Abe no Seimei (安倍晴明)

ABE no Seimei (Haruakira, Hareaki, 921? to October 31, 1005) was one of the most famous Ommyoji (Ommyo diviner), and he is the ancestor of the Abe clan (Tsuchimikado family) who was responsible for Ommyo-ryo (Bureau of Yin and Yang) from the Kamakura Period to the early Meiji Period.

He was a great Ommyoji who was trusted by aristocrats during the Heian Period, and he was also an expert who had a remarkable knowledge of the art of Ommyodo (the Way of Yin and Yang), such as divination and 'ancient astrology,' which was the most advanced form of magic and science at the time, and many legendary anecdotes have been created based on mystified stories about him. Priest Doma (Doman ASHIYA) was his rival. In addition, there is a view that states that TAIRA no Masakuni, a son of TAIRA no Masakado, might have been Seimei ABE..

His name is used as the author of "Hoki-Naiden" (also known as "Kinu-Gyokuto shu"), a book of secrets which later became the canon in Ommyodo. The actual work Seimei authored is "Senji-Ryakketsu," which has been passed down in the Tuschimikado family.

In particular, because a novel by Baku YUMEMAKURA (later made into a manga and a movie) recently became a big hit, Seimei-jinja Shrine in Kyoto became so popular that it has been full of visitors.

Seimei in Historical Facts

According to the family tree of the Abe clan, ABE no Seimei was born in Abeno, Settsu Province (present day Abeno Ward, Osaka City), as a son of ABE no Masuki, a low-ranking aristocrat who had the rank of Daizenshiki (there is also a lore that places Abe, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture as his birth place). He is also known as a descendant of ABE no Nakamaro, but the view that considers him as a direct descendant of Udaijin (Minister of the Right), ABE no Miushi, whose name also appears in "The Tale of Bamboo-Cutter," is dominant. However, because ABE no Sukune Seimei, instead of ABE no Ason Seimei, appears often in a group of ancient documents, and based on the practice at that time of strictly placing "Ason" above "Sukune," there is a view that considers him as a descendant of NANIWA no Imiki (later sukune) of the NANIWA no Kishi clan instead of a family that bears the ABE no Ason family name that originates from ABE no Miushi. In any case, he was born to a distinguished family that had continued since ancient times. The year of his birth is uncertain, but because it has been recorded that he passed away at the age of 85 in 1005, it can be estimated that he was born in 921 by counting backwards. There are no reliable records of his childhood, but it is said that he learned Ommyodo and was initiated into the ancient astrology from the Ommyoji father-and-son pair, KAMO no Tadayuki and KAMO no Yasunori.

Reliable records appear from 960, and Seimei, who was a student of ancient astrology (the studenthood belonging to the Office of Ommyo to learn ancient astrology from the scholar of ancient astrology), was ordered by Emperor Murakami to perform a divinatory reading. His career advancement occurred late, but it can be seen that his talent in divinatory reading had already been acknowledged in the aristocratic circles. Later, he was assigned to the rank of a scholar of ancient astrology.

In 979, by the order of the heir to the throne then (later Emperor Kazan), Seimei, at the age of 59, conducted a ritual to suppress the tengu (long-nosed goblins) of Mt. Nachi-san. It seems that he began to gain Emperor Kazan's trust from around this time, and records begin to show that Seimei often performed divinatory readings and Ommyodo rituals. After Emperor Kazan stepped down he began to gain trust from Emperor Ichijo and FUJIWARA no Michinaga, and this fact can be seen from the diaries of aristocrats from that time, such as Michinaga's diary, "Mido Kampaku ki."

Seimei, who became very famous as an Ommyoji, was recognized for his talent in calculation, which he gained through ancient astrology, and he moved to Kazue-ryo (Office of Accounting) and worked as Kazue no Gon-no-suke (Deputy Director of Office of Accounting). Later, he held positions in Kyoshiki (Kyoto Police Office), Kokuso-in (Grain Warehouse), Harima Province and so on, and his courtly rank was elevated to Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade). Furthermore, Seimei's two sons, ABE no Yoshimasa and ABE no Yoshihira, were assigned as the scholar of the ancient astrology and Ommyojo (Deputy Minister of Ommyo-ryo), and during Seimei's generation alone the Abe clan became an Ommyodo family, just like Tadayuki MORO of the Kamo clan.

