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Some historians
ascribe his abdication to a sentiment of remorse. He had ascended the
throne in despite of the superior claims of his elder brother,
Koretaka, and the usurpation weighed heavily on his conscience. It is
at least credible that since, in taking the sceptre he obeyed the
dictates of the Fujiwara, so in laying it down he followed the same
guidance. We cannot be sure as to the exact date when the great
family's policy of boy-sovereigns first took definite shape, but the
annals seem to show that Yoshifusa conceived the programme and that
his adopted son, Mototsune, carried it out. A halo rests on Seiwa's
head for the sake of his memorable descendants, the Minamoto chiefs,
Yoritomo, Takauji, and Ieyasu. Heaven is supposed to have compensated
the brevity of his own tenure of power by the overwhelming share that
his posterity enjoyed in the administration of the empire.

But Seiwa was undoubtedly a good man as well as a zealous sovereign.
One episode in his career deserves attention as illustrating the
customs of the era. Mention has already been made of Ariwara no
Narihira, a grandson of the Emperor Heijo and one of the most
renowned among Japanese poets. He was a man of singular beauty, and
his literary attainments, combined with the melancholy that marked
his life of ignored rights, made him a specially interesting figure.
He won the love of Taka, younger sister of Fujiwara Mototsune and
niece of Yoshifusa. Their liaison was not hidden. But Yoshifusa, in
default of a child of his own, was just then seeking some Fujiwara
maiden suitable to be the consort of the young Emperor, Seiwa, in
pursuance of the newly conceived policy of building the Fujiwara
power on the influence of the ladies' apartments in the palace. Taka
possessed all the necessary qualifications. In another age the
obstacle of her blemished purity must have proved fatal. Yoshifusa's
audacity, however, was as limitless as his authority. He ordered the
poet prince to cut his hair and go eastward in expiation of the crime
of seeking to win Taka's affections, and having thus officially
rehabilitated her reputation, he introduced her into the household of
the Empress Dowager, his own daughter, through whose connivance the
lady soon found her way to the young Emperor's chamber and became the
mother of his successor, Yozei.

Nor was this all. Though only a Fujiwara, and a soiled Fujiwara at
that, Taka was subsequently raised to the rank of Empress.
Ultimately, when Empress Dowager, her name was coupled with that of
the priest Zenyu of Toko-ji, as the Empress Koken's had been with
that of Dokyo, a hundred years previously, and she suffered
deprivation of Imperial rank. As for Narihira, after a few years he
was allowed to return from exile, but finding that all his hopes of
preferment were vain, he abandoned himself to a life of indolence and
debauchery. His name, however, will always stand next to those of
Hitomaro and Akahito on the roll of Japanese poets.

ENGRAVING: FUJIWARA SEIWA

YOZEI, UDA, AND THE KWAMPAKU

The fifty-seventh sovereign was Yozei, offspring of the Emperor
Seiwa's union with the lady Taka. He ascended the throne in the year
877, at the age of ten, and Fujiwara Mototsune--Yoshifusa had died
five years previously--became regent (sessho), holding also the post
of chancellor (dajo-daijin). When Yozei was approaching his
seventeenth year he was overtaken by an illness which left him a
lunatic. It is related that he behaved in an extraordinary manner. He
set dogs and monkeys to fight and then slaughtered them; he fed toads
to snakes, and finally compelling a man lo ascend a tree, he stabbed
him among the branches. The regent decided that he must be dethroned,
and a council of State was convened to consider the matter. There had
never been an example of an act so sacrilegious as the deposition of
an Emperor at the dictate of his subjects. The ministers hesitated.
Then one of the Fujiwara magnates (Morokuzu) loudly proclaimed
that anyone dissenting from the chancellor's proposal would have
to answer for his contumacy. Thereafter, no one hesitated--so
overshadowing was the power of the Fujiwara. When carried to a
special palace--thenceforth called Yozei-in--and informed that he
had been dethroned for killing a man, the young Emperor burst into a
flood of tears.

No hesitation was shown in appointing Yozei's successor. Prince
Tokiyasu, son of the Emperor Nimmyo, satisfied all the requirements.
His mother, a daughter of Fujiwara Tsugunawa, was Mototsune's
maternal aunt, and the Prince himself, already in his fifty-fifth
year, had a son, Sadami, who was married to the daughter of Fujiwara
Takafuji, a close relation to Mototsune. There can be no doubt that
the latter had the whole programme in view when he proposed the
dethronement of Yozei. Shortly after his accession, Prince
Tokiyasu--known in history as the Emperor Koko--fell ill, and at
Mototsune's instance the sovereign's third son (Sadami) was nominated
Prince Imperial. He succeeded to the throne as Emperor Uda on the
death of his father, which occurred (887) after a reign of two years.

