Fujiwara no Hidehira (藤原秀衡)

FUJIWARA no Hidehira was a Busho (Japanese military commander) who lived during the end of Heian period. He was the third family head of the Oshu Fujiwara clan. He was the Chinju-fu shogun (Commander-in-Chief of the Defense of the North). He was a legitimate son of FUJIWARA no Motohira.

He was the lord of the northern regions.

In 1157, in his mid-thirties, he succeeded his deceased father, FUJIWARA no Motohira as the head of the family. He became the head of Okuroku-gun (Six northern counties) and an Oryoshi (Suppression and Control Agent) in Dewa and Mutsu provinces. Oryoshi was a government post which had authority over the military and police affairs in the whole area of the two provinces and took command of a Bushidan (warrior bands) of 170,000 mounted warriors consisting mainly of Gunji (district official)-level warriors in various counties.

In those days in the capital, the Taira clan reached the height of its prosperity through the Hogen and the Heiji disturbances, however, Hidehira maintained his independent power in the remote Oshu region. In those days, Hiraizumi where the Oshu Fujiwara clan had its residences boasted a large population second to Heiankyo (Kyoto) and was a great city of the Buddhist culture. Hidehira's wealth was supported by such noted products of Oshu as horses and gold, by which he frequently donated gold and horses to the national political arena and funds to temples and shrines to raise its reputation. He married a daughter of FUJIWARA no Motonari, In no Kinshin (the retired Emperor's courtier) who came down as Mutsu no kami (the governor of Mutsu Province) to have connection with the national political arena.

On July 17, 1170, he was appointed Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) Chinju-fu shogun (Commander-in-Chief of the Defense of the North).
Kanezane KUJO, Udaijin (Minister of the Right) referred to Hidehira as 'Iteki ((barbarian) of Oshu' and deplored the appointment as 'the root of troubled times.'
While the nobles in the capital recognized the immeasurable wealth of the Oshu Fujiwara clan and were frightened of the influence of its military power to political situations, they tended to despise the clan as mysterious barbarians.

Jisho-Juei disturbances

Around Angen era (1175-1177), Hidehira harbored an Onzoshi (son of a distinguished family) of the Minamoto clan, MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune who escaped from Mt. Kurama and brought him up. In 1180, when MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, an elder brother of Yoshitsune rose in arms against the Taira clan, Yoshitsune intended to go to his elder brother. Although Hidehira strongly stopped Yoshitsune leaving, Yoshitsune quietly slipped out of the residence. Hidehira reluctantly gave up the idea of keeping him back and sent off Yoshitsune from Oshu, accompanied by the SATO brothers, Tsugunobu and Tadanobu.

On October 12, 1181, Hidehira was appointed Jugoinojo (Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade) Mutsu no kami (the governor of Mutsu Province). The appointment was recommended by TAIRA no Munemori who became Toryo (the head) of the Taira clan after the death of TAIRA no Kiyomori for the purpose of discouraging Yoritomo in Kamakura who raised an army in the previous year.
Kanezane KUJO deplored the appointment saying, 'There is no such a disgrace as this throughout the whole of the country. It's regrettable, it's regrettable.'
Sangi (councilor) Tsunefusa YOSHIDA wrote, 'Everybody feels deplorable. Therefore, there is no need to record it' in his diary "Kikki."

Hidehira did not get taken in by 'Kuraiuchi (Make someone participate by giving an official rank)' by the Taira clan and never responded to demands by MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka and the Taira clan for mobilization of military forces in the period of the internal disturbances of Jisho-Juei. On the other hand, Hidehira made efforts to maintain good relationships with various powers in Kyoto, for instance, on someday between July and August, 1184, he donated 5,000 Ryo, which was five times more than 1,000 Ryo donated by Yoritomo for plating in the reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple which was burned down by the Ise Taira clan. The peace and independence were maintained in Hiraizumi without getting involved in war thanks to the diplomatic capability of Hidehira who discerned the situations in Kyoto and Bando (old Kanto region).

Hidehira vs Yoritomo

However, Yoritomo in Kamakura, who gradually expanded his influence after he defeated the Taira clan in 1186, sent a letter to Hidehira to make a faint, saying, 'Let me act as an intermediary for the horses and gold to be presented by Mutsu to Kyoto.'
For the Fujiwara clan who had directly associated with Kyoto without any intermediary by the Minamoto clan, it was a rude demand which would rank Hidehira below Yoritomo. Hidehira avoided immediate conflict with Kamakura and sent horses and gold to Kamakura (April 24 section of "Azuma Kagami" [The Mirror of the East]). While Hidehira carried out Yoritomo's demands faithfully, he judged it impossible to avoid conflict with Kamakura any more. And then, on March 28, 1187, he accepted Yoshitsune who had been opposed to and driven out by Yoritomo, prepared to worsen his relationship with Yoritomo.

In May 1187, while prayers were offered in Kamakura to find whereabouts of Yoshitsune, Yoritomo required Hidehira three matters through the Imperial Court.
1. 'In no Kinshin (the retired Emperor's courtier) NAKAHARA no Motokane who was expelled to Oshu by TAIRA no Kiyomori in the Shishigatani plot now bewails his misfortunes of being detained against his will by Hidehira, therefore he should be returned to Kyoto.'
2. 'While the amount of the donation from Mutsu Province has gradually been reduced, much plating is necessary for the reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple, therefore, 30,000 Ryo should be donated.'
3. 'In frequent cases of dispatch of a punitive force against the rebels, there has been no exploit' and so on.

