(shihua), constitute one form of commentary and were intended to be instruc-
tive as well as entertaining. Again this is similar to waka, where one sees the
emergence of the anecdotal remarks as a common feature of poetic treatises
(kuden, zuinō) only after poets began to formulate their art as a way and started
to withdraw into schools.
  As most observations about poets in Japan are based on developments in the
field of waka, it is worthwhile to ask how the worlds of kanshi and waka dif-
fered. For practitioners of Chinese poetry, formal training was acquired through
an institution. Unlike waka poets, who learned their craft from their fathers or
through private teachers but had no formal curriculum in a recognized institute,
most kanshi poets received their education at either the State Academy or related
clan-based colleges such as the Kangakuin.33
  Founded about 670, the State Academy offered courses (or “ways”) in Confu-
cian classics (myōkyō), literature (monjō) and history (kiden), law (myōhō), arith-
metic (san), calligraphy (sho), and pronunciation (on). At first these courses were
taught with unvarying attention, despite an inequality of status within the cur-
riculum. However, when the academy’s literature program increased in popular-
ity and prestige, differences between the programs in literature and history grew
less distinct, and eventually the two were joined together. Knowledge of Chinese
literature was a prerequisite for the composition of documents in Chinese, the
language of state documents, and the sixth-century Chinese anthology Wenxuan
(Selections of Refined Literature; J. Monzen) was a standard item on the reading
list for examinations, as eventually were the collected works of the famous Tang
poet Bai Juyi. Chinese poetry was an important aspect of court ritual, and the
academy catered to that need by teaching composition.34
  Kanbun manuals and other primers facilitated the educational trajectory for
The Way of the Literati  |  113

Chinese learning.35 Typically, a boy of the Heian upper class would start learn-
ing to read and write characters at about age six. The most important textbooks
for beginners became known as the four primers (shibu no dokusho). One was
Mengqiu (Youth Inquires; J. Mōgyū; early eighth century), a biographical dictio­
nary of Chinese cultural history. The text consists of nearly six hundred minibi-
ographies arranged in pairs, all with headings of four characters, to make their
contents easy to remember.36 The next two texts were Qianzi wen (Thousand
Characters Text, J. Senji mon; ca. 500), and Baiyong (Hundred Compositions; J.
Hyakuei; early eighth century).37 From the eleventh century onward, a Japanese
text, Wakan rōeishū (Japanese and Chinese Poems to Sing, early eleventh cen-
tury) was added to the list, thereby introducing couplets by Japanese kanshi poets
into the curriculum.38 From this point on, students began reading basic texts
from China, all from the four major categories of the Chinese writing canon: the
classics (jing, J. kyō), the philosophers (zi; J. shi), the histories (shi) and the collec-
tions (ji; J. shū). To facilitate studies, Japanese scholars developed a plethora of
compendia on the composition of texts in Chinese.
  The post of professor (hakase) and head (kami) in the State Academy tended
to remain within a limited number of families specializing in Chinese studies,
and many kanshi poets were somehow related by blood or marriage. These literati
had acquired a thorough formal training, including examinations, in the reading
and composition of Chinese poetry. In fact, many remained affiliated with the
State Academy or clan institutions, either as head, professor, or acting assistant
professor (tokugōshō), which allowed them to receive a salary or stipend in rec-
ognition of their academic skills. In short, long before other arts developed into
creative skills practiced principally by recognized experts from different schools,
Chinese learning was from the beginning a possible career track. The unease
over Chinese scholar-poets that Sei Shōnagon experienced is indicative of the
unique position held by literati in a court society that needed at least another
century before it would more broadly acknowledge artistic talent and training as
a form of cultural capital.

The Wasp Waist Controversy

A debate in 997 provides a glimpse of how scholarly reputations were made and
broken and how academic knowledge was an essential tool in crafting poetry.
Identifying incorrect details was essential in establishing one’s position in the
poetic pecking order. Judging from disputes at poetry contests, this also holds
true in the case of waka discourse. The overriding impression is that poets sel-
dom won a round in poetry contests (utaawase) because their poetry was good,
but rather because their adversaries lost on points. Utaawase and State Acad-
emy examination disputes constituted formal settings or “places” (ba) where
literary precedent and a painstaking observance of rules formed the backbone
of the debates. Discussions of work submitted for an academic degree echo the
double notion of the wenchang of Tang China, a term that could refer both to
the examination grounds and to the arena of letters in a much broader sense.39
114  |  ivo smits

An examination at the Ministry of Ceremonies (shōshi) was an essential step in

climbing the ladder of the State Academy and also provided access to stipends.
From there one could advance to the status of acting assistant professor and
could even be appointed as a provincial governor.40 For those who sought to
develop a career as Chinese scholars, composing poems for this examination
was a vital skill.
  It was within this context that the ministry examination of the seventeenth
day of the seventh month of 997 gave rise to a scholarly controversy that managed
to divide the State Academy into two camps around two leading scholar-poets
of the time, Ōe no Masahira (952 – 1012) and his nemesis, Ki no Tadana (also
read Tokina).41 The examination candidate was the provisional graduate student
(gimonjōshō) Ōe no Tokimune (? – after 1057),42 and the submitted text was a five-
character poem on a topic taken from the Shijing (The Book of Odes).43 Tadana
wanted to fail Tokimune, but Masahira objected. Tokimune was Masahira’s
adopted son, and in this case there was more at stake than a simple difference of
opinion between examiners.
  There was another examiner involved, but Tadana and Masahira took center
stage. Both were scholars with impressive reputations. Masahira could take pride
in being the grandson of the famous Koretoki, who compiled the Nikkanshū and
the Senzai kaku (Fine Couplets for a Thousand Years, first half of the tenth cen-
tury), an anthology of more than a thousand couplets by Chinese poets, some of
them almost contemporary with Koretoki. Furthermore, Masahira was building
a career as scholar and bureaucrat and would later serve as provincial governor;
as such he is the typical representative of the class of provincial governor literati.
In addition, Masahira was also a waka poet and is considered one of the “thirty-
six poetic geniuses of the classic age.”44 Tadana was also a gifted bureaucrat,
who as major private secretary (dainaiki) was selected together with Masahira
to draft the court’s reply to a Chinese monk who had arrived the previous year.45
Tadana’s early death cut short what might have been a fruitful administrative
career, but before his death in 999 he finished the Fusōshū, which probably was
intended for the Regents House or even the emperor.46 Together with Ōe no
Yukitoki (955 – 1010), Masahira and Tadana were regarded as important kanshi
poets of the Ichijō court.
  Tadana’s critique of the examination piece centered on two points. One was
what he considered a poetic defect known as wasp waist (hōyō), which stipulated
that the second and fifth character in a five-character line of verse should not
have the same tone. Masahira’s refutation argued that this rule applied only to
the first line of a couplet and not the second, as was the case with Tokimune’s
poem. He based his position on the Wenbi shi (Code of Style), an anonymous Chi-
nese manual that, ironically, Tadana had also referred to but apparently not read
as thoroughly. The second point related to what Tadana believed to be a series of
flaws (kakin) and even a grave error (kyogai). For example, in his fifth and sixth
couplets Tokimune twice used the character sō (grass). Known in handbooks as
repetition defect (nennibyō), this was not exactly a fatal slip, but it was generally
considered more elegant to avoid homonyms or outright repetitions.
The Way of the Literati  |  115

  Three days after the exam Masahira filed a report to Michinaga, then minister
of the left (sadaijin), an action that suggests just how firmly the Regents House
had established itself as central authority in the world of Chinese learning. Ma-
sahira called Tadana a nitpicker (“he is blowing away the animal’s fur to look for
wounds”)47 whose attitude “harms the way of literature.” This report prompted
Tadana to write a rebuttal of considerable length, in which he took Tokimune’s
poem apart line by line to substantiate his points of criticism. Masahira then
retorted with an essay that was three times longer than Tadana’s already impres-
sive if tedious epistle. He refuted every objection raised by Tadana and listed
several precedents for Tokimune’s phrasings. Tadana remained unmoved and
maintained that there were still grounds for failing Tokimune; he pointed out
that there was a collection of old examination poems available, Ryūmonshū
(Dragon Gate Collection),48 which the student should have consulted. After more
than six weeks, the bombardments with textbook classics seemed to abate, but
the strained relations between the two literati continued. In the end Tokimune
survived the incident and would eventually serve as head of the State Academy
before being appointed as governor of Dewa and other provinces.
  The quarrel may seem exceedingly trivial to modern ears, and Tadana de-
scended into such petty detail that it earned him a reputation as nitpicker, acting,
in the words of Ōsone Shōsuke, “childish for such a distinguished scholar.”49 Nev-
ertheless, Tadana’s insistence helped set a precedent for the evaluation of later
examination poems. The quarrel itself was elevated to the level of academic juris-
prudence by inclusion not only in the eleventh-century Honchō monzui, but also
in an early twelfth-century compendium, Chōya gunsai (Collections of Our Court
and People, 1116).50 It was through this incident that later scholars understood the
standards set by earlier kanshi poets. This is evident in a comment on Tadana’s
poetry by Masahira’s great-grandson Masafusa: “Tadana would rely solely on the
perceived gist of old collections. He had no new ideas to offer whatsoever. All his
parallel prose and his every verse are snippets of old lines. That is why his style is
so classical. But when he is not making use of the old masters, he is incapable of
surprising you, because he lacked any new ideas.”51
  If Chinese learning, with poetry composition as one of its key elements, was a
“way,” then the literati community was also a battleground for different houses
that all tried to make their mark. Formal settings, such as examinations, could
give expression to that competition.

Poetic Genre as a Social Code

In Heian Japan, poetry was gradually becoming an art, but it also remained a
social act. One must distinguish between audiences and situations; the more
formal the situation, the more formal the poem. This protocol centered on the
idea that a good poem was to be suitable to the atmosphere of its occasion. The
poem’s setting is traditionally described as the ba or “place.” Scholars revert to
this traditional term to indicate the audience in an almost physical sense with
the emphasis on where, rather than to whom, the poem was read. While the
116  |  ivo smits

audience at different ba may be the same, it is understood that they will react
differently according to the situation. A ba expresses a sense of focus on audience
and moment. From the Heian period, Japanese court poetry and its moments of
composition were divided into two categories, hare (formal) and ke (informal).
The latter indicated poetry composed for everyday situations with low “visibility,”
such as casual exchanges, love poems, and letters. The former consisted of poems
that were expressly intended for such public occasions as poetry contests, gath-
erings at the Imperial Palace, banquets, or folding screens. The distinction was
not absolute, and it might be better to speak of degrees of formality, as a ba was
either formal or less formal.52 This division into degrees of formality held true for
both waka and kanshi and by no means implied a value judgment, but instead
emphasized the importance of the occasion for which a poem was composed.
  In addition to theme and diction, the format of kanshi was also determined by
the characteristics of the occasion. In his Chōya gunsai, Miyoshi no Tameyasu
(1049 – 1139) distinguishes several situations, or ba, that require distinctly dif-
ferent styles of poetry (shoshitai).53 His breakdown follows a social hierarchy
that ranges from poetry composed at gatherings organized by emperors and re-
tired emperors and gatherings hosted by high-ranking court nobles to outings
at shrines and temples, rituals for the worship of Confucius (sekiten),54 study
groups,55 and individual poetry exchanges. The first and socially most impor-
tant categories that Tameyasu distinguishes are at imperial command (or “in
response to an imperial poem,” ōsei), in response to an emperor’s direct family
member (ōrei), and at request (ōkyō). Ōsei is further broken down into the cat-
egories sovereigns (teiō) and retired emperors (daijōkō), ōrei into crown princes
(taishi) and principal imperial consorts (kōgū); the ōkyō categories consist of
princes (shinnō) and noble families (kugyōke). Further stylistic categories are the
Kitano Shrine and the mausoleum at the Kichijōin (Kitano, Kichijōin byō), that
is, poetry gatherings in honor of Sugawara no Michizane;56 Confucius worship;
Literature Hall (Monjōin, that is, gatherings of State Academy and Kangakuin
students); Imperial Library (Goshodokoro, which was a meeting place for palace
courtiers and scholars); gatherings to encourage learning (kangakue)57 and visits
to mountain monasteries (yū sanji); examination at the ministry (shōshi) and ex-
amination while circumambulating the island (hōtōshi), that is, the examination
at the Ministry of Ceremonies, such as Tokimune’s discussed earlier, as well as
at the Suzaku-in when the emperor was present;58 and finally, reading (dokusho),
specifically referring to the composition of poems about texts that just have been
read with a group, such as the History of the Later Han.
  Not explicitly mentioned in this section of the Chōya gunsai are such catego-
ries as poem exchanges (zōtō) between individuals and solitary composition (do-
kugin). It will be noticed that Tameyasu mentions only group activities, thereby
illustrating that the communal nature of poetic practice in East Asia is far more
pronounced than in the West. In the case of kanshi, as was increasingly the case
with waka, the act of poetry composition underlined a poet’s association with
the community of the cultured elite whose recognition and esteem could be won
mainly through artistic and intellectual prowess. However, such prowess needed
The Way of the Literati  |  117

to be seen in action, as it were; the stage for that action consisted of the numerous
poetry gatherings, not one’s study, and lasting esteem was won by inclusion in
one of the many anthologies, less so the private collections of individual poets.
  Tameyasu’s differentiation of situations was in practice accompanied by dif-
ferent forms of poetry. For the poems’ format, the basic distinction was between
verse-topic poem (kudaishi) and non-verse-topic poem (mudaishi). Literally, mu-
daishi meant that the poem had no assigned verse-topic, or kudai. Ever since the
middle of the tenth century, lines of Chinese poetry, usually of five characters,
regularly served as a topic for either Chinese (kudaishi) or Japanese poetry (kudai
waka). In fact, the use of a verse-topic had become such a habit that kanshi came
to mean verse-topic poem, and extensive rules existed for the different ways in
which the verse-topic could be incorporated in the poem. Any Chinese poetry
that was not a verse-topic poem was given a new name: mudaishi.59
  The Chōya gunsai and records of poetry gatherings make it clear that during
such occasions of a fairly formal nature, verse-topic poetry was the prevailing
form. For example, roughly two-thirds of Honchō reisō, the Ichijō court’s kanshi
anthology, consists of verse-topic poetry. Exceptional situations, which tended
to have a less visible and rather informal profile, were honored with mudaishi.
Places — such as outings to mountain monasteries, study groups, or poem ex-
changes — did not require assigned verse-topics and were therefore much freer
in their choice of themes and wordings. The titles of such poems, often an im-
promptu (sokuji) or a declaration of emotion (jukkai, genshi, or kan ari), indicate
the conscious clearing of poetic and thematic space.

Poetic Freedom and the Social Fringe

Narrative accounts (ki) and poem prefaces (shijo, wakajo) were two specific poetic
genres wherein the author was allowed a certain degree of latitude. The poem
preface was a very important genre, as Sei Shōnagon already indicated, for of the
432 items in Honchō monzui, 139 are kanshi prefaces, with an additional eleven
waka prefaces. In 1108, Fujiwara no Munetada ranked miscellaneous prefaces
(zatsujo, or zōjo) as the first prose genre in his kanbun manual.60 These and the
non-verse-topic poems came close to forming a literary free zone, a set of prose
and poetry genres that allowed tremendous thematic variety and freedom of
vocabulary. Although not without models of their own, their themes could cover
almost anything, from “unlucky” subjects such as sickness to local folklore or
itinerant entertainers. What we now consider to be interesting or innovative
poetry was all composed on well-defined occasions only and through a given
format: mudaishi composed at informal gatherings. It is in these literary free
zones that one gets an idea of how Japanese kanbun texts could deviate from
Chinese standards and explore topics that were innate to the interests of Heian
court culture. The historian Tanahashi Mitsuo suggests that Heian court culture
consisted of two “streams” of literature.61 The first was represented by the intro-
spective tales (monogatari) such as the Genji monogatari; the other consisted of a
type of documentary literature exemplified by certain kanbun works in the nar-
118  |  ivo smits

rative account genre as well as anecdote (setsuwa) collections such as the Konjaku
monogatarishū (Tales of Times Now Past; ca. 1120) and Uji shūi monogatari (Tales
from Uji, ca. 1180s or later). Although Tanahashi’s remarks refer to prose, the
observation that there is a strong preference for descriptions of the world outside
the court holds true also for non-verse-topic poetry.
  In their reflections of a world beyond court society, these texts build toward
what I would like to call the literature of the social fringe or texts of the periphery.
One example is the Shin sarugaku ki (A New Account of Sarugaku, ca. 1052) by
Fujiwara no Akihira, the founder of the Umakai Ceremonial Branch of Fujiwara
scholars. Although it is risky to attempt psychological stereotyping, Akihira gives
the impression of having been a willful man who was not particularly impressed
with social conventions. In one curious incident in the winter of 1034, Akihira
and Fujiwara no Sanenori (dates unknown) appeared outside the examination
hall and prompted students on the proper characters and pronunciation of the
examination poems.62 This prompting created an outrage among the academic
community. Akihira and Sanenori were interrogated and punished, but received
pardon half a year later with a general amnesty intended to counter a drought.
This particular incident did not prevent Akihira from eventually serving as tutor
(jikō) to the future regent Yorimichi and later becoming head of the State Acad-
emy (daigakuryō no kami), lecturer to the crown prince (tōgū no gakushi), and
professor of literature (monjō hakase).
  Akihira’s penchant for the unconventional led him to explore aspects of Heian
society that lay outside the court’s realm. Shin sarugaku ki is a description of a
fictitious family that covers most social groups that in one way or another con-
stitute the periphery in Heian culture.63 The story centers on a certain Uemon no
jō (var. Emon no jō), resident of the semiurban western part of Kyoto, who views
sarugaku performances in the capital in the company of his three wives, sixteen
daughters, and nine sons. The large number of children, including his sons-in-
law, provides a glimpse into the variety of professions practiced by townspeople.
All excel in their line of work whether as gambler, warrior, farm overseer, sha-
man, scholar, wrestler, courtesan, painter, et cetera. These are groups that Aki-
hira might have encountered while employed in the Police Bureau (Kebiishichō)
in his early forties. What is perhaps even more remarkable than Akihira’s choice
of subject matter is his balance between description and irony. Shin sarugaku ki
seems to have been in part intended as a model book, displaying the stylistic pos-
sibilities of Chinese writing, but it is also an exhaustive experiment in charting a
social sphere that was close in geography yet distant in the social order.
  When Akihira wrote his New Account of Sarugaku, the periphery of Heian
society had already served as subject matter for the Hinjo no gin (Song of the Poor
Woman) and Hakuchoō shijo (Poem Preface to “The Old Man [Selling] White
Chopsticks”) by Ki no Haseo (845 – 912) and for Ōe no Yukitoki’s Yūjo o miru
shijo (Poem Preface to “On Seeing Courtesans,” 996?).64 There also is a ten-poem
sequence that Sugawara no Michizane wrote when he was governor of Sanuki
Province.65 In it, he describes the plight of the poor, suffering during the aus-
tere winter. Such “documentary” nature in narrative accounts and poem preface
The Way of the Literati  |  119

genres also extends to correspondence model books (ōraimono), another genre

that allowed for a tremendous topical range. There, too, Akihira made his mark.
His correspondence became a model book known as Unshū shōsoku (The Izumo
Letters, ca. 1058).66 Akihira was appointed governor of Izumo Province in 1057,
and it was during this time that he wrote 209 letters on a variety of topics. Two
letters, for example, describe a party in Uji attended by courtesans singing imayō
(modern-style song) and plans for a visit to the pleasure quarters of Eguchi.
  One source of inspiration for exploring the periphery in Heian society was
undoubtedly the poetry of Chinese literati such as Bai Juyi and Yuan Zhen
(779 – 831), who with their new ballads created a genre that centered on the mar-
ginal in Chinese culture. These ballads were long poems in a relatively free form,
and in a simple tone they criticized social and political wrongs or described other
lamentable situations in society. That Japanese nobility should develop an interest
for the xinyuefu is an aspect of Heian culture that has been hitherto overlooked.
In other words, why would Kyoto nobles who emulated much of Chinese culture
but disdained its politics become enamored of a genre that was invented for po-
litical purposes? Puzzling as it may be, the new ballads were nevertheless a great
hit with the Heian nobles. Together with verses from Bai’s Song of Everlasting
Sorrow (Changhen ge, J. Chōgon ka), their lines were singled out for recitation.
Women, too, enjoyed reciting Bai Juyi’s poetry, as several passages in The Pillow
Book indicate. As we have seen, even though the practice and study of Chinese
literature was considered a male prerogative, Murasaki Shikibu taught Imperial
Dowager Shōshi to read Bai Juyi’s new ballads. Again and again, when excerpts
of Bai Juyi’s poetry were singled out for copying, it was practically always the
new ballads that were chosen.67 The courtiers even organized study sessions to
discuss the xinyuefu.68 In fact, when Heian nobles mentioned ballads they invari-
ably meant Bai Juyi’s new ballads.
  The simple language of the new ballads had much to do with their popularity
in Heian Japan. Bai Juyi himself emphasizes in his preface that clarity of meaning
is far more important than literary style in new ballads. It is also clear that the
Heian courtiers did not care much for the political implications of the Chinese
examples, but they used and imitated the descriptive passages in their poems.
They depoliticized the contents of the new ballads in order to appreciate them
within a Japanese context. As a result, Heian descriptive poems and narrative
accounts are void of the moral messages that are found in the Chinese texts that
were used as models. Not everybody was happy about this drift toward what they
believed to be the seamier side of the Heian world. In reference to Ōe no Masa-
fusa’s penchant for gossip and his accounts of courtesans, itinerant entertainers,
unruly city mobs, and fox spirits, Fujiwara no Munetada noted in his diary,

A certain person has told me that in the last two or three years Governor Ōe
has been unable to walk and no longer goes out to attend his official duties.
But whenever someone comes to call he writes down all the miscellaneous
gossip of the town. There are numerous errors, and much passing of judgment
about the merits of others. Such indiscriminate scribbling about worldly mat-
120  |  ivo smits

ters is surely the height of impropriety! Recording from hearsay what one has
not witnessed nor come to know with certainty is an outrage through and
through. Great Confucian he may be, but the world can hardly approve of his

  Munetada disapproved, in other words, of Masafusa’s recordings of unusual

practices and people on the periphery of Heian culture. However, it was exactly
in its more peripheral aspects that kanbun sowed the seeds of later develop-
ments in both kanshi and waka. The use of marginal groups in Heian society as
subject matter for literary texts was consolidated in the late eleventh and twelfth
centuries when more kanshi were composed on itinerant entertainers (kugutsu)
and charcoal burners, and it was through such a setting that they found their
way into waka literature. In fact, courtesans, kugutsu, and female divers even
became a set topic for such formal settings as waka contests in the late twelfth
century.70 Classical East Asian poetics have since early on operated along imita-
tive principles. Generic genre codes and the pervasive literariness of the acts of
reading and writing forced a continuous reference to past texts. However, Heian
literati incorporated functional conventions of Chinese poetry to create a new
genre of the social periphery in Japanese literature.71 Calls for social reform in
the Chinese model were transformed into observations of exotic subject matters
in the Japanese emulations. Such acts of misreading the Chinese model, deliber-
ate or culturally determined, helped clear poetic space and broaden the field of
subject matter; and by putting the Heian social fringe on the textual map, such
misreading brought the periphery into closer contact with its center.

The Periphery of Decorum: Eroticist Parody

There were more peripheries on the textual map than just the social fringe. An-
other uncharted terrain of kanbun writing, small but significant, is eroticist and
pornographic parody. It is a genre not quickly associated with Heian literature
and therefore worth exploring, as it pointedly shows us how insights in the pos-
sibilities of kanbun writing may affect our old views of what constituted court
  The ironic and technical skills of the scholar-poet Fujiwara no Akihira ex-
tended to parody. While this is already apparent in A New Account of Sarugaku, it
is also evident in Tettsui den (The Biography of an Iron Hammer), which he wrote
under the pseudonym Dick Large (Ra Tai; Ch. Luo Tai). Not overly subtle, this
work counts as one of Japan’s earliest works of pornography. Although it was part
of the Honchō monzui, probably the most important anthology of Heian kanbun
writing, it has been largely neglected and marginalized by later scholars.72 The
text is an arrangement of many variant descriptions of the male organ and its
uses. Interestingly, it is written in a style that adheres to the rules of biographi-
cal genre in traditional Chinese dynastic histories, and the diversity of erotic
terminology seems in part derived from Chinese manuals of medicine.73 The
iron hammer metaphor also appears in Shin sarugaku ki’s description of the nit-
The Way of the Literati  |  121

wit husband of the fourteenth daughter, whose huge penis seems to be his only
asset. By informing his readers in the introduction that he hopes “to make you
chuckle,”74 Dick Large shows that his aim is parody. The question of why Akihira
included it in Honchō monzui, an anthology that aimed to present its readers with
exemplary models, is puzzling. The fact that the only other biography included is
that of a priest, albeit a mythical one,75 makes its inclusion all the more curious.
One could simply see this as yet another manifestation of Akihira’s eccentricity,
but one may also regard it as indicative of his antagonism toward the stricter atti-
tudes of a Confucian worldview. From this perspective, both the Shin sarugaku ki
and Tettsui den function to open up new territories on the map of kanbun texts,
with their models showing not only a variety of stylistic possibilities but also a
richness of subject matter that went beyond traditional notions of decorum.76
  Akihira was not the first to write about the periphery of Heian culture, as
indicated above, nor was he the only Heian scholar to try his hand at eroticist
parody. The best-known example of the latter is Danjo kon’in no fu (A Poetic Ex-
position on the Marriage of Man and Woman), by the early tenth-century scholar
Ōe no Asatsuna, which mixes literary language with relatively explicit descrip-
tions of physical passion.77 Put together, the rhyme words of this long poem spell
out the phrase “Love and emotion bring mutual response, and afterward the
body becomes pregnant,” which neatly sums up the theme of this piece. The late
Heian Honchō zoku monzui (Literary Essence of Our Court, Continued, ca. 1140s)
contains in the section Hymns (san) another parody full of sexual innuendo,
presumably inserted as an echo of Akihira’s Tettsui den. It is titled Insha no san
(Praise of the Penis) and attributed to “the Captain’s Upright Glans in Vaginal
Juices.”78 Unlike Tettsui den, this piece is not anonymous; at the end it is signed
by Fujiwara no Suetsuna (? – before 1102) and dated the twelfth month of Kahō 1
(1094). A kanshi poet and scholar who later became head of the State Academy,
Suetsuna was a son of the idiosyncratic scholar Sanenori, who together with Aki-
hira was chastised for prompting examination candidates as noted earlier. Insha
no san is about a carriage and is littered with numerous technical references to
spare parts, but as the pseudonym makes clear, the text is to be read as a series
of sexually suggestive terms.
  The textual strategy seems to follow the same pattern, juxtaposing a literary
style that presents itself as heavily indebted to ancient Chinese writing with a
subject matter that borders on, or crosses over into, the seedy. This is a classic
recipe for parody. In these kanbun examples the parody is enforced by the use of
established literary genres. Tettsui den follows the given format of the Exemplary
Biography model from Chinese dynastic histories, and Insha no san presents
itself as just another example of the Hymn genre. Ultimately, Danjo kon’in no
fu, too, is a parody, of the poetic exposition, or fu, which in East Asia was a set
feature in examination assignments. The use of this form was, by Heian stan-
dards, a deliberate degradation of a type of poetry that most Confucian scholars
approached with solemnity. This pattern is also evident in the kanshi satire O
naki ushi no uta (or Mubigyū ka, Song of the Tailless Ox), in which Minamoto
no Shitagō (911 – 983) sings the praise of his disfigured ox.79 The juxtaposition
122  |  ivo smits

of a lofty style with mundane subject matter indeed lends itself equally well to
satire. As such it was a strategy adopted by Murasaki Shikibu when she described
a daughter from a literati household whose talk (full of pompous phrases) and
breath (she smells of garlic) suggest the Asian continent (kara).80
  While one may wonder about the possible agendas of the respective authors 
— anything in the range between academic locker-room jokes and the subversion
of Confucian values — there is no denying that these texts make use of possibili-
ties apparently not really open to writing in the vernacular. Satire was possible
in kana writings of the Heian period, but erotic parody was not.81 One possible
exception might be a passage, full of punning, in Tosa nikki (A Tosa Journal, ca.
935) in which women in the entourage of a provincial governor, on his way back
to the capital, display their genitals when taking a bath.82 To what extent author
Ki no Tsurayuki’s (ca. 872 – 945) ploy to present the narrator as a woman imitat-
ing a kanbun diary in a kana text might have muddled possible ideas of decorum
and language remains an open question.

Surveying the large corpus of kanbun literature of Heian Japan, one must ac-
knowledge its ideological centrality in the contemporary view of the canon of
Japanese texts. This centrality gave rise to the formation of a canon of indigenous
kanbun, a new textual past inhabited by Japanese authors in which a China was
no longer a necessary entity. It also suggested a self-sufficiency of Japan’s literary
tradition: Japan’s literature had become a center unto its own. That same ideo-
logical centrality made it possible for literati to develop Chinese learning into an
expertise that translated itself as cultural capital: in an era when cultural models
appeared to follow the new courtly code of miyabi, which resisted meritocratic
notions, dedication to kanbun proficiency managed to be the acceptable excep-
tion. Literati molded learning into a “way,” and as such heralded a pattern of
cultural behavior that would become dominant only in medieval Japan.
  The nature of Heian kanbun texts is diverse. The majority of texts reflect
kanbun’s important role in matters of ceremony and state. However, the Heian
perception of texts, especially poetry, as reflections of the situation in which they
were composed, provides important clues as to when one may expect literary ex-
periments: that is, in informal settings and a fairly strictly circumscribed number
of genres, such as non-verse-topic poems, narrative accounts, or poem prefaces.
It is especially within the literary free zone that these genres and situations com-
prise that one finds kanbun texts that challenge our deep-rooted ideas of Heian
literature in general. The traditional emphasis of literary and cultural historians
on tale literature and poetry in Japanese obstructs our view of a court literature
that, among others things, showed an active interest in a world beyond court so-
ciety. More generally, it obscures Heian’s linguistic register, for writers in classical
Japan could say many things, and they did so in more than one language.
The Way of the Literati  |  123

1. For an insightful analysis of this process, see Kurozumi Makoto, “Kangaku: Writing and
Institutional Authority.” Since the late nineteenth century, the terms kanshi (poetry in Chi-
nese) and kanbun in Japan refer to any text in Chinese, usually from China. In keeping with
a not entirely logical tradition among Western scholars, I use them exclusively in the sense
of poems and prose in Chinese composed by Japanese. Japanese scholars commonly refer to
“Japanese kanshi” (Nihon kanshi) or “kanshi from the court period” (ōchō kanshi). Kanbun
refers to the language in which a text is written (Chinese, or Sino-Japanese); the corresponding
script could in classical Japanese be called mana. However, this term is nonexistent in kanbun
texts. The exception are kanbun prefaces to waka anthologies — in other words, within a kana
context. Mana was not part of the vocabulary of Heian literati. They referred not to script but
to literary categories: bun (rhyming prose), hitsu (rhymeless prose), shi (rhyming poem), fu
(poetic exposition), ku (couplet), etc.
2. Haruo Shirane, “Issues in Canon Formation,” 1 – 5; Genji ippon kyō, 37.
3. Meigetsuki, Karoku 1 (1225) 2/16. Teika mentions that his previous, carefully collated edi-
tion of The Tale of Genji was “stolen in the Kenkyū era (1190 – 1199).” See also T. J. Harper,
“Genji Gossip,” 29.
4. This incomplete but oldest extant catalogue of a private library is Tsūken nyūdō zōsho
5. Honchō mudaishi, 7, no. 463. Honma Yōichi, Honchō mudaishi zenschūshaku, 2:429 – 432.
The remark between parentheses is a note Renzen himself added to this line of his poem.
6. Other examples of literati who were chosen to serve the emperor as advisers include
Sugawara no Kiyokimi (770 – 842) and Miyoshi no Kiyoyuki (847 – 918). See Francine Hérail,
La cour du Japon à l’époque de Heian, 56; and Robert Borgen, Sugawara no Michizane and the
Early Heian Court, 48 – 49, 135.
7. Joshua S. Mostow, “Mother Tongue and Father Script,” 135.
8. See, for example, Tomiko Yoda, “Literary History against the National Frame,” 485 – 
9. Hérail, La cour du Japon à l’époque de Heian, 47 – 57.
10. Chōya gunsai, 3:60.
11. Only the preface is extant, preserved in Chōya gunsai, 1:18.
12. Only books 7 and 9 are extant.
13. The first part of book 1 is missing.
14. Marian Ury, too, noted that Chinese learning in Heian Japan increasingly became a self-
contained tradition, finding sufficient roots to craft a past of its own (Ury, “Chinese Learning
and Intellectual Life,” 341, 389).
15. Sakumon daitai provides detailed analyses of various aspects of kanshi structures and
the handling of set verse-topics. Munetada, who built on an earlier manual, gives extensive
rules for the use of tone patterns within the poem as well as for parallelism. Tekkinshō contains
460 couplets by 170 Heian poets and two Tang poets. The manual was possibly produced by
Fujiwara no Takanori (1158 – 1233).
16. For a brief overview in English of the historical orientations of the prefaces to the three
ninth-century collections, see Wiebke Denecke, “Chinese Antiquity and Court Spectacle,”
106 – 110.
17. Chōya gunsai, 18:30. Two minihistories of Heian kanshi are Ōe no Koretoki’s preface to
the Nikkanshū and Ōe no Masafusa’s Shikyōki.
18. The Chinese (mana) preface to the Kokinshū mentions one Kaifūsō-Man’yōshū poet by
124  |  ivo smits

name, Prince Ōtsu (663 – 686). He is singled out as an outstanding kanshi poet. Ōtsu left four
kanshi and four waka.
19. One of the better-known exponents of this notion is Chino Kaori. See, for instance, her
“Gender in Japanese Art,” 23 – 25. See also David Pollack, The Fracture of Meaning, 55 – 76, for
such a use of China by Murasaki Shikibu.
20. Thomas LaMarre, Uncovering Heian Japan, 33.
21. Yoda, “Literary History against the National Frame,” 486 – 487.
22. Eiga monogatari, 6, in NKBT 75:199; translation in William H. McCullough and Helen
Craig McCullough, A Tale of Flowering Fortunes, 1:217. See also Eiga monogatari, 8, 19, and
27; NKBT 75:287, 76:104 – 105, 259; translations in McCullough and McCullough, Flowering
Fortunes, 1:301, and 2:584, 712.
23. Murasaki Shikibu nikki, 501; Richard Bowring, trans., The Diary of Lady Murasaki, 58.
24. Some six female kanshi poets may be identified for the early ninth century, the only ones
for the whole Heian period (Kumagai Naoharu, “Saga chō no joryū sakkatachi,” 71 – 76).
25. The preface to Asatsuna’s Wachū setsuin (939), a now lost kanbun manual, opens as fol-
lows: “Now, the way of scholarship puts the composition of literature first. If you recite the
Classics, but do not learn to compose poetry, then you may be called a mere bookcase and you
will be useless.” Quoted in Sakumon daitai, 352.
26. Shōyūki, Chōwa 1 (1012) 7/17.
27. E.g., Konishi Jin’ichi, “Michi and Medieval Writing.”
28. See Robert N. Huey, “The Medievalization of Poetic Practice,” 651 – 652.
29. Makura no sōshi, 88, 137 – 138; Ivan Morris, The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, 1:91 – 92,
amended. The passage echoes another section in The Pillow Book, one that betrays Sei
Shōnagon’s familiarity with literati views of the canon, although, interestingly, she mentions
only prose genres as important Japanese writings in Chinese: “Texts in Chinese are: Bai Juyi’s
collected works, Wenxuan, new-style poetic expositions, Records of the Grand Historian, An-
nals of the Five Emperors, religious dedications, petitions to the throne, formal requests drawn
up by learned professors” (Makura no sōshi, 211, 249).
30. Tametoki’s poem to the Song merchant is Honchō reisō, no. 131. Zhou’s reply is no. 132.
Honchō reisō kanchū, 323 – 326. Zhou was shipwrecked on the Japanese coast and was forced
to stay in Japan for seven years.
31. Tanahashi Mitsuo, Ōchō no shakai, 120 – 121. One more example would be Akazome
Emon, the alleged author of Eiga monogatari, who married Ōe no Masahira. For further de-
tails on women authors and their learned fathers, see Mostow, “Mother Tongue and Father
32. Takemura Shinji, “Chūshaku no genjutsu,” 113 – 114.
33. The Kangakuin was one of several clan-run institutions that started out as combined
dormitories and cram schools for students at the State Academy, but gradually evolved into
semi-independent colleges. Other private schools also existed.
34. On the State Academy, see Borgen, Sugawara no Michizane, 71 – 88; Ury, “Chinese
Learning and Intellectual Life,” 367 – 375; Momo Hiroyuki, Jōdai gakusei no kenkyū; and Hi-
saki Yukio, Daigakuryō to kodai jukyō. I benefited from Robert Borgen’s personal communica-
tions as well.
35. For more detail, see Ury, “Chinese Learning and Intellectual Life,” 346 – 352.
36. For a partial English translation of the Mengqiu, see Burton Watson, Meng ch’iu.
37. Baiyong, which actually contains 120 poems, is an anthology of poems on simple topics,
by Li Jiao (644 – 713), a poet who excelled at the genre of poems about things (yongwu shi; J.
eibutsu shi).
The Way of the Literati  |  125

