Sanetaka Koki (実隆公記)

Sanetaka Koki is a diary written by Sanetaka SANJONISHI, a court noble in the late Muromachi period. It covers over sixty years from 1417 to 1536. It is a historical source of the highest value. The records range widely over the Imperial court in Kyoto, court nobles, daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) in the Sengoku Period, waka poems, transcriptions of the classics by handwriting, and so on. The manuscript in his own hand is extant, and was designated an Important Cultural Property in 1995.


It is a useful historical material to understand the court nobles' culture in the late Muromachi period. Being different from the diaries between the Kamakura period and the early Muromachi period, Sanetaka Koki doesn't have many records about ceremonies, and most of them are concerned with services at the Imperial court, poetry gathering, visiting temples and shrines, fires, the disturbances of wars, and so on. This is a characteristic common to the diaries written by his contemporary court nobles.

According to Hideki TAKAHASHI, Sanetaka was 'the most excellent writer in the Medieval period' and it is impossible either to discuss the late Medieval culture without mentioning Sanetaka, or to talk about the late Medieval history without "Sanetaka Koki."

Over 400 years after the death of Sanetaka, the manuscript in his own hand was handed down in the Sanjonishi family, but after the Pacific war the manuscript was moved to The Historiographical Institute of Tokyo University and is still preserved there.
Transliterated manuscript was put into print and published by the Completing New Classified Documents Committee


Sanetaka, who was evacuated to Kurama to avoid the Onin War, returned to Kyoto and in the following year of 1474 he started to keep the diary. Sanetaka was twenty years old then. The diary which covers a span of more than sixty years up to the year before his death in March 1536 remains, although there are some blank periods of time of several months or several years (For example, there is no record from April to August (old calender) the early period, and between 1517 and 1519, and as to the years between 1513 and 1516, around which he became a priest, only limited descriptions are existent). Therefore the diary seems to have been written for 63 years, but he in fact kept it for 57 years.

There are many volumes without titles (cover title), but most of the diary written while he held an important position in the Imperial court have titles such as 'Miscellaneous notes' and 'Fool's notes,' and after he became a priest he often used the title of 'Katto' (miscellaneous notes of priest word). The diary was written in a variant of Chinese language, in which Japanese were transformed into a kind of Chinese and the writing was done all in Chinese characters (Most of the diaries in those days were written in this style).


Most of the diaries were preserved in a shape of booklet or kansu (a scroll), and only limited parts of them were preserved taking the form of folded books and fragmentary leaves of books. A shape of the diary had been changed since the early days when the appearance of books were not fixed yet; from a booklet shape (1483-1487), through a kansu shape (1487-1512), and then to a booklet shape again (1513-1536).

The booklet shape was easier to read than kansu, but letters or other documents could easily be added later to kansu. That is why while Sanetaka held an important position in the Imperial court, he chose kansu, adding important letters to the diary, and old documents which were written on the other side of a piece of used paper were left. The diary written on a sheet of kansu paper has folds at regular intervals, which suggests that it was treated as a folding book. The later years' entries took a form of booklet, and these years corresponded to the years when Sanetaka left politics and became a priest (in 1516), which makes us imagine that Sanetaka came to consider a diary not a family record but a memorandum.

Contents of the diary

Although Sanetaka koki was written during the late Muromachi period or the first half of the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States), it was more concerned with poetry parties and copying the classics rather than the movement of the disturbances of wars. Besides, the Imperial court and bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in those days were not involved in politics deeply, so people there had much time to spend, joining a gathering of waka and renga (linked verse) and being absorbed in playing go (a Japanese game played with black and white stones on a board), shogi (a Japanese board game resembling chess), and gambling like sugoroku (a Japanese backgammon), therefore there were lots of records about them in the diary.

As a person of culture

Sanetaka deepened friendships with Shohaku and Sogi, linked verse poets, and was especially a good friend of Sogi.
The friendship with Sogi was first written in the diary in 1477, and when he set off to the Hokuriku district in 1488, he promised Sanetaka 'to give verbatim records and other writings if he died at the place where he was traveling.'
And before Sogi was going down to Echigo in 1491, he left a message that said, 'I've asked Sanetaka to take care of one set of documents of the initiation of waka interpretation, and if I can't return to Kyoto, I will give them to Sanetaka.'
Besides, Sanetaka had been financially supported by Sogi several times. For Sogi, Sanetaka was a consultant and an important person who made contact with the Imperial court for him. When Sogi set off to the provinces, he had Sanetaka write poems on shikishi (a square piece of fancy paper for writing a poem on), tanzaku (a strip of fancy paper for writing a poem on), or ogi (a folding fan), and when Sogi returned to Kyoto, he brought Sanetaka souvenirs or paid him remunerations. This made Sanetaka's name widely known to all regions.

