The Gangyo War (元慶の乱)

The Gangyo War, which occurred in the Heian period, was a rebellion by the Ifu, or less assimilated Emishi (unassimilated northerners) under the rule of the Imperial Court. The Ifu in Dewa Province revolted against the misrule by the Imperial Court and attacked Akita-jo Castle. The imperial forces faced an uphill battle and had difficulty subduing the rebels, but FUJIWARA no Yasunori pacified the rebels and ended the rebellion through the use of kansei (sympathetic policies).


Early in the first year of the Gangyo era, drought caused famine nationwide, and consequently the fudoso (emergency grain storage) in many parts of the country was opened in order for the Imperial Court to provide food to the poor. It is believed, although there is no written record of this, that the Tohoku region was not spared the effects of the disaster. In addition to this disaster, years of misrule by the lord of Akita-jo Castle had brought the Ifu's frustration to the boiling point. In March in the second year of the Gangyo era (878), the Ifu rose in revolt and ambushed Akita-jo Castle. Chikashi YOSHIMINE, the lord of Akita-jo Castle, had difficulty defending the castle and was forced to escape. The Ifu set fire around the castle, and then even Dewa no Kami (Governor of Dewa Province), FUJIWARA no Okiyo was forced to flee.

In April the Imperial Court, which had received an emergency messenger from Dewa no Kami, ordered Shimotsuke and Kozuke provinces to each deploy 1,000 soldiers. TOMO no Sadamichi, Gidairyo (Deputy Administrator) of the gunji (district government official) in Mogami-gun, died in the battle on 19th.

In May the Imperial Court appointed FUJIWARA no Kajinaga to Oryoshi (military officer to subdue a rebellion) and deployed 1,000 soldiers on horseback and 2,000 foot soldiers from Mutsu Province in order to suppress the rebellion. 2,000 soldiers of the Dewa army led by FUJIWARA no Muneyuki, who was Dewa no Jo, or the third-ranking official of the kokushi (provincial governors) in Dewa Province, along with FUNYA no Arifusa and ONO no Haruizumi, joined the forces. In June the Ifu's forces attacked Akita-jo Castle again in droves and completely defeated the imperial forces, causing FUJIWARA no Kajinaga to flee to Mutsu Province. The Ifu seized 300 coats of armor, 700 goku (unit of crop yield) of rice, 100 fusuma (Japanese-style bedding) and 1,500 horses, all of which had been left in the castle. The rebellion spread, and the 12 villages near Akita-jo Castle (Kazuno, Hinai, Sugibuchi, Noshiro, Kawakita, Wakimoto, Katakuchi, Okawa, Tsutsumi, Aneto, Katagami and Yakeoka) were occupied by the Ifu; in northern Dewa only the Fushu (assimilated Emishi) in the three villages of Soekawa, Habetsu and Sukekawa belonged to Dewa Province. Moreover, the Emishi in Tsugaru and Watarishima supported the Emishi in revolt.

In May the Imperial Court appointed Sachuben (Middle Controller of the Left) FUJIWARA no Yasunori to Dewa no Gon no Kami (Provincial Governor of Dewa Province) in order to subdue the rebellion. Yasunori had been known for governing Bicchu and Bizen provinces effectively as their kokushi. He requested the appointment of ONO no Harukaze, and in June Harukaze was appointed as the shogun of the chinju-fu (military government post to subdue the Emishi). Yasunori left for Dewa Province along with Mutsu no Suke (Deputy Governor of Mutsu Province) and a great-grandson of SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro, SAKANOUE no Yoshikage.
At that point three Ifu visited the base of the imperial forces and demanded that the regions to the north of the Omono-gawa River be out of the direct influence from the Imperial Court and be called 'kochi (己地).'

Yasunori ordered FUNYA no Arifusa and MINABUCHI no Akisato, Oryoshi of Kozuke Province, to prepare for the Ifu with 600 soldiers of Kozuke Province and 300 Fushu. After preparing military measures, he supplied the Imperial Court's fudokoku (crops stored for emergency) to the poor Ifu in the regions as a means to appease them. This was a part of his sympathetic policies. Subsequently, Yasunori requested the deployment of 2,000 soldiers from Hitachi and Musashi provinces because the soldiers under him were outnumbered.

