Fujiwara no Tadahira, An Important Figure of the Heian Period

In the same sense that Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither are any of the other cultures and civilizations that exist today. A country is a way it is today – no matter if it is in a good, or bad state – because of its previous generations of governments. A government is made up of an assembly of leaders, either elected by someone of power, by himself, or by the people. Each person who has ever been in a government during the history of a country has had a hand in shaping the future of that nation.

In Japan, there are many different ranks when it comes to politics, and they have had their own governing system for a long time. Currently, it is a constitutional monarchy, but before it was considered as such, it was under the power of its military, which was run by shoguns. Under each shogun were other positions, some with more power than others, held by figures across all of Japan’s fragmented territories.

Pre-Feudal Period

Way before the Tokugawa clan took control, and even prior to the states of Japan starting wars with each other, there were clans that were considered noble that held the most power when it came to who made political decisions for Japan. Even though the Emperor was technically in control of everything, the noble Fujiwara family took some of the highest positions alongside other noble families.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=624321

More About the Fujiwara Clan

The Fujiwara Clan was birthed from a branch of the older Nakatomi clan. This happened when then-Emperor Tenji gave Nakatomi no Kamatari (the founder of the Fujiwara clan) the “Fujiwara” title, which was considered an honorific. It eventually was used as a surname for those who descended from Kamatari specifically. Also known as “Fujiwara-shi” and “Fujiwara-uji” (藤原氏), the Fujiwara clan would later expand to be the name of many of Japan’s future regents.

In fact, for much of the Heian period, which lasted from 794 until 1185 A.D., it was common to see almost every Fujiwara descendant holding these political positions, such as Sessho (one who makes decisions for an empress regnant or child emperor) and Kampaku, which is someone who helps the emperor when he comes of age, sort of like his chief advisor. Many daughters of the Fujiwara clan would be married to Emperors, thus sustaining the strong influence of the family in Japan’s world of politics with little privacy.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=164463

Who Was Fujiwara no Tadahira?

Fujiwara no Tadahira, whose name is written in Japanese as “藤原 忠平”, was born in the year 880, in Kyoto. He died on September 14, 949, in Kyoto as well. Just like his father, Fujiwara no Mototsune, he was a politician and statesman for most of his life, though he also enjoyed writing. He had a few other names, namely Ko-ichijo daijo-daijin, Teishin-Ko (貞信公), and Ko-ichijo Dono (小一条殿). He was also the uncle of Japan’s Emperor; Emperor Murakami, through the side of Emperor Murakami’s mother. 

Fujiwara no Tadahira grew up having two brothers, namely Fujiwara no Nakahira, and Fujiwara no Tokihira. As the clan was quite large, it had several branches. After the Hokke branch’s initial leader, Tokihira died, Tadahira took over his brother’s role and became responsible for leading the Hokke branch of the Fujiwara clan.

Personal Life

Tadahira married Emperor Koko’s daughter, Minamoto no Junshi (源 順子). She bore him a son, who was named Fujiwara no Saneyori. Saneyori also goes by another name, which is Ononomiya Dono (小野宮殿). That son would later serve as Kampaku for Emperor Reizei for 3 years; from 967 until 969, while he was younger, and later as Emperor En’yu’s Sessho, which lasted from 969 until 970.

He had another wife besides Minamoto no Junshi. Her name was Monamoto no Shoshi (源 昭子), and she was Minamoto no Yoshiari’s daughter. He had many children with her, who would grow to become leaders in Japanese politics themselves. These kids include Morosuke, who became an “Udajin” (Minister of the Right) from 947 until 960, Moroyasu who became a priest, Morouji a counselor, aka “Dainagon” for 1 year beginning 969, and Morotada, a “Sadijin” (Minister of the Left) also in the year 969.

Aside from these sons, he had two daughters whose mothers are not specified. These daughters are Kishi, who became Crown Prince Yasuakira’s consort (and thus, somewhat a princess), and Kanshi, who became Imperial Prince Shigeakira’s consort, also earning somewhat of a royal princess title.

Fujiwara no Tadahira’s Work, Positions in Politics

He started off as a “Dainagon”, a first-rank counselor, in the year 914 (specifically on the 7th month of the era of Engi 14). Here, he took the name “udajin”. By the next era, Encho 9, in 931, he became a sessho. It was under Emperor Suzaku where Tadahira worked for 16 years as a regent, specifically from the year 930 until 946. He received posthumous honors on September 13, 949, giving him the title of “Senior First Rank”.