38. For a translation of Wakan rōeishū, see Rimer and Chaves, Japanese and Chinese Poems
to Sing. For general background, see Ivo Smits, “Song as Cultural History”; for use of Wakan
rōeishū as illustrative of Heian calligraphic and discursive space, see LaMarre, Uncovering
Heian Japan, 116 – 139.
39. See David McMullen, State and Scholars in T’ang China, 207. I am indebted to Dr. Oliver
Moore, Leiden University, for a stimulating discussion on Tang examinations.
40. See also Momo, Jōdai gakusei no kenkyū, 87 – 92; and Ury, “Chinese Learning and
Intellectual Life,” 370. Such terms as governor seem to have usually been absentee (yōnin)
41. For Tokimune’s controversial poem and the relevant letters by his examiners, parts of
which are quoted in the paragraphs below, see Honchō monzui 7:232 – 240, nos. 176 – 179; and
Gonki, Chōtoku 3 (997) 7/19. See also Honchō monzui chūshaku, ed. Kakimura Shigematsu,
960 – 1002; Kawaguchi Hisao, Heian chō Nihon kanbungaku shi no kenkyū, 535 – 536; Ōsone
Shūsuke, Nihon kanbungaku ronshū, 2:322 – 323; Kinpara Tadashi, Heian chō kanshibun no
kenkyū, 345 – 351, 354 – 390; and Ceugniet, L’office des études supérieures, 30 – 33.
42. In Honchō reisō kanchū, Yanagisawa Ryōichi (392) suggests that Tokimune was born
about 985. If true, he would have been about thirteen when he took his exam, which is pro-
hibitively young although there is historical evidence that some boys from scholarly families
started learning to compose kanshi at a very early age.
43. Examination poems, and therefore most poetry examples in manuals, consisted of
five-character verses (gogonshi), whereas the majority of eleventh-century kanshi are seven-
character verses (shichigonshi). In other words, in practice Heian poets composed lines of
seven characters, while the State Academy program held on to the old ideal of five characters
per line. It is a common discrepancy between the classroom and the world outside it.
44. For Masahira, see also Francine Hérail, “Un lettré à la cour de l’empereur Ichijō”; Kawa-
guchi, Heian chō Nihon kanbungaku shi no kenkyū, 572 – 589; and Ōsone, Nihon kanbungaku
ronshū, 2:315 – 342.
45. Nihon kiryaku, Chōtoku 2 (996) 12/26. The Tiantai monk Yuan Qing had arrived in Japan
in 995 to request from the chief Tendai abbott (zasu) Senga copies of Buddhist texts no longer
preserved in China. The nature of the court’s reply to him is unknown.
46. For Tadana, see Kawaguchi, Heian chō Nihon kanbungaku shi no kenkyū, 533 – 542; and
Kinpara, Heian chō kanshibun no kenkyū, 324 – 352. In 1000 Michinaga was given a copy of
Fusōshū by Tadana’s widow. The general assumption is that Michinaga later presented this
anthology to the throne (Midō kanpaku ki, Chōhō 2 [1000] 2/21).
47. The expression comes from Han Feizi (third century B.C.) and was popular with scholars
throughout East Asia.
48. “To enter the Dragon Gate” referred to success at the examinations.
49. Ōsone, Nihon kanbungaku ronshū, 2:323.
50. Honchō monzui 7:232 – 240, nos. 176 – 179; Chōya gunsai, 13:276 – 278.
51. Masafusa’s interviewer, Fujiwara no Sanekane, added, “It is not just Tadana’s poetry, he also
embellishes his prose with bits from old collections.” Masafusa talks about Tadana’s bun and
ku, meaning prose and verse with rhyme (in), whereas Sanekane’s comment refers to Tadana’s
hitsu or rhymeless prose. The distinction between rhyming and rhymeless was perhaps more
important than such categories as “poetry” and “prose” (Gōdanshō 5:204, 535, no. 62).
52. It would seem that ke (informal) did not function as a category equal to hare (formal) in
Heian Japan. One could speak about formal poems (hare no uta) but not about informal poems
(ke no uta). For the late Heian period, this argument is made persuasively by Nishiki Hitoshi
in “Insei ki utaawase no kōzō to hōhō,” 27 – 29.
126  |  ivo smits

53. Chōya gunsai, 13:270 – 273. For more detail, see Horikawa Takashi, “Shi no katachi, shi
no kokoro,” 121 – 126.
54. For an excellent overview of sekiten in Nara and Heian Japan and the Chinese poems
composed at banquets following the ritual, see I. J. McMullen, “The Worship of Confucius in
Ancient Japan.”
55. With “study groups” I do not mean the more or less formalized gatherings to encourage
learning (kangakue). I am thinking of more informal and loosely organized gatherings, often
at someone’s home and at times including no more than three or four people. These meetings
generally belong to the dokusho (reading) category.
56. The Kitano Shrine, immediately northwest of the capital, was founded in 947 as a place
where Tenjin, the deified Michizane, could be worshiped. The Kichijōin was built in 881 by
Michizane in memory of his father Koreyoshi (812 – 880). In 1066 (some sources have 934) a
new Tenjin Hall was added to the Kichijōin (var. Kisshōin), where one could worship Mich-
izane. This hall was commonly referred to as Tenjin Gyodō or Seibyō. See Borgen, Sugawara
no Michizane, 308 – 326.
57. The kangakue, first organized by Yoshishige Yasutane (931? – 1002) between 964 and
986 but resuscitated and organized until 1122, were Dharma gatherings (hōe), at which literati
discussed matters of faith with monks and read Buddhist scriptures; afterward, poems on
religious topics were composed.
58. This was the same examination, the difference being that when it was held at the Suzaku-
in, the emperor was present to hand out the topic for the poem and students were rowed to an
island in the middle of the pond for poetry composition.
59. Sometimes an even finer distinction was followed. Topics consisting of four characters
were called hikudai, reserving mudai for topics of six or seven characters. See the definition
in the Ōtaku fukatsushō (1276)‚ a kanbun treatise by the Shingon monk Ryōki.
60. Sakumon daitai, 365. Several anthologies of poem prefaces, both for kanshi and waka,
were compiled from the twelfth century onward. To name but three that are extant: Fusō
kobunshū (Collection of Japanese Old Prose, mid-twelfth century), Honchō shōjoshū (Small
Prefaces of Our Court, date unknown), and Shijoshū (Collection of Poem Prefaces, shortly after
1132, comp. Fujiwara no Atsumitsu, 1063 – 1144).
61. Tanahashi, Ōchō no shakai, 121 – 127.
62. Sakeiki, Chōgen 7 (1034) 11/25, 12/9. See also Naumann, “Enzyklopädische und eman-
zipatorische Züge,” 453. In general on Akihira, see Ōsone, Ōchō kanbungaku ronkō, 18 – 55.
63. A German translation is available in Hagen Blau, Sarugaku und Shushi, 333 – 358. Saru-
gaku (lit. “monkey music”) was a form of popular entertainment that seems to have combined
dancing, acrobatics, singing, and skits. Akihira’s “Account,” however, is not about sarugaku
itself but about the people who come to watch it. They are a blend of low-ranking courtiers
and commoners. The name Uemon no jō (lit. “Captain of the Right Gate Guards,” a post open
for those of sixth or fifth court rank) and the positions of some of his kin suggest the man has
a low-rank courtier background.
64. Honchō monzui 1, no. 18, and 9, 132 – 272, nos. 237 and 238. For a similar observation, see
Jacqueline Pigeot, Femmes galantes, femmes artistes, 58.
65. Kanke bunsō, 200 – 209. NKBT 72:259 – 265. For a translation of this sequence, see Bur-
ton Watson, Japanese Literature in Chinese, 1:93 – 94; and Borgen, Sugiwara no Michijane,
187 – 188.
66. Also known as Meikō ōrai (Akihira’s Model Correspondence). The two letters in question
are nos. 117 and 118. See Unshū shōsoku, 173 – 175.
67. See, for example, Midō kanpaku ki, Kenkō 1 (1004) 9/7: the famous calligrapher Fujiwara
no Yukinari (972 – 1027) brings Michinaga “the first book of the ballads” that he has copied
The Way of the Literati  |  127

out. Eight days later he brings Michinaga the second book, so that now Michinaga has the
complete set of Bai’s new ballads.
68. Regent Fujiwara no Tadamichi (1097 – 1164) organized such a study session, which re-
sulted in a small series of Bai Juyi imitations in shi form. Hosshōji dono gyoshū, 254 – 255, nos.
85 – 89; Ivo Smits, “Reading the New Ballads,” 175 – 182. In his Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idle-
ness), Kenkō (1283 – 1352) mentions one of these xinyuefu study sessions hosted by Emperor
Go-Toba (1180 – 1239; r. 1183 – 1198). Tsurezuregusa, 226: 271 – 272.
69. Chūyūki, Kajō 2 (1107) 3/30; Marian Ury, “The Ōe Conversations,” 359. Ury quotes this
passage in reference to what was to become Gōdanshō, but I would suggest that it has broader
implications, extending to Masafusa’s records of unusual practices and people.
70. E.g., Roppyakuban utaawase (ca. 1194). The topics for nos. 1141 – 1202 are “Love for
courtesans,” “Love for kugutsu,” “Love for divers,” “Love for woodcutters,” and “Love for
71. For a more detailed case study of how late Heian kanshi poets used the intratextual
poetics of the xinyuefu and explored the social margin as subject matter, see my “Reading the
New Ballads.”
72. Honchō monzui, 12, no. 377; SNKBT 27:337 – 339, or NKBT 69:429 – 436 (annotated yo-
mikudashi edition). The only studies that make any use of Tettsui den at all are Naumann,
“Enzyklopädische und emanzipatorische Züge,” 455 – 460; Ōsone, Ōchō kanbungaku ronkō,
137 – 138; and Tanahashi Mitsuo, Kodai to chūsei no hazama de, 39 – 57, 64. Burton Watson
characterized this work thus: “Interesting as it may be in conception, it turns out to be one
of the most tedious works of pornography in all literature.” Watson, Japanese Literature in
Chinese, 1:53; also quoted in Donald Keene, Seeds in the Heart, 348. Kakimura Shigematsu
(1879 – 1931) was apparently so scandalized by Tettsui den, as well as Danjo kon’in no fu (see
text below), that he omitted them altogether from his 1922 edition of Honchō monzui.
73. Heian scholars were aware of the existence of erotic literature in China. They preserved
the oldest known example from Tang China, You xianku (A Dalliance in the Immortals’ Den,
J. Yū senkutsu), a text from the 690s that “engages in a sort of literary and sexual boasting in
front of a male audience,” to quote Paul Rouzer. For a discussion and translation, see Paul
Rouzer, Articulated Ladies, 204 – 216, 313 – 354. However, while You xianku’s vocabulary may
have influenced certain Heian poems, it does not seem to have affected the more explicit
parodies treated here.
74. Honchō monzui, NKBT 69:430.
75. Dōjō hōshi den (Biography of the Priest Dōjō) by Miyako no Yoshika (834 – 879) retells the
story of the miraculous Dōjō, a monk of Gangoji in Nara, who was famous for his incredible
strength. The story also appears in Nihon ryōiki (1, no. 3) and seems to be part of a cycle of
legends from Owari Province.
76. By the looks of it, Akihira’s inventive streak did not extend to waka. Two conventional
waka by him were posthumously included in the fourth imperial anthology, Goshūishū (Later
Collection of Gleanings, 1086; nos. 166 and 423).
77. Honchō monzui, 1:15; SNKBT 27:130 – 131 (see NKBT 69:340 – 344, for an annotated yo-
mikudashi version); Watson, Japanese Literature in Chinese, 1:53 – 56.
78. Insui kōi kōkō (Honchō zoku monzui, 11:726). “Kōkō” might also be read “Takakari,” and
some hold that it actually refers to someone’s name. However, it is more likely a question of
word play. On the one hand, the word kōkō (Ch. gao hong) suggests a Chinese name, such as
Chen Hong (fl. ca. 813), the author of Changhen ge zhuan, a prose version of Bai Juyi’s “Song
of Endless Sorrow.” After all, kōi (captain) was an office in the ancient Chinese bureaucracy.
Another association might be with the term kōju, which refers to a gifted Confucian scholar.
On a different linguistic level, kō (or kari) is the equivalent of gan (or kari, “goose”), which
128  |  ivo smits

was an abbreviation for gantō (or karikubi in Edo texts), “goose head,” meaning the glans of a
penis. E.g., Tettsui den, NKBT 69:435, 436; Shin sarugakuki, 146, 305 (“his glans is raised high,”
echoing the pseudonym Takakari/Kōkō).
79. Honchō monzui, 1, no. 41, SNKBT 27:135 (see NKBT 69:359 – 363, for an annotated yomi-
kudashi version); Watson, Japanese Literature in Chinese, 1:65 – 67.
80. Genji monogatari, vol. 1; NKBT 14:83; Royall Tyler, trans., The Tale of Genji, 34.
81. Donald Keene stresses a dichotomy between waka, in which longing is expressed “so in-
direct that its erotic aspects might pass unnoticed,” and poetry in Chinese as the only language
available for explicit erotica. Keene, Seeds in the Heart, 346 – 347, 348.
82. Tosa nikki, 38; for a somewhat restrained translation, see Helen Craig McCullough,
Classical Japanese Prose, 83 – 84.
6  d   Edward Kamens

Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture

n Murasaki Shikibu’s semiprivate living quarters (ca. 1008 – 1010), there 
were two cupboards. One was “crammed to bursting point” with “old
poems and tales” (furu uta, monogatari); the other was full of miscella-
neous Chinese books (fumi domo) left to her by her late husband. It was to
the latter, she reports in her diary, that she was drawn in those times when idle-
ness weighed upon her (tsurezure semete amarinuru toki): “Whenever my loneli-
ness threatens to overwhelm me, I take out one or two of them to look at; but my
women gather together behind by back. ‘It’s because you go on like this that you
are so miserable. What kind of lady is it who reads Chinese books?’ (nadeu onna
ka mannabumi wa yomu).”1 The lady in question had in fact, according to her
own account, been reading Chinese texts since childhood, but, in anticipation of
such censure, had long “avoided writing the simplest character.”2 And at yet other
times when she sought distraction from her personal woes (mi no usa), she says,
she had done so in the reading and rereading of monogatari — perhaps including
her own, The Tale of Genji.3
From just such frequently cited passages as these, in a variety of literary texts
of the Heian period, scholars have constructed an image of cultural practices
configured by conspicuous borders that barred or at least strongly deterred
women from encounters with “Chinese” texts, while men remained free to move
at will across and among a variety of textual domains. Such passages, juxta-
posed and contextualized in various ways, give support to the notion that Heian
women were discouraged, and even discouraged one another, from reading Chi-
nese texts. Other passages, almost always including the deliberately playful gen-
der masquerade with which Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa nikki (ca. 930) begins, have
provided the basis for the perception that Heian women were likewise barred
from, or barred themselves from, the writing of Chinese texts as well. And yet
there are many well-known exceptions that complicate this picture. One good
example is the Great Kamo Priestess (Daisaiin) Senshi’s preface to her collection
of Buddhist poems in Japanese, Hosshin wakashū (dated 1012), in which, writing
in Chinese, she nevertheless cites her sense of alienation from “Chinese letters”
(kanji) — as well as Sanskrit writing (bongo) — as the reason for her choice of
“the thirty-one-syllable Japanese poem” (sanjūichiji no uta) to serve as her votive
medium.4 To my knowledge, no one has ever seriously suggested that Senshi is
not the author of this preface, or that its juxtaposition of languages is aberrant or
accidental; rather, along with the many quotations from Buddhist scripture — in
Chinese, of course — that stand beside her poems in the Hosshin wakashū text,
130  |  edward kamens

these multiple languages coexist in the space of this one work, performing their
respective, complementary roles and interacting to form multiple tiers of signi-
fication.5 This juxtaposition may provide us with another telling model for the
mid-Heian period’s textual terrain.
Relatively recent historical conditions, some of which shall be discussed below
and which are also discussed in the essay by Ivo Smits, have placed Japanese
writings (wabun, kana bungaku), especially those by women, at the center of
most conventional perceptions of Heian literary culture, with Chinese writings
(kanbun) at the periphery — a construction that in many ways runs counter to
historical reality, insofar as we are able to recover it through the reading of texts
themselves. The purpose of this essay is to complicate this model further, to show
its limitations, and to offer some alternative ways of perceiving how the literary
terrain of mid-Heian Japan was encountered, accessed, and in some cases altered
by at least some of the men and women who traversed it.
The art historian Chino Kaori often spoke and wrote about what she called
the “dual binary structure” of the culture of the Heian period. In her published
work and many lectures in Japan and abroad, Chino developed this conception
as a way of understanding how Chinese writing, Chinese painting, and other
cultural forms of continental origin found their places within the complex amal-
gam that we encounter as Heian court culture. Chino’s dual binary structure
was, for her, a way of analyzing some of the interactive relationships between
kara-e and yamato-e (“Chinese” or “Japanese” pictorial images and styles), kanji
and kana writings (that is, “Chinese” or “vernacular” orthographies), otoke-de and
onna-de (“male” or “female” calligraphy), hare/ke, omote/ura (“public” vs. “private”
or “outward” vs. “inward”) configurations, and much more.6 She also spoke and
wrote often of the existence of a “China within Japan,” a conception that in and
of itself complicates conventional notions of native and foreign, self and other,
center and periphery.7 While Chino is no longer with us to share what promised
to be a significant further development of her vision of Heian culture, particu-
larly in terms of the meaning of this dual binary structure in relation to issues of
gender, one particular statement she made in a workshop presentation at Harvard
University in September 2001 resonated powerfully at the time and provided me
with the point of departure for this discussion. As a way of illustrating the inter-
active role of Chinese writings within the broader scope of mid-Heian literary
culture, Chino noted that (and I paraphrase here), “Murasaki Shikibu and Sei
Shōnagon acted as if they did not know Chinese (shiranai furi o shite) [because
of the identification of Chinese writings with masculinity and officialdom], but
in fact their writings reveal the active presence of Chinese texts in their literary
experience.” Chino was of course not the first to remark upon the ways that the
authors of Genji monogatari, Murasaki Shikibu nikki, and Makura no sōshi (The
Tale of Genji, The Diary of Lady Murasaki, and The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon)
demonstrate that they did have extensive access to and a flexible command of an
array of canonical Chinese texts; it was simply her way of describing their some-
times coy denial of that knowledge (shiranai furi o shite) alongside their ample
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  131

demonstrations of a fairly sophisticated familiarity with Chinese writings that

struck such a vibrant chord with me.
I recall Chino’s formulation, for example, when reading the section of Makura
no sōshi that begins, “On the tenth day of each month the empress [Teishi] or-
dered that dedications of sūtras and of images be made on behalf of the late
chancellor” [her father, Fujiwara no Michitaka, 953 – 995] (kotono no ontame ni,
tsukigoto no towoka, kyau hotoke nado kuyau sesasetamahishi wo).8 This diary-
like episode relates that, after the memorial observance in the ninth month (four
months after Michitaka’s death in 995), some of the male participants remained
together to drink wine and recite Chinese poems (sake nomi, shi zuji nado suru
ni). When Sei Shōnagon and the empress heard one of them, Fujiwara no Tada­
nobu (967 – 1035), chant a brief line from a memorial Chinese verse composed by
Sugawara no Fumitoki (899 – 981), a Japanese poet of an earlier generation, they
showered Tadanobu with lavish praise for his strikingly adept and appropriate
quotation: “It was splendid, and I wondered how he could have thought of such an
appropriate passage” (hata imijiu medetashi, ikade sa ha omohiidetamahikemu),
exclaims Shōnagon. The empress concurred: “Wasn’t he magnificent,” she said.
“Those lines were just right for the occasion” (medetashi na. imijiu kehu no reu
ni ihitarikeru koto ni koso are).
  Tadanobu could not have won such praise had his citation of the verse in ques-
tion (“Where is he now/when moon and autumn have returned at the appointed
time?” tsuki, aki to ki shite mi izuku ka) not been readily recognized, not only
by the gentlemen in attendance but also by the women listening to them. Thus,
it is clear that this verse — and perhaps the entirety of Fumitoki’s poem, com-
posed on the first anniversary of the death of Fujiwara no Koretada (or Koremasa,
924 – 972) — was locatable in a terrain of text shared by both the men and women
present on this occasion. In the Makura no sōshi telling of this episode, there
is no obstacle delaying or deterring Teishi’s or Shōnagon’s access to the signifi-
cance of Tadanobu’s utterance. One man’s words of lamentation are instanta-
neously recognized, when repeated by another, by the person to whom they are
likely to mean the most — the mourning Teishi — and by her literary companion
Shōnagon as well. Nothing impedes the communication intended here; no one
need pretend that they do not understand. The resonance of Tadanobu’s utter-
ance was no doubt further enhanced by the fact that the esteemed Koretada was
Michitaka’s (and Tadanobu’s) paternal uncle; and Shōnagon’s inclination to praise
Tadanobu was no doubt at least partly grounded in her amatory relationship with
him — the somewhat troubled course of which becomes the topic of the remain-
der of this section. So Tadanobu’s timely and adroit quotation impressed not only
as a sign of his literary acumen but also as a sign of his political astuteness and
because of the personal regard of at least one of his listeners — here, the one who
is telling us this anecdote.
Tadanobu serves extraordinarily well as an example of an historical figure ac-
tive in the intercultural and multilingual textual field or terrain of these times.
As we can sense from this anecdote, this field found form and expression not
132  |  edward kamens

only in the medium of written and read text but in orally uttered and heard text
as well. Tadanobu’s literary activities, engaged in not as excursions or diversions
from his court duties but as inherent extensions of them and as formalizations
of his political and social relationships, range widely across this field in a man-
ner that I think should be seen as normative. His dexterity in moving across this
panorama of forms, languages, and contexts should not be seen as anomalous
but rather as illustrative of the open, interactive, cross-referencing field of activ-
ity engaged with and accessed in various ways by both men and (at least some)
women of the time. Like some other figures of his time, such as Fujiwara no
Kintō (966 – 1041) — who also appears from time to time in literary interactions
conducted in multiple languages with women such as Murasaki Shikibu and Sei
Shōnagon in their own writings — Tadanobu emerges as, among other things, a
mediator across and among literary practices and gendered spheres of cultural
action. For reasons that have to do with the ways that the canon of classical Japa-
nese literature has been constructed over time (for the most part, in relatively
recent time), as shall be discussed below, it is Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shōnagon
who are almost always treated as the exemplary producers and shapers of the
literary culture of the mid-Heian period; but men such as Tadanobu, who inter-
acted with them in that same literary terrain and freely traversed what we often
think of as its demarcated sectors, need to be returned to this picture.
An examination of Tadanobu’s writings in a variety of forms, languages, and
contexts — not only his kanshi (poems in Chinese) and kanbun (Chinese prose)
prefaces (in Honchō monzui, a compendium of Chinese writings by Japanese
authors assembled no later than 1066, and Honchō reisō, a kanshi anthology com-
piled ca. 1007 – 1008) but also some examples of his Japanese poems composed
in a variety of hare (public) settings, such as for poetry contests (utaawase), for
inscription on painted screens (byōbu uta), to commemorate imperial progresses
(miyuki), and to contribute to Buddhist devotional offerings (shakkyōka) — serves
a number of useful purposes. Foremost, we see here an array of sectors of the
intercultural and multilingual literary field, and we can question whether any
of these sectors should properly be characterized as central or peripheral. An
assessment of the range in the oeuvre of this one figure can also help shift some
of our perceptions of the norms of literary culture in the Heian world: we can
see how frequently literary production took place in relatively impersonal, pro-
grammed settings, rather than in private, reflective circumstances. Finally, the
coexistence of multiple literary languages in this field, seen and heard by men
and women alike, suggests that a relatively open, permeable, and multifaceted
collective literary discourse was characteristic of these times. This picture differs
considerably from the one that emerges from our conventional regard for kana
writings (for the most part, women’s writings) as the central paradigms of Heian
literary culture. I will examine some of the reasons for the durability of this bias
toward the female kana canon, but through this study, I hope to suggest some
new ways that we might picture to ourselves a much more variegated horizon of
literary textuality in Heian court culture circa 1000.
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  133

Reconfiguring the Terrain

There is nothing all that new in arguing along the lines that I am suggesting;
rather, it is a question of where and how we place our focus and emphasis. In her
chapter “Chinese Intellectual Life” for the Heian Japan volume of The Cambridge
History of Japan, Marian Ury wrote, “A view that is fortunately losing currency
among Western students of Japan holds that to the Japanese the Chinese lan-
guage remained permanently alien.”9 She went on to document in ample detail
Chinese learning was both assimilated and appropriated into the indigenous
culture. As a separate cultural tradition or gathering of traditions, however,
Chinese learning became itself a Japanese tradition. Reified, it was possessed,
transmitted, hoarded, honored, displayed, boasted of, cultivated, and lamented
when it failed to flourish. It came to have its own patriarchs, a history, and cu-
riosities. The most appropriate metaphor might be that of a fund of intellectual
capital, consisting of the segment of Heian Japan’s intellectual inheritance that
depended directly on the use of the Chinese language and education in Chi-
nese books. Originally brought in from abroad, it still received supplements
from abroad, though in reduced number, but during the Heian era it can also
be seen replenishing itself from its own resources.10
The managers of this “fund of intellectual capital” were of course male, and Ury
discusses many of them and their works, but she does not concern herself with
the issue of women’s access to or alienation from this resource. Yet the identifica-
tion of specific textual territories as the domains of almost exclusively male or
female readers or writers has been a long-standing tenet of writing about Heian
literary culture — and it is one that has come under increasing scrutiny in recent
years, as gender-based criticism has been brought to bear upon established as-
sumptions, models, and modes of reading of the Heian textual corpus. A good
example of scholarship in this contemporary vein can be found in the work of
Tomiko Yoda.11 On the subject of the linkage of specific orthographies to the
respective genders and to national origins, she observes,
The assumption of the neat division between kana-feminine-Japanese versus
mana-masculine-Chinese in Heian court society has stimulated debates that
pit one against the other — for instance, asking which of the two ultimately
represents the essence of Heian aristocratic culture. Such an inquiry, how-
ever, precludes the possibility that multiple cultural values and logic may have
operated in Heian court society without necessarily constituting a sharp di-
chotomy. The multivalent approach to Heian culture is suggested here not so
much to recuperate it as an idealized field of free-floating plurality but as a
starting point for exploring its historical specificity in a more nuanced and
methodologically self-conscious manner.12
The evidence available to us is indeed unlikely to yield a representation of the
Heian literary terrain as a “field of free-floating plurality,” but neither does it sup-
134  |  edward kamens

port an uninflected account of insurmountable categories or sectors that could

never be broached, from either side. Yoda concurs with Thomas LaMarre, who,
she says, “approaches Heian discursive space in general as being comprised of
multiple styles and variations in which yamato and kara modes overlap, double,
and hybridize with each other.”13 In that spirit, she argues that
whatever the exact nature of mana taboo [by which term she refers to docu-
mented examples of women’s avoidance of use of the “Chinese” mana orthog-
raphy], it did not operate as an absolute prohibition; neither could women’s
relation to Chinese letters be characterized as that of clear segregation. What
women did experience, it seems, was the pressure to feign a certain distance
and unfamiliarity with that part of their own world.14
This feigning is of course the shiranai furi of Chino’s more informal discussion
of the same matter. Yoda also asks, “When women were told to stay away from
mana, were they prohibited from Chinese language or from Chinese script?”15 In
other words, if such a taboo existed, did it operate in visual fields only, in prac-
tices of reading and writing, or did it extend into oral and aural practices? The
evidence that I will discuss below, from some of Tadanobu’s interactions with
literate women courtiers, suggests that rōei, the voiced performance of verse, was
one especially significant oral and aural medium for shared encounters with and
appreciation of Chinese texts — both those composed in China and by Japanese
writers using Chinese — by both men and women. But in almost every known
instance of such sharing, males were the ones doing the singing, and women
were listening, recognizing, critiquing, and enjoying. This does not necessarily
mean that men were at the center of this practice and women on its periphery;
it may have been the opposite, but a more helpful characterization might see
rōei performance as a space occupied by participants with multiple roles — males
vocally activating texts, women (when present) joining with other men in the
appreciation of the musical effects as well as the textual significations, admiring
of the taste and skill of the performers, but not even feigning distance from the
text or its performance.
This is just one way in which the model of center and periphery seems helpful
as a starting point for reconsideration of text and gender interrelationships in
Heian culture, but having begun our inquiries in this way, we soon see the need
to move beyond this spatial conceptualization toward more-subtle characteriza-
tions of the historical phenomena that are our objects of study. Such spatial con-
ceptualizations of the relative significance, dominance, prestige, and influence
of specific textual languages and their associated genres, and the gender of their
practitioners, lie at the core of most accounts of Heian literary history and often
guide readings of the texts themselves; but for this very reason these received
conceptualizations deserve to be questioned anew. Very different and, I think,
more historically accurate conceptualizations take shape when we read the texts
in question with some skepticism about these presuppositions and biases, which
of course have their own historicity.
That historicity is explored in another revisionist study, Kurozumi Makoto’s
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  135

“Kangaku: Writing and Institutional Authority,” available in both Japanese and

English.16 From the outset, Kurozumi announces, “I intend to show that while
kanbun and kana are often thought of as antithetical writing systems, with their
respective disciplines and canons in competition with each other, they were in
fact closely interrelated, as were kangaku and kana-based disciplines.”17 He ex-
plicitly contests the placement of vernacular kana texts at the literary “center”:

[H]iragana literature (waka collections from the Kokinshū on, women’s diaries
and monogatari) began appearing in the mid-Heian period in the tenth and
eleventh centuries. While this development deserves attention, its importance
has been exaggerated, creating the mistaken impression that the Japanese lan-
guage of the Heian period was centered on hiragana-based documents and
that this constituted the main stream of linguistic culture.18

