Sugawara no Michizane

Last updated
Sugawara no Michizane by Kikuchi Yosai Sugawara Michizane.jpg
Sugawara no Michizane by Kikuchi Yōsai

Sugawara no Michizane(菅原 道真/菅原 道眞, August 1, 845 – March 26, 903), also known as Kan Shōjō(菅丞相) or Kanke(菅家), was a scholar, poet, and politician of the Heian Period of Japan. He is regarded as an excellent poet, particularly in Kanshi poetry, and is today revered in Shinto as the god of learning, Tenman-Tenjin (天満天神, often shortened to Tenjin ).

Scholar person who devotes themselves to scholarly pursuits

A scholar is a person who devotes themselves to scholarly pursuits, particularly to the study of an area in which they have developed expertise. A scholar may also be an academic, a person who works as a teacher or researcher at a university or other higher education institution. An academic usually holds an advanced degree.

Poet Person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.



Tenjin (Michizane) Crossing to China, late 15th century by Sesshin, Muromachi period, Ink on paper Tenjin Crossing to China.jpg
Tenjin (Michizane) Crossing to China, late 15th century by Sesshin, Muromachi period, Ink on paper

He was born into a family of scholars, who bore the hereditary title of Ason (朝臣) which predated the Ritsuryō System and its ranking of members of the Court. His grandfather, Sugawara no Kiyotomo, served the court, teaching history in the national school for future bureaucrats and even attained the third rank. His father, Sugawara no Koreyoshi, began a private school in his mansion and taught students who prepared for the entrance examination to the national school or who had ambitions to be officers of the court, including his own son Michizane.

Kabane (姓) were titles used with clan names in pre-modern Japan to denote rank and political standing of each clan (uji). There were more than thirty. Some of the more common kabane were Omi (臣), Muraji (連), Kuni no miyatsuko (国造), Kimi, Atai (直), Fubito (史), Agatanushi (県主), and Suguri (村主).

Ason (朝臣), or Asomi in earlier form, was a prestigious title of ancient Japan, used mainly from the late 7th century until the 9th century, or from the Asuka period until the early Heian period. The title was created as a part of the eight-kabane system, proclaimed in 684, as its second highest rank. As such, asomi was initially given to the highest ranked noble clans whose genealogical origins were often claimed back to imperial princes.

<i>Ritsuryō</i> historical law system based on the philosophies of Confucianism and Chinese Legalism in Japan

Ritsuryō (律令) is the historical law system based on the philosophies of Confucianism and Chinese Legalism in Japan. The political system in accord to Ritsuryō is called "Ritsuryō-sei" (律令制). Kyaku (格) are amendments of Ritsuryō, Shiki (式) are enactments.

Michizane passed the entrance examination, and entered Daigaku, as the national academy was called at the time. After graduation he began his career in the court as a scholar as a relatively prestigious senior sixth rank upper in 870. [1] His rank coincided with his role initially as a minor official in the Court bureaucracy under the Ministry of Civil Affairs. By 874 Michizane had reached the fifth rank (his father the fourth rank), and served briefly under the Ministry of War before being transferred to a more desirable role in the Ministry of Popular Affairs. [1] His training and skill with Classical Chinese language and literature afforded him many opportunities to draft edicts and correspondences for officials in the Court in addition to his menial duties. Records show at this time he composed three petitions for Fujiwara no Yoshifusa as well as the Emperor. [1] Michizane also took part in receiving delegations from the Kingdom of Parhae, where Michizane's skill with Chinese again proved useful in diplomatic exchanges and poetry exchange. In 877, he was assigned to the Ministry of the Ceremonial, which allowed him to manage educational and intellectual matters more than before.

Ministry of Popular Affairs

The Ministry of Popular Affairs may refer to:

  1. one of the Eight Ministries (八省) of the Japanese imperial court, established by the Taihō Code of the early 8th century, and continued under the Ritsuryō legal system.
  2. A short-lived ministry during the Meiji period.

Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese, is the language of the classic literature from the end of the Spring and Autumn period through to the end of the Han dynasty, a written form of Old Chinese. Classical Chinese is a traditional style of written Chinese that evolved from the classical language, making it different from any modern spoken form of Chinese. Literary Chinese was used for almost all formal writing in China until the early 20th century, and also, during various periods, in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Among Chinese speakers, Literary Chinese has been largely replaced by written vernacular Chinese, a style of writing that is similar to modern spoken Mandarin Chinese, while speakers of non-Chinese languages have largely abandoned Literary Chinese in favor of local vernaculars.