His Grave, Mausoleum, Shrines and Descendants

His grave is located in Sagano, Kyoto, and he is resting quietly near Togetsu-kyo Bridge. Shrines that enshrine ABE no Seimei exist in various locations throughout the country such as Seimei-jinja Shrine near Ichijo-modori-bashi Bridge, which is said to have been constructed on the former grounds of his mansion, and ABE no Seimei-jinja Shrine which is said to have been constructed in his birth place of Abeno Ward, Osaka City.

Among his descendants, it is said that Yasuchika ABE at the end of the Heian Period and ABE no Ariyo from the early Muromachi Period were very talented Ommyoji. Ariyo was highly trusted by Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, and upon his recommendation he became the very first Ommyoji to be a noble. Ariyo's descendants began to use the name Tsuchimikado from the latter part of the Muromachi Period, and they cast a strong influence not only in Ommyodo but also in Shintoism and in the field of almanacs. From then on until the Edo Period, the Tsuchimikado family elevated the family's rank by passing down the key positions in astrology in the Shogunate and Ommyo-ryo in the Imperial Court to the successive generations within the family. The last person associated with Ommyo-ryo from the Tsuchimikado family was Harue TSUCHIMIKADO, who saw through the end of Ommyo-ryo during the early part of the Meiji Period, and who was also a son of Haruo (Hareo, Haretake) TSUCHIMIKADO, who worked during the end of the Edo Period.

Heian and Medieval Literature

Seimei had already been mystified during the 11th century, when he died. Historical tale of "Okagami" and collections of narratives such as "The Tale of Times Now Past," "The Tale of Ujishui" and "Jukkinsho" contain several mysterious anecdotes related to Seimei.


Teiki (History of Emperors) "Emperor Kazan"

When Emperor Kazan was about to give up his crown and to become an ordained monk, Seimei detected that through astrology, and as he tried to send an urgent message to the Imperial Court using Shikishin (a form of magic or divination) the Emperor was just heading toward the temple at that time.

"The Tale of Times Now Past"

"Abe no Seimei Zuichu-Gyoshu Dogo"

In his childhood, when Seimei was accompanying KAMO no Tadayuki during his night duty, he saw an image of a demon and he notified Tadayuki about it. Tadayuki realized that Seimei had an extraordinary talent, and he taught him everything about Ommyodo.

Seimei, who became an authority in Ommyodo, was once challenged to compete in magic by an Ommyoji who came from Harima Province, but he easily chastised the challenger.

He was asked by the nobles, who were also in attendance in front of the high Buddhist priest Kancho of Ninna-ji Temple, to use Ommyodo techniques to kill a frog, and he used his magic to smash and flatten the frog without touching it with his hands.

At Seimei's house, they used Shikishin for household chores, and even though there was nobody the gate used to open and close on its own.

"The Tale of Buddhist priest Chitoku, the Ommyo diviner, of the Province of Harima"

This is a story of Buddhist Priest Chitoku, an Ommyoji from Harima Province, who caught the pirates using his magic, but at the end it is noted that 'Even though Chitoku was a very talented ommyoji, he was no match for Seimei,' and it can be said that he was the Ommyoji from Harima Province in the previous story.

"The Tale of Ujishui"

"Seimei Sealed a Major General and Keeper of Imperial Archives"

One time, Seimei saw a crow dropping its excrements on a major general who was also a keeper of Imperial archives, he saw through that the crow was really a Shikishin, and he removed the curse that was put on the major general.

"The Miraculous Deed of the Dog of Mido-Kanpaku and Seimei"

One time, FUJIWARA no Michinaga's beloved dog tried to stop his master from going outside. Surprised, Michinaga let Seimei take a divinatory reading, and Seimei said that he was about to be cursed with a Shikishin and that the dog noticed that, and he found the Ommyoji who used Shikishin to put a curse and arrested him. The same description can also be found in "Jukkinsho."

Modern Period

Bunraku and Kabuki, "Ashiya-doman Ouchikagami" (also known as "Kuzu no Ha" (Arrowroot Leaves))

Starting with "Ashiya-doman Ouchikagami," ABE no Seimei often appears in works that use the Legend of Arrowroot Leaves as their themes. In "Ashiya-doman Ouchikagami," Seimei is set up as a child born between his father, ABE no Yasuna, and his mother, who was a white fox, that was an avatar of Kuzuha Myojin. Seimei (晴明), in the end, requests the Emperor to change his name to 'Seimei (清明)' which implies purity, and his request is granted. Refer to works that use the Arrowroot Leaves as their themes.

[Original Japanese]