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Rival colleges,
rival academies, and rival literati quarrelled with all the rancour
of medieval Europe. The great luminaries of the era were Sugawara
Michizane, Ki no Haseo, Koze no Fumio, Miyoshi Kiyotsura, and
Tachibana Hiromi. There was little mutual recognition of talent.
Kiyotsura abused Haseo as a pundit inferior to any of his
predecessors. Michizane ridiculed Fumio's panegyric of Kiyotsura, The
pupils of these men endorsed their teachers' verdicts. Ajnong them
all, Tachibana Hiromi occupied the most important position until the
day of his downfall. He practically managed the affairs of the Court
under Yozei, Koko, and Uda. Fujiwara Sukeyo, a greatly inferior
scholar, served as his subordinate, and was the willing tool in
contriving his degradation. It did not cause the Fujiwara any serious
concern that in compassing the ruin of Hiromi, they effectually
alienated the sympathies of the sovereign.

CESSATION OF EMBASSIES TO CHINA

It may be supposed that in an era when Chinese literati attracted so
much attention, visits to the Middle Kingdom were frequent. But from
the closing years of the eighth century, the great Tang dynasty began
to fall into disorder, and the embassies sent from Japan reported a
discouraging state of affairs. The last of these embassies
(kento-shi) was in the year 838. It had long ceased to take the
overland route via Liaoyang; the envoys' vessels were obliged to go
by long sea, and the dangers were so great that to be named for this
duty was regarded with consternation. In Uda's reign a project was
formed to appoint Sugawara Michizane as kento-shi, and Ki no Haseo as
his lieutenant. There is reason to think that this suggestion came
from Michizane's enemies who wished to remove him from a scene where
his presence threatened to become embarrassing. The course Michizane
adopted at this crisis showed moral courage, whatever may be thought
of its expediency. He memorialized the Throne in the sense that the
dangers of the journey were not compensated by its results. The
memorial was approved. Since the days of the Empress Suiko, when the
first kento-shi was despatched by Prince Shotoku, 294 years had
elapsed, and by some critics the abandonment of the custom has been
condemned. But it is certain that China in the ninth century had
little to teach Japan in the matter of either material or moral
civilization.

THE AFFAIR OF THE ENGI ERA

The Emperor Uda not only possessed great literary knowledge but was
also deeply sensible of the abuse that had grown out of the virtual
usurpation of administrative authority by one family. As illustrating
his desire to extend the circle of the Throne's servants and to
enlist erudite men into the service of the State, it is recorded that
he caused the interior of the palace to be decorated* with portraits
of renowned statesmen and literati from the annals of China. Fate
seemed disposed to assist his design, for, in the year 891, the
all-powerful Fujiwara Mototsune died, leaving three sons, Tokihira,
Nakahira, and Tadahira, the eldest of whom was only twenty-one.
During the life of Mototsune, to whom the Emperor owed everything, it
would not have been politically or morally possible to contrive any
radical change of system, and even after his death, the Fujiwara
family's claim to the Throne's gratitude precluded any direct attempt
on Uda's part to supplant them. Therefore, he formed the plan of
abdicating in favour of his son, as soon as the latter should attain
a suitable age--a plan inspired in some degree by his own feeble
health and by a keen desire to pass the closing years of his life in
comparative retirement. He carried out this design in the year 897,
and was thenceforth known as Uda-in.**

*It is on this occasion that we hear of Koze no Kanaoka, the first
Japanese artist of great repute.

**The suffix in was now first used for the names of retired Emperors.

His son, Daigo, who now ascended the throne, was thirteen years old,
but no Fujiwara regent was appointed, Tokihira, the one person
eligible in respect of lineage, being precluded by youth. Therefore
the office of minister of the Left was conferred on Tokihira, and
Sugawara Michizane (called also Kwanko) became minister of the Right.

It was to this Michizane that the ex-Emperor looked for material
assistance in the prosecution of his design. The Sugawara family
traced its descent to Nomi no Sukune, the champion wrestler of the
last century before Christ and the originator of clay substitutes for
human sacrifices at burials, though the name "Sugawara" did not
belong to the family until eight hundred years later, when the
Emperor Konin bestowed it on the then representative in recognition
of his great scholarship. Thenceforth, the name was borne by a
succession of renowned literati, the most erudite and the most famous
of all being Michizane.

The ex-Emperor, on the accession of his thirteen-year-old son, Daigo,
handed to the latter an autograph document known in history as the
Counsels of the Kwampei Era. Its gist was: "Be just. Do not be swayed
by love or hate. Study to think impartially. Control your emotion and
never let it be externally visible. The sa-daijin, Fujiwara Tokihira,
is the descendant of meritorious servants of the Crown. Though still
young, he is already well versed in the administration of State
affairs. Some years ago, he sinned with a woman,* but I have no
longer any memory of the event. You will consult him and be guided by
his counsels. The u-daijin, Sugawara Michizane, is a man of profound
literary knowledge. He is also acquainted with politics. Frequently I
have profited by his admonitions. When I was elected Crown Prince I
had but Michizane to advise me. Not only has he been a loyal servant
to me, but he will be a loyal servant to my successor also." Plainly
the intention of the document was to place Michizane on a footing at
least equal to that of Tokihira. Michizane understood the perils of
such preferment. He knew that the scion of a comparatively obscure
family would not be tolerated as a rival by the Fujiwara. Three times
he declined the high post offered to him. In his second refusal he
compared himself to a man walking on thin ice, and in the third he
said: "If I myself am astounded at my promotion, how must others
regard it? The end will come like a flash of lightning." But the
Emperor and the ex-Emperor had laid their plans, and Michizane was an
indispensable factor.

*A liaison with his uncle's wife.

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

ENGRAVING: SUGAWARA MICHIZANE

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

ENGRAVING: SHRINE OF SUGAWARA MICHIZANE AT KITANO, KYOTO

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



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