Fujiwara no Yoshifusa Japanese noble

Fujiwara no Yoshifusa, also known as Somedono no Daijin or Shirakawa-dono, was a Japanese statesman, courtier and politician during the Heian period.

In addition to his offices at the court he ran the school his father founded, the Kanke Rōka(菅家 廊下, lit. "Sugawara Family Hall"). In 877, he was also promoted to professor of literature at the academy, Later, he was also appointed Doctorate of Literature(文章博士,monjō hakushi) the highest professorial office at Daigaku. This office was considered to be the highest honor a historian could achieve.

In 886, Sugawara was appointed to be governor of Sanuki Province. Modern research shows that many bureaucrats in the Court, if they lacked sufficient clout, were assigned at least one term in a remote province, and Michizane was no exception. During his four-year tenure in the province, Michizane's informal poetry increased, and up to 26% of his poetry still extant was composed in this narrow time. [2] Among his duties, based on limited records, was to tour the province, recommend outstanding individuals to the Court, and to punish as needed. In 887, Michizane had to petition the Buddhas and the Shinto kami to help relieve a drought at the time. Records of the time imply that Michizane's time as governor had met with only middling success. [2]

Sanuki Province former province of Japan

Sanuki Province was an old province of Japan on the island of Shikoku, with the same boundaries as modern Kagawa Prefecture. It was sometimes called Sanshū (讃州).

<i>Kami</i> Divine being in Shinto

Kami are the spirits, phenomena or "holy powers" that are venerated in the religion of Shinto. They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can also be the spirits of venerated dead persons. Many kami are considered the ancient ancestors of entire clans. Traditionally, great or sensational leaders like the Emperor could be or became kami.

While serving as governor, a political conflict arose between Emperor Uda and Fujiwara no Mototsune called the Akō Incident(阿衡事件,akō jiken) in 888 over Mototsune's unclear role in the Court after Emperor Uda's ascension. Michizane, defending the court scholars sent a letter of censure to Mototsune, and gained the favor of Emperor Uda. With his term as governor completed in 890, Michizane returned to the Court in Kyoto. In Emperor Uda's struggles to restore power to the Imperial Family, away from the Fujiwara, a number of officials from non-Fujiwara families were promoted to key positions, including Imperial offshoots in the Minamoto family and Sugawara no Michizane. In a rapid series of promotions beginning in 891, Michizane rose to the senior third rank in 897. According to one document signed by Michizane in 894, he already held the following posts in the Court: [3]

Emperor Uda Emperor of Japan

Emperor Uda was the 59th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

Fujiwara no Mototsune Japanese politician

Fujiwara no Mototsune, also known as Horikawa Daijin (堀川大臣), was a Japanese statesman, courtier and politician of the early Heian period.

Kyoto City in Kansai, Japan

Kyoto, officially Kyoto City, is the capital city of Kyoto Prefecture in Japan. Located in the Kansai region on the island of Honshu, Kyoto forms a part of the Keihanshin metropolitan area along with Osaka and Kobe. As of 2018, the city had a population of 1.47 million.

Emperor Daigo Emperor of japan

Emperor Daigo was the 60th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

He was appointed ambassador to China in the 890s, but instead came out in support of abolition of the imperial embassies to China in 894, theoretically in consideration for the decline of the Tang Dynasty. A potential ulterior motive may have lain in Michizane's almost complete ignorance of spoken Chinese; most literate Japanese at the time only read Chinese, and knew little to nothing about the spoken language. Michizane, as the nominated ambassador to China, would have been presented with a potential loss of face had he been forced to depend on an interpreter. [4]

Within the abdication of Emperor Uda, Michizane's position became increasingly vulnerable. In 901, through the political maneuverings of his rival, Fujiwara no Tokihira, Michizane was demoted from his aristocratic rank of junior second to a minor official post at Dazaifu, in Kyūshū's Chikuzen Province, and died in exile. After Michizane's death, plague and drought spread and sons of Emperor Daigo died in succession. The Imperial Palace's Great Audience Hall (shishinden) was struck repeatedly by lightning, and the city experienced weeks of rainstorms and floods. Attributing this to the angry spirit of the exiled Sugawara, the imperial court built a Shinto shrine called Kitano Tenman-gū in Kyoto, and dedicated it to him. They posthumously restored his title and office, and struck from the record any mention of his exile. Even this was not enough, and 70 years later Sugawara was deified as Tenjin-sama, or kami of scholarship. Today many Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to him.

