Fujiwara Family Chronicles: The life of Fujiwara no Tadamichi

About the Fujiwara Clan

The Fujiwara clan is one of the most influential families during the late Heian period. They are one of the five regent families that will provide guidance and assistance in times that the Emperor has no capability of the ruling. There was a time when the Fujiwara clan monopolized the positions of regents for centuries from the 7th century to the late 11th century.

By professor Kato Toru (http://www.geocities.jp/cato1963/eindex.html) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Marriage is common between the Fujiwara clan and the royal family because both claim to be descendants of ancient kami. The royal family is believed to be a descendant of the goddess Amaterasu while the Fujiwara family a descendant of a different ancient kami. With their regal blood and ancestry, they provide Empress consorts or regents to the emperor.

Who is Fujiwara no Tadamichi?

This man was the eldest son of Fujiwara no Tadazane and Minamoto Zishi. They had two children – a young girl and a young boy. The daughter will soon become the second wife of Emperor Toba and the son is no other than Fujiwara no Tadamichi. This is after the former wife and Emperor Toba divorced. Regardless of the fact that his sister became Empress Consort, it did not mean that he does hold any influence or power in the imperial court. This man had a number of wives and children who went on to become influential people in Japanese society.

Their most important role in Japanese history is the fact that they are members of the Fujiwara clan – a powerful family during the Heian period. He went on to become a regent himself and provide guidance, assistance, and wisdom to the ruler of the Chrysanthemum throne.

Fujiwara no Tadamichi was an influential man but not many kinds of literature were written about him in history. It is only known that he played an important role in the government, particularly the hierarchical dispute between Emperor Toba and Emperor Sutoku. He became a leader during the war and he had helped in the realization of the true ownership of the Chrysanthemum throne. He may have fought against his brother, but he fought with a goal and mission in mind.

By 不詳 (『公家列影図』) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hogen Rebellion: The Battle of the brothers

This particular rebellion was a dispute about royal succession. The rebellion started when Emperor Toba and Emperor Sutoku abdicated from the throne due to old age. They have connived to use the rule of the younger Emperor Konoe so they would gain more power and control over the lands. However, when Emperor Konoe died, there was a dispute on who should take the role of Emperor.

Emperor Go-Shirakawa was the fourth son of Emperor Toba while Emperor Sutoku wanted his own son to succeed the throne. With the decision of the court and the scholars, it was decided that Emperor Go-Shirakawa shall take the throne. Because of this, an intense battle ensued and interestingly the leaders of both sides came from a common ground – the Fujiwara clan.  

One of the most important highlights of the Hogen Rebellion is the fact that two powerful brothers, Fujiwara no Tadamichi and Fujiwara no Yorinaga chose two different sides amidst the fighting. Tadamichi took the side of Emperor Go-Shirakawa while Yorinaga took the side of Emperor Sutoku. In the end, Emperor Go-Shirakawa marched and defeated the forces of Emperor Sutoku. Despite that, he still abdicated from the throne and allowed his sons to claim the throne.

The battle lasted a long time starting sometime in October to some other time in December. The battle was a bloody way to cover who shall gain the Chrysanthemum throne.

The Hyakunin Isshu Poem 76

The Hyakunin Isshu is a collection of tanka poems, originally known as classical waka poems, which date back to the early 1200s to present times. These are the most popular and influential poems in all of Japan’s history. This collection of poems have different kinds. Generally, the Hyakunin Isshu is known to be a collection of 100 poems from 100 different writers who wrote about a specific topic or genre.

The first kind is the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu which is the most popular out of all the collections because it recognizes all the famous poets in Japan. On the other hand, it also does not focus on a specific topic or genre. Writers for this collection can be powerful politicians, artists, even emperors, and regents.

The other kind is the Shin Hyakunin Isshu which is focused on poetry written by influential artists towards the end of the Heian Era. Usually, this collection includes all those which are written by famous scholars of the time. The last kind of poetry collection would be the Aikoku Hyakunin Isshu which are poems compiled during the Second World War and is known to be the Patriotic Set from scholars and artists of World War II.

Fujiwara no Tadamichi is no famous poet but one of his works were included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. His work, known to have no title, is simply known to be Hyakunin Isshu Poem 76. The poem goes:

Over the wide sea

As I sail and look around,

It appears to me

That the white waves, far away,

Are the ever shining sky

There are many different interpretations of this particular poem. One simple understanding of this poem is that it is the realization of the vastness of the world around us and how men are just a simple speck in this earth, or this universe, with which we live in.

The Children of Fujiwara no Tadamichi

Fujiwara no Kiyoko

She is the daughter of Fujiwara no Tadamichi to Fujiwara Soshi. Being the daughter of a very powerful family in Japan, she became the wife and, rightfully, the Empress Consort of Emperor Sutoku of Japan. This man is known to be the 75th Emperor of Japan and is known to be one of the Emperors who has furthered the influence of classical poetry by pursuing the Waka Imperial Anthology in the mid-1100s.  

