The thin line between real life and legends blurs significantly when it comes to Japan’s most important figures. Many tales often arise after their deaths and tell of how they came into the world, how they were blessed by the gods, and many other supernatural stories.
Among the many names surrounded by folklore, Abe no Seimei is probably the most popular, even being used in many forms of pop culture up to this day.
The Life of Abe no Seimei
Abe no Seimei was born on February 21, 921 in Nara, Japan. He was incredibly skilled in the traditional Japanese art of esoteric cosmology known as onmyodo. When translated to English, onmyodo means “The Way of Yin and Yang”. It combines occultism with natural science and uses the Chinese philosophy of the five elements (Wu Xing) as a base doctrine. Onmyodo is also influenced by Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist practices.
During the Heian Period, Abe no Seimei served as an onmyoji, a term used to refer to professional onmyodo practitioners, for the Japanese government. Onmyoji were regarded as specialists in divination and were responsible for tasks such as warding off any evil spirits from the capital, giving advice on how matters should be spiritually handled, and keeping track or making calendars.
Abe no Seimei’s exceptional skills in onmyodo made him an important person in the eyes of the court society. As such, he was able to gain a surprising amount of trust from the officials. He also served as an astrologer in and out of the court system.
According to records, Abe no Nakamaro, an esteemed poet, was the ancestor of Abe no Seimei. It is also believed that he was taught the art of onmyodo by the Heian court’s 10th-century diviners, Kamo no Yasunori and Kamo no Tadayuki.
Abe no Seimei then served as his teachers’ successor in the field of divination and astrology, while the son of Kamo no Yasunori tended to the court’s calendars.
The particular tasks Abe no Seimei was in charge of included protecting the capital against ominous spirits, conducting exorcisms, interpreting and analyzing strange phenomenon, and performing geomancy rituals. He was also known for showing exceptional talent in finding lost items and divining the gender of fetuses.
By the end of the 10th century, Abe no Seimei’s reputation had grown so great that his clan, the Abe Clan, was given control over the government system of onmyodo known as onmyoryo. In line with this, the Kamo Clan was regarded as the familial keepers of the calendar.
The Seal of Abe no Seimei, or also known as the Seiman, closely resembles the symbol of a pentagram.
Legends about Abe no Seimei
Abe no Seimei passed away on October 31, 1005. He lived a relatively long life of 84 years and never suffered any major or deadly illness – a fact that many relate to the possibility of him having some sort of supernatural power.
Although Abe no Seimei’s life was well documented and had little, if not nothing, to question, a lot of legends about him immediately started spreading after his death. The majority of these tales mimicked that of Merlin’s, a wizard from the Arthurian legend. In that sense, Abe no Seimei is also referred by some as the Merlin of Japan.
The Konjaku Monogatarishu, or the Anthology of Past Tales, features many original legends about Abe no Seimei. This collection consists of more than a thousand stories that were written during the latter years of the Heian Period. By the Edo Period, the heroic tales of Abe no Seimei were already being widely circulated.
Some of the most popular legends include:
Abe no Seimei was part kitsune (fox spirit)
One legend states that Abe no Seimei was not a human being. The story tells of how Abe no Yasuna, his father, was indeed human but Kuzunoha, his mother, was a fox spirit in human form. By the age of five, Abe no Seimei supposedly showed an ability to control weak demon spirits (oni) and command them to do whatever he desired.
As a means to save Abe no Seimei from turning evil, Kuzunoha entrusted him to the Kamo Clan, where he was raised and taught by Kamo no Tadayuki.
Abe no Seimei and his rival Ashiya Doman
The period when Abe no Seimei lived his life as an onmyoji and astrologer for the Heian Court was a peaceful time. Interestingly, there are a lot of legends that pit Abe no Seimei against Ashiya Doman, his supposed long-time rival.
These tales then talk about the magical duels the two engage in as Ashiya Doman relentlessly tries to usurp Abe no Seimei’s position at the court by trying to embarrass him in numerous ways.
In one story, Ashiya Doman and Abe no Seimei face each other in a divination battle where they have to determine the items contained in the box before them. Prior to the duel, Ashiya Doman had instructed an individual to put fifteen oranges into the box.
After performing a quick divination ritual on the box, Ashiya Doman states that the box contains fifteen oranges. Abe no Seimei sees through his plan and discreetly transforms the fifteen oranges into fifteen rats, before stating that it contained just that.
Upon the opening of the box, fifteen rats were discovered, shocking Ashiya Doman and earning him another defeat from Abe no Seimei.
Abe no Seimei in the Tale of Heike
The Tale of Heike, or Heike Monogatari, is a Japanese epic that was compiled sometime before the year 1330. It features the struggle between the Minamoto Clan and the Taira Clan as they fight for supreme rule over all of Japan.
Abe no Seimei appears in the legend as a minor character responsible for locating Shuten-doji through divination. Shuten-doji, an incredibly powerful oni, had allegedly already been killed by Minamoto no Yorimitsu and should not have been located by Abe no Seimei if he was truly dead.
Abe no Seimei and Tamamo-no-Mae
Tamamo-no-Mae refers to a mythological creature, often believed to be a kitsune. According to the legend, this spirit first made its appearance in China where it entered the body of Daji, the concubine of King Zhou. Having enchanted the ruler, she was able to bring a reign of terror upon China, putting an end to the Shang Dynasty.