Kurozumi challenges the tendency to focus attention exclusively on vernacular

works of the Heian age (which by and large we associate with female writers
and readers), reading them in isolation from or as contestations of the Chinese/
male literary domains. In this configuration, which is largely a product of early- 
modern and modern ideologically driven canonization processes, women’s ver-
nacular works and those written later in the genres that they putatively estab-
lished are placed at the center, and Chinese writings are of course dismissed
to the margins.19 For the Heian period, at least, Kurozumi argues instead for
recognition of “a general trend toward linguistic and cultural syncretism, a Japa-
nese/Chinese (wakan) fusion.”20 This syncretism is not a bland abstraction: it
was realized in the oral and aural registers activated in the complex dynamics of
Heian reading and writing practices and in a “linguistic consciousness which val-
ued both Chinese and Japanese and promoted contact and fusion with Chinese
from within Japanese.”21 I see this notion of “contact and fusion with Chinese
from within Japanese” as a good model for rethinking such things as the dynam-
ics of Heian women’s contact with Chinese texts, which at least some of them
encountered at times as written texts but perhaps even more often as articulated,
verbalized texts, made audible and active in a variety of settings in the complex
amalgam of Heian court culture.22
Furthermore, Kurozumi asserts that the tendency to treat the tenth-century
vernacular literary monuments (the Kokin wakashū and The Tale of Genji) as
the exemplary literary productions of the time and to take their depictions of
court society as the only valid images of the past “emerged later, as a contrast to
the fierce image of the warriors who had seized power. This perception began to
circulate during the Muromachi period after the study of Heian waka and mono-
gatari had become the object of highly retrospective classical study.”23 And in an
essay in the same volume, Tomi Suzuki goes on to chronicle the latter stages of
the canonization process that ultimately placed kana writings at the center:
Heian kana literature, long associated with femininity, was designated [from
the 1890s onward] the basis of “national literature” as a result of the phonocen-
tric notion of “national language” (kokugo) that emerged in close relationship
136  |  edward kamens

with the genbun-itchi (union of spoken and written languages) movement and
that increasingly stressed direct and unmediated expression. In this newly
constructed body of “national literature,” from which all the texts written in
kanbun, or classical Chinese, were eliminated, Heian waka, especially the
Kokinshū — a canonical text for a thousand years — were devalued because
they were not considered to be direct, unmediated expression.24

One element of Suzuki’s argument that is particularly important here is the no-
tion that waka could be and has been critiqued in terms of the extent of its per-
ceived “direct, unmediated” qualities or lack thereof. For better and for worse,
this tenet has indeed often guided readings of waka, which are all too often as-
sumed ipso facto to be lyrical expressions that pour forth in unmediated surges
from the poet’s heart (kokoro). Scholarly considerations of aspects of poetry that
do not meet this criterion or fit this model are all too often pushed to or beyond
the margins of consideration. One of my purposes here, in examining the oeuvre
of Tadanobu, is to emphasize the extent to which this privileging of an ahistorical
ideology of poetic composition has skewed many representations of waka com-
positional practice and caused it to be treated in isolation from other text-making
and text-activating practices such as quotation, citation, and chanting. When
judged from his extant works and descriptions of his activities, Tadanobu turns
out to be a good example of a literary practitioner whose text-making and text-
citing activities (in both Chinese and Japanese) more often than not transpired in
specific social settings governed by programmatic protocols — which means that
his texts are not so much expressions as performances of expression.25

Kanshi and Waka no jo

Tadanobu was the second son of Fujiwara no Tamemitsu (942 – 992), who was
chancellor (daijō daijin) from 970 to his death in 992. His paternal uncles Kore-
tada, Kanemichi (925 – 977), and Kaneie (929 – 990) all served as sesshō (regent for
child emperor) or kanpaku (regent for adult emperor) or both. Kishi (969 – 985),
his younger sister by the same mother, became Emperor Kazan’s junior consort
(nyōgo) but died shortly thereafter from complications of pregnancy. These and
other bloodlines and marriage ties placed him at what we might think of as the
center of court society, although neither he nor his father achieved the highest
levels of office or wielded real political power. Tadanobu rose to the office of
dainagon (grand councillor) in 1010, after serving for a decade as master of the
household (chūgū daifu) to Ichijō’s consort Fujiwara no Shōshi (later known as
Jōtōmon’in, 988 – 1074). His career and the scope of his social and literary activi-
ties followed much the same trajectory as that of three other leading noblemen
of his day — Fujiwara no Kintō, Minamoto no Toshikata (960 – 1027), and Fuji-
wara no Yukinari (972 – 1027). At his death at age sixty-nine, Tadanobu held the
senior second rank and was minbukyō (minister of popular affairs) in addition
to dainagon.
While both Tadanobu and his elder brother Sanenobu (964 – 1001) may have
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  137

received personal literary instruction from Minamoto no Tamenori, who is best

known as the author of Sanbōe and of Kuchizusami, the latter a learning guide
for Sanenobu,26 no details of Tadanobu’s formal education are known.27 We can
only assume that he was well prepared to take part in the literary activities that
were a feature of many social gatherings in the residences of the likes of Fujiwara
no Michinaga (966 – 1027) and his son and successor Yorimichi (990 – 1074) or
in the royal palace or other royal residences. He is known to have participated in
at least twenty-six gatherings at which the composition of Chinese verse was a
major feature, and almost all of these took place in the palace, at one or another
of Michinaga’s residences, or at Yorimichi’s Uji residence.28 Culled from these
occasions, a total of sixteen of his kanshi and one preface (jo) in Chinese, intro-
ducing a collection of commemorative waka (see below), survive in various col-
lections.29 The following poem, composed at a gathering at Michinaga’s residence
on the twenty-fourth day of the third month of 1006, is one of three produced
on this occasion included in Honchō reisō (the others are by Kintō and Ōe no
Michinao [n.d., active ca. 1012 – 1017]).30 The five-character topic was “Flowers
and birds are spring’s treasures” (kachō wa shun no shicho tari):
kachō wa izure no hi yori ka kokin ni kikoyu,
  When were the praises of flowers and birds first sung? Who first said,
haru no shicho tarite sengin ni masaru to.
  “They are spring’s treasures, worth more than a thousand pieces of gold”?
tsumu mo masa ni yoku fūzen no iro wo chirasubeku,
  Yet spring does not hoard its flowers — it scatters their colors before the  
musaboru mo rotei no ne o aitsutaen to hossu.
  It does not simply revel in its birds — it sends their songs echoing under  
   covers of dew.
taikei no yoryō no gotoshi sangatsu no go,
  So third-month songs at dusk are a late spring bonus;
kōjun no seikei no gotoshi ichien no shin.
  a colorful garden at month’s end is extra salary.
koko yori omoietari hinso ni arazarukoto wo,
  And so, I tell myself, I am in no sense poor,
dogi ni au goto ni suigin wo hoshiimama ni sura wa31
  and whenever I find myself in blessed surroundings such as these, I give  
   myself up to drink and song.
We can treat this poem as a typical example of those that capable kanshi poets
could produce to meet the expectations of social gatherings presided over by the
politically powerful and at which both semiprofessional poet-scholars (such as
Michinao and Masahira) and amateur but nevertheless accomplished practition­
ers (such as Tadanobu and Kintō) were present. Tadanobu expatiates upon the
topic (dai) in a manner that serves not so much to express a personal perspective
as to shape the poem-making act itself as a compliment to the host. He makes
a gracious gesture of gratitude for being present and returns the favor with the
138  |  edward kamens

production of a text that modestly celebrates its own capacity to reactivate the
cadences of its own highly conventional form. We see this poem as a fragment of
a specific moment of social interaction, but it also quietly insinuates itself into a
much larger corpus of poems that looked and sounded much like it, and thereby
fulfills its primary task.
A task of quite another sort is addressed in another example of Tadanobu’s
surviving kanshi. The Shingon abbot Ninkai (951 – 1046) was called upon in the
summer of 1033, as on several other occasions, to conduct rites for rain during a
particularly fierce drought. When he was apparently successful, Tadanobu was
one of several courtiers commissioned to write poems in praise of his powers.
den’en kansō shite imada sōsei sezu,  
  The fields were sere, no living thing could grow;
takaku shinkin wo ugokashite koku wo inoru sei ari.  
  This caused His Majesty to be gravely concerned and inspired his  
   supplications for good crops.
Anokudatsu no nami haruka ni sawagu nochi,  
  After the waves on Lake Anavatapata had beat loudly on those distant  
Jōrin’en no tsuki hajimete kumoru hodo.  
  And once the moon had begun to pass through clouds over  
yūun tareshikite ten munashiku . . . nari
  Heavy clouds lowered, draping the heavens . . . 
kantaku amaneku hodokoshite chi . . . tairaka nari.
  And sweet rains nursed the earth in all directions.
hitori hazuraku wa chikagoro uruoi wo fukumu uchi
  Yet I alone am embarrassed, for during this time of gathering moisture
shika karetsukite in no osoku naru koto wo.33  
  My poems have dried up, my rhymes have been slow to come.
Flattering though this must have been to Ninkai — whose deeds had been deemed
efficacious, while Tadanobu chides himself for having had nothing to offer to-
ward the cause — the abbot was nevertheless peeved that more tangible forms of
reward for this and the previous year’s rainmaking were slow to come from the
authorities.34 Once again, it was Tadanobu, presumably in his official capacity as
dainagon, who composed the conciliatory response — in the form of yet another
kanshi and a waka as well.35
  Sketchy as the details of this episode may be, it serves to remind us that ex-
changes of poems sometimes had such practical uses as these. If this is indeed an
example of the administrative use of poetry, in this instance in communications
between the court and its commissioned subcontractor (a Shingon prelate in
his eighties with an impressive record of effective service as a thaumaturge)36 it
invites us to look for other examples that may in turn help us understand more
about the status of poetic language and poetic text with respect to other formal
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  139

languages used in official and semiofficial discourse. In other words, poetry will
appear to be a discourse that was at least at times available for or subject to in-
tegration with other languages, not relegated to a sphere defined as or restricted
as literary.
  It is in any case apparent that the composition of poetry, in Chinese or Japa-
nese and on some occasions both, was often an activity integrated with a wide
variety of court observances and rituals. Again, we might ask if the composition,
presentation, sharing, and subsequent preservation and circulation of poems had
more than a decorative function. That is, to what extent, and by what means,
did the inscription or utterance of poems in such settings become a virtually
necessary part of, rather than an ancillary coda to, these ritual activities? Such
questions are also pertinent in the following discussion of Tadanobu’s waka,
given what we know about the circumstances of composition of most of his ex-
tant Japanese poems. Here, we might also make note of a Chinese preface he
composed for preservation together with the waka written by himself and other
courtiers at a banquet held on the twenty-first day of the eleventh month of 1030,
on the day after the onhakamagi (first dressing in trousers) for Princess Shōshi,
the eldest daughter of Emperor Go-Ichijō and Michinaga’s daughter Ishi. The
ceremony took place when Shōshi was five years old, having been postponed
during the period of mourning following her grandfather Michinaga’s death in
the twelfth month of 1027.37 The rhetoric of such prefaces is invariably formal and
ingratiating, but this does not necessarily mean that there is no significance in
the fact that Tadanobu associates the royal princess who was the focus of these
celebrations with the seventh-century empresses Kōgyoku and Jitō. He points out
that these royal women were surrounded by worthy advisers who came to their
aid when destiny decreed that they serve as female sovereigns (ōjō or kōjō).38 The
implications as far as the child Shōshi is concerned seem far-fetched given the
political conventions of the period, but such aggrandizing rhetoric may at least
serve to mark the importance of what would otherwise be a more routine life
event for a royal daughter with maternal bloodlines connecting her to the most
powerful branch of the most powerful family in the land. It may also be signifi-
cant that this occasion — like so many others — was deliberately marked by the
production of texts in both Chinese (Tadanobu’s preface) and Japanese (his waka
and those by several others.)

Tadanobu’s waka composed at this post-hakamagi banquet is one of four repro-
duced in Eiga monogatari’s account of the event, and like the others — by Shōshi’s
adult uncles Yoshinobu (995 – 1065), Yorimichi, and Norimichi (997 – 1076) — it
activates time-hallowed figures of longevity on the royal child’s behalf:

watatsuumi no kame no senaka ni iru  

  May the years of your life
140  |  edward kamens

chiri no yama to narubeki kimi ga miyo ka na  

be as vast in number as that mountain of dust that builds up on the backs  
  of turtles in the sea!39

This is waka rhetoric deployed to make the requisite ingratiating courtly gesture:
Tadanobu senses the social and political expectation to respond in this man-
ner and avails himself of the conventions of poetic usage that have been used
many times before in similar ways (and that would be used in similar ways many
times again) to reaffirm his relationships to the parties concerned and demon-
strate anew his continuing capacity to perform in precisely this way. According
to the Eiga monogatari account, the poem making at the banquet got under way
when Go-Ichijō himself said, “Waka nado arubeshi” (There ought to be some
[Japanese] poems [at a gathering like this]).”40 This may mean not simply that
the making (and uttering) of poems was a fitting ancillary activity or an elegant
sideshow at the banquet, but that the occasion itself needed these quasi-liturgical 
recitations of new settings of old poetic figures to make it complete and to affirm
the participants’ sense of being present at an historically significant repetition of
time-honored practices. The recitation of poems with such familiar tropes would
serve to locate the occasion in a temporal continuum, and their subsequent re-
cording would help preserve collective memory of this particular occasion’s place
in time.
  One might make similar conjectures about the significance of many other in-
stances of public (hare) poetic productions. Within Tadanobu’s oeuvre, at least,
these are numerous, but in this respect he is typical of court poem makers of his
time, who frequently found themselves called upon or took the opportunity to
contribute to and commemorate an array of events with verses that were inte-
grated with the program for those events; their poems would subsequently serve
as part of the written record of the events that occasioned their production. (As
readers of Makura no sōshi know, this was a kind of poem making for which
Sei Shōnagon found herself temperamentally ill-suited.41) The program for some
such events might call for the production of poems to be integrated with the pro-
duction of paintings: byōbu (screen) and uta (poem) presentations accompanied
many important life-cycle events for royal women and noblewomen in particular.
This practice seems to have been entering a new stage of development during
Tadanobu’s time. When Michinaga presented his daughter Shōshi at the palace
as Emperor Ichijō’s consort in the tenth month of 999, he made a stir by commis-
sioning some of the highest-ranking men of the court, including Retired Emperor
Kazan, to compose the poems for her dowry screens, rather than consigning the
task to more ordinary court poets.42 Tadanobu’s contribution was a verse coordi-
nated with a section of the screen that depicted “a house surrounded by pine trees
where people were playing music on flutes” (Jōtōmon’in judai no toki, onbyōbu ni,
matsu aru ie ni fuefukiasobi shitaru hito aru tokoro wo yomihaberikeru):

fuetake no yofukaki koe zo kikoyu naru  

  The sound of the bamboo flute is heard deep in the night;
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  141

mine no matsukaze fuki ya souran  

  and is the wind from the pines on the peak joining in?43

The poem fulfills programmatic expectations: it activates the trope of conjoined

man-made and natural sounds to represent a semidivine music that cannot be
heard but that, through the medium of word and picture, becomes part of the
orchestration of festive airs that celebrate Shōshi’s marriage.
  Poetry competitions were important opportunities for courtiers such as
Tadanobu to practice and prepare for such performances. At such gatherings,
participants honed their skills in addressing set topics by deploying tried-and-
true tropes in new configurations, at the same time also satisfying the host’s
desire to demonstrate his or her capacity to orchestrate and facilitate the col-
lective display of these skills and to provide the setting in which these elegant
performances could be staged. Tadanobu made his first recorded appearance
at an utaawase at the age of twenty, in a contest held in the royal palace in the
sixth month of 986. His contribution for the team on the left tied with that of the
representative of the right, Fujiwara no Koreshige, in a round with the assigned
spring topic Warbler (uguisu):

[Shōshō Tadanobu (the left):]

kōritoku kaze no oto ni ya  
  Hearing the sound of the wind that melts the river’s ice
sugomoreru tani no uguisu haru wo shiruramu  
  the warbler that huddled in its nest in the valley must now have learned  
   that spring has come. 
[Koreshige (the right):]
uguisu no naku ne nodoka ni kikoyu nari  
  The warbler’s song falls gently upon the ear:
hana no negura mo ugokazarubeshi  
  its nest of blossoms must not have been disturbed.44

Tadanobu’s strategy was to activate a time-tested anthropomorphic trope — a

bird awakens and sings when it becomes aware of seasonal change — while Ko-
reshige deployed the conceit of the nest embedded in or made of flowers (hana
no negura). In the opinion of the unnamed judge, these were respectable perfor-
mances, neither outdoing the other. Expectations were fulfilled by both, if not
with particular distinction by either.
  Tadanobu’s only other known utaawase appearance occurred many years later,
in the tenth month of 1032, when Shōshi, as Jōtōmon’in, the dowager empress,
held a chrysanthemum contest (kikuawase) at Kayanoin, her brother Yorimichi’s
residence. This event took as its models several kikuawase of the early and mid-
tenth century, but it was the first revival of those model practices after several
decades of hiatus. The participating team poets (kataudo) were for the most part
ladies-in-waiting in Jōtōmon’in’s intimate service; noblemen, including Tada­
nobu, are listed in the contest records as well but their role appears to have been
142  |  edward kamens

limited to that of advisers (omoibito or nennin) to the respective left and right
teams.45 With chrysanthemums brought to the Kayanoin from Hōjōji for dis-
play before the participants, to serve as the visible and tangible referent for their
verses, this was an occasion for festive renewal of past practices that celebrated
both the potent floral symbol of longevity and the Fujiwara family itself.
  Tadanobu was well qualified for his role as advisory omoibito by this time: he
could call upon many decades of experience in performative poem production.
For example, he had been among those invited to compose poems on the topic
Colored leaves afloat upon the water (kōyō mizu ni ukabu) when Koichijōin (At-
suakira, a former crown prince) made an autumn excursion to Ōigawa. Tadanobu
contributed the following to the verse record of the event:
aki fukaku nariyuki toki wa  
  When autumn reaches its peak
Ōigawa nami no hana sae momijishinikeri  
  even the flowers in the waves of Ōi River change color as do the  
  maple trees!46
Here again, he had exercised a trusted trope, the mitate of foam as “wave flow-
ers,” to fulfill his task. A performance of this kind served through recapitulation
of familiar figures to extend and perpetuate the traditions of Ōigawa poesy and
their special relationship to the history of royal visitations to that site.47
  Tadanobu had also been a key performer at other gatherings where poems
were produced to celebrate the longevity and accomplishments of particular Fu-
jiwara family members, such as the Senzai awase (garden match) at the Tsuchi-
mikado mansion in the eighth month of 1023, which honored Dowager Empress
Shōshi with poems on the topics The autumn moonlight is bright (aki no tsuki,
hikari sayakanari) and The waters of the lake will long remain clear (ike no mizu
nagaku sumu).48 Later that year, he was at the banquet celebrating the sixtieth
birthday of Michinaga’s wife, Rinshi, and joined with Michinaga, Kintō, San-
esuke, Yorimichi, and several others to compose verses for her.49 Once again, in
the ninth month of 1024, he was a member of the party at the Kayanoin when
the family received Go-Ichijō for a viewing of the annual royal horse races, and
he joined with the emperor and others to compose poems on the seasonal topic
The radiant bloom of the chrysanthemums on the bank will long endure (kishi
no kiku hisashiku niou).50
Given this experience as well as his intimacy with Michinaga and his imme-
diate and extended family, it is not surprising that Tadanobu should have been
among those whom Michinaga called upon when he organized collective pro-
grams for the composition of devotional Buddhist verses. The date and the votive
beneficiary of Michinaga’s nijūhappon no uta (verses composed on topic texts
extracted from and representative of each of the twenty-eight chapters of the
Lotus Sūtra) are not known, but some scholars believe the project to have been
carried out in memory of one of his daughters after her death. Tadanobu’s poem
addresses as its topic “the essential meaning of the ‘Fortitude’ chapter” (Kanjibon
no kokoro wo) of the sūtra:
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  143

kazu naranu inochi wa nani ka oshikaran  

  In this insignificant life, for what should I feel regret?
nori toku hodo wo shinobu bakari zo  
  I tolerate it only to be here to share these Lotus teachings!51

Here, the compositional task is to rework the Chinese text of the scripture into
the cadences of the Japanese poem; the voice that implicitly utters Tadanobu’s
poem occupies the same position and attitude as do the bodhisattvas in the sūtra
passage who similarly announce their determination to withstand all hardships
in order to partake of the Buddha’s instruction. This is another kind of perfor-
mative exercise, motivated at least in part by devotional objectives, but rendered
with much the same set of skills that Tadanobu and poets like him brought to
other types of daiei production; and, once again, Tadanobu is the mediator in a
transformation from a Chinese “original” to a Japanese re-presentation.
  But some poems in Tadanobu’s oeuvre appear to be less impersonally perfor-
mative than these, and we need to examine them alongside the rest of his work to
appreciate its range across the compositional terrain. In the previously discussed
instances, we have seen Tadanobu supplying verses to fulfill expectations in vari-
ous social situations, but in the following examples the form of the poem itself
is supplying Tadanobu with his communicative medium, as he produces poems
that more directly respond to specific events and conditions. In these poems,
therefore, we can legitimately identify the expression of personal sentiments, and
here Tadanobu’s voice is more his own rather than that of a collective conscious-
ness recapitulating its time-tested tropes.
  At some time before 1031, and not long after the death of Michinaga, when
Tadanobu learned that Yorimichi was taking a group of courtiers on a flower-
viewing expedition but not including him in the party (Uji no saki no daijō daijin,
hanami ni namu to kikite tsukawashikeru), he used the vehicle of verse to convey
his disappointment:

inishie no hanami shi hito wa tazuneshi wo  

  You, with whom I have gone flower viewing in the past, once  
   again seek them out;
oi wa haru ni mo shirarezarikeru
  but spring, it seems, is not alone in forgetting those who now are old.

Yorimichi’s reply refers directly to the absence of his late father:

tazunen to omou kokoro mo  

  The heart that seeks out the flowers
inishie no haru ni wa aranu kokochi koso sure  
  cannot feel as once it did in those bygone springs!52

Tadanobu had implied that Michinaga would not have excluded him, but Yor-
imichi neutralizes this complaint simply by citing his own lingering grief. Such
give-and-take may seem largely rhetorical, but the exercise of such rhetoric may
144  |  edward kamens

in fact have been significant in delineating the state of relations between these
two men.
Senzai wakashū, the imperial waka anthology (chokusenshū) compiled late in
the twelfth century, also presents (as poem no. 912) what would appear to be a
poem Tadanobu wrote in the course of a love affair with an unnamed correspon-
dent: “When a woman told him she wanted to withdraw to a place deep in the
mountains, he sent . . . ” (onna no, fukaki yama ni mo iramahoshiki yoshi ihite
haberikereba tsukawashikeru . . . ):
yama yori mo fukaki tokoro wo tazunemiba  
  Were you to search for depth greater than that of the mountain to  
   which you say you wish to go,
waga kokoro ni zo hito wa irubeki  
  you would do well to look into my heart.53
This seems to be the only koi no uta (love poem) in Tadanobu’s oeuvre. Its prose
preface may tell of genuine circumstances, or it may not; in any case, the poem’s
existence suggests that Tadanobu’s range apparently extended into this topical
and thematic sector as well.
  Chapter 30 of Eiga monogatari, “Tsuru no hayashi,” describes the double shock
felt through the court when Michinaga, who had long been ill, and Yukinari, who
had not, died on the same day in the twelfth month of 1027. The account includes
an exchange between two men, Kintō (by this time retired to religious reclusion
at Nagatani) and Tadanobu, who had been particularly close to the recently de-
ceased courtiers. I see this exchange (which appears in no other text) as a docu-
ment of surviving friendship; here, the exchange of poems does seem to serve as
a means of offering solace, one to the other.

mishi nito no nakunariyuku wo kiku mama ni  
  I hear of their deaths one after another — those men I once knew — 
itodo fukayama zo sabishikarikeru  
  and life deep in these mountains seems lonelier still.
kienokoru kashira no yuki wo haraitsutsu  
  Brushing back hair white as lingering snow,
sabishiki yama wo omoiyaru ka na  
  I let my thoughts wander to the mountains where you dwell in  

If Kintō and Tadanobu really did share these poems with one another, as Eiga
monogatari reports, we may indeed treat them as activations of tested tropes as
powerful salves: two aging courtier-poets, shocked by loss and anxious about
change, turn to these familiar figures and cadences as outlets and containers for
their shared grief, and by doing so they find and offer one another comfort and
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  145


Tadanobu’s literary productions span several sectors of the textual terrain and
are representative of Heian compositional practices in the array of languages,
audiences, occasions, and rhetorics that shaped them. Rōei, the performative re-
production of texts, was yet another medium in which, according to his con-
temporaries, he particularly excelled. When he so adroitly and movingly recited
Fumitoki’s memorial verse to honor the memory of Michitaka, as reported in
Makura no sōshi, a mixed audience of women and men shared the space of com-
munication and appreciation.55 We can see this space as an important intersec-
tion, where a performative art practiced almost exclusively by males offered itself
on this occasion (and at least some others) to women who were ready to receive
it with unimpaired comprehension of its uttered Chinese text and able to relate
it to its written Chinese (or Chinese-within-Japanese) point of origin.56
  The thirteenth-century setsuwa collection Kokon chomonjū relates how Tada­
nobu made a similarly strong impression at an apparently all-male gathering:
Once, the Higashi Sanjō’in Regent and Former Chancellor Kaneie attended
the moonlight nenbutsu service on the night of the thirteenth day of the ninth
month at the Tōhokuin. When it had grown quite late, and all was very quiet,
he summoned Tadanobu, the minister of popular affairs, and said, “How can
we let this night go by without something special? How about some rōei? ”
Tadanobu respectfully acknowledged his request. For some time he looked
as if he were struggling with indecision, and all those present were waiting
and listening closely to see just what verse he might choose to chant. Then
he sang: “Our meditations on the Honored One of the Land of Utmost Bliss
last through the night” (gokuraku no son wo nenzuru koto ichiya). It was quite
wonderful, beyond compare (tagui naku medetekarikeri). [Ki no] Tadana, who
had written this verse, was in fact of the company on this occasion. What
pleasure he must have had in hearing his own verse chanted as a rōei by such
a one as Tadanobu!57
Here again, Tadanobu’s success in fulfilling the host’s expectations was achieved
by transferring a remembered text from its original written context to a new
setting. Tadana’s lines came from a preface to poems he and other confrères
composed at a gathering of the Kangakue — the mixed lay-aristocratic and cleri-
cal Society for the Advancement of Learning, which focused particularly on Pure
Land texts and devotions — probably in the 970s or 980s. In the process of its
reactivation by Tadanobu, the chanted quotation is transformed into a verbal-
ized maxim that effectively connects one earlier devotional occasion to another
through this explicit textual link. At the same time, Tadanobu creates and re-
inforces a community of shared appreciation and understanding: honoring the
older Tadana (957 – 999), he also draws his auditors into the collective moment of
recognition and admiration. That which was so especially wonderful (medetashi)
in this performance was much the same as that which was medetashi to Teishi
and Shōnagon in the episode recounted in Makura no sōshi, section 29.
146  |  edward kamens

  In section 155 (“Kotono no onbuku no koro . . .” [while we were in mourning for

His Excellency]) of Makura no sōshi, Sei Shōnagon again has reason to be im-
pressed with Tadanobu’s tasteful citations. She immediately recognizes the lines
of a poem by Bai Juyi when Tadanobu says he plans to recite them at the following
night’s Tanabata Festival observances, but she notes that the identification of the
source and the appropriateness of the selection are likely to have been lost on the
other women listening, as she is, from behind the screen. She also doubts that
Minamoto no Nobukata, a gentleman also present, has the acumen necessary
to appreciate the moment as she does.58 This exchange is explained in the fol-
lowing flashback to the previous summer, a night at the beginning of the fourth
month, when, Shōnagon says, she took special delight in listening to Tadanobu
and Nobukata singing an impromptu rōei duet on lines from a Tanabata poem
in Chinese by Sugawara no Michizane. She further praises Tadanobu for clev-
erly explaining why he chose to sing verses on an autumn topos (the festival of
the ninth day of the ninth month) on a summer night.59 Not long afterward,
she somewhat jokingly advises the emperor himself to delay a promotion for
Tadanobu because, she says, his new duties will reduce the opportunities for her
and others to hear him sing. She certainly does not hesitate in presenting herself
as an astute aficionado of rōei performance:  
“Tadanobu is wonderful at reciting Chinese poetry” (shi wo ito okashiu zuji-
haberu mono wo), I said. “Now that he has been promoted, who is going to be
left to give us lines like ‘Hsiao of K’uai-chi, having visited the ancient tomb . . .’?
Your Majesty had better make sure that he continues coming here, even if it
means that he has to wait a little longer for his new post. It would be too sad
to lose him.”60
As modern commentators have noted, Shōnagon is making her own adroit al-
lusion here to get her message across. The rōei lines she refers to are from a
rhyming preface by Ōe no Asatsuna (886 – 957) on the sorrows of parting from
old friends — a fitting quotation, since Shōnagon wants to prevent any greater
distancing from Tadanobu. But she is also demonstrating the extent to which
she is an active and equal member of the community of connoisseurs — along
with Tadanobu and the emperor himself — who collectively circulate and savor
such texts.
  In the much-discussed section 78, “The Captain First Secretary, Tadanobu,
having heard certain false rumours . . . ” (Tō no Chūjō no suzuronaru soragoto
wo kikite . . . ), Shōnagon at first reveals some anxiety over the receipt of a let-
ter from this sometime paramour, but she finds that it is troubling not for what
it says about their relationship at this stage but for the kind of response that it

It was elegantly written on heavy blue paper, and there was nothing about it to
worry me. I opened it and read:
“With you it is flower time
as you sit in the Council Hall
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  147

’neath a curtain of brocade.”

(ranshō no hana no toki/kinchō no shita)
And below this he had added, “How does the stanza end?” (sue wa ika ni, sue
wa ika ni).61
Shōnagon has no trouble recognizing the quotation from Bai Juyi’s collected
works (Hakushi monjū),62 but is unsure of the form that her reply should take;
she wishes she could confer with the empress, to draw upon her knowledge of
such texts and her intuition regarding the proper way to join in such literary
I was at a complete loss. If Her Majesty had been there, I should have asked her
to look at the letter and give her opinion; but unfortunately she was asleep. I
had to prove that I knew the next line of the poem, but were I to write it in my
somewhat faltering Chinese characters it would make a bad impression. I had
no time to ponder since the messenger was pressing for a reply. Taking a piece
of burnt-out charcoal from the brazier, I simply added the following words at
the end of Tadanobu’s letter:
  Who would come to visit
  This grass-thatched hut of mine?
  (kusa no iori wo/tare ka tazunen)
Then I told the messenger to take it back to Tadanobu. I waited for a reply, but
none came.63
Shōnagon’s solution, arrived at with minimal delay, was to render part of the next
couplet of the Chinese original as if it were a Japanese poem while retaining the
original’s representation of the distance and difference between the environs of
the court and the dwelling of someone who chooses to live apart from it. It is
impossible to say whether Shōnagon knew the original verse as a written or as
a voiced text, or as both. What her correspondence with Tadanobu produces,
however, is a unique admixture. Her concern for the way in which her answer
will look places emphasis on its orthographic form (she seems to share this anxi-
ety with Murasaki Shikibu, who also tells us that she “avoided” writing kanji 64),
but what she creates is a text that is no longer simply Japanese or Chinese, nor
specifically male or female, but one that crosses or diverts these boundary lines
to engage Tadanobu on a newly configured textual plane.
  Sei Shōnagon was not the only woman in Ichijō’s court who could meet Tadan-
obu halfway to create new discourse in such textual terrain. In a section of Mura-
saki Shikibu nikki that begins “Her Majesty went over to the Dedication Hall just
before dawn on the eleventh” (jūichinichi no akatsuki, midō e watarasetamau)
and proceeds to describe religious rites as well as entertainments provided for
Imperial Dowager Shōshi and her mixed male and female retinue on a visit to the
Tsuchimikado mansion, the diarist evocatively describes the events of one par-
ticular evening of festivities.65 A section of the Hinohara version of the Murasaki
Shikibu nikki ekotoba (an illustrated handscroll version of selected passages and
scenes in the diary, produced in the early thirteenth century) has been identified
148  |  edward kamens

as an illustration of this scene (figure 6.1).66 If the corresponding text passage was
ever part of this version, it is now lost. But at the center of the painting sits the
imposing figure of Tadanobu, just as described in the memoir:
When it was all over, the senior courtiers took the boat and rowed out onto
the lake one after the other. On the eastern veranda of the hall in front of the
open side door sat Master of Her Majesty’s Household Tadanobu. He was lean-
ing against the railings of the steps that ran down to the water’s edge. While
His Excellency happened to be inside with Her Majesty, Tadanobu took the
opportunity to exchange a few words with Lady Saishō; what with her inside
the screens trying not to appear too intimate in front of Her Majesty, and him
outside, it was quite a performance.67
The relative positions of the participants, as described here, are spatially sig-
nificant. Lady Saishō and other women, including the observing, reporting Shi-
kibu, are in the interior (one woman is barely visible in the painting); outside,
Tadanobu reclines on the steps. Between them, a space for looking and listening
together opens up.
A hazy moon emerged. The sound of His Excellency’s [Michinaga’s] sons all
in the one boat singing songs in the modern style was refreshing and quite
delightful, but the sight of Minister of the Treasury Masamitsu [Fujiwara no
Masamitsu, a gentleman in his fifties], who had got in with them in all serious-
ness but who was now sitting there meekly with his back to us, not unnaturally
loath to take part, was rather amusing. The women behind the screens laughed
among themselves. “And in the boat he seems to feel his age” (fune no uchi ni
ya oi wo ba kakotsuramu), I said. The master of the household must have heard
me. “Hsu Fu and Wen Ch’eng were empty braggarts” (Jōfuku Bunsei kyōtan
ohoshi), he murmured. I was most impressed.68
In this case, it is Shikibu who seizes the moment to open a dialogue with a ren-
dering of a verse from Bai Juyi’s collected works (topically appropriate for its ref-
erence to sailing across open waters) into the cadences of what would seem to be
part of a Japanese poem. Tadanobu responds and caps her verse with a chanted
rendering of the lines that follow in the Chinese original. She finds both his voice
and his whole physical manner (koe mo, sama mo) utterly elegant and fitting for
the moment (koyonau imamekashi), but of course her role in this creative or
re-creative performance is equally impressive. Together, Shikibu and Tadanobu
invent another anomalous, hybrid text, which is nevertheless analogous in its
mixing of languages to the conjoinings of passages from Chinese verses (by both
Chinese and Japanese poets) with Japanese poems in Wakan rōeishū — which
may ultimately be our best model for any envisioning of a literary praxis of mixed
scripts and mixed activated texts, accessible to both men and women and rep-
resentative of the variegated corpus of texts they could at least potentially and
jointly see, hear, know, and use. Likewise, in this scene at the Tsuchimikado man-
sion, neither the male nor the female participant in joint text making skips a beat:
drawn from a corpus they both share, the words come readily to their lips. Shiki-
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  149

Figure 6.1. Detail from the Hinohara version of Murasaki Shikibu nikki ekotoba. Ta­
danobu (center) observes boaters at the Tsuchimikado Mansion, while Sei Shōnagon
and others comment from within. Private collection; reproduction courtesy of Chūō
Kōron Shinsha.

bu’s voice, and then Tadanobu’s, write an audible joint script on a space they also
share. With light hearts and knowing grins, they claim their respective places
in this textual terrain, marking new tracings on its capacious surface — and, in
so doing, they articulate and inscribe what may serve us well as a paradigmatic
cross-section of their literary terrain.

