Fujiwara no Michinaga

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ar:فوجي-وارا نو ميتشيناغاja:藤原道長

Fujiwara no Michinaga (藤原 道長, 966-1027) represents the highpoint of the Fujiwara regents' control over the government of Japan.

Michinaga exerted de facto rule over Japan in the early 11th century. This can be seen from the fact that he was father to four (non-reigning) empresses, uncle to two emperors and grandfather to another three.

He was the fourth or fifth son of Fujiwara no Kaneie by his wife Tokihime, a Fujiwara lady. There were two regents and two imperial consorts among his brothers and sisters by the same mother.

As the youngest son of his father, he was not remarkable in the court until his two brothers died. He started his career in the court when he was 15 years old. In 995 during the reign of the emperor Ichijō his two elder brothers Fujiwara no Michitaka and Michikane died of disease. He struggled with Fujiwara no Korechika, the elder son of Michitaka. With support of Senshi, his sister and mother of Ichijō, he succeded in gaining the power. The majority of the court supported him too. Michinaga was appointed Nairan, the secretary of the emperor and reviewer who reviewed all the document before the emperor himself read them. He wasn't the regend though, but he became then substantially the most powerful person in the court.

Though Ichijō had already the empress who was a daughter of Michitaka, he claimed there were two types of empresshood and therefore it was legal an emperor had two empress in a same time to make his own daughter Shoshi the empress of Ichijō. In 1000 Shoshi was announced as a Chūgū empresss and the exisiting empress Teishi was given the title of Kōgō empress. It was the first time an emperor had two empresses. Afterwards some high courtiers used this way to seize the power in the court. By Shoshi two princes were born, later both enthroned (Go-Ichijō and Go-Suzaku).

After Ichijō retired because of illness, Sanjō enthroned. Though the Sanjō was a nephew of Michinaga (the mother of Sanjō was another sister of Michinaga), she had died already in Sanjō's childhood and he was relatively less influenced by his maternal line. Moreover Sanjō was already a matured man and had his own political view: he was older his precessor Ichijō and at his thirties when he enthroned. Soon Michinaga and Sanjō were in conflicts. Michinaga gave Sanjō pressure to retirement and finally Sanjō was retired in 1016 under a condition around the succession. His elder son was appointed the successor of Go-Ichijō but Michinaga gave the political pressure and finally the prince resinged the crown prince offece by his will. Michinaga was pleased to this decision and gave his daughter to this prince as a wife.

Technically, he never formally took on the title of kampaku regent, but in reality his word was law even after he formally retired from public life in 1019, since he continued to direct the affairs of his son and successor, Yorimichi. Michinaga is popularly known as the Mido Kampaku, implying that he had usurped the full power of a kampaku without necessarily calling himself that, though he retained the title sesshō regent in a short term from 1016 till 1017. In 1017 he gave this office to his heir Yorimichi.

Soon afterwards, emperors started to retire to a monastery early in life, put young sons on the throne and run the country from behind the scenes. They may well have gotten the idea from Michinaga. As it turned out, this tactic briefly allowed the emperors to wrest power back from the Fujiwara clan, only to see it fall to the Taira warrior clan instead.

Michinaga left a diary, Mido Kanpakuki (御堂関白記), that is one of our prime sources of information about Heian-era court life at its height. According to some, he also was the inspiration for Prince Genji, the hero of The Tale of Genji (J. Genji monogatari) by Murasaki Shikibu.


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