Fujiwara no Sanesuke (藤原実資)

FUJIWARA no Sanesuke (957 - March 4, 1046) was a high court official during the Heian period. He was born the fourth son of FUJIWARA no Tadatoshi, who belonged to the house of Ononomiya, one of the northern houses of the Fujiwara clan. He was later adopted by his grandfather, FUJIWARA no Saneyori, to succeed him as the head of the house of Ononomiya. He had two adopted sons, FUJIWARA no Suketaka and FUJIWARA no Sukehira. FUJIWARA no Sukeyori was his own son. As a child he was called Daigakumaru. He was also known as Sanesuke ONONOMIYA.

FUJIWARA no Sanesuke, who inherited the enormous family territory of the house of Ononomiya, a major branch of the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan, was one of the most outstanding scholars during his period, and had intimate knowledge of traditional court customs. He continued to take a principled stand in the period when FUJIWARA no Michinaga wielded power and was highly regarded as a person who did not kneel before those in power.
He rose to the rank of Juichii (Junior First Rank) and was appointed Udaijin (Minister of the Right), being also known as 'the wisest person in the court.'
His diary, "Shoyuki," provides valuable material for understanding this period.

Sanesuke's grandfather, Saneyori, was the eldest son of FUJIWARA no Tadahira, who served as Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) during Emperor Murakami's reign, as Kanpaku (Chief Adviser to the Emperor) during Emperor Reizei's reign, and as Sessho (Regent) during Emperor Enyu's reign. While Saneyori's second son, FUJIWARA no Yoritada, also served as Kanpaku to Emperor Enyu and Emperor Kazan, leading the Imperial Court, the house of Ononomiya was unable to develop a marriage relationship with the Imperial family. Meanwhile, Saneyori's younger brother, FUJIWARA no Morosuke (house of Kujo), was cunning enough to marry his daughters into the Imperial family, and his sons, FUJIWARA no Koretada, FUJIWARA no Kanemichi, and FUJIWARA no Kaneie rose to power, successively assuming the positions of Sessho and Kanpaku. When Emperor Ichijo succeeded to the throne, Kaneie, who had great influence over the Imperial family as its maternal relative, was appointed as Sessho, with his lineage members taking the leading part in the Imperial government.

Born the fourth son of Tadatoshi, who served as Sangi (Councilor) of the Imperial government, FUJIWARA no Sanesuke was later adopted by his grandfather, Saneyori, as his son; and adored by Saneyori, he inherited the bulk of Saneyori's family territory, succeeding Saneyori as the head of the house of Ononomiya.

Although the house of Ononomiya was a major branch of the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan, it lagged behind the house of Kujo, a minor Fujiwara branch, in the struggle for leadership between the two Sekke regent families. Nevertheless, the house of Ononomiya, which was more skilled in collecting records and documents and was celebrated as a house well versed in traditional court customs, is believed to have inherited an enormous number of old records and documents from Saneyori. While little is known about its vast family territory, it is clear from various historical materials of the period that it had considerable wealth.

Sanesuke was known as a scholar with an intimate knowledge of traditional court customs and a man of wealth, but he was also a person with common sense, who was able to capture the essence of things and never concealed the truth to protect his personal interests or reputation.

Sanesuke was appointed Kurodo no to (Chief Imperial Secretary) in 981, during Emperor Enyu's reign. In 989, he was appointed during the Emperor Ichijo's reign and assumed a high court official position.

After the death of FUJIWARA no Kaneie in 990, his son, FUJIWARA no Michitaka, became Kanpaku, while FUJIWARA no Michinaga succeeded FUJIWARA no Michikane as Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) and was allowed to audit documents submitted to the emperor; Michinaga established his control of the Imperial government after a political struggle with FUJIWARA no Korechika (Michitaka's legitimate son) and rose to power.

When Michinaga's daughter, FUJIWARA no Akiko, was wedded to the emperor in 999, Michinaga had a folding screen of four shaku (approximately 120 cm) wide created as a bridal gift, which was designed in such a way that Japanese waka poems, collected from well-known high court officials at the time and selected by FUJIWARA no Kinto, would be written onto it by a famous calligrapher, FUJIWARA no Yukinari. Not only high court officials but even Cloistered Emperor Kazan sent his own poem for the folding screen. However, Sanesuke, who served as Chunagon (vice-councilor of state), alone refused to write a poem despite repeated requests by Michinaga, claiming that it was unheard-of for a court official to be ordered by a minister to write a poem for a folding screen.