1. Murasaki Shikibu nikki, 92; Richard Bowring, trans., The Diary of Lady Murasaki, 55
(slightly revised).
2. Murasaki Shikibu nikki, 97; Bowring, Diary, 57 – 58.
3. Murasaki Shikibu nikki, 57; Bowring, Diary, 34.
4. Hosshin wakashū no kenkyū, ed. Ishihara Kiyoshi, 37, 71 – 73; Edward Kamens, The Bud-
dhist Poetry of the Great Kamo Priestess, 66.
5. In Tamakatsuma, Motoori Norinaga took Senshi to task for her open avowals of Buddhist
faith while serving as Kamo priestess, but he did not criticize her for mixing Chinese and
Japanese texts in Hosshin wakashū. See Kamens, Buddhist Poetry, 20 – 21.
6. See, for example, Chino Kaori, “Gender in Japanese Art.”
7. Ibid., 22 – 25.
8. Sect. (dan) 129 in Makura no sōshi, 242 – 244; sect. 88 in Ivan Morris, trans., The Pillow
Book of Sei Shōnagon, 152 – 153.
9. Marian Ury, “Chinese Learning and Intellectual Life,” 341.
10. Ibid., 346.
11. Tomiko Yoda, “Literary History against the National Frame, or Gender and the Emer-
gence of Heian Kana Writing.” See also idem, Gender and National Literature, 81 – 110. For
another thought-provoking rereading of much of the material discussed in this same connec-
tion, see Joshua S. Mostow, “Mother Tongue and Father Script.”
12. Yoda, “Literary History,” 486.
150  |  edward kamens

13. Ibid., 480 – 481. Yoda refers to two of LaMarre’s published works: his article “Writing
Doubled Over, Broken,” and his book Uncovering Heian Japan.
14. Yoda, “Literary History,” 489.
15. Ibid., 479.
16. Kurozumi Makoto, “Kangaku: sono shoki, seisei, ken’i” and “Kangaku: Writing and In-
stitutional Authority.”
17. Kurozumi, “Kangaku: Writing and Institutional Authority,” 204.
18. Ibid., 205.
19. This aspect of the canonization process is also one of the central concerns of Yoda in
Gender and National Literature; see esp. 25 – 80.
20. Ibid., 211.
21. Ibid., 206.
22. There are also figures in earlier and later Heian court culture whose literary activities
traverse multiple textual languages and forms in exemplary ways. The exemplary figure of this
type in the latter part of the ninth century is Sugawara no Michizane; for a thorough study, see
Robert Borgen, Sugawara no Michizane and the Early Heian Court (e.g., 268). For a study of
Minamoto no Tsunenobu and Minamoto no Toshiyori, two mid-eleventh-century figures who
likewise operated in multiple literary registers, see Ivo Smits, The Pursuit of Loneliness.
23. Yoda, “Literary History,” 210.
24. Tomi Suzuki, “Gender and Genre: Modern Literary Histories and Women’s Diary Lit-
erature,” in Inventing the Classics, ed. Haruo Shirane and Tomi Suzuki, 72.
25. For further development of this characterization of waka composition as performance
rather than as expression, see Edward Kamens, “Waking the Dead.”
26. Ury, “Chinese Learning and Intellectual Life,” 348 – 355, provides a lively summary of
the contents of this work.
27. Fukui Michiko, “Fujiwara no Tadanobu kō,” 17.
28. Ibid., 19.
29. Ibid., 21. Fukui’s article includes a useful table indicating the known topics, locations
of compositional events, dates, and sources in which the poems and preface are now to be
30. Kawaguchi Hisao and Honchō reisō o yomu kai, eds., Honchō reisō kanchū, 19 – 25. Ōe
no Masahira’s poem on the same topic, presumably from the same occasion, is included in his
collection Gō rihō shū; a fragment of Fujiwara no Yukinari’s poem on the same topic appears
in Kōzei shikō. The gathering in question is also mentioned in Yukinari’s journal Gonki, but
there is no entry for this date in Midō kanpaku ki.
31. For annotated texts and detailed analyses, see Kawaguchi, Honchō reisō kanchū, 19 – 21;
and Honchō reisō zen chūshaku, ed. Imahama Michitaka, 1:132 – 165.
32. Tadanobu implies that rain-bearing clouds have moved eastward toward Japan from
locations on the Asian continent — a mythical lake in the Himalayas (Anokudatsu) and a his-
torical garden of the Han capital at Chang-an (Jōrin’en).
33. Fukui, “Fujiwara no Tadanobu kō,” 25. See also “Ono no Sōjō shō’u gyōbō ga’u no shi,”
413, in Zoku Gunsho ruijū, vol. 12a, no. 318. These two sources offer disparate versions of the
first line of the third couplet; the transcription and translation offered here are tentative. I
wish to thank Professor Satō Michio of Keiō University for his assistance in the reading and
interpretation of this and the preceding poem.
34. Ninkai conducted the rite on the fourteenth day of the sixth month, and rain fell on the
eighteenth. He had nine similar successes in the period 1028 – 1044, earning for himself the
appellation Ame sōjō. See Allan G. Grappard, “Religious Practices,” 536.
35. “Ono no Sōjō shō’u gyōbō ga’u no shi,” 414.
Terrains of Text in Mid-Heian Court Culture  |  151

36. Grappard, “Religious Practices,” 536.

37. There is an account of this event in Eiga monogatari, bk. 31, “Tenjō no hanami.” See Eiga
monogatari, 3:189 – 190.
38. The preface is preserved in Honchō monzui, bk. 11. See Honchō monzui chūshaku, ed.
Kakimura Shigematsu; 2:600 – 603; and Honchō monzui in SNKBT 27:322.
39. Eiga monogatari, 3:190 – 191.
40. Ibid.
41. See, for example, the well-known hototogisu episode in which she threatens to give up
writing occasional poetry altogether: Makura no sōshi, sect. 95, esp. 191 – 194; sect. 65 in Mor-
ris, Pillow Book, esp. 123 – 125.
42. Fujiwara no Sanesuke (957 – 1046) was one of those who objected to this ostentatious
demonstration of Michinaga’s capacity to trump prior practices. For a detailed discussion of
the relevant passage in Sanesuke’s Shōyūki (Chōgen 1/10/28), see Kawamura Hiroko, “Michi-
naga, Yorimichi jidai no byōbu uta,” 109 – 125.
43. Senzai wakashū, no. 960. See Senzai wakashū, ed. Katano Tatsurō and Matsuno Yōichi,
44. “Kanna ninen rokugatsu tōka dairi utaawase,” nos. 3 – 4, in Heian chō utaawase taisei,
ed. Hagitani Boku, 1:638. Hagitani discusses the problems of the exact dating of this contest
but notes that it took place just days before Kazan’s forced abdication and precipitous raku­
shoku shukke (he took vows and had his head shaved at Hanayama Gangyōji on Kanna 2 [986]
6/23). The chief plotter Kaneie’s sons Michinaga and Michitsuna were both among the contest
participants (ibid., 650).
45. “Chōgen gonen jūgatsu jūhachinichi Jōtōmon’in Shōshi kikuawase,” in Heian chō utaa-
wase taisei, ed. Hagitani Boku, 2:818 – 819, 825, 829.
46. Mandai wakashū, no. 1251. There is uncertainty about the date of the excursion; it may
have taken place in 1013, before Atsuakira’s retirement, or in 1018, about a year after his re-
moval from the succession (Mandai wakashū, jō, ed. Yasuda Noriko, 205; Fukui, “Fujiwara no
Tadanobu kō,” 26).
47. See Edward Kamens, Utamakura, Allusion, and Intertextuality in Traditional Japanese
Poetry, 189 – 192, 198 – 207.
48. Eiga monogatari, bk. 19, “Onmogi,” in Eiga monogatari, ed. Yamanaka Yutaka, 2:353; Wil-
liam H. McCullough and Helen Craig McCullough, trans., A Tale of Flowering Fortunes, 2:596.
The second of Tadanobu’s daiei poems explicitly calls for Shōshi to “live on for a thousand
generations” (chiyo no manimani/yorozuyo no/nagarete sumeru).
49. Eiga monogatari, 2:371; see also McCullough and McCullough, Flowering Fortunes,
50. Eiga monogatari, 2:413 – 425; see also McCullough and McCullough, Flowering Fortunes,
51. Shin kokin wakashū, no. 1928; Shin kokin wakashū, 562.
52. Goshūi wakashū includes only Tadanobu’s poem (as no. 113; Goshūi wakashū, 43), but Eiga
monogatari, bk. 31, “Tenjō no hanami,” presents the full exchange (Eiga monogatari, 3:202.)
53. Senzai wakashū, 273.
54. Eiga monogatari, 3:174; McCullough and McCullough, Flowering Fortunes, 2:771.
55. See note 5, above.
56. Jonathan Chaves suggests that a passage in the “Ongaku” chapter of Eiga monogatari
describes women performing rōei (“Chinese Poets in the Wakan rōei shū,” 20). Nothing in the
McCullough and McCullough translation of the passage (2:563) or in the original text (Eiga
monogatari, 2:294) supports this interpretation: those singing rōei on this occasion, as usual,
are male.
152  |  edward kamens

57. Kokon chomonjū, 1:192 – 193. The dating of the passage is problematic because of incon-
sistent details: Kaneie was dead long before his granddaughter Jōtōmon’in commissioned the
construction of the Tōhokuin at Hōjōji.
58. Makura no sōshi, 285; Morris, trans., Pillow Book, 175 – 176.
59. Makura no sōshi, 286; Morris, trans., Pillow Book, 176.
60. Makura no sōshi, 288; Morris, trans., Pillow Book, 178.
61. Makura no sōshi, ed. Matsuo and Nagai, 136; Morris, trans., Pillow Book, 89 – 90.
62. The couplet also appears in the mountain retreats (sanka) topical section of Wakan
rōeishū. See Wakan rōeishū, 292; see also J. Thomas Rimer and Jonathan Chaves, eds. and
trans., Japanese and Chinese Poems to Sing, 167.
63. Ibid.
64. See note 2, above.
65. Murasaki Shikibu nikki, 100 – 102; Bowring, Diary, 60. The dating of this passage is in
66. Murasaki Shikibu nikki ekotoba, 66 – 67.
67. Murasaki Shikibu nikki, 100 – 102; Bowring, Diary of Lady Murasaki, 60.
68. Ibid.
7  d   Samuel C. Morse

The Buddhist Transformation of

Japan in the Ninth Century
The Case of Eleven-Headed Kannon

he significance of the Shingon and Tendai traditions in the history of
Japanese Buddhist art during the early Heian period is indisputable.
Yet it is important to acknowledge that those teachings were avail-
able only to a culturally privileged, literate male minority with close
connections to the court. Temple histories and inventories as well as texts from
the period describing popular Buddhist beliefs and practices, such as the Nihon
koku genpō zen’aku ryōiki (Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tra-
dition) and the Tōdaiji fuju monkō (Text of Buddhist Recitations from Tōdaiji),
attest to the vitality of a Buddhism far different from that described in the of-
ficial histories and in the biographies of Kūkai (774 – 835) and Saichō (767 – 822).
Of particular importance for an understanding of the development of Buddhist
culture throughout Japan in the early Heian period are works of art — the stat-
ues that served as objects of worship at the large number of temples that were
established throughout Japan during the ninth century. These images both reveal
a religious experience fundamentally different from the one articulated by texts
and document the spiritual lives of the majority of the Japanese of the time, not
just the ideas of a few great thinkers and their aristocratic patrons. These works of
sculpture describe a Buddhism that flourished away from the centers of political
and religious authority in the Heian capital.
  An assessment of this artistic evidence reveals that Buddhist sculpture in
Japan underwent a number of momentous transformations at the start of the
Heian period. One was primarily technical; wood replaced bronze, clay, and lac-
quer as the primary medium of the sculptor’s craft. A second transformation
was iconographic; images of deities only occasionally worshiped in the previ-
ous century were produced in unprecedented numbers. A third transformation
was geographic; statues of the period can be found in temples across Japan, fre-
quently in sanctuaries in remote mountain locations or at temples associated
with indigenous cults. These transformations must be understood in the context
of changes in religious practice as Buddhist beliefs became more widespread as
evidenced especially in the cult of the Eleven-Headed Kannon (Jūichimen Kan-
non). Numerous statues of this deity were enshrined in regional temples during
the first two centuries of the Heian period, rapidly eclipsing images of other
154  |  samuel c. morse

Figure 7.1. (Above) Eleven-Headed Kannon. Early

ninth century. Wood. H. 100 cm. Hokkeji, Nara.
Figure 7.2. (Right) Eleven-Headed Kannon. Early
ninth century. Wood, single woodblock con-
struction. H. 83.9 cm. Ryōsenji, Nara.

esoteric manifestations of Kannon such as Thousand-Armed Kannon (Senjū

Kannon) and Fukūkenjaku Kannon, which were more widely worshiped in the
eighth century. The majority of these statues were carved of unpainted wood, di-
rectly conveying to the devotee the nature of the material from which they were
fashioned. Included in this group are some of the most distinctive works of early
Heian sculpture, such as those at Hokkeji (figure 7.1) and Ryōsenji (figure 7.2) in
Nara, Chōenji (figure 7.3) in Osaka, and Jikō Enpukuji (figure 7.4) in Wakayama,
yet most of these images have been infrequently studied because there is little or
no firm documentary evidence associated with them.
The cult of Eleven-Headed Kannon in the ninth and tenth centuries also seems
to have had a particularly strong local character. Nowhere was it more popu-
lar than at the northern end of Lake Biwa and in the provinces of Wakasa and
Echizen along the coast of the Japan Sea immediately to the north and west.
Works from this region include some that are relatively well-known such as the
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  155

Figure 7.3. (Left) Eleven-Headed Kannon.

Early ninth century. Wood, single woodblock
construction. H. 45 cm. Chōenji, Osaka
Figure 7.4. (Above) Eleven-Headed Kannon.
Ninth century. Wood with polychrome.
H. 149.3 cm. Jikō Enpukuji, Wakayama

statues at Tadadera (figure 7.5) and Hagaji in Obama, but most, such as the statues
at Keisokuji in Takatsuki-chō, Shiga Prefecture, and at the Futagami Kannondō
(figure 7.6) in Fukui City have escaped the attention of most members of the art
historical community. What, then, accounts for this rise in popularity in early
Heian Japan of Eleven-Headed Kannon, a relatively obscure member of the Bud-
dhist pantheon? Why are the majority of the extant images of the deity carefully
fashioned from unpainted wood, and why are so many images of the deity con-
centrated in one particular region? To answer these questions it is first necessary
to understand the place of the deity in the religious life of the preceding Nara
Such an overview is essential because the discourse on the history of Buddhist
Figure 7.5. (Left) Eleven-Headed Kannon. Late eighth century. Wood. H. 154.0 cm.  
Tadadera, Fukui Prefecture.
Figure 7.6. (Right) Eleven-Headed Kannon. Late ninth century. Wood. H. 185.3 cm.  
Futagami Kannondō, Fukui City.
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  157

practice in the early Heian period has been written from the perspective of the
Shingon and Tendai religious traditions that eventually emerged as ascendant.
The histories of the temples on Mount Kōtakami at the northern end of Shiga
Prefecture exemplify this phenomenon. According to the Kōtakamiyama engi,
the legendary history of the mountain compiled in 1441, the sanctuaries on the
mountain were first founded by the mendicant monk Gyōki (668 – 749) and later
revived by Taichō (682 – 767), who came from neighboring Echizen. They were
then revitalized by Saichō, although today most Kōtakami temples are affiliated
with the Shingon sect. Yet the early Heian images at the site — a statue of the
Healing Buddha, two statues from a set of Twelve Divine Generals, and two stat-
ues of Eleven-Headed Kannon — are not connected with either the Tendai or the
Shingon phases of Mount Kōtakami’s history, but instead are technically and
stylistically related to imagery produced in Nara. Despite the later esoteric trans-
formations of these sanctuaries, they were under the administrative control of
Kōfukuji during the fifteenth century, a fact that is indicative of the continuation
of a strong Nara influence on the region into the Muromachi period.
  Despite such evidence, both traditional histories and more-contemporary
scholarship describe the Buddhism of the early Heian period as a time when
the schools of Nara declined and the esoteric sects rapidly gained power and
authority, and ignore the strong continuities that existed with the previous cen-
tury.1 Much is made of Kūkai’s role in the esotericization of the great temples of
Nara initiated by the founding of the Shingon’in at Tōdaiji in 810, and the insti-
tutionalization of Shingon rituals at court begun with the construction of the
Shingon’in at the Imperial Palace in 834. However, less attention has been paid
to the continued influence of Nara monks in the religious life of the Heian capi-
tal throughout the ninth century. For example, the Buddhas Names Ceremony
(Butsumyōe), a rite of repentance held to seek protection for the nation, to ensure
a good harvest, and to seek protection from pestilence, was held for the first time
at the Imperial Palace in 838 and was presided over by monks who came from the
great Nara temples.2 Indeed, during the ninth century it was monks from Nara,
rather than adherents of the newly established Shingon and Tendai sects, who
were primarily responsible for spreading Buddhism throughout Japan. For ex-
ample, Tokuitsu (active during the early ninth century), a Hossō monk from Nara
and one of Saichō’s chief critics, founded temples near modern Aizu-Wakamatsu,
and Ken’na (active ca. 835 – 870), a monk from Gangōji, was active in Harima and
established sanctuaries along the southern shores of Lake Biwa.
Whereas the influence of Shingon and Tendai doctrine on the visual arts is
readily apparent in works from later in the Heian period — the many lavishly or-
namented versions of the Lotus Sūtra or the Mandalas of the Two Worlds — their
influence on the art of the early Heian period is far less certain. Indeed, while the
extant objects dating to the ninth century that were produced in response to the
teachings of Saichō and Kūkai number fewer than thirty and are concentrated
at a small number of temples, statues of Eleven-Headed Kannon are found at
temples across Japan. This artistic evidence suggests that worship of the deity
158  |  samuel c. morse

flourished throughout the ninth and tenth centuries and that the cult was more
widespread and far more popular than any promoted by the esoteric communi-
ties. The goal of this chapter is to bring Buddhist sculpture of the early Heian
period out of the shadow of Saichō and Kūkai and, through an examination of
the circumstances behind the creation of these statues, to learn something of the
spiritual lives of the majority of the Japanese, particularly those living at some
distance from the Heian capital, at the start of the Heian period.

Worship of Eleven-Headed Kannon in Early Heian Japan

The patterns of devotion to Eleven-Headed Kannon in the ninth century were
first established in the former capital of Nara. While a few images date to the
beginning of the eighth century, sūtras describing the deity and the benefits from
its worship were not known in Japan until the mid-Nara period. These texts were
introduced by monks such as Dōji (? – 744) and Genbō (? – 746) upon their return
from lengthy periods of study in China. For example, after twenty-eight years in
Chang’an, Genbō returned in 735 with more than five thousand texts and com-
mentaries.3 Furthermore, documents in the Shōsōin indicate that a Jūichimen kyō
(Eleven-Headed Kannon sūtra) was first copied in one of the scriptoria of Nara in
733, and historian Ishida Mōsaku believes this text was the Avalokiteśvaradaśa-
mukhhadhāran. ī (Jūichimen shinjū kyō) translated into Chinese by Xuanzang
(602 – 664) in 654.4 Four years later, a text clearly identified as Xuanzang’s trans-
lation as well as the Jūichimen kanzeon shinjū kyō, an older version of the sūtra
translated by Yasogupta (active in the late sixth century) in the 570s, are also
recorded as having been transcribed.5 The records from the scriptoria document
requests made by monks for particular texts, and the frequency with which the
Eleven-Headed Kannon sūtras appear indicate that by the middle decades of the
eighth century, the Japanese were certainly aware of the benefits that resulted
from worship of the deity.
A different version of the Jūichimen shinjū kyō included as the fourth chap-
ter of the esoteric compilation known as the Dāranī jikkyō and translated into
Chinese by Atikūta (mid-seventh century) was available in Japan by 742.6 The
most important commentary on the text, the Shiyi mian shenzhou xin jing ishu
(Jūichimen shinjū kyō gishō), attributed to Xuanzang’s disciple Huizhao (651 – 714),
is recorded as having been present in Nara as well.7 A fourth text, a translation
combining elements of Xuanzang’s version with the ritual instructions included
in Atikuta’s version, was undertaken by Amoghavajra (705 – 774) sometime in the
750s. This sūtra was brought to Japan in the ninth century, first by Kūkai and then
later by Ennin (794 – 864) and Enchin (814 – 891).8
  The four translations of the sūtra share many similarities. In each the vow
taken by Eleven-Headed Kannon emphasizes overcoming both illness and suf-
fering. All include incantations known as dhāran.ī that were believed to contain
the essential powers of the deity. In the version translated by Yasogupta, the text
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  159

Kanzeon spoke to the Buddha, saying, Lord, I possess a secret dhāran.ī called
Eleven Heads. This secret vow has been spoken by eleven myriads of buddhas,
and now I will relate it. It is for the benefit of all sentient beings. It is because I
wish to cause all sentient beings to concentrate on good dharma. It is because
I wish all sentient beings to have no troubles. It is because I wish to eradicate
sickness from all sentient beings. It is because I wish to remove and eradicate
all hindrances, calamities, and evil dreams. It is because I wish to eradicate all
untimely deaths and deaths from illness. It is because I wish to eradicate those
with evil intentions and to cause them to be under control. It is because I wish
to banish the trouble caused by various demons and evil spirits and to never
allow it to occur again.9
Each text also describes ten benefits that will accrue to the devotees who, each
morning, purify their bodies and recite the dhāran.ī of the deity 108 times. Seven
benefits relate to physical protection — against illness; evil enemies and threats;
harm from the poison of insects or spells of demons; harm by swords or staffs;
drowning; fire; and untimely death. Another benefit centers on the acquisition of
riches — receiving wealth, jewels, clothing, and food in unlimited supplies. Two
vows are more spiritual — receiving salvation from the myriad buddhas and words
of praise from various exalted beings.
  The texts further provide instructions for worship and pharmaceutical pre-
scriptions for curing specific diseases.10 The translation by Xuanzang, for ex-
ample, states that drinking ritually purified cow’s milk while reciting mantras
prevents all diseases. Earaches and migraines abate when incense made of green-
wood sap is mixed with birch bark and applied in the ear. A broader range of
illnesses is healed by tying a cord to the head of an image and around the neck of
the afflicted while reciting mantras. Other ritual remedies described in the sūtra
include bathing a statue of the deity with the urine of a bull first presented to it
during a mantra recitation to remove evil dreams, hindrances, and illnesses and
washing one’s body with water first used to clean incense rubbed over the surface
of an image to discard impediments.
In addition to providing individual remedies, Eleven-Headed Kannon’s power
to subdue epidemic diseases was of particular importance to its subsequent pop-
ularity. The translation by Xuanzang states,
Moreover, if human or bovine pox occurs in the land one should kindle a fire of
ninba wood in front of this image [of the deity]. Then taking up another piece
of wood of this tree one should cut it into 1,008 pieces. Taking up each piece
in succession one should rub them with mustard-seed oil making a recitation
and then throw them one at a time into the fire until they no more are left.
Then, one should take up a red cord and make knots for seven recitations. If
one makes a knot for each of seven recitations and then ties the cord to the
top of the head of the Buddha atop the head [of the statue], epidemic disease
should recede and completely disappear. Once the epidemic has completely
dissipated, one should take off the ritual cord.11
160  |  samuel c. morse

For those with sincere faith in the deity’s therapeutic and thaumaturgic powers,
Eleven-Headed Kannon also responded directly to a wide range of physical and
emotional needs; thus it appealed to the entire populace and not only to mem-
bers of the imperial court.
  All four versions of the sūtra stress that efficacious worship of Eleven-Headed
Kannon requires that an image of the deity be carved of white sandalwood. The
text translated by Yasogupta describes the process in the following terms:
These good men and these good women should make an image of Kanzeon
using white sandalwood. The wood must be fine grained, well aged, and of
a rectangular shape. The length of the body should be one shaku [foot] and
three sun [inches], and the statue should be made with eleven heads. The three
heads in the front should be made with the faces of a bodhisattva. The three
heads on the left should be made with angry faces. The three heads on the right
should be made with the faces of a bodhisattva, but with tusks rising upward.
The head in the rear should be made with a face laughing wildly. The head on
the top should be made with the face of a buddha. Each of the faces should be
facing forward, and around the body there should be a mandorla. Each of the
eleven heads should wear a crown, and in the crowns there should be images
of Amida. Kanzeon should hold a water vessel in its left hand, and from the
mouth of the vessel should rise a lotus blossom. The right arm should be ex-
tended, and it should pass through jewelry. The hand should be in the gesture
of the absence of fear. The body of the image should be carved with jeweled
The three early translations further state that the image should have two arms;
however, the later translation by Amoghavajra dictates that the image should be
fashioned with four. The translations by Atikūta and Amoghavajra also include
detailed instructions for performing fully developed esoteric rituals dedicated
to the deity. Yet chapter 4 of the Darani jikkyō was rarely copied as an indepen-
dent text, and no four-armed images of the Eleven-Headed Kannon are known
from the ninth and tenth centuries. Thus, it is possible to conclude that neither
Atikūta’s nor Amoghavajra’s texts had any influence on the sculpture of early
Heian Japan.
As Ryūichi Abé and Yoshida Yasuo have pointed out, certain esoteric mani-
festations of Kannon were worshiped during the eighth century well before a
more complete understanding of esoteric doctrine was accessible.13 In addition
to Eleven-Headed Kannon, Thousand-Armed Kannon and Fukūkenjaku Kannon
were frequently invoked because they were believed to respond to the immediate
needs of the populace, and their dhāran. ī were thought to possess therapeutic
powers. Analysis of the records of the presentation of candidates for ordination
(upasoku kōshinge) dating from the second quarter of the eighth century, for ex-
ample, reveals that memorization of the sūtras and dhāran. ī related to all three
deities was a part of the curriculum for novitiates.14 Statues of all three manifes-
tations of Kannon were also well-known to the residents of Nara: Fukūkenjaku
Kannon at the Sangatsudō at Tōdaiji, Eleven-Headed Kannon at the Jūichimendō
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  161

on the grounds of Saidaiji, and Thousand-Armed Kannon in the Main Image Hall
at Tōshōdaiji. Yet during the first two centuries of the Heian period, only a few
images of Thousand-Armed Kannon and Fukūkenjaku Kannon were sculpted. In
contrast, numerous images of Eleven-Headed Kannon were produced, indicative
that by the ninth century it was considered to possess more efficacious powers
than its two counterparts.
  Rites of repentance dedicated to Eleven-Headed Kannon were the greatest cause
for the deity’s rise in popularity. These rituals were held in the Nara capital per-
haps as early as 737 and became institutionalized at the imperial court by the early
750s. Rites of repentance were one of the most distinctive aspects of Buddhist
practice in early Japan, dedicated not only to Eleven-Headed Kannon, but also to a
variety of deities including the Healing Buddha (Yakushi), Amida, and Kichijōten
and were some of the few rituals to be sponsored by both the ruling elites in the
capital and residents of the provinces. In this context, Nakamura Hajime makes a
number of important observations, frequently cited by other scholars, about the
differences between rites of repentance as they were practiced in Japan and their
original form in India.15 He points out that whereas the Indian rite of desanā was
held within the monastic community to absolve individual monks and nuns of
their personal indiscretions, in China and in particular, in Japan, these rites were
performed to seek more-immediate benefits through the collective purification
of evil karma. For those in the capital, the goals of the practice were most often
national in character — the guarantee of the well-being of the emperor or the
protection of the nation. However, for those in the provinces, the aims were of a
practical and immanent nature — the alleviation of drought, the curing of illness,
or the eradication of disease.
  The inclusion of indigenous deities as participants in these rites was also dis-
tinctive to the practice in Japan.16 Satō Michiko observes that the practice of
expunging the defiled karma of the previous year, an essential aspect of rites of
repentance, strongly resembles Japanese ancient religious practices that required
purifying acts to be held at the palace and sacred locations throughout the land
before the start of the new year. In this sense, she suggests that the rites of re-
pentance simply recast existing customs in Buddhist terms. One result of this
convergence was that the ritual came to be regularly held in the second month as
part of a ceremony to mark the start of the new agricultural year and was given
the designation shunie (ceremony of the second month).17
  The best known of the rites of repentance, instituted in the eighth century
and still held at the Nigatsudō on the grounds of Tōdaiji, is popularly known as
the omizutori. Celebrated in the second month of the lunar calendar and dedi-
cated to Eleven-Headed Kannon, this shunie ritual seeks the assistance of the
myriad kami and the aid of various deities in the Buddhist pantheon to ensure
the success of a new agricultural cycle and to gain protection for the nation. This
rite was first held in 752 not at Tōdaiji, but at a chapel in the Queen Consort’s
Household Agency (Shibichūdai), and, as Horiike Shunpō points out, although
the ritual originally was private in nature, it eventually took on a public function
when it was moved to Tōdaiji in 760.18
162  |  samuel c. morse

  The popularity of the rite of repentance is documented in various sources from

the eighth century. When the health of Emperor Shōmu (701 – 756; r. 724 – 749)
deteriorated in the late 740s and early 750s, his consort, Kōmyō (701 – 760), fre-
quently sought the assistance of the Buddhist clergy to effect a cure. These mea-
sures were undertaken to ensure that Shōmu would live to witness the dedication
of the Great Buddha at Tōdaiji. Thus, in 751, Kōmyō ordered forty-nine learned
monks to gather at Shin Yakushiji (dedicated to the Healing Buddha and origi-
nally founded to cure a previous illness of the emperor) to perform a ritual to
prolong life (zoku myōhō).19 These measures seem to have been ineffective, so in
the first month of the next year, one thousand monks and nuns were ordained
as a pious gesture and as a means of gaining karmic benefits, but again Kōmyō’s
efforts on behalf of the ailing emperor were unrewarded.20 Having appealed to
the Healing Buddha with little effect, a month later, she ordered Jitchū (? – 824),
abbot (bettō) at Tōdaiji, to establish a chapel for rituals of repentance dedicated to
Eleven-Headed Kannon as part of a new attempt to prove a cure for the emperor.
The existence of the chapel is confirmed by a requisition for a copy of the Darani
jikkyō to be used at the Queen Consort’s Household Agency in the following
year.21 Kōmyō’s appeal to Eleven-Headed Kannon was apparently successful, for
Shōmu lived for four more years.
Other rites of repentance dedicated to Eleven-Headed Kannon are described
in the Nihon ryōiki, which provides evidence that the deity was worshiped on
a popular level distant from the capital.22 During the reign of Emperor Shōmu,
Dharma Master Daie of Yakushiji was summoned by the nuns of Sayadera in Kii
Province to perform a rite of repentance dedicated to Eleven-Headed Kannon.
Kyōkai, the author of the text, tells of a wicked husband who, learning that his
wife had gone to the temple to join the congregation participating in the event,
castigates Daie and accuses him of having seduced his wife. This evil man then
drags her home and rapes her; as a consequence of his actions an ant bites his
penis, and he dies in acute pain. While Kyōkai’s primary concern is a moral one
and focuses on the retribution that resulted from opposing the Buddha’s teach-
ing, the tale is also significant because it documents rites of repentance that were
open to commoners, unlike the exclusive rituals held at the Queen Consort’s
Household Agency.
  Another rite of repentance dedicated to Eleven-Headed Kannon was held at
Kojimadera, situated in the mountains at the southern edge of the Yamato plain.23
As recorded in the Enryaku sōroku, a biographical text compiled during the reign
of Emperor Kanmu (737 – 806; r. 781 – 806), the principal imperial consort, Fuji-
wara no Otomuro (760 – 790), constructed a hall on the temple’s grounds during
the last decades of the eighth century so that rituals could be held in it every fall
and spring. The temple had been founded more than twenty years earlier by a
certain Hōon (? – 795), who was known as a faith healer. According to the Genkō
shakusho, an early-fourteenth-century Buddhist hagiography, Hōon took the ton-
sure at fifteen and became a monk at Kōfukuji, where he studied under the tute-
lage of Genbō, who was also noted for his abilities as a mendicant.24 After Genbō
was banished from Nara in 745 for becoming too involved in affairs of state,
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  163

Hōon became disillusioned with the religious life in the capital and retreated,
at the age of thirty, to the mountains of Yoshino, where he studied the dhāran. ī 
of the various manifestations of Kannon. But in 752 Hōon was summoned to
the palace to attempt to cure Emperor Shōmu’s recurring illness. He must have
been successful, for he was offered an official ordination. The monk declined this
honor and instead returned to the mountains where he founded Kojimadera and
enshrined in its small hall a sandalwood (danzō) image of Eleven-Headed Kan-
non sixteen feet in height.25 Forty years later Hōon’s skills at healing were again
put to good use when he restored Emperor Kanmu to health after the physicians
in attendance at the palace were unable to relieve his suffering.
  Both tales clearly include considerable fictional elaboration, but they provide
evidence of the popularity of Eleven-Headed Kannon among both commoners
and the court nobles. Both stories indicate that the deity was particularly valued
by monks associated with Hossō teachings, and, as the biography of Hōon makes
clear, Eleven-Headed Kannon was often invoked because of its therapeutic pow-
ers. These points have particular bearing on the rite of repentance dedicated
to the deity said to have been held in 737 by Taichō, the monk associated with
Mount Kōtakami.
  Taichō was born in the village of Asōzu in the province of Echizen in 682.26
Precocious in his attachment to the Buddhist faith, he is said to have fashioned
Buddhist images out of mud as a child; when he was fourteen, Eleven-Headed
Kannon is reported to have appeared to him in a dream. In 716, when Taichō was
thirty-four, the kami of Hakusan, the sacred mountain situated where modern
Fukui, Gifu, and Ishikawa prefectures join, appeared to him in another dream;
and when he met the deity some days later, she was in the guise of Eleven-Headed
Kannon. Taichō first visited the capital in 722, when he cured an illness afflict-
ing Empress Genshō (680 – 748; r. 715 – 724) and as a result received the title of
dharma master (zenji). In 736 the monk again journeyed from his native Echizen
to study in Nara, where he received from Genbō a copy of an Eleven-Headed
Kannon sūtra. When the great smallpox epidemic threatened the capital in the
next year, Taichō is said to have performed the first rite of repentance dedicated
to Eleven-Headed Kannon held in Japan, for which he was again rewarded with
high monastic rank. Taichō subsequently returned to his home province, where
he eventually died in 767.
  Like the account of Hōon, much of the story of Taichō’s career is certainly
fiction, yet enough details of his life correspond to information in other, more-
reliable sources to conclude that certain aspects are in all likelihood true: a
mendicant monk from Echizen had a vision that prompted him to travel to the
capital to seek out religious texts, and while he was there he participated in the
rituals held in the capital to attempt to quell the smallpox epidemic that rav-
aged Japan in 737 and that claimed the lives of the heads of the four branches
of the Fujiwara clan. Supporting this conjecture is the fact that two versions of
the Eleven-Headed Kannon Sūtra were first copied in that very same year and
that Eleven-Headed Kannon remains the Buddhist manifestation of the kami
of Mount Hakusan. The Taichō legend is just one of a number of connections
164  |  samuel c. morse

between Nara and Wakasa, Echizen, and the northern end of Lake Biwa during
the eight and ninth centuries, and it helps to provide a context for the popularity
of the Eleven-Headed Kannon cult outside the capital at the time. Many estates
under the control of Tōdaiji were established in the Hokuriku region, including
the Kusooki estate just to the south of the modern city of Fukui. Within its origi-
nal borders is the Futagami Kannondō, which houses the earliest extant statue
of Eleven-Headed Kannon in Echizen (see figure 7.6). Carved from a single solid
block of hinoki (cryptomeria) probably stained red, the statue can be dated to the
end of the ninth century by the distinctive treatment of the drapery, which jux-
taposes broad, smooth areas with a section covered with alternating sharp and
rounded folds.27 Although the specific circumstances surrounding the sculpting
of the image are unknown, connections between Echizen and the Nara capital
as well as the emphasis in the Taichō legend on the Eleven-Headed Kannon cult
provide a relevant context. Although it is impossible to correlate the sculpting of
the image with a particular event, epidemics were endemic to Japan throughout
the ninth century, and it is not hard to imagine the work’s having been fashioned
in response to a catastrophic event.28
  The Taichō legend provides a context for a number of statues of Eleven-Headed
Kannon housed in temples clustered at the northern end of Lake Biwa. The most
famous of these sanctuaries, Dōganji, is said to have been founded on Mount
Kōtakami in 736 by Taichō at the behest of Emperor Shōmu to combat the great
smallpox epidemic. Among five other temples near the peak of the mountain was
Kannonji, also said to have been founded by Taichō, which counted Keisokuji and
Shakudōji among its associated ritual centers. Like Dōganji, both Keisokuji and
Shakudōji were later moved off the mountain, and both house statues of Eleven-
Headed Kannon.29 The Eleven-Headed Kannon at Keisokuji, carved from a single
block of hinoki, shares many formal characteristics with the statue at the Futa-
gami Kannondō and can also be dated to the end of the ninth century. As for the
statue at Shakudōji, which was sculpted from a single block of keyaki (zelkova)
and then polychromed, the folds of the drapery are more two dimensional, and
the patterns they establish are less assertive, indicative of a date in the middle of
the tenth century. Other temples traditionally associated with Taichō are found
around the shores of Lake Biwa and in the southeast corner of Kyoto Prefecture
along one of the early routes linking Ōmi with Nara.30 The existence of a group
of sanctuaries that share a common history and often share a common object
of worship attests to the credibility of the Taichō legend and the vitality of the
Eleven-Headed Kannon cult in the region during the ninth and tenth centuries.
  The influence of Nara on the religious culture of the region is further con-
firmed by the important role played by Wakasa in the omizutori ritual. Accord-
ing to the Tōdaiji yōroku, the late twelfth-century history of Tōdaiji, on the first
day of the fourteen-day rite of repentance dedicated to Eleven-Headed Kannon,
Jitchū summoned the kami throughout Japan to be in attendance. All appeared
with the exception of Wakasa Hiko (called Onyū Myōjin in the text), who was
away fishing. It was not until the ritual was almost finished that Wakasa Hiko
realized his mistake. To apologize he and his consort took the form of black and
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  165

white cormorants and miraculously flew underground from Wakasa to Nara.