Emperor Uda stopped the practice of sending ambassadors to China. The emperor's decision-making was informed by what he understood as persuasive counsel from Sugawara Michizane. [5]


Michizane had an exceptional talent in poetry both for kanshi (poetry in Chinese) and waka (poetry in Japanese).

His primary interest was kanshi, because in those days the immersion in the Chinese culture was regarded as a proof of refinement and scholarship. Since his excellence in kanshi was well known throughout the Court, Emperor Daigo suggested him to compile his Chinese poems, and therefore he published Kanke Bunsō (菅家文草, "Chinese poetry by Sugawara no Michizane") and dedicated it to the emperor in 900. After his exile he continued to work on kanshi and compiled them into the Kanke Kōshū (菅家後集, "later anthology of Sugawara no Michizane"). [6] The work contained 46 kanshi, was completed sometime before his death in 903. [7] He sent it to Ki no Haseo (紀長谷雄) right before his death. [7]

One of his poems was included in Fujiwara no Teika's Ogura Hyakunin Isshu :

Japanese [8] Rōmaji [9] English translation [10]


Kono tabi wa
Nusa mo toriaezu
Momiji no nishiki
Kami no mani-mani

On this journey

I have no streamers made of silk to offer up.

Gods, if it pleases you,

may you take instead this beautiful brocade
of Mt. Tamuke's autumn colors.

The poem was originally the 420th of the Kokin Wakashū . [8]

tobi-ume or the "flying plum" at Dazaifu Tenmangu Dazaifu Tenmangu Plum Tree 2004-03-07.jpg
tobi-ume or the "flying plum" at Dazaifu Tenmangū

Another of his famous waka is a poem written in 901 just before he left Kyoto for Daizaifu by demotion. He felt deep sorrow that he would never see his precious plum tree in his residence in Kyoto again, so he talked endearingly to it:

Japanese Rōmaji English translation


Kochi fukaba
Nioi okose yo
Ume no hana
Aruji nashi tote
Haru o wasuru na

When the east wind blows,

flourish in full bloom,
you plum blossoms!

Even though you lose your master

don't be oblivious to spring.

Nioi okose yo can be interpreted as "spread your scent" rather than "flourish in full bloom", although such a usage of the word nioi as "scent" or "smell" is relatively modern and rare in the classical period. The above is from the 1006th poem of the Shūi Wakashū ; although this is the original form of this poem, when re-collected later in Hōbutsushū , the last phrase was modified into haru na wasure so (meaning remains unchanged), which became its popular variation.

A romantic legend says the plum tree was so fond of its master that it finally flew to Dazaifu, and that tree became known as tobi-ume( 飛梅 ,'the flying plum') at Dazaifu Tenman-gū (a shrine dedicated to its master). A more realistic legend says Michizane or his friend transplanted its seedling to Dazaifu.

Michizane is traditionally credited with the Shinsen Man'yōshū , but the attribution has been challenged. [11]



The lineage of the Sugawara clan was divided into six families by the 18th century. Aside from these noble families, there are several (often self-proclaimed) branches in the samurai caste, including Maeda and Yagyū.

See also


Explanatory notes


    1. 1 2 3 Borgen, Robert (1994). Sugawara no Michizane and the Early Heian Court. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 113–127. ISBN   978-0-8248-1590-5.
    2. 1 2 Borgen, Robert (1994). Sugawara no Michizane and the Early Heian Court. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 158–181. ISBN   978-0-8248-1590-5.
    3. Borgen, Robert (1994). Sugawara no Michizane and the Early Heian Court. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 201–216. ISBN   978-0-8248-1590-5.
    4. Morris, I. (1975). The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan. p. 50
    5. Kitagawa, H. (1975). The Tale of the Heike, p. 222.
    6. Keene 1999 : 197.
    7. 1 2 Digital Daijisen entry "Kanke Kōshū". Shogakukan.
    8. 1 2 Suzuki et al. 2009 : 36.
    9. McMillan 2010 : 160.
    10. McMillan 2010 : 26.
    11. Keene 1999 : 239, note 15.
    12. Kokushi Daijiten, 前田氏.
    13. Heibonsha World Encyclopedia, revised edition, 6th printing (2014), 柳生氏.


