Rebellion of FUJIWARA no Hirotsugu (藤原広嗣の乱)

The rebellion of FUJIWARA no Hirotsugu was a domestic conflict in the Nara period. FUJIWARA no Hirotsugu raised an army in Dazai-fu (local government office in Kyushu region) in Kyushu due to his complaints against the government, but the rebellion was suppressed by the government army.


Fujiwara four brothers who ruled the politics of the Imperial Court died of smallpox one after another in 737. TACHIBANA no Moroe administered the affairs of state instead of them and employed KIBI no Makibi and Genbo who came back to Japan from China. The power of the Fujiwara clan reduced greatly.

In 738, the oldest son of FUJIWARA no Umakai, Hirotsugu (the Ceremonial House of the Fujiwara clan) was assigned to Dazai no sochi from Kokushi (provincial governor) of 大養徳 (Yamato Province) and went to Dazai-fu. Hirotsugu felt this demotion transfer and was greatly displeased.

Hirotsugu criticized politics and sent a memorial to the emperor to look for punishment of KIBI no Makibi and Genbo on September 28, 740.

A messenger reporting of Hirotsugu's raising an army was sent to the capital on October 2. Emperor Shomu assigned ONO no Azumahito to Daishogun (commander-in-chief) and gave him a setto (a sword given by the emperor in the symbol of his trust to the appointment of someone to a mission), and assigned KI no Iimaro to Fuku-shogun (sub commander-in-chief). He ordered to mobilize military forces of five roads (Tokai-do Road, Tosan-do Road, Sanin-do Road, Sanyo-do Road, and Nankai-do Road) of 17,000 soldiers. He ordered 24 soldiers of Hayato (an ancient tribe in Kyushu) who served the Imperial Court to take a part in a campaign on October 3. Tsunehito SAEKI and ABE no Mushimaro were assigned as imperial messengers on October 4.

The Imperial Court donated heihaku (paper or silk cuttings or red and white cloth are presented to the gods) to Ise Jingu Shrine and ordered all provinces to build Kanzeon Bosatsu (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) and copy 10 volumes of Kanzeon-kyo sutra to pray for victory.

ONO no Azumahito who arrived at Nagato Province on October 20 asked for permission to use personnel and equipment of Silla ships moored there.

Imperial messengers Tsunehito SAEKI and ABE no Mushimaro led 24 soldiers of Hayato and 4,000 soldiers and crossed the sea and attacked Itabitsuchin (Kiku-gun, Buzen Province) on October 21. They captured 1767 soldiers at three cities of Tomi, Itabitsu and Kyoto and a lot of weapons.

Hirotsugu arrived at Onga-gun adjacent to Kiku-gun and sent up a rocket as a signal to summoned soldiers. Hirotsugu led 5000 soldiers of Osumi Province, Satsuma Province, Chikuzen Province and Bungo Province, and marched on Kurate-do Road; his brother FUJIWARA no Tsunate led 5000 soldiers of Chikugo Province and Hizen Province, and advanced from Bungo Province; and TAGO no Komaro marched on the Tagawa-do Road; their tactic was to siege the government army from three sides.

Several gunji (district managers) with 500 horsemen and groups of 80 and 70 soldiers surrendered to the government army on October 24.

On October 28, the emperor issued an imperial decree to the government officials and farmers in Kyushu provinces, stating 'Hirotsugu was a gyakuzoku (rebel). He was making people suffer by raising unjustifiable rebellions. He would incur divine punishment due to extreme disloyalty. Those who followed him should return to their former allegiance immediately. If you killed Hirotsugu, you would receive goi (Fifth Rank) or higher.'

On November 6, 10,000 horsemen of the Hirotsugu army arrived at Itabitsuchin (Kitakyushu City) and lined up at the western side of the river. About 6,000 soldiers of imperial messengers Tsunehito SAEKI and ABE no Mushimaro lined up at the eastern side of the river. Hirotsugu attempted to cross the river with rafts with Hayato in the van, but the government army defended by using large bows. Tsunehito and others ordered his Hayato soldiers to persuade the Hayato of the enemy to surrender. The Hayato of the Hirotsugu army stopped shooting arrows.

Tsunehito and others called the name of Hirotsugu ten times. Hirotsugu on the horseback appeared and asked who were imperial messengers. Tsunehito and others said that Tsunehito SAEKI and ABE no Mushimaro were imperial messengers.
Hirotsugu dismounted from his horse and said 'I do not oppose to any order of the Imperial Court. I just wish to punish two persons (KIBI no Makibi and Genbo) who disturb the Imperial Court. If I protest an order of the Imperial Court, the gods of heaven and earth will punish me.'
Tsunehito and others asked him 'Then why did you come here with your army?'
Hirotsugu could not answer to this question, rode his horse and went away.

On hearing this, three soldiers of Hayato of the Hirotsugu army jumped into the river, crossed the river to the side of the government army, and were helped by Hayato of the government army. 20 soldiers of Hayato and 10 horsemen of the Hirotsugu army surrendered to the government army. The surrenderers reported a strategy of Hirotsugu to siege the government army from three sides and notified of the government army that the armies of Tsunate and TAGO no Komaro had not arrived yet.

The Hirotsugu army lost the battle of Itabitsuchin and escaped. Hirotsugu went to Chikano-shima Island, Matsuura-gun, Hizen Province (the Goto Islands) by ship and tried to escape to Silla. The ship stopped near the Tanra-to Island (Jeju), and was blown back by the wind that changed its direction. Hirotsugu prayed and said 'I am a loyal subject. Divine spirit will not abandon me. God, stop wind and waves.', and threw ekirei (a bell needed for the exercise of imperial power) into the sea, but the wind and waves intensified further and he was pushed back to Chikano-shima Island.

Hirotsugu who was hidden in Chikano-shima Island was arrested by ABE no Kuromaro on November 20.

ONO no Azumahito killed the brothers, Hirotsugu and Tsunate, in Karatsu, Hizen Province (present Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture) on November 28.

Emperor Shomu thought of going to Kanto suddenly and left the capital before a report of suppression of the war arrived at the Heijo-kyo. Emperor Shomu traveled to Iga Province, Ise Province, Mino Province and Omi Province and went to the ancient capital of Kuni-kyo (Yamashiro Province). He moved to Naniwanomiya Palace and returned to the Heijo-kyo repeatedly. It is said that this was because Emperor Shomu was extremely afraid of the rebellion of Hirotsugu which occurred far in Kyushu.

The punishment of the rebellion was determined in January, 741; capital crime 16 persons, confiscation 5 persons, deportation 47 persons, imprisonment 32 persons, and flogging 177 persons. Most brothers of Hirotsugu of the Ceremonial House of the Fujiwara clan were charged as an accomplice because of their kinship with the offender and exiled.

[Original Japanese]