They thereby connected the Negori River to a two-shafted well, known as the
Wakasa well and situated on the hill behind the Great Buddha Hall, thereby pro-
viding a permanent source of freshwater for use in the ceremony.
  The ritual “sending” of water to Tōdaiji has been held at Jingūji in Obama at
least since the last quarter of the seventeenth century and includes a rite of re-
pentance dedicated to the Healing Buddha and a procession of pine torches along
the Negori River. Like other tales describing the early history of Buddhism in
Japan, much of this story is in the realm of legend. Yet on a map of Tōdaiji dating
to 756, the Wakasa well is clearly labeled, an indication that the tradition must
be accorded some authenticity. Moreover, the credence given to the tradition in
medieval times is attested to as well by the inclusion of the two cormorants next
to the well in the late Kamakura-period Nigatsudō Mandala.31
The statue of Eleven-Headed Kannon at Tadadera in Obama (see figure 7.5)
provides additional proof of the influence of the capital on the region and evi-
dence that the Eleven-Headed Kannon cult had penetrated there by the second
half of the eighth century. According to temple legends, Tadadera was founded
during the first reign of Empress Shōtoku (718 – 770; r. 749 – 758, 764 – 770) when
a triad of the Healing Buddha was installed as the main object of worship at the
temple. The three statues that make up that triad today are all stylistically dif-
ferent, suggesting that the present grouping is a later reconfiguration: whereas
the Healing Buddha and Kannon statues date to the first part of the ninth cen-
tury, the formal characteristics of the Eleven-Headed Kannon indicate that it
was sculpted close to the time of the temple’s legendary founding.32 Carved from
a single solid block of unpainted hinoki, this statue shares certain formal char-
acteristics with one of the earliest images of Eleven-Headed Kannon known in
Japan: the painting on the interior wall of the Image Hall at Hōryūji. On both
works the heads are small in proportion to the bodies, and the scarves delineate
two loops immediately below the waist and are tightly gathered on the forearms.
However, the stiff frontal pose of the statue, the ungainly proportions of the body,
and the awkward treatment of the edge of the drapery at the top of the skirt be-
tray the provincial origins of the work.
The statue of the Eleven-Headed Kannon at Tadadera is just one of a number
of early images of Eleven-Headed Kannon found in the Wakasa region. Also in
Obama is Hagadera, which according to its temple legend was founded by Gyōki
in 717 at the behest of Empress Genshō. Dating to the middle decades of the ninth
century, the statue of Eleven-Headed Kannon that serves as the main image of
the temple today also perpetuates both formal and technical characteristics of
sculpture produced in Nara during the second half of the eighth century.33 While
the image is carved from a single block of hinoki, many of the surfaces, particu-
larly on the skirtlike garment and the scarves in direct contact with the body,
have been modeled with lacquer paste in a manner reminiscent of wood-core
dry-lacquer sculpture.34 Moreover, the folds of the drapery are deeply carved and
set up repetitive patterns over the legs.
  These two images provide further evidence of the active worship of Eleven-
166  |  samuel c. morse

Headed Kannon in the Wakasa region in the late eighth and ninth centuries. The
distinctive technical and formal qualities of the works indicate that the statues
were not brought to Wakasa from the capital, but that local sculptors produced
them to meet the religious needs of the local population. It is possible to imag-
ine a situation similar to one described in tale eleven in the second book of the
Nihon ryōiki. Kanki was a monk from the Nagusa district in Kii Province, who
was both “gifted in carving . . . [and] such a learned monk that he fulfilled the role
of a speaker in a ceremony and was influential among the people.”35 During the
reign of Emperor Shōmu, he carved statues of Shakyamuni and his attendants
for his local temple, Nōōdera, in his home village, and in 779 he began work on a
ten-foot image of Eleven-Headed Kannon. Although Kanki died before he could
complete the project, a talented carver from his village subsequently finished the
image on his behalf. Both statues in Obama were probably produced under simi-
lar circumstances, for stylistically (Tadadera) and technically (Hagadera) they
deviate from established metropolitan norms. The statues and the texts describe
a pattern that would frequently be repeated throughout the early Heian period.
As metropolitan practices penetrated into the more remote parts of Japan, their
forms became altered in response to local conditions and needs.
  In contrast to the large amount of textual evidence documenting the Eleven-
Headed Kannon cult in the eighth century, records from the ninth century are
much scarcer. Many extant statues, however, attest to a rise in Eleven-Headed
Kannon worship throughout Japan at the time, and the textual evidence that
does remain clearly indicates that the deity continued to be invoked for both
thaumaturgic and therapeutic ends both in the capital and in the provinces. For
example, the increased institutionalization of the worship of the deity can be as-
certained from an edict promulgated by Emperor Ninmyō (810 – 850; r. 833 – 850)
in 837:
There is nothing more efficacious in bringing peace to the people and to the
realm than the mystical power of Eleven-Headed Kannon. I request that at
each of the kokubunji in the Five Home Provinces and those along the Seven
Roads, seven monks who have undergone suitable training perform the Eleven-
Headed Kannon ritual for seven days and seven nights.36
Unfortunately, the text does not tell specifically what prompted the emperor
to make such a declaration. The fact that it was issued in the second month,
however, permits speculation that he might have been seeking to establish rites
of repentance as part of the shunie to mark the beginning of a new agricultural
year. This record also demonstrates that the kokubunji, the national system of
monasteries established by Shōmu during the mid-eighth century and that once
functioned exclusively as mechanisms for state control as well as outposts of
metropolitan culture, were being used for rituals that responded more directly
to the immediate needs of the populace during the ninth century. Rites seeking
the direct intervention of Kannon and Eleven-Headed Kannon, and of the Heal-
ing Buddha in particular, were held with considerable frequency at the kokubunji
throughout the early Heian period. Eventually these practices transformed the
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  167

temples to such a degree that statues of the Healing Buddha replaced images of
the Historical Buddha at the majority of the kokubunji across Japan.37
  The benefits of Kannon’s power continued to be sought in times of crisis as
well. In the second month of 849 the Bureau of Divination alerted the emperor
that there was reason to believe that epidemics would be severe and that floods
would occur in the fourth and fifth months.38 In his edict responding to this por-
tent, the emperor noted that recently many young people had died from disease,
and he instructed that the powers of the kami and the buddhas be enlisted to
prevent such events from recurring. Offerings were made to shrines; and at all
the kokubunji, kokubuniji (national nunneries), and jōgakuji (officially sanctioned
temples), the Lotus Sūtra and other texts for the protection of the nation were
recited during the day, and Kannon was worshiped at night for a period of seven
  Fourteen years later, in 863, Ken’ei, a lecturer (kōshi) from the province of Hōki,
reported to the emperor the difficulties experienced by peasants in his province
due to poor harvests and outbreaks of pestilence. To alleviate their suffering,
Ken’ei stated that he had used some of the income he received to make paintings
of Kannon and of the Thirteen Thousand Buddhas, which he had placed in the
kokubunji of the province, but that he needed more funds to perform rituals. In
a world where disease was a constant source of worry, the protection provided
by Eleven-Headed Kannon would have been particularly welcome; thus, it is not
surprising that the emperor granted Ken’ei’s request.39
  Assistance from Kannon and the Healing Buddha was sought again in the
twelfth month of 875, when the Bureau of Divination determined that the up-
coming year would be particularly inauspicious.40 To prevent the occurrence of
drought, pestilence, disasters, and the outbreak of war, offerings were made to
the shrines in each province, and for three days each kokubunji, kokubun niji, and
jōgakuji was directed to have seven monks recite the Kongō Hannya kyō during
the day and chant the names of the Healing Buddha and Kannon during the
night. Although no specific mention is made of which manifestation of Kannon
was used in these rituals, many of the statues of Eleven-Headed Kannon can be
dated to the middle decades of the ninth century, a time when outbreaks of dis-
ease were endemic. The existence of these images suggests that while the court
was attempting to deal with these calamities on a national level, individuals or
religious confraternities commissioned images of Eleven-Headed Kannon to seek
protection on a regional one. The cult, which had first been established in the
centers of religious and political power in Nara, had been adopted by the devout
of all social classes across Japan.

Sandalwood Imagery and Eleven-Headed Kannon

The use of unpainted wood was another distinctive aspect of the Eleven-Headed
Kannon cult throughout the early Heian period. Unpainted sculpture in aromatic
woods, frequently referred to in texts as danzō (sandalwood images), has a long
history in the Buddhist world. It can be traced to India, where tradition claimed
168  |  samuel c. morse

that the legendary “first image” of the Buddha, commissioned by King Udayana
of Kauambi, was carved of “ox-head” sandalwood (sendan) and was five shaku
in height. This tale, recorded in the Zōitsu Agon kyō, accorded high value to un-
painted statues fashioned from finely grained aromatic wood.41 The Chinese pil-
grim Faxian (early fifth century) claimed to have seen the original statue on his
travels to India in 400, and a century later, Emperor Wu of the Southern Liang
dynasty (502 – 556) sent two deputies to India to claim the image but was forced
to accept a copy in purple sandalwood (shitan) instead.42 Xuanzang reported that
he had come across a statue said to be Udayana’s first image in Khotan in 644 and
that when he reached Kauambi, he discovered the actual figure of the Buddha
carved of sandalwood that had been commissioned by King Udayana. Xuanzang
played an important role in popularizing sandalwood imagery when he brought
“four carved sandalwood images of the Buddha” back to Chang’an from India in
645.43 Thus, the legend of the first image marked the beginning throughout East
Asia of a practice of conferring high sanctity to unpainted statues carved from
aromatic woods.
  Another text that describes the merits of image making, the Tathāgata Prati-
bimba Pratisthanuśamsa Sūtra (Daijō zōzō kudoku kyō), records that the first
image of the Buddha was made of purple sandalwood (shitan) and measured
seven shaku in height.44 Translated into Chinese in the late seventh century,
this sūtra first appeared in Japan in 736, one year before the appearance of the
Zōitsu Agon-kyō and three years before the record of Xuanzang’s journey.45 It
was through these texts and the various versions of the Eleven-Headed Kannon
sūtras that the Japanese of the mid-eighth century learned of the continental
tradition of the sandalwood imagery. In fact, the religious authority accorded
to sandalwood imagery led the authors of some later sources to associate danzō
with the earliest history of Buddhism in Japan. According to the Fusō ryakki,
compiled by Kōen (? – 1169) in the eleventh century, an eight-shaku piece of san-
dalwood (danboku) floated ashore on Awaji Island in the fourth month of 595.46
The local residents, not recognizing its rarity, wanted to use the log for firewood;
however, Prince Shōtoku, understanding that it was “the fragrant wood sendan
and that it came from India,” ordered a Korean sculptor from Paekche to carve
it into an image of Kannon several shaku in height. Shōtoku then enshrined the
finished statue at Hisoji in the Yoshino district, where it was said to give off a
miraculous light intermittently.
  The exotic origins of sandalwood are also alluded to in the Tōnomine ryakki,
the early history of the Danzan shrine-temple complex. According to the text a
three-shaku image of Nyoirin Kannon made of white sandalwood (byakudan)
and housed in one of its halls, the Nyohōdō, was found floating in the ocean by
the priest Jōe (? – 711) when he returned to Japan from Tang China in 665.47 While
this statue is no longer extant, a sandalwood image of Eleven-Headed Kannon
formerly in the shrine’s possession is generally believed to have been brought
back by the monk.48 The artist seems to have attempted to follow specifically
the prescriptions in the Eleven-Headed Kannon sūtras in crafting the small and
precisely carved image: finely detailed jewelry sheathes much of the body, and
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  169

the left hand holds a water bottle. The only variation is in the treatment of the
right hand, which clutches a rosary rather than being held in the gesture of al-
laying fear.
  Two other danzō were also brought to Japan from the continent during the
eighth century. One, which most scholars believe to be a rare iconographic vari-
ant of Eleven-Headed Kannon, is the Nine-Headed Kannon at Hōryūji, recorded
in the 747 inventory as having been brought from Tang China in 719.49 The prov-
enance of the second, an Eleven-Headed Kannon in the collection of Jinpukuji
in Yamaguchi Prefecture, is less clear.50 In their formal qualities, both follow the
prescriptions of the sūtras; however, while the Hōryūji work is sculpted of sandal-
wood, the Jinpukuji statue is made of cherry. These three Chinese works provide
evidence that the eighth-century Japanese learned about Eleven-Headed Kannon
imagery not only from texts, but also from actual works of art.
  Danzō appear in Japan with increased frequency during the second half of
the eighth century. The Amida kekaryō shizaichō, an inventory of materials used
in rites of repentance dedicated to Amida compiled in 767, records two danzō
statues of Kannon in the Amidadō, founded in 741 and later incorporated into
Tōdaiji.51 In 752, Hōon enshrined his monumental danzō of Eleven-Headed Kan-
non at Kojimadera, and in the following year the Chinese monk Jianzhen (Gan-
jin; 688 – 763) arrived in Japan with a white sandalwood (byakusendan) image
of Thousand-Armed Kannon.52 A story in the Nihon ryōiki dated to 758 likens a
statue of the Healing Buddha that had lost both ears and been buried in the sand
to the “danzō statue made by King Udayana (uten danzō).”53 Other records of
danzō in textual sources include portable shrines of Yakushi and Fukūkenjaku
Kannon, a set of the Four Divine Kings and an eight-shaku statue of Thousand-
Armed Kannon.54 None of these images remains today, but clearly not all of them
were made of actual sandalwood, for it does not grow in Japan; and in South Asia,
where it is indigenous, it never grows to great size. With no sandalwood available
to them except for a small number of blocks brought from the continent, the Jap-
anese sculptors of the ninth century were obliged to turn to native materials for
their images of Eleven-Headed Kannon. In fact the use of woods other than san-
dalwood for danzō is not without scriptural justification. Huizhao’s commentary
on Xuanzang’s translation of the Eleven-Headed Kannon Sūtra authorizes the
use of baimu ­(Japanese hakuboku) when white sandalwood cannot be obtained:
It was asked, “If there is no white sandalwood, out of what kind of wood should
the people of this country make their images?” It was answered, “If by any
means sandalwood can be obtained, they should make them from it. If they
cannot get it reasonably, then they should make the images out of baimu.”55
In both China and Japan, baimu was used to refer to different varieties of cypress
(hinoki and sawara) and to Japanese nutmeg (kaya), all of which are extremely
light in color and highly aromatic.56 Apparently, the Chinese sculptor of the
Jinpukuji statue also found cherry appropriate for an image of Eleven-Headed
  Huizhao’s commentary, the early tales, and the statues themselves thus offer
170  |  samuel c. morse

a picture of how the Chinese and Japanese interpreted the term danzō during
the eighth and ninth centuries. When one of the varieties of sandalwood was
available, they sculpted images out of this exotic aromatic wood; but because it
was so rare in both countries, sculptors looked for native materials that shared
some of sandalwood’s properties: light color, fine grain, and high aroma. In Japan
in particular, this concept of sacred wood seems to have engendered a sympa-
thetic response among a people who had long regarded great trees as divine and
had developed unusual sensitivity to the inherent properties — aesthetic as well
as religious — of the cypress, nutmeg, and cryptomeria that grew majestically
throughout the land.
  The artistic evidence from the ninth century clearly confirms this interpreta-
tion. Only one Japanese image of Eleven-Headed Kannon dating to the ninth
century was carved from sandalwood, a statue for which the provenance is com-
pletely unknown.57 Both in scale and in the detail of the carving, this work, now
owned by the Nara National Museum, closely follows the prescriptions of the
Eleven-Headed Kannon sūtras. All other early Heian works use substitute ma-
terials, especially hinoki and kaya, and although some are small in scale, others
are much larger.
  Representative of the group of small-scale images is the statue housed today at
Chōenji in Osaka (see figure 7.3). Carved from a solid block of hinoki, the image
measures forty-five centimeters in height. The drapery and scarves that cover the
volumetric body are characterized by deeply carved folds, which set up a variety
of assertive patterns, and the robe is further embellished by whorl-shaped details
that are meant to represent overlapping layers of cloth. Like many early Heian-
period works of sculpture, nothing is known of the history of the statue; but on
the basis of style it can be dated to the middle decades of the ninth century. Other
small-scale images of Eleven-Headed Kannon dating to the ninth century include
the statue at Ryōsenji (see figure 7.2), carved from a solid block of kaya, remark-
able for its exaggerated proportions and glowering expression, and the statue at
Kaijūsenji, also made of kaya and distinguished by its precisely carved drapery
and animated pose.58
  The Eleven-Headed Kannon at Hokkeji (see figure 7.1) is representative of works
on a larger scale. Standing just over one meter in height, the image is noteworthy
for its exaggerated contrapposto; full, fleshy body; and wide-open eyes, the pupils
of which are fashioned from copper. The block of kaya from which the statue was
carved was left unpainted; however, a yellow pigment seems to have been rubbed
into the surface to make the wood appear more like sandalwood. This treatment
was used on other ninth-century works including the statue of Eleven-Headed
Kannon housed today at Jikō Enpukuji in Wakayama Prefecture (see figure 7.4).
With no large blocks of sandalwood available, the sculptors of the ninth century
were obliged to invent a variety of techniques to make their images conform as
closely as possible to the descriptions in the sacred texts.
  Based on the evidence cited above, it becomes possible to propose an explana-
tion for the adoption of wood as the primary material of the Japanese sculptor’s
craft at the start of the ninth century. The fashioning of Buddhist images out of
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  171

wood received an important boost from the establishment of an independent

sculpture atelier at Tōshōdaiji in the 760s; it produced numerous single wood-
block statues during the latter decades of the eighth century. This workshop be-
came a source not only for technical expertise, but also for stylistic innovation.
The volumetric bodies and repetitive drapery patterns that characterize much of
the wood sculpture of the early Heian period have their source in the Buddhist
imagery in China, the styles with which Jianzhen and the monks and artisans
that accompanied him would have been most familiar and which they adopted
for statues at the temple. But most important was the rapid rise of the Eleven-
Headed Kannon cult in response to raging epidemics in the eighth and ninth
centuries. Efficacious worship of the deity required images in unpainted wood,
and wood was the only material available to patrons and artists away from the
state-supported sculpture ateliers in the Nara and Heian capitals.

The Legacy of the Eleven-Headed Kannon Cult

The strength of the Eleven-Headed Kannon cult during the latter part of the
Heian period, especially in Nara and Ōmi, is documented by both images and
texts. These sources reveal that the deity continued to be invoked in ways conso-
nant with those of the previous two centuries, primarily to seek immanent bene-
fits. One example is the statue commissioned by the Shingon monk Shōbō (832 –  
909), who is best known as the founder of Daigoji. Although Shōbō first took the
tonsure in 847 in Heian under the supervision of Shinga (801 – 879), a disciple of
Kūkai, he soon thereafter traveled to Nara, where he resided at Tōdaiji for over
twenty years and studied Sanron, Hossō, and Kegon teachings. One of the posi-
tions that Shōbō held after he left Nara and returned to the Heian capital was
abbot of Gūfukuji (better known as Kawaharadera), a post that had been awarded
to high-raking members of the Shingon sect since Kūkai first stayed there on his
journeys to Mount Kōya.59 Throughout his lifetime Shōbō was particularly active
as a sculptor and was responsible for the production of more than fifty works, one
of which was a sixteen-foot (jōroku) danzō image of Eleven-Headed Kannon (not
extant today) enshrined at Gūfukuji during the first decade of the tenth century.
Although the specific circumstances surrounding the commission of the image
are not described in detail in Shōbō’s biography, it is possible to conclude that
even for one of the most influential Shingon monks of the day, artistic forms
reflecting patterns of religious practices established in Nara during the eighth
century still held currency.
  Two events in the late tenth century also attest to the continued strength
of the Eleven-Headed Kannon cult even as Pure Land Buddhism had begun to
capture the attention of the residents of the Heian capital. In 951, in response to
the outbreak of an epidemic in the capital, the evangelical monk Kūya (903 – 972),
known for his single-minded commitment to Amida, commissioned a statue
of Eleven-Headed Kannon and a single set of the Daihannya kyō in six hun-
dred fascicles for Saikōji, a temple at the eastern edge of the Heian capital.60
This statue, now housed at Rokuharamitsuji, is not a danzō, but Kūya’s choice of
172  |  samuel c. morse

Figure 7.7. Eleven-Headed

Kannon. Twelfth century.
Wood with cut gold leaf.
H. 39.2 cm. Kōgenji, Shiga

Eleven-Headed Kannon reveals that belief in the efficacy of the deity in combat-
ing pestilence had not waned.
At the end of the century, Heisū (928 – ?), who studied both Kegon and Shin-
gon teachings at Tōdaiji, founded a temple in Ujidawara to function as a private
retreat.61 Known as Zenjōji, the sanctuary was halfway between Ishiyama and
Kizu on one of the ancient routes linking Ōmi and Nara. While administra-
tive duties kept Heisū at Tōdaiji, work on the main hall and the main object of
worship, an eight-shaku image of Eleven-Headed Kannon, began in 991 and was
completed in 995.62 Again, although no contemporary documents describe the
rituals in which the image was used, a letter dating to 1151 detailing the founding
of the temple states that Heisū performed rites of repentance there; this revela-
tion is not surprising given the continued vitality of the Eleven-Headed Kannon
cult at Tōdaiji.
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  173

The image at Zenjōji, standing in a stiff frontal pose and fashioned from a
block of cherry for the front and hinoki for the back, preserves a number of for-
mal characteristics of the sculpture of the previous century. These included the
volumetric body, the alternating sharp and rounded drapery folds on the legs,
and the whorl-like patterns of drapery between the legs and along the edges of
the end of the skirt, which hangs down from the waist. In fact, the Zenjōji Eleven-
Headed Kannon is just one of a number of archaicizing works produced at the
behest of monks from Nara at the end of the tenth century and the beginning
of the eleventh.63 The statue provides crucial evidence that not only were Nara
monks perpetuating forms of worship established in the Heijō capital, but they
were perpetuating early stylistic norms as well. As Pure Land beliefs gained hold
over the religious lives of the Japanese during the eleventh and twelfth centu-
ries, images of Eleven-Headed Kannon were sculpted with less frequency. Yet
in areas where the cult dedicated to the deity had been long established, such as
Ōmi and Echizen, images of the deity were still regularly produced. One work
(figure 7.7) in the collection of Kōgenji, situated at the foot of Mount Kōtakami, is
especially noteworthy. While the garments are decorated with kirikane (cut gold
leaf), reflecting the lavish tastes of the period, the statue is carved from a single
block of kaya (in the manner of the early Heian period), which has been stained
to resemble sandalwood and measures just under forty centimeters in height, the
size prescribed by the Eleven-Headed Kannon sūtras. Like the works from the
tenth century mentioned above, this image reveals the tenacious hold the Eleven-
Headed Kannon cult had across Japan throughout much of the Heian period.
Few of the statues discussed here are well-known. Many have been ignored
both by art historians and by historians of religion because they are not recorded
in texts and are at temples isolated from the centers of power and religious au-
thority. What textual evidence that does remain, such as the biography of Taichō,
is frequently legendary. Yet as has been shown above, many of these sources
provide a degree of access to the images whose early histories have been often
obscured by the Shingon and Tendai traditions. A careful examination of Eleven-
Headed Kannon worship shows that the spread of Buddhism to the provinces in
the ninth and tenth centuries was directed not by monks from the newly estab-
lished esoteric sects, but by monks with strong connections with Nara. Hossō
monks in particular, who are better known for the study of philosophically com-
plex doctrine, promoted modes of worship in both the capital and the provinces
that responded directly to the immanent needs of many Japanese of the ninth
century. The statues and the cult of Eleven-Headed Kannon force us to revise our
understanding of the relationship between center and periphery in early Heian
Japan. While the temples of the Shingon and Tendai sects and the sculptures and
paintings housed in them will continue to be better known, it is the works of art
in lesser known peripheral sanctuaries that more accurately reveal the nature
of the religious lives of the Japanese of the early Heian period. Theirs are lives
documented not by texts, but by images.
174  |  samuel c. morse

1. For discussions of Buddhism in the ninth century, see Sonoda Kōyū, “Heian bukkyō no
seiritsu”; and Hayami Tasuku, “Heian bukkyō ron.” Ryūichi Abé is one of the first scholars to
acknowledge continuities between mikkyō practices in the eighth century and those in the
early Heian period (Abé, The Weaving of Mantra, 151 – 184).
2. For a discussion of the position of Nara monks in the early Heian period, see Ueshima
Toru, “Heian shoki bukkyō no saikenchō”; and Sone Masato, “Heian shoki Nanto bukkyō to
gokoku taisei.”
3. Shoku Nihongi, Tenpyō 18 (746) 6/18.
4. Shiyi mian shenzhou xin jing, in Taishō shinshu daizōkyō (hereafter T) 1071, 152a – 154c;
Ishida Mosaku, Shakyō yori mitaru Nara chō bukkyō no kenkyū, 84.
5. Shiyi mian guanyin shenzhou jing, T 1070:149a – 152a; Sawa Ryūken in “Jūichimen kan-
non no hyōgen ni tsuite,” 61; Ishida Mosaku, Shakyō yori mitaru Nara chō bukkyō no kenkyū,
84, 89.
6. Darani jijing, T 901, chap. 4, 812b – 825c. Nakamura believes the name should be Ad-
higupta (Nakamura Hajime, “Keka no seiritsu,” 31).
7. T 1802. Ishida Mosaku, Shakyō yori mitaru Nara chō bukkyō no kenkyū, 115.
8. Shiyi mian guanzizai pusa xin miyan yogui jing, T 1069, 139a – 146a. For information about
the introduction of the sūtra in Japan, see Mikkyō daijiten, 850.
9. Shiyi mian guanyin shenzhou jing, T 1070:149a.
10. The list is from T 1071, 153c – 154c.
11. T 1071, 154c.
12. Shiyi mian guanyin shenzhou jing, T 1070, 150c – 151a.
13. Yoshida Yasuo, Nihon kodai bosatsu to minshū, 155 – 168; Abé, The Weaving of Mantra,
159 – 176.
14. The record of presentation for Hata no Kimi Toyotari dated Tenpyō 4 (732) includes
the Jūichimen jō; those of Kamo Agatanushi Kurobito and Isonokamibe Oshiyama datable to
Tenpyō 6 (734) include the Jūichimen kyō darani. Subsequent records indicate that study of
dhāran. ī of Eleven-Headed Kannon continued to be an important part of the course of study.
In total, the dhāran. ī of Eleven-Headed Kannon was studied on thirteen occasions. That of
Thousand-Armed Kannon was studied on twenty-five occasions, and that of Fukūkenjaku
Kannon on eleven occasions (Nara ibun, 2:508 – 510).
15. Nakamura, “Keka no seiritsu,” 25 – 34.
16. Yokomichi Mario, “Shunie no aramashi,” as quoted in Nakano Genzō, Rokudō e no
kenkyū, 9.
17. Satō Michiko as quoted in Nakano, Rokudō e no kenkyū, 9 – 10.
18. Horiike Shunpō, “Nigatsudō shunie to Kannon shinkō,” 176 – 177. The date for the found-
ing of the rite of repentance is from the “Tōdaiji gon bettō Jitchū nijū kyōkujō” detailing Jitchū’s
career. In it he indicates that he has performed the rite of repentance for twenty-seven days be-
ginning on the first day of the second month consecutively for seventy years between Tenpyō
Shōhō 4 (752) and Daidō 4 (809). See Tōdaiji yōroku, 269.
19. Shoku Nihongi, Tenpyō Shōhō 3 (751) 10/20.
20. Shoku Nihongi, Tenpyō Shōhō 4 (752) 1/15.
21. The document is included in Horiike, “Nigatsu-dō shunie to Kannon shinkō,” 175.
22. Kyoko Nakamura, Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition, 175 – 176.
23. For the biography of Hōon and the history of Kojimadera, see Tsuji Hidenori, “Hōon
hōshi gyōjō kō.”
24. Genkō shakusho, chap. 9, “Shaku Hōon,” 136 – 137.
The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century  |  175