In 1495, Sogi compiled a collection of renga, and Sanetaka joined the work too. The compiling work began in March ended in September (old calender), and the collection was given a name of "Shinsen Tsukubashu" (New Selection of Renga Poetry of Tsukuba), which was nominated by Emperor Gotsuchimikado. According to Sanetaka Koki, people got crazy about putting their poems in a collection and asked him, but he made an arrangement with Sogi to turn down such offers; When Sogi was in conflict with Kensai INAWASHIRO about the selected poems, Sanetaka made peace between them.

Sanetaka, who was excellent in literature and a good calligrapher, got involved in transcribing and reading the classics such as "The Tale of Genji," "The Tale of Ise," and "Kokin Wakashu" (Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry). As far as Kokin Wakashu was concerned, Sanetaka was in a main line of teaching Kokin, which had been told to Sanetaka by Sogi. According to the diary, he devoted himself to preparations for delivering a lecture on Kokin in May and June 1487, and he finished learning in October and November, 1501. Other genres of literature which appear in the diary are histories of temples and shrines, narratives, and war tales, and moreover some works were already dispersed and lost, so you can know them only through "Sanetaka Koki." The cultural standard in the countryside was raised, and Sanetaka was asked to transcribe many classics.
The Sanjonishi family, who were in financial straits, managed to make a living by making these copies of the classics. (See also financial situation of the Sanjonishi family.)

He had been transcribing Zhou Yi (I Ching (Book of Changes)) from 1508 to the following year. In those days, Zhou Yi was a text book which people were not allowed to study until 50, so Sanetaka would have made up his mind to study it when he was turned 54.

Sanetaka was taken into the Shogun family's confidence too, being summoned when the eighth Shogun Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA visited the Imperial court in 1474, which is the first year of the diary, and Sanetaka received directions at a drinking party as to regaining the Sanjonishi family's fiefs. The ninth Shogun Yoshihisa ASHIKAGA liked waka poems, planning to compile a contemporary collection of poems called 'Uchigikishu,' and Sanetaka was asked to join the work. Of course Sanetaka was appointed to a position at the Imperial court, and Emperor Gotsuchimikado warned Yoshihisa not to occupy Sanetaka in 1483. The tenth Shogun Yoshitane (Yoshiki, Yoshitada) ASHIKAGA also made much of Sanetaka, paying respect to the Imperial family and presenting money in 1509, and Sanetaka also felt goodwill toward him.

Ceremonies and customs

In Sanetaka's time, court nobles kept out of politics, so only a few official ceremonies were conducted by the Imperial court including New Year's Day. Every year on the New Year's Day, Sanetaka wrote in "Sanetaka Koki" about these ceremonies in detail and his hope of the restoration of imperial rule.

On the every ninth day of the ninth month, the day of the Chrysanthemum Festival, he wrote that he was 'extremely happy.'
And there were 'himachi' and 'tsukimachi,' which were customs to wait for the sun and the moon to rise and greet them. According to the diary, Sanetaka was absorbed in playing shogi while he was waiting for the sunrise.

Financial situation of the Sanjonishi family

Just like other court nobles, the Sanjonishi family made a living by income from shoen (landed estates). Although the Sanjonishi family's shoen were scattered mainly in Kinai District (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto) and Mino and Owari Provinces as well, income from the distant provinces was mostly far behind the standard, which caused a serious unstable income. Also because of the repeated wars and the change of the times, they often lost their source of income. The family had an income from commercial guild as another financial resource, which came to be the basis of an economy. The Sanjonishi family gained incomes from the Tonomori ferry, the Yodo fish market, and main house of the commercial guild of aoso (fiber materials for clothing), which were scattered in all regions, and especially the commercial guild of aoso was mentioned several times in the diary.

His fame as a person of culture spread throughout the country, being asked to correct or put a rating mark beside waka poems and renga, transcribe the classics, and make calligraphy writings on shikishi and tanzaku. Besides that, some people visited the Sanjonishi residence to listen to lectures on the classics, and Sanetaka made a comfortable income from them. While other court nobles couldn't help moving to the local areas, Sanetaka could stay in Kyoto probably because he had a comfortable income from such cultural activities.

However it is true that he was in straitened circumstances, and the word 'hikei' (a secret plan), which suggested debts, often appeared in his diary. He started to write about his incomes in detail around 1488, and in the latter half of the diary accounts concerning incomes often appeared, which suggests that he had been badly off. In fact, his income had decreased year by year, and you can see the process of the Sanjonishi family's economical collapse in the diary. In particular, after 1520 when he became a priest, he came to write about incomes from shoen in detail.