In August, one after another band of the Ifu came to the castle town of Akita-jo Castle and surrendered. This was because the rumor of the kansei (sympathetic policies) had spread and thus reduced the Ifu's hostility. Yasunori accepted the Ifu's surrender, but in January of the third year of the Gangyo era (879) the Imperial Court ordered him to suppress the Ifu. In response he reported on the status of Dewa Province and stated the opinion that it would be better to adopt a sympathetic policy to urge the Ifu, who had fled from their homes due to misrule, to return to their homes. The Imperial Court accepted his opinion and disbanded the forces against the Emishi in March.

Other speculations

Some people have disputed the idea that appeasement policy of the imperial side toward the Emishi led to their surrender in the Gangyo War.

First, although there must have been rebellion ringleaders who had united the widely dispersed Emishi and presented a written petition to the Imperial Court, their names weren't clearly recorded on the long list of casualties (more than 500 people were killed or captured in the battle of Mt. Yake-yama alone). The 'heads' of two supposed ringleaders were at least offered by the Emishi side. However, this means the Imperial Court was unable to punish them. Some people also indicate that in such an incident with a large number of victims as this, written records should have always been left, as in the case of Aterui. Additionally, the eruption of the volcano in Lake Towada-ko (the largest disaster in two millennia) occurred in the northern Tohoku region in 915, but nothing about the eruption or a series of natural disasters after it had been documented. For these reasons, some even assume that in the Gangyo War the request of the Emishi side was practically granted, and that the Emishi took over the reins of the region to the north of the Omono-gawa River, which even the Imperial Court could no longer touch. Another theory maintains that there has been no record of facilities at the site of the Hotta no saku (fort in Hotta), though they had constructed an extremely large fort, because officials sent from the central government to monitor the region were entertained in those facilities. In either case, the presence of the Hotta no saku without any record indicates that people in the region at that time were able to act with relative freedom, irrespective of the control of the central government.

Immediately before the Gangyo War, the increase in the cost of Akita-jo Castle to appease the Emishi in Hokkaido had become a problem, to the extent that the finances of Dewa Province were put under pressure. Moreover, once the rebellion was over the Akita Junibayashi kama kiln and the Aomori Goshogawara kama kiln were built in succession from the end of the ninth century to the tenth century in the regions where people fought against the central government. According to some, this shows that trade with the Emishi in Hokkaido, which Akita-jo Castle had monopolized, was taken over by the emerging class of people in these regions. The settlement specializing in iron products was found in Odate City from the settlements that had escaped the flood caused by the eruption of the volcano in Lake Towada-ko, thus demonstrating that the Emishi didn't need to obtain even iron from the Imperial Court.

Influences and consequences

FUJIWARA no Yasunori succeeded in pacifying the rebellion, not by force but through the use of kansei. This, however, showed that the weakened Imperial Court could no longer forcibly subdue the Ifu as it could in the days of SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro. It is believed that although they had surrendered, the Ifu accomplished their mission to some degree by ending the misrule by the Imperial Court and demonstrating their power.

Akita-jo Castle was restored by Yasunori after the rebellion. The position of Suke, Deputy Governor of the kokushi in Dewa Province, was promoted to that of Zuryo (Provincial Governor), and the position was permanently stationed at Akita-jo Castle, enhancing its military capabilities. The position was later called Akitajo no Suke.


In 2005 it was announced that one of the wooden tablets unearthed from the Kurumidate site in 1967 is inscribed with the words 'Getsuryo-kyushutsubutsu-meicho' (月料給出物名張), which basically means a monthly supply ledger. According to the announcement, the tablet is also inscribed with names such as 'TAMATSUKURI no Maro,' each accompanied by quantities such as 'Kome Sango' (six ounces of rice). Tamatsukuri is a family name of the Emishi who had sided with the Imperial government during the Gangyo War, and accordingly it is pointed out that the family might have connected with the site buried by the eruption of the volcano in Lake Towada-ko in 915.

[Original Japanese]