This event saw fresh extension of the Fujiwara's power. Uda was
twenty-two years of age when he received the sceptre, but recognizing
that he owed his elevation to Mototsune's influence and that his
prospects of a peaceful reign depended upon retaining the Fujiwara's
favour, his first act was to decree that the administration should be
carried on wholly by the chancellor, the latter merely reporting to
the Throne. This involved the exercise of power hitherto
unprecedented. To meet the situation a new office had to be created,
namely, that of kwampaku. The actual duties of this post were those
of regent to a sovereign who had attained his majority, whereas
sessho signified regent to a minor. Hence the kwampaku was obviously
the more honourable office, since its incumbent officiated in lieu of
an Emperor of mature years. Accordingly, the kwampaku--or mayor of
the palace, as the term is usually translated--took precedence of all
other officials. A subject could rise no higher without ceasing to
yield allegiance. As Mototsune was the first kwampaku, he has been
called the most ambitious and the least scrupulous of the Fujiwara.
But Mototsune merely stood at the pinnacle of an edifice, to the
building of which many had contributed, and among those builders not
a few fully deserved all they achieved. The names of such members of
the Fujiwara family as Mimori, Otsugu, Yoshino, Sadanushi, Nagara,
Yoshisuke, and Yasunori, who wrought and ruled in the period from
Heijo and Saga to Montoku and Seiwa, might justly stand high in any
record.*

*The office of Kwampaku was continued from the time of its creation,
882, to 1868.

THE AKO INCIDENT

The Emperor Uda, as already stated, owed everything to the Fujiwara.
He himself did not possess even the claim of primogeniture, since he
was the third among several sons, and he had stepped out of the ranks
of the Imperial princes by accepting a family name. His decree
conferring administrative autocracy on Mototsune was thus a natural
expression of gratitude.

Yet this very document proved a source of serious trouble. It was
drafted by Tachibana Hiromi, a ripe scholar, whose family stood as
high on the aristocratic roll as did that of the Fujiwara themselves.
At that time literary attainments conferred immense prestige in
Kyoto. To be skilled in calligraphy; to be well versed in the
classics; to be capable of composing a sonorous decree or devising a
graceful couplet--such accomplishments constituted a passport not
only to high office but even to the love of women. Tachibana Hiromi
was one of the leading literati of his era. He rendered into most
academical terms the Emperor's intentions towards Mototsune. From
time immemorial it has always been a canon of Japanese etiquette not
to receive anything with avidity. Mototsune declined the rescript;
the Emperor directed Hiromi to re-write it. Thus far the procedure
had been normal. But Hiromi's second draft ran thus: "You have toiled
for the welfare of the country. You have aided me in accordance with
the late sovereign's will. You are the chief servant of the empire,
not my vassal. You will henceforth discharge the duties of ako." This
term "ako" occurs in Chinese history. It signifies "reliance on
equity," a name given by an early Emperor to the administration of
the sage, I Yin. Hiromi inserted it solely to impart a classical
flavour to the decree and in all good faith.

But Fujiwara Sukeyo, a rival literatus who possessed the confidence
of Mototsune, persuaded the latter that the epithet "ako" could not
apply to the discharge of active duties. What followed was
characteristic. Mototsune caused a number of horses to be let loose
in the city, his explanation being that, as he had no official
functions to discharge, neither had he any need of horses. Naturally
a number of horses running wild in the streets of the capital caused
confusion which soon came to the notice of the palace. The Emperor at
once convoked a meeting of literati to discuss the matter, but these
hesitated so long between their scholarly convictions and their
political apprehensions that, for several months, a state of
administrative anarchy prevailed, and the Emperor recorded in his
diary a lament over the corruption of the age. At last, by the advice
of the minister of the Left, Minamoto Toru, his Majesty sacrificed
Hiromi. A third decree was drafted, laying the blame on Hiromi's
shoulders, and Mototsune graciously consented to resume the duties of
the first subject in the empire. Just forty-five years previously,
Hayanari, another illustrious scholar of the Tachibana family, had
been among the victims of the false charge preferred against the
Crown Prince, Tsunesada, by the Fujiwara partisans. Mototsune may
well have been desirous of removing from the immediate neighbourhood
of the throne the representative of a family having such a cause of
umbrage against the Fujiwara.

At the same time, it is only just to note that he found ready
coadjutors among the jealous schoolmen of the time.



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