Par ハンナ [Public domain], de Wikimedia Commons

In 936, on the 8th month of the era of Johei 6, he was promoted to “daijo-daijin” (太政大臣), which in English, is somewhat of a “Chancellor of the Realm”, otherwise known as head of the Department of State. A year later, in the 1st month of Johei 7, Emperor Suzaku came of age and held a ceremony for this, of which Tadahira presided over. Finally, in 941, in the era of Tengyo 4 (whose era ended on April, 947), Tadahira became Emperor Suzaku’s chief advisor, which in Japanese, is kampaku.

All throughout his life, Tadahira was considered as a  “kuge”. Notably, Tadahira had a penchant for writing, thus producing his work Engishiki. He also had a major hand at writing article after article for “Sandai-kyaku-shiki”, which stood for Japan’s legal code during that time. “The Rules and Regulations of the Three Generations” is another term for this book of legal codes.

More Info On “Kuge”

As Japanese society was very classist during an earlier period of history, they had different names for various classes. “Kuge” is a class for the aristocrats who were most often part of the imperial court of Japan, which at that time, was based in Kyoto. This was a class that existed mostly from the 8th century until the 12th century. After which, the “bushi” class were considered more powerful.

The kuge classes are further divided into two sections; the dojo, which is considered high rank, and the jige, of lower rank. Under the dojo were 6 more classes; Hanke, Meika, Urinke, Dajinke, Seigake, and Sekke; with Sekke considered the highest position. Anyone who is considered in the Sekke grouping could later become a kampaku or a sessho, which is what Tadahira was.

All About Engishiki

Written in Japanese as “延喜式”, the Engishiki, in English, translates to “Procedures of the Engi Era”. The creation of the Engishiki was a task given by Emperor Daigo during 905 and was finally completed in 927. While there were other books of codes pertaining to laws, such as Konin and Jogan Gishiki, it was only the Engishiki that would fully make it to the modern era, this giving it utmost importance for historians and to try to piece together aspects of Japan’s past. 

The first man to begin writing was Fujiwara no Tokihira, who was Tadahira’s brother. Sadly, his death in the year 909 would intervene in the completion of this project, leaving it up to Tadahira to complete. He began 3 years later, in 1912, taking another 15 years of writing to complete. Afterwards, the Engishiki did face many edits and revisions but was finally used in 967, reforming parts of Japan’s leadership.

The Engishiki consisted of a total of 50 volumes. These volumes have different departments. The first 10 volumes make up the first department, which is dedicated to worship. It talks about ceremonies, shrines, 3,131 different, official kami (Shinto gods) and liturgical texts. The next volumes, which count from 11 until 40, talk about subjects under the Department of State and Eight Ministries. Volume 41 until volume 49 deal with other departments, while volume 50 tackles miscellaneous laws. 

Other Written Works

So far, there are 13 publications that list 9 of works that were either made by him or written about him, some of which are searchable on WorldCat. There are 201 libraries that hold these works, written in two languages. Three of these works are namely “Teishinkōki: the Year 939 in the Journal of Regent Fujiwara no Tadahira”, which was published in 1956, “延喜式”, published in 1723, and “延喜式”, published in 1828. 

“Teishinkōki: The Year 939 in the Journal of Regent Fujiwara no Tadahira” is a book that iterates actual accounts from Tadahira himself, as he was diligent in writing entries of daily events. It is translated and annotated and shows what life was like during the Heian period. According to these documents, Tadahira faced many challenges during his years as a regent, dealing with rebellions from far-flung areas of Japan against the Fujiwara leadership.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is even a poem that Tadahira supposedly wrote under his name Teishin Ko, which was later created into visual art, printed on woodblock. This was called “百人一首宇波か縁説 貞倍公」” in Japanese, or “Hyakunin isshu uba ga etoki”. The poem itself is also written on the illustration on the woodblock. The woodblock art was done in Edo period, specifically 1835-1836 by Katsushika Hokusai, and published by Iseya Sanjiro, aka Eijudo.

The Fujiwara Legacy Lived On

After the death of Tadahira, the Fujiwara clan continued to hold important spots in politics. From 949 (the year of Tadahira’s death) until 1180, Regency was held solely by this clan, except for one segment that lasted three years.

Tadahira never saw the peak of the Fujiwara clan domination, as this would happen in the years after his death, under Fujiwara Michinaga. The rebellions that Tadahira faced were no joke and rendered even the imperial palace an unsafe place with the number of bandits who tried to harass the government. Nevertheless, he is considered a crucial historical figure of the Heian period, as he is considered the entire Fujiwara clan.