Fujiwara no Saneyori (藤原実頼)

FUJIWARA no Saneyori (900 - June 29, 970) was a court noble in the middle of the Heian period. He was known as Ononomiya-dono. He was an expert on Yusoku kojitsu (court and samurai rules of ceremony and etiquette), and founded the Ononomiya School in the field of Yushoku Kojitsu.

Saneyori was the eldest son of FUJIWARA no Tadahira. His mother was MINAMOTO no Junshi, daughter of Emperor Uda. He was called Ushikai in his childhood. FUJIWARA no Morosuke, FUJIWARA no Morouji, and FUJIWARA no Morotada, whose mother was MINAMOTO no Shoshi, a daughter of MINAMOTO no Yoshiari, were Saneyori's half-brothers. Saneyori's children include FUJIWARA no Atsutoshi, FUJIWARA no Yoritada, and FUJIWARA no Tadatoshi.

He enjoyed a smooth rise in the court rank as the eldest son of FUJIWARA no Tadahira, who served as Sessho Kanpaku (regent and chief adviser to the Emperor); became Sadaijin (Minister of Left) under the reign of Emperor Murakami, and guided the Imperial government of Tenryaku no chi (glorious Tenryaku rule) together with his younger brother Morosuke, who was Udaijin (Minister of the Right). But he was behind his brother Morosuke in the politics of the Inner Palace and failed to become a maternal relative of the Emperor. When Emperor Reizei was enthroned, the service of Kanpaku (Chief Advisor to the Emperor) was restored because of the mental condition of the Emperor, and Saneyori was assigned to the role. When Emperor Enyu inherited the throne, Saneyori was assigned to the Sessho (regent).

Saneyori was born the first son of Kanpaku Tadahira. On February 11, 915, at the age of 16, he celebrated his coming of age and was granted a court rank (Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade)). According to "Daigo-Tenno-gyoki" (Diary of Emperor Daigo), his bestowment of the rank was realized by the advice of Cloistered Emperor Uda. Having served as a kokushi (provincial governors) for some provinces and a military officer, Saneyori assumed the position of Kurodo no to (Head Chamberlain) in 930. In 931 he became a sangi councillor under the reign of Emperor Suzaku. He assumed the position of Dainagon (chief councilor of state), in 939 and Udaijin (Minister of the Left) in 944. According to such literature as "Daiki" (Diary of FUJIWARA no Yorinaga) or the collection of reference materials "Sagan," the records of Yanagiwara family, he was awarded the Emperor's Order of Ichinokami (Top of Court Nobles) during 938 and 947 in his service as Dainagon.

He was awarded the title Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) in 947 when Emperor Murakami ascended the throne, and at the same time his brother Morosuke was appointed Udaijin (Minister of the Right). He became the position of uji no choja (the head of the clan) after his father Tadahira died in 949. Saneyori and Morosuke supported Emperor Murakami as Ministers of the Left and the Right, and their rule was highly evaluated in history as Tenryaku no chi (glorious Tenryaku rule). Saneyori and Morosuke vied with each other for the status of maternal relative of the Emperor Murakami by sending their daughters, FUJIWARA no Jutsushi and FUJIWARA no Anshi, respectively, to the Emperor's Inner Palace as nyogo (high-ranking ladies serving) at the Court, but Jutsushi died without having a baby with the Emperor, while Anshi successfully gave birth to children with the Emperor, who later became Emperor Reizei, Imperial Prince Tamehira, and Emperor Enyu. This difference produced a definitive gap in family prosperity between the two families. In 950, Imperial Prince Norihira was installed as the Crown Prince, but according to itsubun (a composition previously existed but doesn't exist now) of "Kyureki" (Diary of FUJIWARA no Morosue) this was decided in a secret discussion between Emperor Murakami, FUJIWARA no Onshi, Cloistered Emperor Suzaku, and FUJIWARA no Morosuke, which means that Saneyori was kept out of the loop on this decision.