In 1001, Sanesuke was appointed Gon Dainagon (a provisional chief councilor of state), serving also as Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards).

In 1011, Emperor Sanjo ascended the throne after the death of Emperor Ichijo. Being at odds with Michinaga, Emperor Sanjo came to disagree with him on every occasion. However, most of the court retainers sided with Michinaga, who wielded great political power, isolating the emperor from politics and disrupting the official disciple of the Imperial Court. On these occasions also, Sanesuke steadfastly maintained an impartial attitude, causing the emperor to secretly depend on his support in consequence.

Among the court ladies Emperor Sanjo had frequented since he was the Crown Prince, there were Michinaga's daughter, FUJIWARA no Kenshi, and FUJIWARA no Naritoki's daughter, FUJIWARA no Seishi. When Emperor Sanjo succeeded to the throne, Kenshi was made his Chugu (empress), but had no child, while Seishi had borne Imperial Prince Atsuakira. In 1012, wishing to make Seishi his empress, the emperor was still unable to make up his mind, worried about what Michinaga would think about his decision, whereupon Michinaga suggested that Seishi be officially invested as the Empress. However, on the day of the investiture of the empress, Michinaga refused to attend the ceremony in order to offend the emperor, on the pretext that it was the day to visit the Chugu Kenshi, and went off to Hisashisanjo-tei (the palace of the Chugu), accompanied by other high court officials, who all agreed with him. The emperor sent an imperial messenger to Hisashisanjo-tei and ordered all court officials to attend the investiture ceremony, but officials jeered at the messenger, and FUJIWARA no Masamitsu, one of the Sangi of the Imperial government, even went so far as to throw stones at him. Although Sanesuke was sick on that day, he visited the Imperial Palace together with Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) FUJIWARA no Takaie, saying that there were no two lords in a country just as there were no two suns in heaven.

Feeling grateful for Sanesuke's virtuous behavior, Emperor Sanjo told Sukehira, Sanesuke's son, that he grew up as the Crown Prince without understanding worldly affairs and that although he had thought he would be able to control everything as he wished once he succeeded to the throne, he found himself powerless before his men, who did not obey his order to attend the investiture ceremony in fear of Sadaijin (Michinaga). The emperor then thanked Sanesuke for his loyalty. Sanesuke rejoiced to hear the emperor's words that he wished to consult him about all matters from then onward. However, Sanesuke was wise enough not to directly confront Michinaga and simply maintained principled behavior, while Emperor Sanjo himself was also not very trustworthy, breaking his promise to appoint Sanesuke Kurodo no to in fear of Michinaga.

Although Emperor Sanjo continued to confront Michinaga, he later contracted an eye disease that nearly made him lose his eyesight; he was repeatedly urged by Michinaga to resign from his office, and he finally agreed to hand over the throne to Emperor Goichijo in 1016, on condition that his son, Imperial Prince Atsuakira, be made the Crown Prince. Although recommended as Shungu no daibu (Chief Officer of the Crown Prince's palace), Sanesuke declined the offer for the reason that he was getting too old for the job. When Emperor Sanjo died in 1017, Michinaga broke his promise and plotted a scheme to make Imperial Prince Atsuakira decline the offer to be appointed the Crown Prince.

In 1019, FUJIWARA no Takaie, who served as Dazai gon no sochi (Provisional Governor-General of the Dazai-fu office in Kyushu) and fought off the attack of foreign pirates in Toi invasion, requested that his men be given rewards for their military contributions, and in response to his request, rules regarding local governments were discussed among high court officials. Dainagon (chief councilor of state) FUJIWARA no Kinto, and Chunagon FUJIWARA no Yukinari argued that Takaie's army fought before receiving the imperial charter to fight off the pirates. They maintained that for that reason, their battle was a private battle and they did not deserve to be given rewards. Court nobles, who represented civilian rule, were likely to underestimate the importance of military affairs and they also tried to flatter Michinaga by downgrading Takaie, who was a younger brother of Korechika, Michinaga's political enemy.

