Kanpaku Soron (関白相論)

Kanpaku soron was a dispute over the position of Kanpaku (chief advisor to the Emperor) that happened between Akizane NIJO and Nobusuke KONOE in 1585.

This was a personnel feud that had arisen from Hideyoshi HASHIBA's promotion to Naidaijin (Inner Minister) in the same year, but, as a matter of fact, Hideyoshi was appointed as Kanpaku before those two people; this marked a turning point for the establishment of the Toyotomi administration. Because he was awarded the clan name of Toyotomi on October 21, 1586, the following year of the dispute, Hideyoshi before the award is described as 'Hideyoshi HASHIBA' in this section according to the name at that time.

Before the soron

In 1579, Nobunaga ODA resigned from the positions of Udaijin (Minister of the Right) and Ukone-no-daisho (Commander of the right division of the Inner Palace Guards), and remained as the sanikan (ranking personnel without an official position). It was not unusual for a minister to resign from the position and remain as the sanikan for a few years at that time, but the fact that Nobunaga did not hold any official position even at the time when he almost unified Japan baffled the Imperial Court. This does not necessarily mean Nobunaga had no interest in the rank awarded by the Imperial Court, for he appealed to the court for the promotion of his eldest son and heir, Nobutada ODA, in rank instead of himself.

In May, 1582, the Imperial Court sent an emissary to Nobunaga at Azuchi-jo Castle to inform him of its being ready to award him the position of either Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"), Kanpaku, or Dajodaijin (Prime Minister) of his choice (the sanshoku suinin mondai, or the matter over the three recommended positions). Attacked by Mitsuhide AKECHI in the Honno-ji Incident, however, Nobunaga died as former Udaijin without an official title on June 21, 1582. As a result of this, there are a few theories on how Nobunaga tried to deal with this offer: Nobunaga refused to accept any one of the positions, he unofficially agreed to accept the position of either Seii Taishogun or Dajodaijin, or he died in battle before reaching a conclusion.

It was Hideyoshi HASHIBA who defeated Mitsuhide in the Battle of Yamazaki, then crushed Katsuie SHIBATA in the Battle of Shizugatake, and thus secured his position as successor to Nobunaga. Along with the battles against remaining daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) across Japan, Hideyoshi, who built Osaka-jo Castle as a base to unify the country, was promoted to Naidaijin on April 9, 1585, in just four months after he was awarded the Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) in the previous year.


In December of the year before Hideyoshi became Naidaijin, then Kanpaku and Sadaijin (Minister of the Left), Uchimoto ICHIJO, had yielded the position of Kanpaku to Akizane NIJO; the administration was supposed to be run for the time being by Sadaijin Uchimoto ICHIJO, Kanpaku and Udaijin Akizane NIJO, and Naidaijin Nobusuke KONOE. Lack of Sento Gosho (palace for retired emperors) had been delaying the abdication of Emperor Ogimachi, but its construction was completed by Hideyoshi, so that he had to be rewarded for this achievement. Furthermore, it was necessary for the Imperial Court to designate Hideyoshi, who was on the verge of establishing the Toyotomi administration, in an appropriate official position.