In 967, Emperor Murakami died, and Imperial Prince Norihira inherited the throne as Emperor Reizei. Since Emperor Reizei suffered a mental disorder and somebody was needed to act as his deputy, "kanpaku," the role of Chief Advisor to the Emperor, whose service had been unused for many years during the reign of Emperor Murakami, was resumed. Saneyori, the main descendant and the chief of the Fujiwara clan, was chosen to serve the role, and at the same time he was appointed Daijo-daijin (Grand minister of state). In the same year, Saneyori became a quasi-regent to substitute for the sick Emperor, but the Imperial Order for that appointment was prepared by FUJIWARA no Koretada, Gon Chunagon (a provisional vice-councilor of state), and FUJIWRA no Kaneie, Kurodo no to (Head Chamberlain), sons of the already deceased Morosuke, and even FUJIWARA no Yoritada, son of Saneyori, who served as Sadaiben (major controller of the left) and was supposed to be the person responsible for issuing the order, was not informed of it. Emperor Reizei was a son born to Empress Anshi, eldest daughter of Morosuke, but Morosuke and Anshi were already dead, and Morosuke's sons, FUJIWARA no Koretada, FUJIWARA no Kanemichi, and FUJIWARA no Kaneie, were still young. Therefore, Saneyori served as Kanpaku and Daijo-daijin, MINAMOTO no Takaakira as Sadaijin, and FUJIWARA no Morotada as Udaijin to form the cabinet under Emperor Reizei. Although appointed Kanpaku, Saneyori was no maternal relative of the Emperor; he wrote in his diary that he was frequently taken light of, lamented that Morosuke's children, who were the maternal uncles of the Emperor, acted dominantly, and called himself 'yomei kanpaku' (nominal Kanpaku).

The coronation ceremony of the Emperor was generally conducted at Daigokuden (the Great Hall of State located in the Palace precincts) with the attendance of all court officials, but Saneyori decided to hold it in Shishinden (the Main Hall located in the Inner Palace precincts) out of concern over the Emperor's illness so as to be ready to cope with any abnormal situation. This decision was highly praised as his great achievement, and it became customary to hold the coronation ceremony in the Shishinden Hall.

Since Emperor Reizei suffered a mental illness, he was not expected to remain on the throne for many years, and the Crown Prince needed to be designated immediately from among his brothers. Imperial Prince Tamehira was the eldest after Emperor Reizei and of the same mother, but Imperial Prince Morihira was chosen to be the Crown Prince. The reason is: Imperial Prince Tamehira's wife was a daughter of Sadaijin MINAMOTO no Takaakira, and Saneyori and Moritada did not want Takaakira of the Minamoto clan to be a maternal relative in the future. In 969, the discouraged Takaakira was suddenly charged for insurrection, was deprived of all official power, and expelled to Dazaifu (Anna Incident). Although Saneyori is generally believed to be the mastermind of the scheme, another theory holds that his brother Morotada, or Morosuke's sons Koretada and Kaneie, were responsible for the scheme.

In the same year, Emperor Reizei abdicated the throne, and Imperial Prince Morihira ascended to the throne as Emperor Enyu. Since the new Emperor was still a juvenile, Saneyori was appointed his regent. But Saneyori became ill and died in the following year, 970. Died at the age of 71. He was posthumously awarded Shoichii (Senior First Rank), the nominal provincial title Lord of Owari Province, and the shigo (a posthumous name) Seishinko.

Personal Profile
Saneyori was very much versed in Yusoku kojitsu and established his own school for Imperial court rules, Ononomiya School, according to the kyomei (document written by Imperial Prince, Crown Prince, and other Imperial members) of his father Tadahira (Tadahira's kyomei were compiled by Saneyori and published as "Ononomiya kojitsu kyurei"). Saneyori's school is called Ononomiya School, after the name of his residence (Ononomiyadai). He was also an excellent waka poet; his poems are compiled in his own anthology "Seishinkoshu" and also recorded in other anthologies of Japanese poems compiled by the Imperial order, including "Gosen Wakashu" (Later selected collection of Japanese poetry). He was also known as an excellent Sho (Japanese flute and So (a long Japanese zither with thirteen strings) player, and he learned how to play So from Emperor Daigo.

Some literal works were known by itsubun of "Shoyuki" (the diary of FUJIWARA no Sanesuke), and so on that Saneyori kept his own journal "Seishinkoki" (also known as "Suishinki"). When FUJIWARA no Kinto prepared a "buruiki " (categorized collection of court events and practices picked up from past documents) of "Seishinkoki," he didn't copy the journal but directly cut and pasted pieces of the original journal, which rendered Seishinkoki totally unusable except for parts that had been moved to the buruiki. FUJIWARA no Sanesuke, cousin of Kinto, who was supposed to be the legal owner of Seishinkoki, (both Kinto and Sanesuke were grandchildren of Saneyori) was outraged at Kinto's careless deed (Article of August 18 of the fourth year of the Kannin era, "Shoyuki"). The buruiki, compiled by Kinto, was lost in a fire of the residence of FUJIWARA no Norimichi in 1015 and therefore does not survive today. A document often quoted as 'Shiki' in "Hokuzansho" (a representative book of ceremonies for the Heian period) written by Kinto is believed to be a collection of phrases in "Seishinkoki" (when Saneyori added comments to his father Tadahira's diary "Teishinkoki," he called his own writing 'Shiki,' but since Tadahira was depicted as a third person in 'Shiki' quoted in "Hokuzansho," it is believed that Saneyori himself called "Seishinkoki "as 'Shiki').