Hidehira replied, 'I sincerely sympathize with Motokane, but he doesn't like to return to Kyoto, I do not stop him leaving and I only respect his wishes. I do not detain him at all'
He also replied, 'As for the donation, 30,000 Ryo is too much and the amount should be only 1,000 Ryo according to precedent. More especially in recent years, merchants entered into the province, trade and dig up gold dust, therefore I can not meet your request.'
Yoritomo requested that Hidehira be further pressured saying that it was very strange for Hidehira not to consider Inzen (a decree from the retired Emperor) important, not to feel awe especially and not to have met the previous requests (September 29, 1187 section of "Gyokuyo" [Diary of FUJIWARA no Kanezane]).

On October 14, 1187, an Innocho kudashibumi (a letter issued by innocho, the Retired Emperor's Office) was issued to Mutsu Province according to an appeal by Yoritomo firmly believing that Yoshitsune was harbored by Hidehira, saying, 'Priest Hidehira plots rebellion supporting the former Iyo no Kami (Governor of Iyo Province) (Yoshitsune). Although Hidehira explained that he had no rebellious spirit, a Zoshiki (a minor official) who was sent to Mutsu Province by Yoritomo reported, 'They seem to stand ready for a rebellion' and Yoritomo reported to the Imperial Court about the situation in Oshu.

On someday between November 1187, only two months later than the above and nine months after Yoshitsune entered Hiraizumi, Hidehira was struck down by illness.

His end

FUJIWARA no Kunihira, the eldest son and a child of concubine did not succeed Hidehira as the head of the family, but FUJIWARA no Yasuhira, the second son and a child of Seishitsu (legal wife) did. Hidehira urged the brothers, Kunihira and Yasuhira to get along with each other, made Kunihira get married with his own Seishitsu (legal wife), a daughter of FUJIWARA no Motonari and had three of Kunihira, Yasuhira and Yoshitsune write Kishomon (sworn oath) for each of them not to harbor treacherous designs each other. Hidehira died testate requesting the two brothers to serve Yoshitsune as their lord and urged the three to unite as a team against possible attacks by Yoritomo (January 9, 1188 section of "Gyokuyo" [Diary of FUJIWARA no Kanezane]). He died feeling uneasiness about the sibling rivalry.

As if Hidehira's misgivings proved right, the successor, Yasuhira killed his younger brothers who were in the Yoshitsune group and, yielding to Yoritomo, attacked Yoshitsune, whose head was offered to Kamakura. As the target of Yoritomo was not Yoshitsune any more but Oshu itself, Hiraizumi was attacked by a large force of Kamakura into easy surrender in the Battle of Oshu, by which the 100-year prosperity of the three generations of the Oshu Fujiwara clan came to an end.

On November 9, 1195, six years after the Battle of Oshu, the widow of Hidehira (a daughter of FUJIWARA no Motonari) was confirmed as alive by Kiyoshige KASAI and others who were dispatched to Hiraizumi to repair the temples, and then an order to protect her was issued by Yoritomo who felt pity for her.

Personal Profile

He is said to have kept a cool head and iron nerves and has frequently been described as a great and wise lord in historical novels and so on. He gained enormous economic strength by the production of gold dust, trade with China and so on and established a realm of peace and prosperity in the northern land as in construction of Muryokoin Temple which exceeded Uji Byodoin Temple in Kyoto in scale. Hiraizumi in Oshu is said to have possibly been the model of the country of gold referred to by Marco Polo in his book, Il milione (The Million).

In the field of diplomatic relationships, he kept a friendly relationship with the Taira clan based on its huge economic power and on the other hand he harbored MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune, an Onzoshi (son of a distinguished family) of the Minamoto clan. When the power of the Taira clan declined, he established a peaceful relationship with MINAMOTO no Yoritomo. When Yoshitsune became estranged from Yoritomo and looked to Hidehira for help, he accepted Yoshitsune restraining the Kamakura Government. Furthermore, his father-in-law, FUJIWARA no Motonariwas a former In no Kinshin (the retired Emperor's courtier), therefore, many of his close relatives were close advisers for the Emperor Goshirakawa. One of them was Naganari ICHIJO whom Tokiwa Gozen, real mother of Yoshitsune remarried.

Although the Oshu Fujiwara clan was overthrown only two years after the death of Hidehira, the splendor of the culture which blossomed in Oshu has been passed on to the present day.

Hidehira sleeps in Konjikido (Golden Hall).

The body of Hidehira, as a mummy, is even now located in Hiraizumi-cho, where it is kept in a gold coffin in the Shumidan (platforms for images of divinities) of the Konjikido of Chuson-ji Temple. In the academic investigation of the corpses in March 1950 ("Chuson-ji Temple and the four generations of the Fujiwara family" compiled by The Asahi Shimbun Company and published on August 30, 1950, Interim report), the northwest Shumidan (on the right facing the hall) of the Konjikido was investigated as Motohira's and the southwest Shumidan (on the left facing the hall) as Hidehira's. However, according to the final report made after that, it became clear that Motohira' and Hidehira's had been reversed, therefore, the northwest Shumidan on the right facing the hall is regarded as Hidehira's. According to "The Final report on the academic investigation of the corpses in Chuson-ji Temple," published by Chuson-ji Temple in July 1994, Hidehira's blood type was A and his height was 167 cm, the tallest of the three generations. He had a thick and short neck and a round face. He had an well-built torso, a thick and broad chest, square shoulders and acomparatively small lower-half body. He had a tendency to obesity, carious teeth and pyorrhea alveolaris. He had slight bone atrophy on his right upper and lower limbs and paralysis on his right side, which may indicates that he suddenly died of celebral hemorrhage or cerebral infarction.

[Original Japanese]