25. “Kojima sanji konryū engi taishi den,” 103. The Daigoji bon was compiled in Jōgen 1
26. The oldest extant version of Taichō’s biography, the Taichō kashō denki, is in the collec-
tion of Kanazawa bunkō and was transcribed in Shōchū 2 (1325) from a text first written down
in Tentoku 1 (957). See Hakusan shiryō shū, ed. Anada Sanjrō et al., 1:219 – 225. Other versions
of the biography are in the Ozoe Mitsutani family collection and at Heisenji and Ochi Jinja. For
a discussion of the biography of Taichō, see Hongo Masatsuna, “Kodai Hokuriku no shūkyō
bunka to kōryū,” 372 – 377.
27. Nishikawa Shinji believes that the statue can be stylistically related to works such as
the seated Miroku at the Jison’in in Wakayama datable to Kanpyō 4 (892) and Eleven-Headed
Kannon at Ryūgeji in Hiroshima. Thus, he dates the statue to the late ninth or early tenth
century. See Nishikawa Shinji and Nagasaki Ichirō, “Echizen ni okeru kodai zōzō to sono
haikei,” 923. Inoue Tadashi proposes a late eighth-century date (Kobutsu-chōkoku no ikonoroji,
189 – 194).
28. William Wayne Farris, Population, Disease, and Land in Early Japan, 645 – 900, 160 –  
29. For illustrations of the statue at Keisokuji, see Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Kōkoku no Jūichimen
Kannon, 116 – 119; and 120 – 123 for the statue at Shakudōji.
30. In Shiga Prefecture these temples include Chūsenji, Sōshūji, and Ōsakidera in Makino-
chō; Ōtanidera, Yataka Gokokuji, and Jōheiji in Ibuki chō; Iwamadera and Hōzōji in Ōtsu city.
In Kyoto Prefecture they include Kontaiji in Wasoku chō, Jindōji in Yamashiro chō, and Daidōji
in Ujidawara chō. See Hongō Masatsugu, “Taichō to Hakusan shinkō,” 893 – 895.
31. For an illustration of this painting, see Nara kokuritsu hakubutsukan, ed., Tōdaiji
Nigatsudō to omizutori, 23.
32. Gogota Hisanori, “Tadadera mokuzō Jūichimen Kannon bosatsu ryūzō ni tsuite,” 1 –  
33. For an illustration of this statue, see Mizuno Keizaburō, ed., Mikkyō jiin to butsuzō, pl.
34. Asai Kazuharu, “Hagadera Jūichimen Kannon zō ni tsuite,” 31 – 33.
35. Nakamura, Miraculous Stories, 263.
36. Shoku Nihon kōki, Jōwa 4 (837) 2/2.
37. By Genkyō 5 (879) the main image of the kokubunji for the province of Sagami had been
replaced with a statue of Yakushi. Other kokubunji with images of the Healing Buddha as ob-
jects of worship during the ninth century include those in Sado, Tanba, Tango, Awa, and Iyo.
See Sandai jitsuroku, Genkyō 5 (879) 10/3; Nakano Genzō, Keka no geijutsu, 112 – 128; Nishio
Masahito, Yakushi shinkō, 50 – 51.
38. Shoku Nihon kōki, Kashō 2 (849) 2/25.
39. Sandai jitsuroku, Jōgan 5 (863) 4 – 3.
40. Sandai jitsuroku, Jōgan 15 (873) 12 – 13.
41. Ekottarāgama Sūtra, chap. 28, T 125, 706a. See also Alexander C. Soper, “The Best
Known Indian Images.”
42. James Legge, trans., A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, 57. Although the earliest known
attempt by the Chinese to obtain the first image of the Buddha for themselves did not take
place until 502, sandalwood images were made in south China as early as the late 460s. Sam-
bao kandong lu records that the sculptor Ho Jingshu of the Song dynasty (420 – 478) sculpted
an image made of sendan during the years 465 – 471 (Mōri Hisashi, “Heian jidai no danzō ni
tsuite,” 134).
43. Daiciensi sanzang fashi zhuan, T 2053, 252b – 253a; Si-yu-ki, Buddhist Records of the
Western World, trans. Samuel Beal, 235.
176  |  samuel c. morse

44. T 694. The text was translated in 691. See entry for “Daijō zōzō kudoku kyō” in Mo-
chizuki Shinkō, ed., Bukkyō daijiten, 4:3277b.
45. Ishida Mosaku, Shakyō yori mitaru, 24, 34, 145.
46. Fusō ryakki, 39.
47. Tōnomine ryakki, 2:501.
48. For illustrations of the image, see Nara kokuritsu hakubutsukan, ed., Danzō, entry 29.
49. The passage in Hōryūji garan engi narabi rūki shizaichō reads, “One danzō brought over
from Tang in Yōrō 3 (719)” (Nara ibun, 1:345). Some scholars believe that the statue was actu-
ally brought to Japan in the previous year by Dōji. See Kameda Tsutomu, “Kichijōten to jōdai
no Konkōmyō kyō no bijutsu,” 48. For a discussion of the various theories about the relation-
ship between the entry in the Shizaichō and the statue, see Uehara Shōichi, “Kannon bosatsu
(Kumen Kannon),” 58 – 60.
50. For illustrations of this work, see Nara kokuritsu hakubutsukan, ed., Danzō, entry 30.
51. Amida kekaryō shizaichō, 671, 679; Nakano, Rokudō e, 14; Takei Akio, “Narachō no
Amida keka,” 13.
52. Tōdaiwajō tōseiden, included in Tōshōdaiji, 1:91.
53. Nakamura, Miraculous Stories, 212.
54. The portable shrines are recorded as having been in the Ushirodō at Kōfukuji. See
Kōfukuji rūki, 19. The Four Divine Kings were sculpted by the monk Kaimyō for the eastern
precinct at Yakushiji (Shoji engishū [Daigoji bon], 116). The Thousand-Armed Kannon was at
Katsuoji before 780 (Shaji engi shū [Gokokuji bon], 286).
55. Inoue Kazutoshi, “Danzō kō,” 16 – 17, quoting the Shiyi mian shenzhou xin jing ishu.
56. Inoue Tadashi, Danzō, 26 – 27.
57. Although it first gained some attention in 1909 (“Hara ke zō no Jūichimen Kannon zō,”
Kokka, no. 224 [January 1909]) and has often been included in exhibitions since the early 1970s,
this statue has until recently received little scholarly attention. Kurata Bunsaku, who first
recognized the importance of the work, believed it to date from the beginning of the ninth
century; however, he harbored some doubts about both the date and the statue’s provenance.
For discussions of the statue, see Tokyo kokuritsu hakubutsukan, ed., Heian jidai no chōkoku,
entry no. 12; Nara kokuritsu hakubutsukan, ed., Kannon bosatsu, 44 – 45; Nara kokuritsu
hakubutsukan, ed., Danzō, entry 31; Nara kokuritsu hakubutsukan, ed., Tenpyo, entry 78.
58. For illustrations of this image see Nara kokuritsu hakubutsukan, ed., Danzō, entry 36.
59. Saeki Arikiyo, Shōbō, 118 – 126. Shōbō was appointed to the post in 879 and again in 883,
resigning the position in 891. The date for the statue comes from Inoue, Danzō, 38.
60. Details of the founding of the temple and the sculpting of the image can be found in the
Kōya rui, a biography of the monk compiled in 973, and the Rokuharamitsuji engi of 1122. See
Itō Shirō, “Rokuharamitsuji Jūichimen Kannon zō,” 91 – 95; for an illustration of the statue see
color plate 7.
61. Information about Heisū and Zenjōji can be found in Mizuno Keizaburō, “Zenjōji no
chōkoku to sono shūhen,” 168 – 174.
62. For an illustration of this statue see ibid., pl. 8.
63. See Mizuno Keizaburō, “Hosei ikō ni tsuite,” and idem, “Zenjōji,” 180 – 184.
part III

Establishing New Religious Spheres

8  d   Ryūichi Abé

Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice

On Renovation in the History of Buddhist  
Writing in the Early Heian Period

here was an epistemic shift in the production of Japanese Buddhist texts
in the early Heian period, a shift that enabled Buddhists to incorporate
the elements of meditation, ritual, and religious practice in general
within the science of scriptural exegesis. Until the early ninth century,
the exegetic texts written by Japanese Buddhist scholars were concerned entirely
with doctrinal issues. By contrast, by the mid-tenth century, the great majority
of Buddhist commentarial texts had their focus on ritual practices, especially
on the rituals of esoteric Buddhism, the ritual practices that became integral
within the management of the Heian court and the courtiers’ lives. To appraise
the significance of this change, this essay will examine Buddhist writing against
the broader background of early Heian textual production and then compare as
case studies two commentarial texts on the Prajñā-pāramitā Heart Sūtra, which
is popularly known in Japan as Hannya shingyō, or simply, Shingyō. One of the
commentarial texts was written by Sanron master Chikō (709 – 781), the other
by Shingon master Kūkai (774 – 835). By the late Nara period Chikō’s text estab-
lished itself as a classic, setting the standard for the early Heian Buddhist scholar-
priests to exercise their exegeses. It represented the exemplary mode of textual
production under a regime whose ruling ideology was dominantly Confucian. In
contrast, Kūkai’s text can be understood as a challenge to the established method
of interpretation, a challenge aimed at creating a distinctly Buddhist method for
interpreting Buddhist texts. By comparing these two texts, I hope to illustrate
a seminal change in the history of Buddhist textual production in which ritual
language, the element that had been peripheral in Buddhist intellectual discourse
until the early Heian period, began to assume the central role not only in shaping
Buddhist thinkers’ ideas but in engendering texture in their writings. It was such
a change that in turn enabled the Buddhists of the mid- and late Heian periods to
make their religious practices integral with and even pivotal for the management
of the court and the state.
180  |  ryŪichi abé

Authority of Kangaku: The Beginning  

of the End of the Ritsuryō Age
The early Heian period was marked by a great surge of scholastic activities
grounded in kangaku, the study of Chinese texts (kanseki). Confucian studies,
especially the study of its ideology of kingly rule, was avidly promoted by Em-
peror Kanmu and the succession of the early Heian emperors.1 Kanmu’s adoption
in 784 of the Gongyang and Guliang Commentaries on the Spring and Autumn
Annals as official texts for statecraft signaled the emperor’s effort to centralize
the state, foreshadowing the move of court and capital from Nara to Kyoto in
794.2 In his 806 decree, Emperor Heizei, who succeeded Kanmu, made it manda-
tory that all imperial princes and sons of the aristocrats of the fifth rank or above
enter the State Academy (Daigakuryō) and study Confucian classics there.3 In
addition to the discipline of Confucianism (meikyōdō), its central curriculum, the
State Academy was important in promoting the study of law, history, and writing.
Sons of prominent aristocratic families entered the State Academy to learn the
basics of Confucianism, then moved to kidendō, the curriculum on history and
literature, in which they learned matters immediately relevant to administrative
procedures of the court.4
Others moved on to the discipline of law (meihōdō). Legal experts of the court
worked hard to improve the implementation of the ritsuryō rules, the body of laws
reflecting Confucian political and social ideals, adapted originally from the Tang
penal and administrative codes. The compilation of comprehensive collections
of kyaku — amendments to the ritsuryō rules — and shiki — its bylaws — began 
as a state project under Heizei’s rule and was completed during the reign of Em-
peror Saga (r. 809 – 823). The resulting Kōnin kyaku and Kōnin shiki provide cov-
erage of all the amendments and bylaws issued between 701 and 819.5 In 833, a
team of legal scholars led by Minister of the Right (udaijin) Kiyohara no Natsuno
(782 – 837) concluded the compilation of the Ryō no gige, the official exegesis of
the Ritsuryō.6 Near the end of the ninth century, Professor of Law (meihō hakase)
Koremune Naomoto (fl. 889 – 898, ? – 907) compiled Ryō no shūge in fifty vol-
umes, another exhaustive commentary on the Ritsuryō, in which he collected a
range of works produced privately by legal experts and scholarly houses.7
Composing historical texts was another important area of academic produc-
tion for early Heian aristocratic scholars. Five out of the six official volumes of
imperial history, the Rikkoku shi, were composed during this period. Using the
style of Chinese dynastic histories as their model, the Shoku Nihongi and the
Nihon kōki, completed in 797 and 840, respectively, were intended as sequels to
the Nihon shoki, the first imperial history compiled in 720. In contrast, the 869
Shoku Nihon kōki, the 878 Montoku tennō jitsuroku, and the 901 Nihon sandai
jitsuroku follow the convention of qijuzhu (kikyochū) — collected sayings of the
emperor compiled, edited, and annotated by his personal attendants — typified in
the Latter Han History in their manner of recording the deeds of emperors and
their daily court lives. Despite their difference, all six histories share a common
desire to portray rulers as exemplars of Confucian moral virtue.8
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  181

According to the Nihon sandai jitsuroku, the last among the six books of the
imperial history, a fire broke out in the Daigokuden, the central audience hall
in the Imperial Palace compound in the evening of the tenth day of the fourth
month of Jōgan 18 (876). The fire swiftly reduced the Daigokuden and its adjacent
structures to ashes. On the next day Emperor Seiwa (r. 858 – 876) asked his court-
iers whether he should conduct the affairs of state and whether the emperor’s
ministers should attend to the business of the court as usual. A group of scholars
led by Yoshibuchi no Nagasada (n.d.), an expert on Confucian classics, basing
their opinions on the Book of Rites and Zuo’s Commentary on the Spring and
Autumn Annals, recommended that both the emperor and his court lament the
loss of the hall for three days and abstain from their official duties during that
period. But Kose no Fumio (fl. 878), Miyako no Yoshika (834 – 879), and other
scholars of historical learning cited precedents in the Guliang Commentary, the
Han History, the Latter Han History, the Record of Wei, the Book of Liao, and
other Chinese sources to suggest that the emperor and ministers should observe
rites lamenting the loss for three days but should not otherwise interrupt the
conduct of court business. The emperor adopted the latter recommendation and
immediately resumed his regular duties.9
As this example illustrates, it was customary for the early Heian court to rely
heavily on authoritative Chinese texts on rituals, laws, and history in order to
make important political decisions. The Zoku kojidan, a twelfth-century compen-
dium of episodes surrounding the Heian imperial court and its aristocrats, pro-
vides the following information regarding the learning of the Heian courtiers:
To be chosen to record the proceedings of the imperial cabinet meeting and
compose its edicts was a matter of great honor and significance. Only those
holding the dual appointment of special minister (sangi) and secretary-general
(daiben) in the Council of State (Daijōkan) were entitled to perform such a
task. The cabinet was the battleground for elite aristocrats to boast their great
learning. They vied with one another by displaying their ability to refer to di-
verse books of Chinese classics. Quoting these texts freely from memory, they
advanced their arguments and recommendations for the cabinet’s adoption.
Without asking each cabinet member about their sources, without having any
text in his reach, the secretary was expected to write down all the arguments
and recommendations as immediately as he heard them.10
This episode portrays the particular affinity that developed between literary
studies and statecraft in the early Heian court and its intelligentsia. In order to
receive appointments to high offices and serve effectively as statesmen at court,
aristocrats needed to be well versed in Confucianism, law, history, and a gamut
of exegetic literature written on the principal texts in these fields. Furthermore,
they were required to have sophisticated skills in the art of writing. This re-
quirement explains why the early Heian period marked the apex in the develop-
ment of kanshi, poetry in Chinese.11 Emperor Saga appointed Special Minister
Ono no Minemori (778 – 830) to compile the first imperial anthology of Chi-
nese poems, which was completed in 815 as the Ryōunshū. In its introduction,
182  |  ryŪichi abé

Minemori states, “Writing is the great work of managing the state, the ever-thriv-
ing enterprise.”12 Two additional imperial kanshi anthologies followed: the Bunka
shūreishū and the 827 Keikokushū. One of the chief editors of the Keikokushū,
Councillor-general (dainagon) Yoshimine no Yasuyo (785 – 830) writes, “The task
of writing is to unveil the meaning of all that transpires between heaven and
earth, to distinguish the rank among people, and to understand the nature and
principles underlying all things in the world.”13
  These anthologies contain poems written by imperial princes, ministers, and
aristocratic court officials, many of whom were scholars responsible for the pro-
duction of Confucian exegeses, legal commentaries, and historical records. Their
poems were typically understood as ōseishi (C. yingzhishi), poems responding to
the ruler’s invitation in support of the emperor’s virtuous reign. Thus, studying
poetry comprised an essential part of refining literary skills — especially in the
disciplines of rhetoric and poetics — which in turn empowered nobles to serve the
court most effectively.14 For example, Secretary-general Miyako no Yoshika, one
of the principal editors of the Montoku tennō jitsuroku, collected his own verses
and poems (titled Toshi monjū) into six fascicles intended as texts for younger
generations of scholars to learn grammar, syntax, and literary devices necessary
to write well in classical Chinese. Minister of Treasury (ōkurakyō) Shigeno no
Sadanushi (785 – 852), one of the chief compilers of the imperial poetic collection
Bunka shūreishū, composed the Hifuryaku, a massive Chinese dictionary, in one
thousand fascicles, in which he painstakingly identified the usage of each word or
character in more than fifteen hundred primary texts of diverse genres.15
  The intertwining of the arts of writing and statecraft, as suggested in these
examples, resulted largely from the Confucian utilitarian bent in the early Heian
intelligentsia’s attitude toward poetry, textual studies, and language. One of Con-
fucius’ sayings in chapter 17 of the Analects epitomizes their philosophy:
My young friends, why do you not study the Book of Poetry? Poems stimulate
your emotions, broaden your observation, expand your fellowship, and express
your sorrows. They help you in your immediate service to your parents and 
in your more remote service to the rulers. They widen your acquaintance with
names of birds, animals, and plants.16
It is this Confucian pragmatic approach to language that allowed the production
of Chinese texts in law, philosophy, history, and poetry to flourish.
  However, this constellation revolving around the authority of the Chinese texts
and Confucian studies began to change, rather drastically, from the mid-Heian
period. The superabundant production of kyaku saturated the legal procedure
with conflicting principles, rules, and guidelines and accentuated ironically the
inapplicability of the ancient system of ritsuryō to the historical reality of Heian
society. The formulation of additional sets of shiki continued as well. However,
by the mid-Heian period, emphasis shifted to detailed descriptions of the swiftly
growing bodies of rites, ceremonies, customs, and rules of conduct in the Heian
court and its aristocratic society.17
The compilation of imperial histories ceased with the 901 Nihon sandai jitsu­
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  183

roku. The courtiers’ interest moved away from depicting emperors as idealistic
virtuous rulers to the composition of mundane, realistic records of administra-
tive procedures — as exemplified by the Seiji yōryaku, an outline of administra-
tive procedures in 130 volumes composed by Koremune Kotosuke (n.d.), who
served in the court of Emperor Ichijō (r. 986 – 1011).18 With the disappearance of
imperial collections of kanshi poems, the aristocrats’ fervor for composing such
poems also declined.19 The compilation of Kokin wakashū, which was ordered in
905 and completed in 913 or 914, marked a new tradition of waka anthologies,
poems in Japanese, compiled under the imperial aegis. In contrast to the impe-
rial kanshi collections — whose poems articulated and constituted praise of the
ruler — the depiction of natural beauty, seasonal change, love, joy, and sorrow
comprised the primary subjects for the poems in the Kokin wakashū. At the same
time, there was a significant growth of monogatari (fictional narrative literature
written in Japanese) such as Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. Precisely be-
cause of its fictionality, which was held to be devoid of utility for affairs of state,
this genre of writing was conspicuously absent from the offerings of the early
Heian court authors.20
The birth of these new categories of writing suggests that a break between
the art of writing and the art of statecraft developed in the mid-Heian period.
In contradistinction to the words of Confucius quoted earlier, Yoshida Kenkō
(1283 – 1352?) would eventually observe, “To boast talent in diverse arts brings
shame to the gentleman. True, both rulers and ministers cherish the subtle ways
of attaining skills in poetry, songs, and musical instruments. However, it is ut-
terly foolish in our age for a ruler to think of governing his realms through the
mastery of these arts.”21 Thus, intellectuals of the thirteenth century had thor-
oughly embraced this separation, developed first in the tenth century. While the
Heian courts continued its support for Confucian studies, Confucianism lost its
authority and centrality for the management of the state.22 With the develop-
ment of multiple court rituals integrating strongly esoteric Buddhist elements,
Buddhism rose as the dominant ideology of the state in the mid- and late Heian
Together with other genres of writings in Chinese, the production of Bud-
dhist texts grew abundant during the early Heian period. As Inoue Mitsusada
pointed out in his classic study, the academic activities of the Six Nara schools
(Nanto rokushū) reached their summit in the late eighth and early ninth cen-
turies. According to Inoue, few exegetic and doctrinal texts were produced by
Nara scholar-priests during the early and mid-Nara periods, while its production
multiplied exponentially at the end of the Nara period and in the early Heian
period.23 To provide an institutional foundation to their academic activities, the
celebrated annual lecture-conferences at the Nara temples — such as the Yuima’e
at Kōfukuji (802), the Saishōō’e at Yakushiji (830), and the Hokke’e at Daianji
(832)24 — were established under the aegis of the early Heian emperors. It was
these major temples of Nara — rather than the new temples of the Shingon and
Tendai schools in Kyoto — that continued to receive heavy patronage from the
court and performed the rites and ceremonies for the state. Thus, contrary to
184  |  ryŪichi abé

prevailing views, Nara temples and their six schools formed the nucleus of the
early Heian Buddhist establishment whose institutional might and sphere of in-
fluence dwarfed the incipient Shingon and Tendai schools.
The Buddhist clergy functioned in short as a secondary bureaucracy comple-
menting the aristocratic officials of the imperial court.25 A case in point is the
Sōgō (Office of Monastic Affairs), a governmental office in the Genbaryō (Agency
of Foreign Affairs), which in turn belonged to the Jibushō (Ministry of the Ar-
istocracy). The Sōgō officials are unique because they were chosen from among
the most eminent priests at the Nara temples and, at the same time, composed a
formal part of the imperial court bureaucracy. Their primary duty was to main-
tain order in the clergy and make the Buddhist community prosper in accord
with the principles set in the Ritsuryō, especially the Rules for Priests and Nuns
(Sōniryō) in volume 7. Article 14 describes the qualifications necessary for priests
seeking appointment to the Sōgō: “Article 14. Those who are to be appointed to
the office of Sōgō must be models of virtuous conduct, exhibit strong leadership,
and be worthy of reverence of both ordained and laypeople. Above all, they must
be skilled in supervising matters relating to the Dharma.”26
In his Ryō no shūge commentary, Koremune Naomoto provides the following
“Virtuous” (toku) and “conduct” (gyō) refer, respectively, to inner and outer
qualities. “Virtuous conduct” is applicable to those who, having filled their
minds with virtue, generously give others in their religious practice. According
to Kong Anguo’s Annotated Book of History, virtue is grounded in respectful
deeds; thus we find the expression worthy of reverence. Based on Anguo’s text,
the Old Commentary (Koki) says, “Virtuous conduct means that both speech
and deeds of sagacious priests establish the norm for others.”
The Administrative Commentary (Ryōshaku) says, “For interpreting virtu-
ous conduct see the Rules of Appointment and Promotion (Senjoryō), in vol-
ume 12 of the Ritsuryō.” Anata’s Commentary (Anaki) says, “Virtuous conduct
means the power to win the respect and reverence of others, both clergy and
lay.” According to Ato’s Commentary (Atoki), “Supervising the matters related
to the Dharma means the work of spreading a net of control over the clergy to
protect the Buddhist teaching.” The Red Ink Commentary (Shuki) says, “Virtu-
ous conduct here must be understood as exactly the same thing for the lay. It
applies to both clergy and laity. Although a priest of virtuous conduct resides
only in one temple, he gains the respect and reverence of priests in all other
Naomoto’s legal exegesis reflects the importance of kunko or kunkogaku (C. xun­
guxue) — literally, the “discipline for interpreting ancient terms” — the method of
interpretation stereotypical for Chinese studies and the essential mode of learn-
ing for the early Heian aristocracy. In China, kunkogaku developed along with the
study of Confucian texts, as Confucianism served as the orthodoxy for the state
in the Han, Sui, and Tang dynasties.28 According to Ikeda Genta, kunkogaku, as
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  185

adopted by Nara and early Heian intelligentsia, demonstrates the following three
traits.29 First, it divides the passages in the original text into progressively smaller
semantic units — phrases, words, letters, and even strokes within a single char-
acter. This operation is necessary to determine syntactical breaks in the original
passages, which are devoid of punctuation signs indicating the end of a phrase,
sentence, or paragraph. Second, the proper usages of divided phrases, words, or
characters are identified in texts of established authority — typically, exegetic
texts from ancient or earlier periods. Third, an effort is made to quote from as
many of these authoritative texts as possible, so that readers are able to acquire
encyclopedic knowledge of primary texts in which there appears a particular
character, word, or expression to be elucidated; readers also acquire a clearer
understanding of that character, word, or expression itself.
  In the above example, the term in question is tokugyō, “virtuous conduct,” which
is a Buddhist term indicating the mastery of the three studies (sangaku) — the
monastic law, the science of meditation, and the cultivation of wisdom — and
the six bodhisattva practices (rokudo) grounded in the acts of giving, uphold-
ing precepts, patience, courageous effort, practicing meditation, and advancing
wisdom. Neither the Ryō no shūge nor any of the exegetic texts it cites makes any
mention of these Buddhist connotations, however. Naomoto’s exegesis strives to
interpret tokugyō in the context of Confucian studies. For this goal, it first cites
the Book of History, one of the five Confucian classics, in the version annotated
by Kong Anguo, the celebrated early Han Confucian scholar and the eleventh-
generation descendant of Confucius. Kong Anguo’s edition is one of the official
texts adopted at the State Academy and is frequently referred to in the main
text of the Ritsuryō. Setting the tone with the Book of History, Naomoto liberally
quotes from the earlier commentaries on the Ritsuryō, all of which reinforce his
Confucian redefinition of the Buddhist term.30
At the heart of kunkogaku is the Confucian principle of the rectification of
names (J. seimei; C. zhengming). According to this idea, the correct meaning and
appropriate usage of every word were established by ancient sages and encapsu-
lated in the classics. That is, a society is able to sustain or restore its order by “rec-
tifying” the use of words and by eliminating disruptions from the just correspon-
dence between words and things.31 In short, with the application of kunkokagu,
the ritsuryō legal system provided the political and institutional framework for
early Heian intellectuals, including Buddhist clergy, to carry out their academic
activities in accordance with the Confucian theory of language and society.
Under such a political, social, and cultural climate, how did Buddhists actually
study their scriptures and engage in their own production of exegetic texts?
In the following sections I strive, first, to study the typical mode of produc-
tion of early Heian Buddhist exegetic texts, then to analyze the significance of
the new methods of interpretation introduced through esoteric Buddhist texts,
and finally, to assess the repercussions of such a change in the general history of
writing in Heian society.
186  |  ryŪichi abé

Chikō and the Marginality of Buddhist Texts

Throughout the Nara and early Heian periods, the Prajñā-pāramitā Heart Sūtra
was one of the most popular Buddhist scriptures for both the ordained and lay,
for their merit-producing acts of chanting and copying. In 774, for example, when
the nation was threatened by an epidemic, Emperor Kōnin (r. 770 – 781) com-
manded the nation to recite the sūtra:
It is said that the Prajñā-pāramitā is the mother of all the Buddhas. When I,
the Son of Heaven, recite it, the nation is safe from invasions and rebellions;
when my people invoke it, their households are protected from the demons of
illness. Let us rely on its compassionate power to save us from our present mis-
fortune. I therefore encourage all those in every province under heaven, both
men and women, both young and old, constantly to recite the sūtra. Those of
you who serve my court, in both civilian and military ranks, recite the sūtra
on your way to work and at any interval between your duties.32
Among exegeses on the Heart Sūtra written by Japanese scholar-priests, the
Maka hannya haramita shingyō jutsugi by Sanron master Chikō (709 – 781) of
Gangōji was regarded as the most authoritative commentary in the early Heian
period.33 Chikō was a celebrated Buddhist scholar of the mid-Nara period, re-
nowned as well for his practice of Pure Land Buddhism, especially for his com-
missioning of the Pure Land mandala at Gangyōji.34 Keikai of Yakushiji, in his tale
the Nihon ryōiki, composed about 787, describes Chikō as follows: “He [Chikō]
was gifted with heavenly intelligence and was unexcelled in his fame as a great
pundit. He composed commentaries on the Ullambana, the Greater Prajñā-
pāramitā, the Prajñā-pāramitā Heart, and many other sūtras and gave lectures
on Buddhist doctrine that attracted multitudes of students.”35
Modern scholars have identified fourteen titles in fifty fascicles as Chikō’s au-
thentic writings, a number that places him as one of the most prolific authors
among the Nara and early Heian Buddhist scholars.36 Only two of his composi-
tions survive as complete works: the Shingyō jutsugi, which is discussed here in
detail, and commentary on the Vimalakīrti Sūtra (Yuimakyō). But a number of
relatively large sections and fragments from his other works were preserved as
quotations in the writings of early Heian scholars. For example, quoting exten-
sively from Chikō’s compositions, Sanron master Anchō (763 – 814) of Daianji
composed the Chūron shoki,37 a monumental work illustrating Nāgārjuna’s non-
dualist philosophy as articulated in his Mādhyamikakārikā. In 830, in response
to Emperor Junna’s request, Master Gen’ei (? – 840) of Saidaiji composed a trea-
tise capturing the gist of the Sanron school’s philosophy,38 relying heavily on
Chikō’s scholarship.39
Instead of authoring their own commentaries on the Heart Sūtra, Anchō,
Gen’ei, and other Sanron scholars of the early Heian period used Chikō’s work as
a guide to interpret it. One of Chikō’s aims was to deliver a critique on the Hossō
(Yogācāra) school’s interpretation of the Heart Sūtra, which since the appearance
of the celebrated Chinese Yogācāra master Xuanzang’s translation had become
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  187

the standard in both Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monastic circles. In fact,
Chikō’s interpretation was so influential that it remained uncontested by priests
of the Hossō school until the late tenth century, despite that school’s dominance
in the Buddhist academia.40
In the introduction to the Shingyō jutsugi Chikō describes the background of
his composition:
At age nine, I left the world. Since then I lived in the monasteries and devoted
myself to study. For over thirty years and now in the fourth year of Tenpyō
Hōshō [752], I have resided in quiet places, concentrated my mind, and dis-
ciplined myself in prostration and recitation to study widely the scriptures.
Among all that I studied, this sūtra is sublime. The sūtra’s lines are terse, yet
it is rich in meaning. It exemplifies laconism; yet its discussion is refined. It
contains the profoundest essence of all the sūtras. Therefore, people always
cherish it, chant it, revere it, and uphold it. No other sūtras enjoy or exceed
such esteem and devotion.41
The main text of the Shingyō jutsugi comprises four parts: (1) a discussion of the
sūtra’s title; (2) an explanation of the goal of the sūtra’s argumentation; (3) a list
of three different translations in the Chinese canon; and (4) a phrase-by-phrase
interpretation of the sūtra passages.42 In the first section, Chikō interprets the
term “heart” (Ch. xin; J. shin; Skt. hrdaya) in the title as the essence (chūjitsu) of
the entire prajñā-pāramitā literature.˙

The word “heart” refers to the most essential substance (kenjitsu saiyō). With
their texts extremely lengthy and their meaning multifarious, other prajñā-
pāramitā sūtras often discourage students from memorizing and studying
them. To facilitate the mastery of the prajñā-pāramitā for sentient beings,
those who compiled the treasury of Dharma collected the essentials of the
Buddha’s words to manifest the gist of all the prajñā-pāramitā sūtras, the es-
sentials that make up this sūtra.43
This understanding of the Heart Sūtra as the condensation of other, more vo-
luminous prajñā-pāramitā sūtras appears not to be Chikō’s original idea but
an adaptation of the opinions expressed in commentaries by many influential
figures in the Chinese doctrinal schools, including Fazang (643 – 712) of the
Huayan (Kegon) school and Kuiji (632 – 682) and Yuance (613 – 696) of the Fa­
xiang school.44
Chikō’s wide-ranging knowledge of the theoretical literature of Chinese Bud-
dhism is demonstrated in the second part of the Jutsugi. Chikō here identifies
the goal of the sūtra as that of illustrating the transcendental wisdom (hannya) of
unattainability (mushotoku), which is the capacity of the transcendental wisdom,
or prajñā, that makes it possible to escape the conceptualization and verbaliza-
tion that, together, construct external objects. Chikō then divides this goal into
two aspects, the primary motif (shō) and secondary motif (bō) of the sūtra text:
these are, respectively, prajñā as an enlightening perspective that sees all things
as nonarising (hannya mushō shokan) and prajñā as the resultant, perceived
188  |  ryŪichi abé

middle way of perfect nondiscrimination (shokan musō chūdō).45 Chikō’s theo-

retical approach here faithfully follows the example set in the Subtle Meaning of
Mādhyamika,46 a major treatise by the Sanlun patriarch Jizang (549 – 623). He
also quotes frequently and liberally from Jizang’s other works47 and thus dem-
onstrates the continuity of the Sanlun/Sanron transmission across China and
Yet Chikō never confines himself to the doctrinal developments within the
Sanron school. To elucidate the goal of the sūtra, he relies heavily on the theory of
the fifty-two progressive stages of the bodhisattva practice, a theory that holds a
central place in the Huayan school. In particular, Fazang and his friend Wonhyo
of Silla (b. 617) provide inspiration for Chikō. Basing himself on Fazang, Chikō
explains the simultaneous identity of and separation between the fifty-two stages
as the manifestation of the two aspects of the prajñā: its substance (tai), which,
in transcending causality, illuminates the practitioners’ mind in all the fifty-two
stages; and its function (yu), which serves as a driving force behind the practition­
er’s ascent through those stages.48
Chikō’s defense of the Sanron school against criticisms from the Hossō school
comprises another major issue in his commentary. In the third part of the
Shingyō jutsugi, he briefly describes the three versions of the Chinese translation
of the sūtra, first by Kumārajiva (344 – 413), next by Xuanzang (ca. 602 – 664), and
most recently by Bodhiruci (572 – 727), identifying the dates and places of each
translation.49 The translation by Xuanzang circulated most widely throughout
East Asia.
Chikō acknowledges that Xuanzang’s translation of the Heart and other major
prajñā-pāramitā sūtras encouraged Xuanzang’s Yogācāra-school disciples to pro-
duce the most dominant interpretations of the prajñā-pāramitā texts in China.
In the Shingyō jutsugi, Chikō refers occasionally to commentaries composed by
Xuanzang’s two most famous disciples, Kuiji and Yuance.50 He seems to indicate
that even by basing himself on Xuanzang’s translation and by referring to the
Chinese Yogācāra commentaries, it is possible for him to reclaim the Heart Sūtra
for the Sanron school. He illustrates this point in the following dialogue:
Question: Does this sūtra [the Heart Sūtra] belong to those of definitive mean-
ing or those of disputable meaning?
Answer: This is a sūtra of truly definitive meaning. For the audience of most
advanced capacity, the Buddha taught [in the sūtra] the Dharma of nondis-
crimination, in which the mind and its objects are both empty, perfectly inter-
fusing. He also announced the attainment of buddhahood by all living beings
based on the permanence of the Buddha nature. Kuiji, Yuance, and others [of
the Chinese Yogācāra schools] designated the teachings of prajñā-pāramitā
as of disputable meaning. This is ignorant confusion in the extreme. Just like
one who is blind running around madly in the darkness vainly attempting to
find his way, not only have they not thoroughly studied the Prajñā school, but
they have not mastered the discussions of their own school.51
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  189