Konoe Motozane

He is the son of Fujiwara no Tadamichi and Minamoto Nobuko. He is known to be one of the highest-ranking Japanese noblemen during the late Heian Period. At the young age of 16, he became the regent to Emperor Nijo and also became the head of the Fujiwara clan. Then, later on, at the age of 24, he became the regent to Emperor Rokujo. Unfortunately, he would die no less than a year later. His descendants will be able to establish the Konoe Family which is popularly known for their capability for producing regents to the imperial throne.

By 藤原豪信 (『天子摂関御影』 宮内庁蔵) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fujiwara no Motofusa

Also an imperial regent, Fujiwara no Motfusa was the son of Fujiwara no Tadamichi and Minamoto Toshiko. He is also known as Matsudono Motofusa. Although he is one of the most famous sons of Fujiwara no Tadamichi, he never became the head of the Fujiwara clan because of his intense rivalry with the Taira family. There was an incident when the Regent's men humiliated the Taira clan which caused an intense rift between the emperor and the Taira family.

Fujiwara no Ikushi

The daughter of Fujiwara no Tadamichi and Minamoto Toshiko became the Empress Consort of Japan after she was married to Emperor Nijo of Japan. This particular emperor was the 78th Emperor of Japan. Originally his wife was Princess Yoshiko until the year 1162. It was only until 1172 when Fujiwara no Ikushi ascended the role of being the Empress consort of Japan, 10 years after the princess left the position.

By Hannah (Japanese Book 『國文学名家肖像集』) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


His birth was a result of the union of Fujiwara no Tadamichi and Minamoto Toshiko. Unlike his brothers and sisters before him who chose a life of power and influence, he took a different path and entered Buddhism. He is known to be a scholar, a historian, a poet, and even a Buddhist monk. Being a member of the Fujiwara clan, it was expected that he will take a role of leadership or a title to become regent.

He entered a Buddhist monastery and changed his name to Jien. A natural born leader, he, later on, became the leader of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. During this time he became an artist and a historian creating some of the most important books of Japanese history. Some of his articles are also included in popular collections and his poems included in Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and Shin Kokun Wakashu.

Fujiwara Kanezane

This man is the son of Fujiwara no Tadamichi Kaga no Tsubone. His brothers include Fujiwara no Kanefusa and Jien. Just like his brothers, he became a regent to the emperor and gained powers to assist and advise the ruler of the country. Other than that, he also became the leader and founder of the Kujo family which was a branch of the Fujiwara clan. They, just like other powerful clans in Japan, was powerful and wealthy. On top of that, they are one of the five families of the Fujiwara clan for which the Sessho and Kampaku are chosen. Interestingly, after the Meiji Restoration, the Kujo clan gained royal status and some of their members were given titles as princes. One of his most important achievements would be becoming regent to the throne in 1186 and the appointed Chief Minister by 1189.

Fujiwara Kanefusa

Although he was not as powerful as his regent brothers nor as influential as his Empress consort sisters, Fujiwara Kanefusa still gained an important role in the imperial government. For instance, he became the Daijo-daijin or the Chancellor of the Realm not only during the Heian period but also during the Meiji Restoration. Among his roles was to preside over the ‘Great Council of State’ which was an important forum governing all matters of the emperor. It is also his primary role to lead all councilors of the state and even control all other officers and offices. Although he did not become regent, this was still a fairly important and powerful position in the imperial government.

The Five Regent Houses

In the event that an emperor is incapable of ruling because of age, a regent is designated to secure the place until the true ruler is ready. There are of two kinds or category of Imperial counselor, the first is the Sessho who is designated to take the role and name in the event that a child is proclaimed as emperor by heredity. On the other hand, a Kanpaku is designated when the emperor needs a chief advisor or first secretary who assists an adult emperor.

Usually, a sessho becomes a kanpaku in the event that a child emperor grows into an adult emperor. Another common case would be that a sessho is assigned in the event that an adult emperor becomes too old to rule and the new ruler to follow the throne is still a child.

In these cases, there must be rules to follow in determining who becomes a regent and how. Because of this, they have hailed five different families to become Sekkan families or regent houses. Regent families (all of which are branches of the Fujiwara clan) include Konoe, Ichijo, Nijo, Kujo, and Takatsukasa. They have been chosen for the special role because of their immense power and influence in the political arena.

The Konoe clan was one of the most popular branches of the Fujiwara clan from Konoe Motozane. The Ichijo clan is also a descendant of the Fujiwara clan from the descendants of Ichijo Sanetsune.  The Nijo clan is also a branch of the Fujiwara clan from the descendants of Nijo Yoshizane. The Kujo family descended also from the Fujiwara clan from Kujo Michiie and lastly, the Takatsukasa family descended from Fujiwara Kanehira.

What makes the Fujiwara clan special is the fact that it is claimed their family has descended from an ancient kami known as Ame-no-Koyane. Because of this, the imperial family is a descendant of the goddess Amaterasu, must only marry into the royal family or the Fujiwara clan. At the time, marriage was all about power and influence and not really for love.