As for the matter over the personnel of the Imperial Court in 1985, historical materials, records, documents including the "kugyo bunin" (list of high court nobles) list different dates for the matter, and thus, it is too distorted to put in order the dates of accessions in the first half of the year coherently, causing historians to puzzle over the matter; roughly speaking, however, it is assumed that the position of Sadaijin was transferred from Uchimoto ICHIJO to Akizane NIJO and then to Nobusuke KONOE, that that of Udaijin from Akizane NIJO to Nobusuke KONOE and then to Harusue KIKUTEI (former Naidaijin), and that that of Naidaijin from Harusue KIKUTEI to Nobusuke KONOE and finally to Hideyoshi. No later than May and June, 1585, Akizane NIJO, Nobusuke KONOE, Harusue KIKUTEI, and Hideyoshi HASHIBA are believed to have been each awarded Kanpaku, Sadaijin, Udaijin, and Naidaijin. It seems the plan was to promote Hideyoshi to Udaijin on the premise of Harusue KIKUTEI's yielding the position to him, to let Akizane NIJO serve as Kanpaku for a year and him relinquish the position to Nobusuke KONOE, and to let Nobusuke serve both as Sadaijin and Kanpaku. However, Hideyoshi practically refused the appointment to Udaijin. That is to say, Hideyoshi hoped to be promoted to Sadaijin instead of Udaijin, if possible, because his master, Nobunaga, was killed by Mitsuhide with the title of Udaijin as his highest rank and thus serving as Udaijin would be a bad omen. Appointing Hideyoshi to Naidaijin was considered inside the Imperial Court to be unfit for him, the ruler of Japan, and accordingly, the court thought it inevitable to make Nobusuke KONOE resign from Sadaijin and to promote Hideyoshi to Sadaijin to meet his request as long as Hideyoshi hoped to assume the position of Sadaijin, not Udaijin.

Soron between Konoe and Nijo

On hearing this plan, Nobusuke KONOE pressed Akizane NIJO, who had served as Kanpaku only for six months, to relinquish the position of Kanpaku to him because Nobusuke hated to assume the position as former Sadaijin. Nobusuke insisted that no one in the Konoe family assumed the position of Kanpaku as former minister, and he presented a petition to Emperor Ogimachi, requesting he be appointed to Kanpaku as an incumbent minister before yielding the position of Sadaijin to Hideyoshi; on the other hand, Akizane maintained that no one in the Nijo family resigned from the position of Kanpaku within a year when he assumed the position for the first time, and he made a request to Emperor Ogimachi for rejecting Nobusuke's unreasonable demands. From May to June of the year, according to the procedure of the sanrei-santo (legal proceedings of three questions and three answers, 三例三答) utilized in the soron (legal dispute) at that time, Nobusuke submitted a written statement four times (officially, a written statement should be submitted three times, but he submitted a forth supplementary one), and Akizane submitted three times, in order to insist on the legitimacy of their own statements and the errors of the opponent's. In the end, Nobusuke emphasized the position of the Konoe family as the head of the sekkanke (family lines of regents and chief advisors) while Akizane pointed out the Nijo family's success in supporting Emperor Gokogon amid the turmoil after the Shohei no Itto (temporal unification of the Northern and Southern Courts by the Southern Court); their arguments were getting more and more chaotic. The opinions about this matter inside the Imperial Court were divided into two groups, and reaching a conclusion seemed unlikely since more people than expected sympathized with Nobusuke, whose insistence seemed unreasonable at a first glance but who might need to lose the position of Sadaijin from an unforeseen event.

Appointment of Hideyoshi as Kanpaku

Then, Nobusuke and Akizane were both in a rush to visit Hideyoshi at Osaka-jo Castle to insist on the legitimacy of their own arguments. After Hideyoshi received a report from Geni MAEDA, he discussed how to handle the matter with Geni and Harusue KIKUTEI.. With Nobunaga's sanshoku-suinin-mondai of a few years back in mind, Harusue at this point recommended that Hideyoshi assume the position of Kanpaku. Hideyoshi agreed with the recommendation, and then, Harusue and Geni proposed to Nobusuke's retired father, Sakihisa KONOE (former Kanpaku and Dajodaijin), that Hideyoshi be adopted by Sakihisa and be appointed to Kanpaku, and that the position of Kanpaku be given in the future to Nobusuke as Hideyoshi's successor.

For Sakihisa, who had a poor relationship with Hideyoshi due to the false accusation that Sakihisa had been involved in the Honno-ji Incident in which Mitsuhide AKECHI was rumored to occupy the Hideyoshi's former residence confiscated and given to Sakihisa by Nobunaga and, based in the residence, to attack Nijo Gosho (Nijo Imperial Palace), it was humiliating to let anybody outside the Fujiwara clan assume the position of Kanpaku; from the viewpoint of the Konoe family, however,
1) Hideyoshi would assume the position of Kanpaku technically as a member of the Konoe family,
2) If the prolonged dispute let Akizane serve as Kanpaku for more than a year, Akizane's points might be considered valid as a result and Sakihisa would lose face,
3) The position of Kanpaku would be given to Nobusuke in the future. And,
4) There existed no power to challenge Hideyoshi in Japan at that moment,
For these reasons, Sakihisa had no choice but to give in to Hideyoshi's request.