Meanwhile, Sanesuke, admitting that there were issues to be discussed about fighting the battle before receiving the imperial charter, argued that the question was not whether they received the charter. He went on to argue that there were many examples where soldiers were awarded for their military contributions they made without imperial charters. For example, when the barbarians of Shiragi attacked Tsushima in 894, BUNYA no Yoshitomo, the governor of Tsushima, was highly rewarded for fighting off those barbarians. According to Sanesuke, there was no difference between Takaie and his men's behavior and BUNYA no Yoshitomo's behavior. As he pointed out in his argument, during the attack, pirates came close to the guard station, abducting more than 1,000 residents of the island and killing several hundred of them. FUJIWARA no Masatada, the Governor of Iki Province, was also killed in the battle. The Dazaifu government immediately organized its army to fight off the pirates. And that was well worthy of reward. If their behavior were not rewarded, there would be no brave soldiers left in the imperial army - Sanesuke argued.

Sanesuke's argument was supported first by Dainagon FUJIWARA no Tadanobu, after whom Kinto and Yukinari also changed their decision, with all high court officials finally agreeing on giving reward to the soldiers. Michinaga, who had already retired from frontline politics, also agreed with Sanesuke's opinion. At that time, Sanesuke, who was about to be appointed the next Udaijin, was faced with the need to curry favor with his colleagues, but he made his statements to reach an impartial decision without siding with or flattering other people.

In 1021, he was appointed Udaijin and Kotaitei no fu (the Educational Adviser to the Crown Prince). He was awarded the rank of Juichii (Junior First Rank) in 1037.

While Sanesuke always acted as the head of a family opposed to the house of Kujo, he also exhibited flexible behavior toward the Kujo family, especially in his later years, requesting Michinaga and his son, FUJIWARA no Yorimichi, to help his adopted son, Sukehira, to succeed him as the head of the family and to inherit the family property intact. Yorimichi also never failed to show respect to Sanesuke as an elderly statesman. Meanwhile, it is believed that the reason why Yorimichi fulfilled his duty as Ichi no kami (the head of high court officials) jointly with Sanesuke without leaving the position of Kanpaku against the court custom of the time and declined to be promoted to the office of Daijo-daijin (Grand minister of state), which had remained vacant after the death of FUJIWARA no Kinsue, until after the death of Sanesuke, was that he was afraid of the possibility that Sanesuke, promoted to the office of Sadaijin after Yorimichi, might come into conflict with Yorimichi and lead all ministers as Ichi no kami (the office of Ichi no kami was normally assumed by the Sadaijin, while Kanpaku and Daijo-daijin did not perform the duty as Ichi no kami, and if the Sadaijin also served as Kanpaku, Udaijin was normally appointed as Ichi no kami).

Sanesuke fell passionately in love with Princess Enshi, who was Emperor Kazan's court lady, but had no child of his own born by Enshi, and in his later years, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, he had relationships with women at random, making his political disciple, Uji Kanpaku Yorimichi (who had a very small number of wives) lament about his love affairs. He adopted Sukehira, a son of his younger brother, FUJIWARA no Kanehira, who served as Gon Chunagon, as his son, but his dearest child was his real daughter, FUJIWARA no Chifuru (Chiko).

Sanesuke died in 1046 at the age of 90. While he was a devout Buddhist, he preferred to be active in the secular world until his death, refusing to become a priest even on the verge of death. People from all walks of life are believed to have attended his funeral held in Ononomiyadai and cried over his death out loud.

Sanesuke bequeathed the bulk of the Ononomiya family's property to his daughters, leaving only a small part to his son, Sukehira. It is perhaps for this reason that family property estimated to have been inherited from Sanesuke was dispersed among a number of families and was dissolved into pieces during the reign of retired emperors. It is also believed that Sanesuke caused the economic decline of his family by not leaving property to descendants in the male line, which eventually led to the downfall of the Ononomiya family.

Sanesuke left his diary, "Shoyuki" (Family Record of Udaijin Ononomiya), which provides indispensable material for understanding ancient court customs. His diary covers the period from the time when he became Kurodo no to until the time when he was appointed Udaijin and Kone no Sadaisho (Major Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards), providing descriptions of an enormous number of court rituals. He was also well known for his personal comments on other people, and FUJIWARA no Michinaga's famous waka poem, 'Kono yo o ba… (I have always been able to control this world as I wished)' was made known to the later periods through his "Shoyuki."

[Original Japanese]