In his later years he got acquainted with Shingoro TAKENO, a rich merchant in Sakai, and while Sanetaka taught TAKENO the study of poetry and waka poems, TAKENO gave him a lot of financial support.


Three portraits of Sanetaka have survived, and of these, the one drawn in 1501 when Sanetaka was 47, was mentioned in "Sanetaka Koki."
When Mitsunobu TOSA created "Picture scroll of the origin of Kitano Tenjin Shrine," to which Sanetaka wrote a legend to explain what it depicts, Mitsunobu also made rough sketches of Sanetaka, and Sanetaka commented that 'it doesn't bear resemblance to me very much, and is dull to see.'

A nude figure was drawn on a margin of a page of the diary dated October and November 1480, an early period of his diary. It is conjectured that Sanetaka drew the picture, and some people pointed out that the woman in the nude could be his wife, who gave birth to the first daughter in November of the same year (old calendar).

As a go and shogi player

Sanetaka was also a devotee of the game of go. In the diary written between February and April in 1485, Sanetaka often mentioned the game of go. There are descriptions like 'I won using two handicap stones,' which means that a game of go played with a handicap was already common in those days.

As to shogi, he referred it throughout almost the entire diary, and was more enthusiastic in playing shogi than playing go. "Sanetaka Koki" contains about 250 descriptions about playing shogi. He was so absorbed in shogi that he cautioned himself writing 'I am crazy and should be mocked' in 1504 (July 6). The records of games of shogi were not left, and it seems not to have been common to leave such records in those days. In the diary the words 'Medium shogi' and 'Small shogi' appear, but it is not certain whether the Small shogi was equivalent to the present shogi (with 40 pieces), or two more pieces (42 pieces) were used in the Small shogi. Some people pointed out that the word 'shogi' (it was written with the Chinese characters "象戯" or "将棊"), to which either "Small" or "Medium" was not added, could have referred to the Medium shogi.

The names of about 40 people who played shogi with him are known. Most of them were court nobles and renga poets, and especially the names of Toshimichi and Sukenao TOMINOKOJI, father and son, were mentioned in the diary much more than others. Notably, he had the chance to play shogi with Sukenao, and the diary contains the records over 34 years between 1498 and 1531. During this time Sukenao was promoted from Rokui (Sixth Rank) to Jusani (Junior Third Rank), and other court nobles raised an objection to him about his promotion, although the reason is unknown. Koichi MASUKAWA supposed that Sanetaka gave Sukenao a promotion without asking permission, which aroused strong opposition.

According to the diary, Sanetaka, who was a good calligrapher, wrote characters on shogi pieces, and he first wrote them at the behest of Jakkei SUGIMOTO of the Kurama-dera Temple (where Sanetaka stayed to evacuate in his childhood) in 1481.
After that, records of writing characters on shogi pieces didn't appear until 1496, when he began writing again being requested twice after he turned down the first offer saying, 'I've never written them.'

Unspeakable' and 'Beyond Description'

In Sanetaka Koki, he often used the expressions '不可説' (which was written in Chinese characters as '不可説々々々') and '言語道断.'
Koshiro HAGA considered that these expressions were derived from the fact that Sanetaka's values came to be at variance with reality.

不可説' means 'you shouldn't talk about it' or 'it is unspeakable,' while '言語道断' was not used to refer to strong criticism as it is today, so it should be taken as an expression meaning something like 'it is beyond description'. According to Haga, Sanetaka, who was brought up in a society of court nobles and distinguished families, got affected by the idea of seeing a class system as more important than anything else, and couldn't understand revolts of vassals against their lords at all. That is why he was always uncomfortable with the actual incidents taking place every day, and using the expressions '不可説' and '言語道断' repeatedly was a confession of his unsuitableness for the time.

Kyo he, Tsukushi ni, Banto sa

Kyo he, Tsukushi ni, Banto sa' was a common saying in the Muromachi period, and was recorded in Arte da Lingoa de Iapam (1604-1608) by Joao Rodriguez, a Portuguese missionary. It showed regional variation of using a case particle when they said 'I go somewhere,' and the saying meant that in Kyoto 'he' was used, in Tsukushi (Kyushu) 'ni' was used, and in Banto (Kanto and Tohoku) 'sa' was used.

A similar record to this can be seen in the entry dated February 1, 1496 in "Sanetaka Koki" and it was about 110 years ahead of "Arte da Lingoa de Iapam."
However the record in "Sanetaka Koki" about it was different from that in "Arte da Lingoa de Iapam," and the order of case particles were as follows: 'Kyo ni, Tsukushi he, Banto sa.'

[Original Japanese]