On August 6, 1585, Hideyoshi received the Imperial edict to award him the position of Kanpaku as Sakihisa KONOE's adopted son, and at the same time, the main participants in the soron, Akizane NIJO and Nobusuke KONOE, and Harusue KIKUTEI all received the rank of the Juichii (Junior First Rank); furthermore, the Konoe family was awarded the increase of their territory by one thousand goku (unit for crop yield), and the other sekke (family lines of regents and chief advisors to the Emperor) by five hundred goku; yet, Hideyoshi was passed over for promotion to Sadaijin or Udaijin, and Nobusuke KONOE and Harusue KIKUTEI each continued to serve as Sadaijin and Udaijin.

Buke Kanpaku sei (system of samurai's Kanpaku)

The five sekke including Nobusuke KONOE and his father accepted the appointment of Hideyoshi to Kanpaku because they had presumed that Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan, would temporarily assume the position of Kanpaku to settle the dispute and relinquish it to Nobusuke KONOE in due course, and that the position of Kanpaku would be rotated among the five sekke again as it had been.

Shortly thereafter, however, Hideyoshi conferred with Harusue KIKUTEI and hoped to be granted a new clan name by the Emperor. On October 21, 1586, Hideyoshi was granted the clan name of Toyotomi, and then, was elevated to Dajodaijin when Emperor Goyozei ascended the Imperial throne. Consequently, the tradition of appointing only the members of the Fujiwara clan to Sessho (regent) and Kanpaku finally came to an end, a tradition which had lasted for seven hundred years since FUJIWARA no Yoshifusa. Hideyoshi further adopted the new Emperor's younger brother, Imperial Prince Toshihito HACHIJONOMIYA, since he had no biological child, and he reported to the Emperor during the Imperial visit to Jurakudai (Hideyoshi's palace and office in Kyoto) in 1588 that he would officially adopt the prince as a son of the Toyotomi clan and hand over the position of Kanpaku to him in the future. This was apparently a breach of the promises made to the Konoe family, but no one was allowed to oppose Hideyoshi's plan because he would yield the position to the Emperor's biological brother. However, Hideyoshi's concubine, Yodo-dono gave birth to his child, Tsurumatsu TOYOTOMI, on July 9, 1589, and therefore his plan was dropped; on February 3, 1590, Hideyoshi helped Rokunomiya (the Emperor's sixth child), who had received the Imperial edict to award him the title of Shino (Imperial Prince) and had called himself 'Imperial Prince Toshihito HACHIJONOMIYA,' establish the Hachijonomiya family, which made it possible for Hideyoshi to have the Emperor accept that Tsurumatsu would assume Kanpaku after him.

This was Hideyoshi's attempt to preside over the court nobles and samurai across the country all together by positioning, as the 'leader of samurai' in stead of Seii Taishogun, the role of Kanpaku, which would be passed down to only the samurai class of the Toyotomi clan in place of the court nobles of the Fujiwara clan. To achieve this, Hideyoshi continuously appointed vassal daimyo including Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and hereditary retainers such as Mitsunari ISHIDA and Kiyomasa KATO to government posts, so that he could break into the system of official ranks originally awarded to court nobles (Buke Kanpaku sei). Furthermore, when Tsurumatsu died of disease in 1591, Hideyoshi adopted his nephew, Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI (Naidaijin), and yielded the position of Kanpaku to him, showing again his determination to relinquish the position of Kanpaku to only the Toyotomi clan and staying in power as Dajodaijin.