This spirit then fled to many other countries and repeated what she did in China before appearing in Japan as Tamamo-no-Mae, Emperor Toba’s favorite courtesan. The tale tells of how she was not only an incredibly beautiful woman but also an intelligent one who could answer any and every question thrown at her.
After having charmed the Emperor, she immediately made him suffer a horrible illness. Abe no Seimei was called into the palace to check on the emperor health using astrological signs. While there, he was able to expose Tamamo-no-Mae for what she truly was.
The Legacy of Abe no Seimei
Soon after the death of Abe no Seimei, the emperor made it a point to have a shrine built at locations of the onmyoji’s former home. This shrine was founded in 1007 and aptly named as the Seimei Shrine or Seimei-jinja.
Visitors can expect to come across a couple of torii gates before reaching the entrance of the shrine complex. There is also a popular well known as the Seimei-i located within the complex which features a pentagram motif.
A few ways south of the shrine, a bridge called the Ichijo Modori-bashi can be found. This is believed to be the gateway between the spiritual world and the human world.
Hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM, daily
In line with Abe no Seimei’s life as an astrologer, an asteroid discovered by Kiichiro Furukawa and Hiroki Kosai during the year 1976 was named 5541 Seimei in honor of him.
The Senji Ryakketsu, which literally translates to mean “a summary of divination judgments”, is credited to Abe no Seimei. The text consists of about thirty-six techniques for telling fortunes and six thousand predictions.
Address: 806 Ichijō-agaru, Horikawa-dōri, Kamigyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-ken
Onmyoji – A Movie about Abe no Seimei
The 2001 Japanese film, Onmyoji, showcases the adventures of Abe no Seimei and his friend Minamoto no Hiromasa. Both of them make it their responsibility to protect the capital from ominous spirits and Doson’s evil plot of taking down the Emperor.
Abe no Seimei in Anime –Shonen Onmyoji (As The Master of Touda), Shaman King (Inspiration for Hao Asakura), Etc.
Sousei no Onmyouji
Sousei no Onmyouji, which translates to mean “The Twin Star Exorcists” in English, is about a boy who goes by the name, Rokuro Enmado. He aspires to be the most powerful exorcist he can be but is eventually challenged by an unfortunate event involving his friends. Abe no Seimei is used in the series as the mother of Rokuro Enmado.
Shaman King follows the story of Yoh Asakura and his adventures as he tries to refine his skills and become the Shaman King. For this purpose, he needs to win the Shaman Fight, which is only held every five hundred years.
Abe no Seimei is used as an inspiration for the character of Hao Asakura, a powerful shaman who wants to erase all humans from the world in order to make it a planet only inhabited by shamans.
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is a comedy-drama anime series that directly introduces Abe no Seimei as himself. In the show, Abe no Seimei conducts a forbidden Onmyodo ritual to put his and his friends’ souls into different bodies of a different time to avoid a particularly ominous premonition.
Shonen Onmyouji is set during the Heian Period and tells the story of Abe no Masahiro, Abe no Seimei’s grandson. Having lost his sixth sense, the shadow of his grandfather’s reputation feels like a significant burden.
Somewhere along the show, Abe no Masahiro comes across Mokkun, a creature that resembles a fox, who helps him see his potential. Unknown to him, this creature is actually Touda, one of the twelve shikigamis (a kind of god) who pledged their loyalty to Abe no Seimei.
Otogi Zoshi consists of two story lines that take place in different periods – the Heian Period and the Modern Era. Its first chapter, known as the Heian Chapter, is set in Kyoto where Minamoto no Hikaru can be seen on a quest to rescue Japan from its impending doom.
The next chapter, the Tokyo Chapter, once again features Minamoto no Hikaru and her friends as reincarnations to prevent past evils to manifest in modern Japan.
Abe no Seimei can be seen in the Heian Chapter of the series where he is tasked to make relay any prophecies he may acquire regarding the country’s future.
Abe no Seimei in Manga and other Mediums – Drifters, Fate/Orbis Telos (Roleplay Forum), Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (Game), Etc.
Drifters is a Japanese manga that is set in an alternate world where historical figures may be summoned by magicians for the purpose of saving the world. Abe no Seimei is used in the illustrated series as a young man who leads the Octobrist Organization, which consists of diverse magicians,
Nurarihyon no Mago
Nurarihyon no Mago, or Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, illustrates the life of Rikuo Nura, who is1/4 yokai (ghost) and ¾ human. Abe no Seimei makes an appearance in the manga series as an evil force known as Nue.
Fate/Orbis Telos is a roleplay forum where people from around the world discuss different characters and plotlines. Abe no Seimei exists as a female character classified to be a magic caster in the forum.
Teito Monogatari, or the Tale of the Imperial Capital, is a historical epic that was first published in 1985. From then until the year 1987, a total of ten volumes were put into production. This science fiction novel series is best described to be a romanticized version of Tokyo’s 20th-century history, as told from the perspective of an occultist.
Uji Shui Monogatari
Uji Shui Monogatari serves as a collection of various Japanese legends that were written during the earlier years of the 13th century. It follows the same concept as the Konjaku Monogatarishu and is made up of fifteen volumes that feature a total of 197 stories.
Kuon, or Eternity, is a PlayStation 2 video game created by the developer, FromSoftware. It is basically a survival horror game that is set during the Heian Period. Abe no Seimei is introduced in this game as a female master exorcist.
Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines
Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines is a PlayStation Vita game where Abe no Seimei appears as the main antagonist. Instead of being an onmyoji, he is shown as a priest who puts a curse on the main characters of the game, shortening their lives to a span of just two years.