    Further reading

    Related Research Articles

    Dazaifu, Fukuoka City in Kyushu, Japan

    Dazaifu is a city located in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, part of the greater Fukuoka metropolitan area. Nearby cities include Ōnojō and Chikushino. Although mostly mountainous, it does have arable land used for paddy fields and market gardening.

    Kitano Tenmangū Shinto shrines in Kyoto, Japan

    Kitano Tenmangū (北野天満宮) is a Shinto shrine in Kamigyō-ku, Kyoto, Japan.

    Dazaifu Tenmangū Shinto shrines in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan

    Dazaifu Tenman-gū (太宰府天満宮) is a Shinto shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. It is built over the grave of Sugawara no Michizane (845–903) and is one of the main shrines dedicated to Tenjin, the deified form of Michizane.

    Tenjin (kami) Japanese scholarship deity

    In mythology, folklore and the Shinto religion of Japan, Tenjin (天神) is the kami (deity) of Academics, Scholarship and Learning.

    Fujiwara no Tokihira was a Japanese statesman, courtier and politician during the Heian period.


    Tenman-gū (天満宮) is a Shinto shrine which enshrines Sugawara no Michizane as Tenjin. There are about 14,000 such shrines in Japan; famous examples include:

    Years link to corresponding "[year] in poetry" articles.

    Goryō (御霊)[ɡoɾʲoː] are vengeful Japanese ghosts from the aristocratic classes, especially those who have been martyred.

    Kanshi (漢詩) is a Japanese term for Chinese poetry in general as well as the Japanese poetry written in Chinese by Japanese poets. It literally means "Han poetry". Kanshi was the most popular form of poetry during the early Heian period in Japan among Japanese aristocrats and proliferated until the modern period.

    Tenjin Beach

    Tenjin Beach is a recreational beach on Lake Inawashiro in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. On August 18, 1925, Tenjin Beach was the site of the first Boy Scouts of Japan camping trip. Members of the Imperial Family, including Crown Prince Hirohito and Prince Chichibu, attended the event. In winter, strong winds and waves form natural ice sculptures on shoreline vegetation, attracting many amateur photographers to a 1 kilometer stretch of Tenjin Beach.

    Yabo Tenmangū Shinto shrine in Tokyo, Japan

    Yabo Tenman-gū (谷保天満宮) is a Shinto shrine in Kunitachi, Tokyo, Japan.

    Yushima Tenmangū Shinto shrine in Tokyo, Japan

    Yushima Tenman-gū (湯島天満宮) is a Shinto shrine located in the Bunkyō ward of Tokyo, Japan.

    Mizuta Tenmangū (水田天満宮) is a Shinto shrine in Chikugo, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. It was founded in 1226 in honour of Sugawara no Michizane. The honden was rebuilt in 1672 and designated a prefectural cultural property in 1961.

    Hōfu Tenmangū Shinto shrines in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan

    Hōfu Tenman-gū (防府天満宮) is a Shinto shrine in Hōfu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. It is one of the main shrines dedicated to Tenjin, the deified form of Sugawara no Michizane.

    Minamoto no Yoshiari was a Japanese court official during the Heian period, and founder of the Takeda school of archery.

    Heian literature or Chūko literature refers to Japanese literature of the Heian period, running from 794 to 1185. This article summarizes its history and development.

    The Three Great Tenjin Shrines (日本三大天神) are a group of three Shinto shrines dedicated to Tenjin, the deified form of the scholar-courtier Sugawara no Michizane. They are traditionally enumerated as:

    Tenjin no Honji (天神の本地) is a Japanese otogi-zōshi in two scrolls, likely composed at the end of the Muromachi period.

    Kameido Tenjin Shrine Shrine in Kōtō, Tokyo, Japan

    Kameido Tenjin Shrine is a Japanese Tenman-gu shrine located in Kameido, Koto Ward, Tokyo. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a 9th-century Japanese scholar.