On the other hand, Nobusuke KONOE, who had caused the dispute, was increasingly isolated from the society of court nobles, being labeled as a person who ended the 700-year-old tradition of the sekkanke overnight. Disturbed by this, Nobusuke was increasingly suffering from 'mental illness' and resigned from Sadaijin in 1592. Nobusuke even insisted on serving as Nairan (Inspector of Imperial Documents) if he was not given the position of Kanpaku. Offended by this remark, Hideyoshi demoted and transferred Nobusuke to Satsuma Province (he virtually banished him), and appointed Naidaijin Hidetsugu to Sadaijin as his replacement. In the following year of Nobusuke's banishment, however, Kanpaku and Sadaijin Hidetsugu infuriated Hideyoshi and was ordered to commit seppuku by him out of the blue, and in addition, the father of Hidetsugu's concubine, Udaijin Harusue KIKUTEI, was also banished to Echigo Province on guilt by association. This is said to be because Yodo-dono gave birth to a son (later Hideyori TOYOTOMI) again. As a result of these incidents, the Imperial Court was in the unusual situation of retaining no Kanpaku or ministers except Dajodaijin Hideyoshi, causing the court to fall behind in court events. Nevertheless, except promoting Ieyasu TOKUGAWA from the samurai class to Naidaijin in 1596, Hideyoshi did not allow anyone to assume the position of Kanpaku or a minister until Hideyori became an adult in order to protect the Buke Kanpaku sei. Official ranks, which had already been in short supply, came to further run short because Hideyoshi generously awarded these ranks even to the samurai families such daimyo in various areas. Consequently, advancement in official ranks among court nobles was hindered, and one could not find a court noble with a suitable official rank to serve as a minister when trying to appoint one.

When Hideyoshi suddenly died of disease on September 18, 1598, however, the only minister, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA immediately took emergency measures to arrange the reinstatement of Harusue KIKUTEI, who had been allowed to return to Kyoto, to Udaijin. Against the opposition of the Toyotomi administration, Ieyasu then reinstated Kanetaka KUJO for the first time in twenty years, who had resigned from Kanpaku and Sadaijin in 1581 during the Oda administration, when he won in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600; afterwards, however, it was often rumored that Hideyori would assume the position of Naidaijin and then automatically Kanpaku when Ieyasu took over the position of Udaijin from Harusue KIKUTEI (from Motouji SHIGESAWA's letter to Terumoto MORI in 1602). In 1603, however, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA became Seii Taishogun and established the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), and then, as it had been rumored, he was promoted to Genji Choja (the head of the Minamoto clan) and Udaijin while Hideyori was promoted only to Naidaijin and Kanetaka continued to serve as Kanpaku for the reason of Hideyori's being too young. Two years later, Hideyori was elevated to the position of Udaijin, and yet, Ieyasu yielded the position of Shogun to his son, Hidetada TOKUGAWA, showing his determination to pass down the position by hereditary succession; in the same year, in place of Kanetaka KUJO, Nobutada KONOE (whose name had changed from Nobusuke and who had been reinstated to Sadaijin in 1601) was appointed to Kanpaku for the first time in twenty-one years since he had started the soron, having caused a series of troubles thereafter; here, the tradition of rotating the position of Kanpaku among the five sekke was restored. At this very stage, the Toyotomi administration and its foundation of the Buke Kanpaku sei were completely collapsed, both nominally and actually. After this, the Tokugawa Shogun family was to rule both the samurai and noble classes as both Seii Taishogun, the leader of samurai, and Genji Choja, the leader of all its clan members including court nobles.

Subsequently, fourteen court nobles advanced in rank on May 3, 1611, in conjunction with Emperor Gomizunoo's ascension to the Imperial throne while nineteen nobles on Jun 2, 1611, getting the promotion of court nobles, which had been hindered during the Toyotomi administration, to be awarded all together; it was only natural for Ieyasu to establish, in 1615, the same year as the Toyotomi clan was collapsed, the 'Kinchu narabini kuge shohatto' (a set of regulations that applied to the emperor and Kyoto nobles), which completely separated the official rank of the court nobles and that of the samurai class, for Ieyasu had witnessed the struggle of the Imperial Court regarding to official ranks at the end of the Toyotomi administration.

[Original Japanese]