Generally, in both the Abhi Dharma and Yogācāra literature, the distinction
between definitive meaning (J. ryōgi; S. nītartha) and disputable meaning (J.
furyōgi; S. neyārtha) is understood as a contrast between the literal and inter-
pretive (which, in turn, is understood generally in modern scholarship as that be-
tween the explicit and implicit). The essential scriptures of the Yogācāra school,
such as the Samdhinirmocana (Gejinmikkyō), were written in the language of the
definitive, while all the prajñā-pāramitā scriptures, which constitute the textual
foundation of the Mādhyamika/Sanlun/Sanron school, are rendered in the less
refined language of the disputable.52
In Tang China, Xuanzang’s comprehensive new translation of the gamut
of Yogācāra scriptural texts unmistakably established the superiority of the
Yogācāra school over the Sanlun school, which was already in decline and un-
able to counteract the dominant Yogācāra position. In contrast, for Chikō and
his fellow Buddhist scholars in mid-Nara Japan, when the Sanron and Hossō
schools continued to vie with one another for intellectual supremacy, the de-
bate over definitive meaning and disputable meaning was an ongoing concern.53
Chikō asserts that the Heart and other prajñā-pāramitā sūtras are in fact written
in the language of the definitive. However, Yogācāra scholars failed to under-
stand this because they were unable to distinguish between the primary motif
(the instantaneity of attaining transcendental wisdom) and the secondary motif
(the sequential growth of the nondiscriminatory knowledge of emptiness) in the
prajñā-pāramitā literature. In the Yogācāra texts, the order of the primary and
secondary motifs is reversed because of their emphasis on gradualism, the dia-
chronic process of the bodhisattvas’ spiritual advancement. This is why, Chikō
argues, the language of the prajñā-pāramitā texts tends to be obscure and secre-
tive, and that of the Yogācāra scriptures apparent and pronounced.
In short, the difference between the Mādhyamika and Yogācāra texts lies in
their phraseology but not in their meaning — meaning as the crucial element
that, for Chikō, ultimately determines scriptural texts’ definitiveness, finality,
and authority. They are equally advanced as the representatives of Māhāyana
philosophy, but in their phraseology, Mādhyamika texts show greater sophis-
tication.54 Chikō points out that this is why the Greater Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra
is in fact providing grounds for an array of quintessential Yogācāra treatises,
such as Madhyāntavibhāgatikā (Chūhen hanbetsuron) and Mahāyānasamgraha
In the fourth, final, and lengthiest part of the Shingyō jutsugi, consisting of
the phrase-by-phrase analysis of the Heart Sūtra’s text, Chikō first divides the
sūtra into two major sections: “the first is the sūtra’s discussion proper, which
explicates the correct understanding of the Dharma for practitioners to cultivate
it and realize it; the second is the description of the sūtra’s dhāran. ī,56 which is
to protect the practitioners and enable them to preserve the sūtra.” Chikō then
divides these two parts into the following subsections.
190  |  ryŪichi abé

I. Discourse on the correct understanding of the Dharma for the

practitioners’ Cultivation and Realization
  A. Discourse addressed to Avalokiteśvara
   1. Presentation of the substance of correct understanding
   2. Analysis of the enlightened realm
   3. Demonstration of the benefit given to sentient beings
  B. Discourse addressed to Śāriputra
   1. Elucidation of the principle for understanding
    (a) Outline
    (b) Extensive discussion
   2. Elucidation of the wisdom that makes understanding possible
    (a) Illustration of the wisdom of bodhisattvas
    (b) Demonstration of the wisdom of the Buddha
II. Discourse on the dhāran. ī and its power of protection
  A. Praise of its excellent merit
  B. Illustration of the dhāran. ī’s substance
In the first section, Chikō delivers a detailed analysis for each of the sūtra’s pas-
sages by quoting liberally from essential Mādhyamika sūtras and treatises, in-
cluding the Greater Prajñā-pāramitā, Madhyāmika-Śāstra, and Discourse on
the Greater Prajñā-pāramitā (Ch. Dazhidoulun; J. Daichidoron). However, a
careful reading of his text shows that Chikō occasionally borrows arguments
from Kuiji’s and Yuance’s commentaries on the sūtra. That is, Chikō shows his
sophisticated skill in advancing the argument by incorporating the discussions
of his opponents.
  In the second section of the fourth part of Shingyō jutsugi, which corresponds
to the Heart Sūtra’s brief conclusion and closing dhāran.ī, Chikō divides the sūtra
passages into two subsections: the praise of the efficaciousness of the dhāran.ī
and the dhāran.ī itself. Maintaining his style of phrase-by-phrase analysis, Chikō
presents his explication as follows:
Therefore, one understands the prajñā-pāramitā as the great, divine spell,
With the right understanding of the unattainability and nonduality of the
prajñā, the spell conquers heretics by crushing their obstructing belief in
the self. Therefore, the spell is called great, divine. Being lofty and victorious
in various ways is called great. Being endowed with limitlessly marvelous
working is called divine. What is called a spell is a magical technique. All
the gods and sages have revered and upheld the dhāran. ī, the secret of the
Bhagavat, the essence of the true Dharma, which destroys evil and manifests
good. Its power is unequaled. It is also said in Jing-men’s commentary, “The
meaning of the spell is to annihilate evil and generate good.”
the spell of the great light of wisdom,
With the deep prajñā of unattainability, the spell even lifts the thick karmic
darkness of the lowliest beings, the icchantikas. That is why the dhāran. ī is
called the great light of wisdom, since there is no darkness that it cannot
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  191

the unexcelled spell,

By means of the true understanding of the prajñā-pāramitā, the dhāran. ī 
causes the followers of the two Hīnayāna vehicles to realize that they have
not reached the ultimate goal — to abandon their fear of the suffering of
the world and to give rise to the compassionate mind. Therefore, it is called
and the unparalleled spell.
Through the deep prajñā, the dhāran. ī encourages bodhisattvas to work
to benefit both themselves and others and enables them to bring all their
practices to perfection. It is thus called unparalleled.57
Chikō here interprets the four phrases of the sūtra eulogizing the effica-
ciousness of the sūtra’s concluding dhāran. ī — the great divine spell, the spell of
the great light of wisdom, the unexcelled spell, and the unparalleled spell — as
corresponding to the prajñā-pāramitā’s guide to salvation for the four classes
of beings: the heretic, the icchantikas, the Hīnayānists, and the Mahāyānists.
The inclusion of lowliest beings, icchantikas (issendai), can be seen as Chikō’s
challenge to Yogācāra, whose theory permanently bars them from attaining
However, in contrast to the foregoing parts of the Outline in which Chikō
defends the prajñā-pāramitā scriptures against Yogācāra’s criticism, Chikō’s at-
titude toward Yogācāra in the final section has a conciliatory side. To validate
his interpretation of the dhāran. ī in the section quoted above, Chikō openly
quotes from another Yogācāra commentary on the Heart Sūtra by Jingmen
(fl. 627 – 649),58 a student of Xuanzang who participated in the master’s trans-
lation of the prajñā-pāramitā texts. Furthermore, for the sūtra’s passage “This
spell of the prajñā-pāramitā has been delivered,” which immediately follows
the sūtra passage analyzed in the quotation above, Chikō cites fascicle 45 of the
Yogācārabhūmi (Yogajishiron), a seminal Yogācāra treatise translated by Xuan­
zang, which illustrates the dhāran. ī in four aspects: method, meaning, spell, and
perseverance. The dhāran. ī serves as an effective method for practitioners to
memorize voluminous scriptural texts. Second, its memorization, in turn, en-
hances practitioners’ capacity to grasp the meanings of countless sūtra texts.
Third, the dhāran. ī also intensifies practitioners’ samādhi, empowering them to
end misfortunes and sufferings. Finally, the dhāran. ī gives the practitioners per-
severance (J. nin; S. ksānti), which enables them to adhere to the Buddha’s teach-
ing against all adversities in order to maintain their spiritual progress.59
As for the dhāran. ī at the end of the Heart Sūtra itself, Chikō states, Gate gate
prāgate pārasamgate bodhi svāhā.
The spells that appear in many chapters of diverse sūtras are impregnated
with the supernatural powers of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Each one
of the dhāran. ī’s letters and words embraces many meanings. Any attempt
to translate them into local languages causes change in the number of their
letters and alteration in their meanings that would deprive them of their ef-
ficaciousness at recitation. Therefore, it has become customary for translators
192  |  ryŪichi abé

of sūtras not to translate them. Some have said that the spells consist of the
languages of spirits, gods, demons, and other nonhuman beings, which differ
significantly from the ordinary speech of Indian people. Thus, the principle
of not translating the spell applies to all sūtras. Yet Kui-ji and Yuan-ce dared
to translate the Heart Sūtra’s spell. This is utterly unacceptable. They are not
only negligent of the original intent of the dhāran. ī but are preventing it from
manifesting its power through recitation.60

Chikō underscores the nontranslatability of dhāran. ī, which as a universal prin-

ciple should be observed by all doctrinal schools. The issue of inappropriateness
in translating dhāran.ī is the very reason for his citation of Jingmen’s commentary
and the Yogācārabhūmi, which demonstrates Chikō’s general agreement with the
Yogācāra understanding of what the dhāran. ī is and is not about. Chikō’s insis-
tence on not translating the sutra’s dhāran. ī at the end of his Jutsugi also high-
lights his criticism of Kuiji and Yuance. It is aimed at demonstrating that their
approach to the sūtra’s dhāran. ī deviates even from those established standards
in some key texts in their own school.
  Chikō’s commentary on the Heart Sūtra presents a valuable glimpse into
the method and style of textual studies performed by the Nara scholar-priests
in the eighth and ninth centuries. The essence of his composition lies in his
effort to establish the proper interpretation for every sūtra phrase — “proper,”
that is, from the viewpoint of his Sanron school. The differences between
schools — as expressed in the polemic over the “disputable meaning” and “de-
finitive meaning” — do not express themselves in the manner in which a certain
interpretive text is structured. From Chikō’s point of view, all schools agree that
a scriptural commentary functions as an exegesis, as a transducer of meaning. In
this sense, Chikō remains faithful to the tradition of exegetic literature in Chi-
nese Buddhism. The manner in which he constructs his exegesis is no different
from the exegesis of the Sanlun patriarch Jizang or, for that matter, the Yogācāra
masters Kuiji and Yuance.
Chikō presupposes that all the words in the Heart Sūtra must have right mean-
ings that are most effectively illuminated by Sanron theories. In the light of a range
of Sanron commentaries, these words too provide Chikō with opportunities to
establish the superiority of Sanron over other schools, especially Hossō. In short,
for Chikō and the Nara Buddhist intelligentsia, to interpret means to determine
the correct usage of a sūtra’s words — even seemingly ornamental phrases in the
original scriptural context, such as the “great, divine spell, the unexcelled spell,
and the unparalleled spell” — by replacing them with other ideas, concepts, and
definitions, frequently quoted from authoritative treatises, commentaries, and
exegeses from the past, which are considered more accessible, definite, and reli-
able than the original words of the scripture. For his readers to interpret properly,
Chikō expects them to perform this semantic exchange within his own Sanron
theoretical framework. In this sense, Chikō’s Outline can best be described as an
exegetic text typically of kunkogaku. All the qualities of the kunkogaku texts of
Nara and early Heian Japan discussed earlier — such as dividing the main text
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  193

into smaller or minute units (passages, phrases, words, and characters), elucidat-
ing the meaning of these semantic units against the texts of established authority,
and displaying encyclopedic knowledge of the specialized literature — figure as
essential elements in his work. Although the subject of discussion is Buddhism,
the mode in which Chikō’s text is constructed is identical with the ritsuryō legal
exegeses or other genres of Chinese studies texts of the early Heian period dis-
cussed earlier. Indeed, the Yakushiji priest Keikai characterized Chikō in Nihon
ryōiki as the nemesis of Gyōki (668 – 749), the charismatic Hossō priest who led
a popular anti-ritsuryō Buddhist movement: in the eyes of this hagiographer,
Chikō was an exemplary Buddhist scholar who was avidly encouraged and sup-
ported by the ritsuryō regime.61
Shingyō jutsugi is thus a reflection of historical conditions peculiar to the Nara
and early Heian Buddhist community — for example, the conflict between the
Sanron school and the Hossō school. With the establishment of Tōdaiji, the San-
ron school that developed separately at Gangōji and Daianji began to integrate to
form a stronger academic institution.62 Throughout the late Nara and early Heian
periods, this rising institution was the intense rival of the Hossō school, which
developed rapidly from the Fujiwara clan’s patronage of Kōfukuji, Hossō’s major
academic center. However, this contest can be seen as a game that Buddhists
were permitted to play in the framework of the ritsuryō state, which encouraged
the clergy to be scholars and compete with each other so as to eliminate the
aspects of Buddhism that could be a threat to the state, whose ruling ideology
was dominantly Confucian.63 It may be said that the aim of Chikō’s Jutsugi is to
“rectify the names” in the Heart Sūtra and to dismiss all other naming proposed
by competing schools. In this sense, too, Chikō’s work conforms to the standard
of scholarly activities that were encouraged under the ritsuryō codes.
However, one aspect of Chikō’s texts distinguishes it from other genres of
scholarly works produced within the institutional framework of the ritsuryō
state. His work is conspicuously lacking in attention to issues of Buddhism’s re-
lationship with the state. Unlike some other major non-Buddhist texts written in
Chinese, in Chikō’s text there is no association between writing and statecraft.
The manner in which Chikō’s text constructs itself has no bearing on the affairs
of the court because, unlike the principal texts of the ritsuryō age, it gave no at-
tention to the practices in the court, nor even to Buddhist rituals sponsored by
the state.
A case in point is Chikō’s treatment of dhāran. ī, a Buddhist ritual language.
The uniqueness of the dhāran. ī’s linguistic form becomes far more pronounced
visually in the Chinese translation than in the original Sanskrit sūtra texts. In the
Chinese text, the dhāran.ī presents itself as a row of unrelated Chinese characters
strung together without any syntactical regularity. The characters for writing
dhāran. ī are appropriated only for the transliteration in Chinese: they are hiero-
glyphic characters eviscerated of their meanings, standing only for their tonal
values. Chikō’s meticulous effort to interpret all scriptural phrases ceases as soon
as it reaches the dhāran. ī at the end of the sūtra. There no longer are meanings to
be transposed by his textual operation; and no longer are the differences in in-
194  |  ryŪichi abé

terpreting the meanings to distinguish his Sanron. For Chikō, Buddhist schools
cannot but agree upon the dhāran. ī because there is nothing in it for them to
differ over — as long as one abides by the rule of not translating the dhāran. ī into
local languages.
One can certainly describe dhāran. ī, as Jingmen does in his commentary, as
that which suppresses evil and encourages good, or delineate its various func-
tions, as in fascicle 45 of the Yogācārabhūmi. However, these texts as well as
Chikō’s commentary lack the ability to analyze the dhāran. ī’s efficaciousness.
The language of dhāran. ī in Chinese transliteration may be devoid of meaning,
but not, supposedly, of power. How, then, does each of the dhāran. ī phrases relate
to one another to manifest its power? What method of recitation enables the
practitioners to realize dhāran. ī’s effect? In what way can the dhāran. ī’s power
of intensifying memory and protecting practitioners be explained? In a sharp
contrast to his discussion of the sūtra text proper, which is marked by rigorous
logical consistency, Chikō’s explanation of dhāran. ī seems to degenerate quickly
into mystification: “the spells consist of the languages of spirits, gods, demons,
and other nonhuman beings, which differ significantly from the ordinary speech
of Indian people.”
This point illustrates a particular gap that existed in the discourse of Chikō
and Nara Buddhism generally. Although a plenitude of theories for interpreting
scriptures was available for Chikō, none of these theories explained the relation-
ship between the doctrinal discussion and the working of dhāran. īs in a single
scriptural text.64 In the Jutsugi Chikō states that the Heart Sūtra’s concluding
dhāran. ī — as a great spell, unexcelled spell, and incomparable spell — has the
power to conquer heretics and guide lowliest beings to salvation. But he is unable
to explain in what manner and for what reason the act of reciting the dhāran. ī
would produce such powers for practitioners. Nor does he show in what way the
theoretical discussion in the sūtra on wisdom and emptiness is relevant to the
act of chanting the dhāran. ī. This hiatus in Chikō’s exegesis is a manifestation of
the epistemic disjunction between theory and practice that resulted from Nara
Buddhist scholarship’s reliance on the Confucian mode of interpreting texts in
their study of Buddhist scriptures. They did not yet possess a language of their
own, a Buddhist mode of describing the relationship between the textual and the
ritual. Nara and early Heian Buddhists engaged avidly in writing in Chinese and
embraced the mode of textual construction exemplary of their age, but because
of this disjunction, their Buddhist texts located themselves on the periphery
of the texts produced in the ritsuryō age. In particular, dhāran. ī and Buddhist
ritual language remained a linguistic excess outside Nara Buddhist theoretical
discourse, relegated to the outermost realm of the landscape of Nara and early
Heian texts.

Kūkai and the Reversal of the Textual Center and Periphery

As will be discussed further below, the introduction of esoteric Buddhism, or
mikkyō, during the ninth century was a powerful motivator for Buddhist scholars
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  195

seeking to integrate problems concerning ritual practices within their textual

interpretations. As one of those who initiated such a change, Kūkai (774 – 853) is
significant not simply because he was the first Japanese figure who systematically
studied esoteric Buddhism, but because of his knowledge of Confucian learning
and the manifestly Confucian statecraft of his time. In his youth, Kūkai diligently
studied Confucianism, Chinese literature, and history at the state academy where
his maternal uncle, Ato no Ōtari (n.d.), was a renowned Confucian scholar. As
soon as Kūkai returned from his study in China in 806, his exceptional talent in
writing and calligraphy was admired by Emperor Saga and his court. Shigeno no
Sadanushi (785 – 852), the principal compiler of the Keikokushū, included seven
poems by Kūkai in the imperial poetic anthology — more than any poet other
than Emperor Saga and Sadanushi himself.65 In 819, as a means to improve his
court officials’ writing skills, Saga appointed Kūkai to an office in the Ministry
of Secretarial Affairs (Nakatsukasashō).66 It was about this time that Kūkai com-
posed the Bunkyō hifuron, a comprehensive treatise on Chinese poetics, phonet-
ics, syntactical rules, grammar, and rhetoric.67 Because Kūkai was fully aware of
the immediate relevance that Confucian learning and the knowledge of Chinese
writing had on the affairs of the early Heian state, he considered as a serious
problem the gulf in Buddhist scholarship that divided intellectual inquiries from
practical matters, especially matters related to the affairs of the state.
In the latter part of his life, Kūkai gained a large number of supporters within
the Nara priestly community for his effort to introduce esoteric Buddhism into
early Heian society. Several prominent leaders of the Nara Buddhist circles are
known to have personally received Kūkai’s initiation into esotericism. They in-
clude Sanron Master Gonsō (758 – 827) of Daianji, Kegon master Dōyū (? – 851)
of Tōdaiji, Hossō master Kenne (? – 872) of Butsuryūji, and Abbot Enmyō (? – 851)
of Tōdaiji.68 In 822, he erected at Tōdaiji the Abhiseka Hall (Kanjōdō), the first
temple structure in Japan for performing the Mikkyō initiation ceremony.69 In
824, with the endorsement of eminent Nara priests, he joined the Sōgō, the Of-
fice of Monastic Affairs, at the rank of junior priest supervisor (shōsōzu).70 In
829 Kūkai was appointed bettō (chief administrator) at Daianji, a major center of
Sanron studies.71 In these years he composed a range of commentaries on exo-
teric Buddhist texts popularly recited and studied in the Nara scholarly circle,
including the Vimalakīrti, the Diamond Cutter, the Lotus, and the Golden Light,
the sūtras that were considered particularly efficacious in their power of protect-
ing the state. Kūkai’s goal was to demonstrate the effectiveness of the esoteric
Buddhist method of reading, which, he claimed, enabled the readers to expand
their interpretive operation to the realm of ritual and religious practice, the area
that had a direct relevance for the management of the state.
Among Kūkai’s commentaries on popular Mahāyāna sūtras is the Hannya
shingyō hiken (the title of which might be translated as “The Secret Key to the
Prajñā-pāramitā Heart Sūtra,” hereafter referred to as Hiken).72 In the second
month of Jōwa 1 (834), the celebrated Sanron master Dōshō (798 – 875) of Gangōji
gave a public lecture on Kūkai’s Hiken at the Abhiseka Hall in Tōdaiji.73 Dōshō’s
lecture indicates that the Sanron school played a major role in Kūkai’s effort to
196  |  ryŪichi abé

build a cooperative relationship with the Nara temple establishment. It also sug-
gests that already during Kūkai’s lifetime, the Nara scholarly community adopted
and engaged in a serious study of esoteric Buddhism.
To an eye familiar with the exegetic texts of Tang doctrinal Buddhism and
their analogs in Nara and early Heian Japan, Kūkai’s Hiken appears drastically
different and, perhaps, even outré. In its textual structure, Kūkai’s commentary
has nothing to do with kunkogaku, no resemblance to the phrase-by-phrase in-
terpretation favored by his scholarly peers. His comments on the sūtra’s opening
passage demonstrate the essential perspective for his interpretation:
Sūtra text: When the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara was practicing the deep medi-
tation on the prajñā-pāramitā, he discerned that all the five skandhas are empty
and thus saved beings from all sorts of suffering.
The great Prajñā-pāramitā Heart Sūtra is the Dharma gate to the samādhi
of the great [female] Bodhisattva Prajñā’s heart-mantra. The sūtra’s text is not
even long enough to fill a page; its lines number only fourteen. The sūtra is
simple, yet essential; brief, yet profound. Every phrase encompasses the prajñā
preserved in all the five treasuries; every line embraces all the accomplish-
ments of the seven schools. . . .74 Furthermore, the two letters [of the sūtra’s
dhāran. ī] ga te swallow the practices and goals of all the Dharma treasuries,
and the two dhāran. ī characters prā sam bear the Dharma of both the exo-
teric and the esoteric. Even a discussion lasting for eons could not exhaust
the meaning of a single letter of the sūtra and its sound. Even the multitude of
buddhas, countless as particles of dust or ocean foam, cannot explain away a
single word in the sūtra or the reality predicated by it.75
Like Chikō and many Chinese masters who composed exegetic texts on the
Heart Sūtra, Kūkai understands the sūtra as the gist of Buddhist teachings. How-
ever, Kūkai’s reasoning is not shaped by the theoretical framework of Sanron or
other doctrinal schools. The sūtra, Kūkai claims, is a guide to the Bodhi­sattva
Prajñā’s samādhi, or deepest meditative experience, that can be realized by the
recitation of her dhāran. ī given at the conclusion of the sūtra — which, according
to Kūkai, is her heart-mantra. Bodhisattva Prajñā, the prajñā-pāramitā mani-
festing itself as a female divinity, resides in the Shingon garbha (womb) man-
dala (Taizō mandara) as the presiding divinity in the “assembly of the holders
of wisdom” (jimyōin), located immediately to the west of Mahāvairocana’s cen-
tral assembly.76 In accordance with its popular characterization in Mahāyāna
literature, Kūkai understands the prajñā-pāramitā as kakumo, the mother of
enlightenment, and its female bodhisattva manifestation, in the esoteric context,
as butsugen butsumo, the eye of the Buddha, the mother of all the buddhas.77 For
Kūkai, therefore, the Heart Sūtra is an unfolding of the inmost realization of the
Bodhisattva Prajñā, the progenitor of all the buddhas.
Furthermore, based on Subhākarasimha’s Commentary on the Mahāvairocana
Sūtra,78 Kūkai interprets Bodhisattva Prajñā as vidyā-rājñī (myōhi), the queen
of the light of wisdom, one of the common ways in which mantras are de-
scribed in the Mahāvairocana Sūtra.79 Elsewhere, in his illustration of semiotic
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  197

rules governing mantra syllables,80 Kūkai quotes the following passage from
Subhākarasimha’s Commentary for illustration.
The term vidyā means the light of great wisdom. The word rājñī is the femi-
nine form of the Sanskrit word for king [rājan]. The queen here refers to the
samādhi of the garbha realm of great compassion. This samādhi is the mother
of all the Buddha’s children. The Buddha’s children means the bodhicitta, the
banner of purity. . . . The one who realizes great emptiness is Prajñā, the mother
of buddhas. She is verily vidyā-rājñī, who in her treasury of great emptiness
[the garbha realm of great compassion] nurtures the seeds [bija, the seed syl-
lables] of mantra and securely protects them.81
Mantras, or to use Kūkai’s expression, the treasury of mantras, which pre-
serves the sacred seed syllables, are here equated with the Bodhisattva Prajñā,
the mother of all the buddhas, who possesses her womb as the garbha realm
mandala, the palladium of bodhicitta, the seed of enlightenment. Kūkai’s Hiken,
which aims at revealing the samādhi of the Bodhisattva Prajñā, assumes impor-
tance beyond a commentary on a popular sūtra; it is Kūkai’s discourse on the
nature of mantra. It bears witness to his effort to introduce the novel linguistic
form of mantra into the established discourse of Japanese Buddhism. The Hiken
is, in this regard, Kūkai’s manifesto of his new Buddhist transmission, to which
he refers by the term shingon/mantra.
  Kūkai sets the tone of his singular interpretation of the Heart Sūtra by placing
it side by side with another scriptural text called the “Heart Sūtra.” In fascicle 3 of
the Collected Dhāran. ī Sūtra,82 an anthology of shorter sūtras containing various
dhāran. īs, translated in 653 and 654 by Adhigupta, one finds a text titled “Great
Prajñā-pāramitā Heart Sūtra.”83 The Collected Dhāran.ī Sūtra was copied in Japan
as early as 737.84 However, the “Heart Sūtra” chapter in this anthology had es-
caped the attention of Chikō and other Nara scholar-priests who specialized in
the prajñā-pāramitā texts. The narrative in this Heart Sūtra begins with a scene
of Śākyamuni Buddha’s assembly at Anāthapindada Park in the Jetavana Grove
in the city of Srāvastī, in which Brahmā beseeches the Buddha to expound the
merit of the spells and mudras associated with the prajñā-pāramitā. In his reply,
the Buddha says that what Brahmā requested belongs to the utmost secret of the
prajñā-pāramitā, which the Buddha once expounded for advanced spiritual be-
ings in the celestial realm Paranirmita-vasavartina (Takejizaiten) — the highest
heaven in the realm of desire — and that he is about to disclose it again in a way
suitable to the audience in the earthly assembly there at Jetavana.85
The Buddha’s terrestrial lecture consists, first, of the method of painting the
image of the Bodhisattva Prajñā;86 second, of nineteen yogic procedures compris-
ing combinations of mudras and dhāran.īs to attain union with the bodhisattva;87
and finally, of some devotional practices addressed to the bodhisattva.88 The six-
teenth yogic procedure described in the chapter is the recitation of the dhāran. ī
named the “great heart” of the bodhisattva: Gate gate pāragate pārasamgate
bodhi svāhā.89 This dhāran. ī is of course identical with the concluding dhāran. ī of
the Heart Sūtra. Kūkai states,
198  |  ryŪichi abé

The meditative method of the mantra [in the Heart Sūtra] is described in detail
in fascicle 3 of the Collected Dhāran.ī Sūtra. The title of the chapter [in the Col-
lected Dhāran.ī Sūtra] is identical with the title of the Heart Sūtra translated by
Kumārajiva. Among many dhāran. īs in the chapter corresponding to various
aspects of the Bodhisattva Prajñā’s body and mind is the Heart Sūtra’s mantra,
which is none other than the spell of her great heart. Because of this heart-
mantra, the sūtra is entitled the Prajñā-pāramitā Heart.90
According to Kūkai’s reading, the Heart Sūtra is an abbreviated teaching the
Buddha prepared for Śāriputra, an outline of the sermon he once gave to Brahmā,
as recorded in the Collected Dhāran. ī Sūtra. This is why in the “original” ver-
sion in the Collected Dhāran. ī Sūtra, the method of meditative practice on the
Bodhisattva Prajñā is described in detail. This relationship between the Heart
Sūtra and the Collected Dhāran. ī chapter explains the reason that the identical
mantra/dhāran. ī appears in both texts. In contrast to Chikō, for Kūkai the Heart
Sūtra’s dhāran. ī is not an appendage to the scripture’s main text. It is the apogee
in which the sūtra’s discussion culminates.
  However, as indicated above, according to the “Prajñā-pāramitā Heart” chap-
ter in the Collected Dhāran. ī Sūtra, the Buddha’s preaching to Brahmā at Jeta-
vana on the yoga practiced by Bodhisattva Prajñā was also a reworking of his
former teaching given to the celestial beings in Paranirmita-vaśavartina (Take-
jizaiten or Dairokuten), the heavenly realm of desire reigned by Māra. Within the
prajñā-pāramitā scriptures, it is only the Path of the Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra91
that claims to be the record of the Buddha’s expounding the Dharma in Māra’s
celestial realm. In this scripture, which simultaneously belongs to the prajñā-
pāramitā literature and esoteric ritual texts, the Bodhisattva Prajñā is described
as “great desire” personified, the desire for the ultimate emptiness and pureness
that enables practitioners to attain the great pleasure of liberation. The Inter-
pretive Guide to the Path of the Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra,92 a ritual commentary
imported by Kūkai, identifies the divinity as Kāmavajri, Queen of Desire, a con-
sort of Vajrasattva.93 The meditative ritual of this divinity is described in de-
tail in the Vajraśekhara Yoga Manual on the Five Secret Meditative Practices on
Vajra­sattva,94 another ritual commentary on the Path of the Prajñā-pāramitā. In
short, Kūkai’s essential interpretive strategy can be located in his effort to create
an associative linkage across, or the opening up of an intertextual space between,
three scriptural texts: The Path of the Prajñā Sūtra, the “Great Prajñā-pāramitā
Heart” chapter in the Collected Dhāran. ī Sūtra, and the Prajñā-pāramitā Heart
Sutra (table 8.1).
  In fact, such an intertextual association can be expanded almost infinitely to
other scriptural texts that have any bearing on the Bodhisattva Prajñā, what she
conceptually represents, and various aspects of her yogic exercise. What Kūkai
sees in the Heart Sūtra’s text is the process of condensation, the process in which
the texts of associated scriptures reflect themselves on and become overlapped in
the Heart Sūtra’s passages. For Kūkai, the sūtra’s words are essentially polysemic.
Each word manifests multifarious meanings as they are placed in contexts of pas-
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  199

Table 8.1. Kūkai’s interpretive strategy

Teaching Location Text commentaries

The Buddha’s Paranirmita- Path of the

first teaching on the vasavartina, the Prajñā Sūtra
Bodhisattva celestial realm of
Prajñā’s meditation desire

The Buddha’s second Jetavana Park “Great Prajñā-

teaching to Brahma pāramitā Heart”
chapter, in the
Collected Dhāran. ī

The Buddha’s Vulture Peak Prajñā-pāramitā Interpretive

third teaching to Heart Sūtra Guide to the Yoga
Sāriputra Ritual on the Five
Secret Meditative

sages in other interlinked texts. To interpret the scripture means to appreciate

the infinite possibilities through which the sūtra’s words produce diverse mean-
ings to the practitioners who, with their knowledge of all other related texts they
have studied, engage with the text of their primary interest. There is no intention
of limiting the meaning of each word, phrase, and passage into a single, correct
definition. Such an operation, as carried out typically by Chikō and the doctrinal
scholars of Kūkai’s time, leads only to the impoverishment in the scripture’s rich
texture, which constantly generates new meanings for interpretation.
  Kūkai’s interpretation of the Heart Sūtra’s title illustrates his approach. Kūkai
presents the Sanskrit title in the Siddham (Shittan) script: bu-ddha bhā-sa ma-
hā pra-jñā pā-ra-mi-tā hr-da-ya sū-tram.95 Kūkai renders the term bu-ddha as
the perfectly enlightened one; bhā-sa, “speech,” as the Buddha’s act of opening
the secret treasury and providing sentient beings with amrita; pra-jñā as wisdom
arising from samādhi; pā-ra-mi-tā as completion of activities; hr-da-ya as the
center, the heart; and sū-tram as a fabric made of letters, namely, text. Having
said this, Kūkai states,
The title as a whole, however, is endowed with three aspects: personage (nin),
Dharma (hō), and metaphor (yu). The title refers to the great Bodhisattva
Prajñā-pāramitā. This is the personage. The Bodhisattva has completed the
samādhi developed through the mantra of the Dharma mandala, the mandala
consisting of each letter [of the title], which is the Dharma. Each word [in the
200  |  ryŪichi abé

title] expresses the profundity of the nature of the Dharma by means of the
shallow names of the world. This is the metaphor.96

Kūkai reads in the title of the Heart Sūtra as rendered in Sanskrit characters
three metaphorically related levels of signification. First, at the most obvious
level, the words of the title, arranged in accord with the syntactical rules of San-
skrit compound formation, can be translated as the Scripture of the Heart of the
Perfection of Wisdom Preached by the Buddha. However, Kūkai says that such a
rendition is only part of the title’s entirety of meaning(s) because each of these
words is a metaphor.97 That is, the title’s words carry semantic values that exceed
their ordinary, literal meaning. Moreover, the meaning of these words varies ac-
cording to the figurative forces generated from their context. For example, the
term hrdaya (heart), “by means of the shallow, worldly meaning” for an internal
organ,˙refers to the gist of the prajñā-pāramitā, the perfection of the transcen-
dental wisdom, and simultaneously, the meditative mind of the Bodhisattva
Prajñā, both of which are located at the level of the “profundity of the nature of
the Dharma.”98
  Kūkai seems to identify this deep level of signification of these words with the
syllabic letters used to write them, which are now understood as seed mantras
comprising the Dharma mandala, the mandala of monosyllables presided over
by the Bodhisattva Prajñā. When the title’s words are broken first into syllabic
units and then into phonic fragments, one attains, for example, by changing the
position of the vowels and the aspirant in the word bu-ddha, the letter bhah, the
seed mantra expressing the samādhi realized by Śākyamuni Buddha.99 Similarly,
from the term hrdaya, by changing the vowel ā to semivowel r(a) and semivowel
˙ obtains hrīh , the seed mantra for the samādhi of the Bodhi-
y(a) to vowel i, one
sattva Avalokiteśvara, another ˙key figure in the narrative of the Heart Sūtra. That
is to say, the sūtra’s title, as the mother of an almost unlimited number of seed
letters, issues from within their syllabic combinations various buddhas and bo­
dhisattvas, all of whom are claimed in the prajñā-pāramitā literature as progeny
of the Bodhisattva Prajñā, mother of all the buddhas. In this manner, through
the semiotic production by means of the title’s syllables of seed mantras, Kūkai
creates yet another level of metaphorical reference that sees the sūtra’s title itself
as the personage of the Bodhisattva Prajñā.100
  The three levels of metaphorical signification that Kūkai observes in the Heart
Sūtra’s title are, in short, aimed at transforming the title into a mediating process
between writing and practice. The key to this mediation is the (intentionally) am-
bivalent position in which the seed syllables place themselves between the text
and the meditative rituals prescribed by the text. Phonic fragments strewn within
the title’s words, the seed syllables constitute part of the sūtra’s written text. At
the same time, each of the seed syllables contain two aspects indispensable for
esoteric Buddhist meditation: its phonic aspect, which regulates the respiratory
and chanting exercise of meditation; and its graphic aspect, the object of medita-
tive visualization. These two combined aspects, in turn, make possible the yogic
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  201

exercise aimed at attaining oneness between the practitioner and the deity. Fas-
cicle 30 of Subhakarasimha’s Commentary on the Mahāvairocana Sūtra, for in-
stance, describes the meditation upon the seed mantra in three stages: first, the
recitation of the seed mantra as the sounds of inhalation and exhalation; second,
the visualization of the entering and exiting breath as streams of particles of light
shaped as the seed letter; finally, the visualization of the heart of the divinity, the
source of the divinity’s life, the vital breath, as the letter of the seed mantra.101
  Kūkai applies the same intertextual strategy for his interpretation of the main
body of the sūtra text, which he divides into five sections.
Sūtra text: O, Śāriputra, (A) form is no different from emptiness; emptiness, no
different from form. Emptiness is none other than form; form, none other than
emptiness. And the same holds true for perception, thought, ideation, and
consciousness. O, Śāriputra, (B) here, all things are marked with emptiness:
they are nonarising, nonceasing, nondefiled, nonimmaculate, nonexcessive,
and nondeficient. (C) Therefore, in emptiness, there is no form, no ideation,
no consciousness, there are no perceptions, no thoughts. No eye, ear, nose,
tongue, body, and mind. No form, sound, scent, taste, touch, and mind’s ob-
jects. No field of eye organ and so forth [of the others in the six sensory fields]
ending with the field of consciousness. (D) There is no ignorance, no cessation
of ignorance, and so forth [of the others in the twelve chains of causation]
ending with no aging and death and no cessation of aging and death. There is
[likewise] no suffering, no cause of suffering, no annihilation of suffering, and
no path of the annihilation of suffering. (E) There is no knowledge, no attain-
ment, and no nonattachment.102
As he did with the sūtra’s title, Kūkai reads the text itself in light of the three lev-
els of metaphorical signification: “personage,” “Dharma,” and “metaphor.” Kūkai
states that the five divided sections are (A) establishment (ken); (B) eradication
(zetsu); (C) aspects (sō); (D) two (ni); and (E) one (ichi), which correspond, respec-
tively, to Kegon, Sanron, Hossō, the three Hīnayāna schools, and Tendai. Kūkai
draws the associations between the five sūtra sections and the Buddhist schools
by understanding each of the five sections as brief philosophical renditions of
particular meditative experiences realized by the principal buddhas in the Path
of the Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra. For example, regarding passage (B), Kūkai states,
The second section is entitled “eradication,” because it points to the gate of
samādhi manifested by the Tathāgata Who Eradicates All Sophistries (Skt.
SarvaDharma-aprapañca; J. Issai mukeron nyorai) [in the Path of the Prajñā-
pāramitā Sūtra]. . . . The Tathāgata Who Eradicates All Sophistries is the se-
cret name of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. With his sharp sword of the eightfold ne-
gation, Mañjuśrī eradicates the mind of illusory attachments. For this reason,
he is known by this name.103
Kūkai’s description here is based on a chapter titled “Mañjuśrī” in the Path of the
202  |  ryŪichi abé

At that time, Bhagavat, Tathāgata Who Eradicates All Sophistries, expounded

the circle of letter-syllables as the path of the prajñā-pāramitā. All things are
empty because they coincide with the nature of emptiness. All things are with-
out marks because they coincide with the nature of no marks. All things are
without desire because they coincide with the nature of no desire. All things
are the light of wisdom because of the pureness of the prajñā-pāramitā.104

The Interpretive Guide has the following comments attached to the above
“the Bhagavat, Tathāgata Who Eradicates All Sophistries”
   This is another name of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī.
“expounded the circle of letter-syllables as the path of the prajñā-pāramitā”
   The circle of the letter-syllables refers to his [Mañjuśrī’s] samādhi on the 
   circle of the five-letter mantra [A Ra Pa Ca Na].105

Kūkai’s interpretative operation here aims first to understand literally the Heart
Sūtra’s passage (B) as the paraphrasing of Nāgarjuna’s celebrated formulation of
emptiness as the eightfold negation, as given in his Madhyamaka-kārikā (“neither
arising nor ceasing, neither arriving nor departing, neither identical nor different,
neither terminal nor permanent”106) the formulation crystallizing the philosophy
of the Sanron school. He then takes the same sūtra passage as an invocation
of Mañjuśrī, the patron deity of the Mādhyamika/Sanlun/Sanron school, and
finally, as the unfolding of the samādhi experienced by the Tathāgata Who Eradi-
cates All Sophistries, in which all forms of sophistic speculation on the nature
of things are eradicated — as intended by Nāgarjuna’s eightfold negation. Using
this method, Kūkai establishes the correspondence between the five Heart Sūtra
sections, the samādhi experiences given in the Path of the Prajñā-pāramitā, and
divinities revealed in the Interpretive Guide (table 8.2).
  Table 8.2 shows that Kūkai identifies the six Nara schools and Tendai as doc-
trinal institutions located along the literal grain of the Heart Sūtra’s text. Inter-
preted literally, Kūkai illustrates the sūtra as a collection of phrases epitomizing
the positions of each of these doctrinal schools. Chikō’s interpretation of the
Heart Sūtra, for example, grounds itself in such a positioning. On the other hand,
Kūkai locates the samādhis described in the Path of the Prajñā-pāramitā and
the divinities revealed in the Interpretive Guide as aligned with the sūtra text’s
metaphorical texture. When read metaphorically, the sūtra manifests itself as an
analog of the Dharma-mandala, the mandala made of letter-syllables. Because
the Heart Sūtra’s passages analyzed by Kūkai are in Chinese script, one cannot
approach them as the matrix productive of bija, seed mantras, as in the case of
Kūkai’s interpretation of the sūtra’s title. However, when approached metaphori-
cally, each passage evokes the presence of principal divinities in the Mahāyāna
literature who express through their practice of samādhi their insights into the
  Kūkai’s reading of the Heart Sūtra embodies, therefore, a shift from the literal
to the metaphorical, a shift that makes it possible to mediate the theoretical ori-
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  203

Table 8.2. Correspondence between the five Heart Sūtra sections

Sūtra passage Samādhi Bodhisattva (literal 
(metaphor) (Dharma) (personage) reading)

A. Establishment Establishing Equality of All things Samantabhadra Kegon

B. Eradication Eradicating All Sophistries Mañjuśrī Sanron
C. Aspects Entering All the Buddhas’ Mandalas Maitreya Hossō
D. Two Mastery by the Two Hīnayāna Paths Ritsu,  
E. One One Pure Nature of All things Avalokiteśvara Tendai

entation of the six Nara schools and Tendai with the orientation toward praxis
of esoteric Buddhism. But Kūkai’s own school, Shingon, does not appear in his
analysis. That is because shingon/mantra in his Hiken is the very perspective
through which this hermeneutical shift from the literal to metaphorical, from
theory to practice, is affected. In Kūkai’s interpretation, Shingon becomes vis-
ible only in relation to the discussion of the Heart Sūtra’s concluding dhāran. ī,
in which the sūtra’s textual language itself changes from the theoretical to the
practical. Regarding the concluding part of the sūtra, which he calls “the sum-
mary in the dhāran. ī” (sōki jimyō), Kūkai states,
Sūtra text: Therefore, one should know the prajñā-pāramitā as the great di-
vine spell, the spell of the great light of wisdom, the unexcelled spell, and the
incomparable spell. Because it eradicates all forms of suffering, genuinely, un-
failingly, this spell of the prajñā-pāramitā has been revealed. It says, Gate gate
pāragate pārasamgate bodhi svāhā.
This part, the summary in the dhāran. ī, has three components: names, sub-
stance, and function. The four descriptions of the spell are the name; [the
passage] “genuinely, unfailingly, . . . ” refers to the substance [of the spell]; and
[the passage] “eradicates all forms of suffering” points to its function. As for
the names, the first “great divine spell” suggests the mantra as it is prepared
for the srāvakas; the second [“spell of great light of wisdom”] is the mantra as
intended for the pratyekabuddhas; the third [“unexcelled spell”], the mantra
as appropriate for Mahāyāna; and the fourth [“unparalleled spell”], the mantra
as it belongs to the secret treasury (hizō). However, in terms of their broader
meaning, each aspect of the mantra is endowed with all the four names.107
Although Kūkai divides the sūtra passage into smaller units, his intention differs
significantly from the kunkogaku approach. As will be discussed below, his goal
is to establish a corresponding relationship between the sūtra’s text proper and
the dhāran. ī at the end of the text. Kūkai first draws a linkage between the sūtra’s
four phrases eulogizing its dhāran. ī and the four yānas, or vehicles, of Buddhism.
204  |  ryŪichi abé

They are the two Hīnayāna vehicles (which include the Kusha, Jōjitsu, and Ritsu
schools), Mahāyāna (in which the Sanron, Hossō, and Tendai schools are located),
and the Mantrayāna (the Shingon school). And here, as elsewhere throughout
his work, Kūkai employs the term hizō, or secret treasury, interchangeably with
Mantrayāna to refer to his own Buddhist transmission108
In Kūkai’s explanation of the Heart Sūtra’s dhāran. ī, these four laudatory
phrases are linked, respectively, to the first four words in the dhāran. ī.
The dhāran. ī, the mantra of the secret treasury, has five components. The first
“gate” [O, she who is gone] discloses the goal of [the vehicle of] the śrāvakas;
the second “gate” elucidates the goal of the vehicle of the pratyekabuddhas;
the third “pāragate” [O, she who is gone beyond] points at the most excellent
goal of the schools of Mahāyāna; the fourth “pārasamgate” [O, she who is
thoroughly gone beyond] unveils the goal of the Mantrayāna and its mandalas
perfectly endowed with virtues. The fifth “bodhi svāhā” [O, the awakening,
hail!] expounds the enlightenment at which all the various vehicles ultimately
As in his explication of the Heart Sūtra’s title, Kūkai resorts again to the Sid-
dham script to render the dhāran. ī, highlighting its linguistic idiosyncrasy. By
this means — that is, by not resorting to the established convention in the scrip-
tures imported throughout the Nara period of transliterating the dhāran. ī with
Chinese characters — Kūkai underscores that the Heart Sūtra’s dhāran. ī is man-
tra, the dhāran.ī of the “secret treasury.” Instead of being a dhāran.ī in the exoteric
Mahāyāna context — an auxiliary device to facilitate memorization of the sūtra
text or to extend protection to the chanters — the sūtra’s concluding dhāran. ī is,
for Kūkai, the climax in which the scriptural text culminates.
  The dhāran. ī understood in this manner is not merely the condensed essence
of the sūtra’s text and its related discourses on the six Nara and Tendai schools.
It is also a miniature of the entire sūtra text revealing the process of the com-
pression of ordinary language into mantra (in the diachronic order of the text
read from the beginning to the end) and the reverse process of mantra unfolding
itself into ordinary language (Bodhisattva Prajñā’s mantra-meditation unfolded,
first into the metaphorical languages of the Path of the Prajñā-pāramitā, the Col-
lected Dhāran. ī, and the Heart, and then to the doctrinal language of the seven 
schools). The vantage point of mantric language makes it plain that the distinc-
tion between the seven early Heian schools are not inherent but derive from
the different ways in which the prajñā-pāramitā manifests itself for audiences
of diverse capacities. In this sense, Shingon for Kūkai is both inside and outside
the Heart Sūtra’s text. It crystallizes itself as the scripture’s concluding dhāran. ī.
But it is also an interpretive perspective, or a hermeneutical technology, which
he employs to explain the sūtra’s doctrinal discourse into the realm of ritual
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  205

Writing, Ritual, and Post-ritsuryō Buddhism

In the opening of the Hiken, Kūkai proclaims the Heart Sūtra as the disclosure
of Bodhisattva Prajñā’s samādhi and the concluding dhāran. ī as her heart-man-
tra.110 In addition, the female bodhisattva is understood by Kūkai as vidyā-rājñi,
the queen of wisdom-light, a designation in the Mahāvairocana Sūtra of what is
universally mantra. The function of the sūtra’s dhāran. ī is, therefore, twofold: the
unveiling of both the inmost meditative state of the bodhisattva and the inner
working of the mantra as sacred language. The dhāran. ī is the manifestation of
the female divinity in language and as a language for religious practice. At the
same time, it functions as the meta-dhāran.ī demonstrating how a dhāran.ī works
as mantra, a sacred language endowed with the power of removing delusions.
Because of this work of the dhāran. ī, Kūkai in the Hiken treats the sūtra’s mantra,
the samādhi attained by the recitation of the mantra, and the divinity personi-
fying the mastery of the mantra’s meditation as exchangeable and replaceable.
Kūkai states this point poetically in the following verse:
Beyond thinking, beyond explication is the mantra.
Chanted, it swiftly removes the darkness of ignorance.
With every one of its letters encompassing myriad truths,
Suchness of Dharma arises right within the chanter’s body.
Practicers, go further to find the pristine peace,
Search deeper and enter the original abode of your mind.
Traverse the triple world, the lodging house,
Return home, the one mind of the Tathāgatas.111
When read literally, the dhāran. ī, rendered as feminine singular, vocative, “gone,
gone, gone beyond, gone thoroughly beyond,” is by itself almost meaningless. The
dynamism of the dhāran. ī as mantra unveils itself as soon as the “gone” in the
dhāran. ī is understood as a trope for the female divinity whose name is Prajñā-
pāram-itā, “She Who Has Gone Completely to the Transcendental Wisdom.”112
Because, for Kūkai, the mantra is the divinity, its sound — “gate, gate, pāragate,
pārasamgate” — is the progressive movement in which the bodhisattva, the
queen of wisdom-light, unleashes her effulgent wisdom to destroy avidyā (dark-
ness, ignorance), the root cause of delusion and suffering. The dhāran. ī’s sound is
the resonance of the galloping gait of the bodhisattva with which she drives vari-
ous vehicles of the Buddha Dharma to pass beyond samsara and reach nirvana.
Recitation of the dhāran. ī, then, allows practitioners to participate immediately
in the bodhisattva’s act of leading living beings to enlightenment.
It is precisely this dissolution of the literal into the metaphorical that illustrates
the efficaciousness of the dhāran.ī. That is because such dissolution is tantamount
to the shift in the nature of scriptural reading from intellectual speculation to
religious practice. The movements of reader’s lungs, of vocal cords, tongue, and
lips for reciting and chanting the sūtra text now becomes an integral part of
206  |  ryŪichi abé

their reading and practice, the reading that constitutes their physical labor. In
other words, the sūtra’s metaphoricity provides the critical moment in this shift
through which the scriptural text and the readers’ somaticity integrate them-
selves into a ritual action. For Kūkai, the expansion as such of the sūtra’s textual-
ity into the realm of the body is most essential for manifesting the power inher-
ing in the scriptural texts — he frequently expressed this through deployments
of the metaphor of medicinal power.
In the twelfth month of 834, just a few months before his death, Kūkai sent a
memorial to Emperor Ninmyō (r. 833 – 850), requesting the inauguration of an
esoteric Buddhist ritual for celebrating New Year at the Imperial Palace, later
known as the second seven-day New Year ritual (goshichinichi mishuhō). Kūkai’s
goal was to perform a ritual ceremony to invigorate the emperor by appropriately
chanting the mantras and dhāran. īs contained in the Golden Light Sūtra. This
scripture claims that its mantras and dhāran. ī have power to transform a ruler
to the cakravartin, the legendary Buddhist monarch who rules the world by his
virtuous mastery of the Dharma.113 Kūkai proposed his ritual to be performed
as evening services, as an extension of the imperial purification rite (misaie), the
seven-day recitation and lecture on the Golden Light Sūtra at the palace per-
formed during the second seven days of the first month by the leaders of the Nara
Buddhist schools. Kūkai proposes,
The buddhas’ preaching of the Dharma is of two kinds: one revealing shal-­ 
low meaning (senryakushu), the other, secret meaning (himitsushu). The shal-
low meaning is expressed in the prose lines and hymns of the scriptures. The
secret meaning is contained in the scriptures’ dhāran. ī. The shallow meaning
is like examining the sources of illness and analyzing the nature of medica-
ments in the textbooks of medical science. The secret method of dhāran. ī is
just like compounding medicines and, by providing them to the sick according
to prescription, removing illness. Opening a medical text and giving a lecture
about it to the patient does no good in curing his illness. One must compound
drugs in response to symptoms and provide them to the patient following
prescriptions. Only then can one eradicate disease and save lives.114
This statement illustrates Kūkai’s hermeneutics aimed at constructing a new
type of Buddhist discourse in which text and action are no longer two immis-
cible categories — as was the case in the writings of Chikō and his Nara schol-
arly peers — but intertwined fields, as exemplified in the ritual action of uttering
dhāran. īs and mantras. Through such an innovative discourse, Buddhism be-
came immediately relevant to the management of the state. Kūkai’s founding of
the New Year ritual service provided the watershed for diverse esoteric rituals to
be rapidly incorporated within the services of the imperial court. Cases in point
are the integration within the emperor’s coronation ceremony of abhiseka, eso-
teric Buddhist ordination (sokui kanjō), the ritual services based on the Sūtra of
the Virtuous King (ichidai ichido ninnōe), and the ritual worship of the Buddha’s
relic (ichidai ichido busshari).115
The rapid growth of esoteric Buddhist rituals at the Imperial Palace and the
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  207

court explains the reason for the establishment of grand Shingon temples in the
vicinity of Kyoto as new centers of Buddhist ritual studies. In 851 Shingon master
Shinga (801 – 879) received the direct patronage of Emperor Monkotu and Minis-
ter of the Left Fujiwara no Yoshifusa (804 – 872) and founded Kashōji at Fukakusa.
Daikakuji was built in 876 by the Shingon priest Kōjaku, a son of Emperor Junna,
and by Kōjaku’s mother Shōshi; Ninnaji was established in 888 by Emperor Uda
(r. 887 – 897); Kajūji was erected in 905 by imperial consort Inshi; and Hosshōji,
an extensive monastic complex in the northwest of Kyoto, was completed by 925,
under the supervision of the Fujiwara regent Tadahira (880 – 949).116
  It must be noted that Kūkai’s proposal quoted above accentuates the signifi-
cance of doctrinal studies (“medical texts”) as the foundation for esoteric rituals
(“application of medicine”). Esoteric rituals were understood as complementary
to doctrinal studies, which encouraged the Nara Buddhist temples to actively
integrate esotericism within their own institutional structure, a move that as-
certained their immediate participation in the crucial affairs of the state. In
848, under the aegis of the imperial dowager, Fujiwara no Junshi, Hossō Master
E’un (798 – 869) erected Anshōji in Yamashina. In 874, Sanron Master Shōbō
(832 – 909) of Tōdaiji founded Daigoji in Fushimi. These temples soon established
themselves as prominent academic centers of the Shingon school that provided
the knowledge of esoteric rituals for Nara scholar-priests.117
  Unlike the major monasteries founded by the state in the Nara and the early
Heian periods, all these new centers of Buddhist ritual studies, built around
Kyoto, enjoyed freedom from government supervision. Run by private funds
given by imperial and aristocratic family members, these temples received the
court’s exemption from the Rules for Priests and Nuns of the Ritsuryō. For ex-
ample, they were able to acquire ordinands outside the annual allotment given by
the state to each Buddhist school. This arrangement encouraged a swift increase
from the mid-Heian period onward in the number of priests who specialized in
esoteric Buddhist studies.118
  At these new centers, the scholar-priests focused their textual productions no
longer in doctrinal problems but in writing ritual commentaries, ritual manuals,
and liturgical texts — amounting to nothing less than a reversal of the center and
periphery of Buddhist textual discourse of the Heian period.119 Many of their
works evolved around the analysis and treatment of dhāran. ī and mantras, which
they studied in Siddham, in phonetic letters.120 Their emphasis on the phoneti-
cism demonstrates vividly the movement away from the norms established for
producing authoritative texts in the framework of kangaku in early Heian society,
the norm as it was once exemplified by Chikō’s text.

1. See Kurozumi Makoto, “Kangaku: sono shoki, keisei, ken’i,” 213 – 256.
2. The texts adopted by Kanmu are Chunqiu gongyangzhuan (Shunjū kuyōden) and Chunqiu
guliangzhuan (Shunjū kokuryōden). See Ryō no shūge, fscl. 15, 447 – 448.
3. Momo Hiroyuki, Jōdai gakusei ronkō, 70.
208  |  ryŪichi abé

4. Suzuki Kazuo, “Heian jidai no gakusei, kyōiku,” 198 – 200.

5. Inoue Mitsusada, Nihon kodai shisō shi no kenkyū, 137 – 140.
6. Nihon shisō taikei (hereafter NST), 3:786 ff.
7. Ibid.
8. Ikeda Genta, Nara Heian jidai no bunka to shūkyō, 275.
9. Nihon sandai jitsuroku, Jōgan 18 (876) 10/4.
10. Zoku kojidan chūkai, fscl. 2, “shinsetsu,” 24.
11. Kawaguchi Hisao, Heian chō no kanbungaku, 11 – 16. For more on the topic of the role
and importance of kanshi, see Ivo Smits’ essay in this volume.
12. Gunsho ruijū (hereafter GR), 8:449a.
13. GR 8:490a.
14. Gotō Akio, “Kyūtei shijin to ritsuryō kanjin,” 34 – 36. Kawaguchi, Heian chō no kanbun-
gaku, 162.
15. Only two fascicles of this vast work survive. Fascicle 864 is preserved in the Seikidō
Bunko Collection at Ochanomizu Toshokan, Tokyo; and fascicle 868, in the Sonkeikaku Bunko
Collection in Komaba, Tokyo.
16. Translation by Wing-tsit Chan in Chan, trans., A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 47.
Translation slightly modified.
17. Ikeda, Nara Heian jidai no bunka to shūkyō, 260.
18. Sakamoto Tarō, “Rikkokushi to Montoku jitsuroku,” 3 – 12.
19. Kawaguchi, Heian chō no kanbungaku, 52.
20. Konishi Jin’ichi, Nihon bungaku shi, 49.
21. Tsurezuregusa, episode 122, in Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei (SNKBT), 39:196.
22. One of the most obvious phenomena illustrative of this change was the formation of
kagaku and yūshiki, lineages of particular, and often minor, aristocratic families who special-
ized in producing scholars and ritual experts and preserved their knowledge through heredi-
tary transmission. See Uesugi Kazuhiko, “Heian jidai no ginō kanjin,” 180 – 192.
23. Inoue, Nihon kodai shisō shi no kenkyū, 232 – 236.
24. Ryūichi Abé, The Weaving of Mantra, 38 – 40.
25. Yoshida Kazuhiko, Nihon kodai shakai to bukkyō, 30.
26. NST 3:219 – 220.
27. Ryō no shūge, 232 – 233.
28. Kanō Naoki, Kanbun kenkyū ho, 89 – 93, 148; Shirakawa Shizuka, Shirakawa shizuka
chosakushu, 130.
29. Ikeda, Nara Heian jidai no bunka to shūkyō, 257 – 260.
30. The commentarial texts Naomoto cites range from the oldest extant Ritsuryō exegesis
dating from the early Nara period, the Koki — the two commentaries issued during the reign
of the Emperor Kanmu, one (Ryōshaku) written by legal experts who served his court and
the other (Anaki) composed by a certain State Academy Professor Anata — to two additional
commentaries dated from the early Heian period, one (Atoki) preserved in the House of Ato
and the other (Shuki) by an anonymous author who added his comments in red on the main
Ritsuryō text.
31. David Hall and Roger Ames, Thinking through Confucius, 268 – 275.
32. Shoku Nihongi, fscl. 33, 416.
33. Dai Nihon bukkyō zensho (henceforth DNBZ) 1, no. 1. Itō Ryūju, “Anchō no in’yō seru sho
chūsakushō no kenkyū,” 121b – 122b; Hirai Shun’ei, “Nanto sanronshū shi no kenkyū josetsu,”
144 – 145.
34. Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis, Japanese Mandalas, 34.
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  209

35. KBZ, 6:167.

36. Hirai Shun’ei, Chūgoku hannya shisō shi kenkyū, 144.
37. Chūron shoki, in Taishō shinshū daizōkyō (hereafter T), vol. 65, no. 2255.
38. Daijō sanron taigishō, T 70, no. 2296.
39. Sueki Fumihiko, “Chikō hannya shingyō jutsugi ni tsuite,” 70 – 71, 244.
40. The first Hossō counterargument to Chikō’s interpretation of the Heart Sūtra appeared
in the Hannya shingyō ryakushō by Abbot Shinkō (934 – 1004) of Kojimaji, a prominent mid-
Heian-period priest renowned for his combined mastery of the Hossō and Shingon.
41. DNBZ 1:169b.
42. The order in which these four parts are arranged differs somewhat among surviving
manuscripts of the Shingyō jutsugi. My description here is based on the printed edition in
volume 1 of DNBZ. For the variations between the surviving manuscripts and woodblock edi-
tions, see Sueki, “Chikō hannya shingyō jutsugi ni tsuite,” 161 – 167.
43. DNBZ 1:169c.
44. See, for example, T 33, no. 1712:552a – b; T 33, no. 1710:523c – 524a; and T 33, no.
1711:543b – c.
45. DNBZ 1:169c – 170a.
46. Sanlun xuanyi (Sanron gengi). T 45, no. 1852:10b.
47. In particular, see Dapin youi (Daihon yūi) and Renwang bore jing su (Ninnō hannya kyō
sho). T 33, no. 1696; and T 33, no. 1707. For the influence of these works on Chikō, see Sueki,
“Chikō hannya shingyō jutsugi ni tsuite,” 167.
48. DNBZ 1:170a.
49. DNBZ 1:170b – c.
50. See Kuiji’s bore boluomiduo xinjing youzan (Hannya haramita shingyō yūsan) and Yu-
ance’s Fushou bore boluomiduo xinjing zan (Bussetsu hannya haramita shingyō san). T 33, no.
1710 and no. 1711.
51. DNBZ 1:170a.
52. For the Mādhyamika thinkers of the Indo-Tibetan tradition, however, such an under-
standing of the definitive and the disputable, entailing the Yogācāra’s conceptualization, was
not acceptable. Mādhyamika’s counterargument focuses on refuting as naïve and simplistic
Yogācāra’s identification of the definitive as literal. See Robert Thurman, “Buddhist Herme-
neutics,” 28 – 34.
53. See Sone Masato, “Heian shoki Nanto bukkyō to gokoku taisei,” 655 – 718.
54. For dhāran. ī, mantra, and their linguistic characteristics, see Abé, The Weaving of Man-
tra, 159 – 168, 240 – 246.
55. DNBZ 1:170a – b.
56. Ibid., 170c.
57. Ibid., 174c – 175a.
58. Bore xinjing su (Hannya shingyō sho), in Dai Nihon zokuzōkyō, case 1, vol. 41, bk. 3, p. 218;
henceforth NZ 1:41:3, 218.
59. T 30, 542c.
60. DNBZ 1:175c.
61. Keikai relates a story in which Chikō was consumed by jealousy at the imperial ap-
pointment of Gyōki to the post of grand priest master (daisōjō) in 744. Protesting what he
considered an unjust appointment, Chikō returned from Gangōji to the remote temple of
Sukidadera in southern Kawachi Province. In disgust, Keikai continues, Chikō declared, “I
am a man of wisdom, while Gyōki is a petty priest. How was it possible for the emperor to
overlook my erudition and to promote, instead, a mere worthless priest?” Instead of a request
210  |  ryŪichi abé

from the emperor that he return to the capital, Chikō was immediately summoned by King
Yama’s court, where the pundit was found guilty of temerity and ignorance and was sentenced
to horrendous punishments in hell (NKDZ 6:167 – 168). See Katsuura Noriko, Nihon kodai no
sōni to shakai, 336 – 339.
62. Hirai, Chūgoku hannya shishō shi kenkyū, 150.
63. Hayami Tasuku, “Ritsuryō kokka to bukkyō,” 3 – 17.
64. In his Summary Discussion on the Lotus Sūtra (Hokke rakusho), Hossō master Myōitsu
(728 – 798) of Tōdaiji explains the sūtra’s dhāran. ī chapter (chap. 28; T 8, 58b – 59b), showing
the doctrinal scholar’s insensitivity to ritual language: “These are called dhāran. ī in Sanskrit
and are translated as zongchi (sōji) because they manifest an incomparable spiritual power of
protection by means of a small number of secret, meaningless letters. These letters destroy
evil and establish good. Therefore, they are called dhāran. ī. This chapter is called the dhāran. ī
chapter because it indicates such effects of the dhāran. īs” (T 56, 143b).
65. Ichikawa Mototarō, Nihon kanbungaku shi gaisetsu, 78.
66. Takagi Shingen, Kōbō Daishi no shokan, 86 – 87.
67. Katō Seiichi, Kōbō Daishi Kūkai den, 95 – 97.
68. Abé, The Weaving of Mantra, 45.
69. Tōdaiji zoku yōroku, ZZG 11:287a – b.
70. Sōgō bunin, DNBZ 65:9a.
71. Tōji chōja bunin, GR 4:622b.
72. Kōbō Daishi zenshū (hereafter KDZ), 1:555.
73. Tōdaiji yōroku, fscl. 4, ZZG 11:69a.
74. The Six Nara schools and the Tendai school.
75. KDZ 1:555.
76. Taizō genzu mandara, divinity no. 10, in Sawa Takaaki, ed., Shingon jiten (hereafter SJ),
appendix 32. The description of the Bodhisattva Prajñā in the garbha mandala is based not
on the Mahāvairocana Sūtra itself but on Subhakarasimha’s commentary on the sūtra, which
explains the location of the Bodhisattva Prajñā in the mandala as the seat for the ordinand in
the garbha abhiseka (T 39, 612b – c, 622b, 673b – c). For the problem of discrepancy between
scripture and mandala images, see Robert Sharf, “Visualization and Mandala in Shingon
77. See KDZ 1:554, 551.
78. Dapiluzhe’na jing shu (Daibirushana kyō sho). T 39, no. 1726.
79. Dapiluzhe’na jing (Daibirushana kyō, a.k.a. Dainichi kyō). T 18, fascl. 3, fascl. 4.
80. KDZ 1:551.
81. T 39, 673b – c.
82. Tuolouni jing (Darani jikkyō). T 18, no. 901.
83. T 18, 785a – b.
84. Dai Nihon komonjo, 7:75.
85. T 18, 804c – 805a.
86. Ibid., 805a – c.
87. Ibid., 805c – 808a.
88. Ibid., 808a – 812b.
89. Ibid., 807b.
90. KDZ 1:557.
91. Prajñā-pāramitā-naya-satapañcasatika. It is also known as Adhyardhasatika-prajñā-
pāramitā. Bore boluomiduo liqui jing (Hannya haramita rishu kyō). T 8, no. 243.
92. Bore boluomiduo liqui shi (Hannya haramita rishushaku). T 19, no. 1003.
93. T 19, 616b – 671a.
Scholasticism, Exegesis, and Ritual Practice  |  211

94. Wumimi xiuxing niansong yigui (Gohimitsu shugyō nenju giki). T 20, no. 1125.
95. Siddham is an Indian script most commonly used in premodern East Asia for writing
Sanskrit words. The Siddham script as it now appears in the text of Shingyō hiken in KDZ
1:556 reads, Buddhabāsa mahāprajñā pāramitā hrdā sūtram. It is unknown whether this was
a wrong spelling given by Kūkai himself or resulted from the corruption through the process
of copying by those later priests who lacked the knowledge of Sanskrit.
96. KDZ 1:556 – 557.
97. In this sense, Kūkai’s understanding is similar to that of many of the pioneers of contem-
porary theories on metaphor, such as I. A. Richards (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 108 – 109) and
Max Black (“Metaphor,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 273 – 249), who see metaphor
not as a rhetorical ornament, but as a seminal mode of human cognition generative of new
perspectives on reality. Also see Paul Ricoeur (The Rule of Metaphor, 247 – 256) and George
Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, 156 – 184).
98. KDZ 1:556 – 557.
99. Mahāvairocana Sūtra, fscl. 2. chap. 4. T 18, 16c; SJ, no. 628.
100. Compare Kūkai’s operation here with Saussure’s analysis of anagrams in his study
of ancient Vedic mantras. See Julia Kristeva, Sèmeiōtikè — Recherches pour une sémanalyse,
174 – 207; and Jean Starobinki, Words upon Words, 11 – 19.
101. T 39, 785c.
102. KDZ 1:558 – 559.
103. Ibid.
104. T 8, 785a – b.
105. T 19, 613 b – c.
106. T 30, 1b.
107. KDZ 1:560.