Saneyori served the role of Sekkan (regents and advisers) but failed to become a maternal relative to the Emperor and called himself 'yomei kanpaku.'
Since according to "Eiga monogatari" (A Tale of Flowering Fortunes), FUJIWARA no Morosuke is evaluated as being compared with Saneyori by writing 'Ichi (Saneyori) Kurushiki Ni no hito (Morosuke)' (literally, 'as the top person (Saneyori) has little power, the second (Morosuke) comes'), it is believed that Saneyori did not have full control of government, Morosuke controlled the administration during the reign of Emperor Murakami, and that during the reigns of Emperor Reizei and Enyu, children of Morosuke, who was a maternal relative to both emperors, including FUJIWARA no Koretada and FUJIWARA no Kaneie, had actual control of the government. But considering the facts that during the reign of Emperor Murakami, Saneyori was appointed Shokei, the office responsible for issuing appointment Daijokanpu (official documents issued by Dajokan, Grand Council of State) and Imperial orders, more often than Morosuke and that Saneyori decided to hold the coronation ceremony of Emperor Reizei in the Shishinden, rather than in the Daigokuden as the standard place for that ceremony, because of the Emperor's illness, it is not appropriate to conclude that Saneyori didn't have sufficient power in politics. Thus, more discussion is necessary on this point.


Saneyori always wore a hat when he went out into the south garden of his private residence. People wondered why he did that and asked him, and he answered that since Mt. Inari was seen from the south garden, he thought that he needed to be dressed solemnly in respect for the mountain. If he forgot to wear a hat, he dashed into the residence while covering his head with his sleeves. This is the very episode that testifies to his honesty and prudence.
("Okagami" (the Great Mirror))

Since his juvenile name was 'Ushikai' (lit. cow keeper), his family was called 'Ushikai warawa' (cow keeping boys) who handled cow carts as 'Ushitsuki' ("Okagami").

Although his half-brother Morosuke was tall, Saneyori was short. Therefore, he wore very crisply starched clothes ("Fukegodan," a collection of the sayings of FUJIWARA no Tadamitsu).

FUJIWARA no Tadafumi, the general of the army assigned to hunt TAIRA no Masakado, returned to Kyoto without fighting a battle in the eastern part of Japan, because the battle had already been settled before his arrival at the battle scene. When the rewards of the soldiers were determined, Morosuke claimed 'those whose merit is in doubt are worthy of rewards,' while Saneyori maintained 'debatable things should not be done' and didn't approve rewards. Saneyori invited Tadafumi's rancor. It is believed that Saneyori's descendants could not enjoy prosperity because of the curse of Tadafumi's vengeful spirit ("Kojidan" (Talks of the Past)).

Saneyori's residence Ononomiyadai was originally owned by Imperial Prince Koretaka, son of Emperor Montoku, and it is said that Saneyori obtained it as a prize for sugoroku (a Japanese variety of Parcheesi) game ("Kokon Chomon ju" (A Collection of Tales Heard, Past and Present)).

Saneyori put sweets in front of the Oinomikado Gate of his residence Ononomiyadai and listened to the chats of Kyoto residents who gathered to eat them, in order to learn what was happening in society ("Kojidan").

The spirit of SUGAWARA no Michizane visited the Shisokumon Gate of the Ononomiyadai Residence and talked with Saneyori all through the night ("Fukegodan").

FUJIWARA no Sanesuke, grandson of Saneyori, heard a story from a priest named Kanshu sozu (priest) that the ghost of Morosuke told that when he was alive he prayed for severance of Saneyori family's bloodline and said 'Family discord is such a terrible thing; we should be careful' ("Shoyuki").

Saneyori revealed the adultery between Morosuke and Imperial Princess Yasuko, daughter of Emperor Daigo, in front of Emperor Murakami ("Okagami" and "Chugaisho" (a collection of sayings of FUJIWARA no Tadazane)). While Morosuke was so lecherous that he was described as 'very lecherous' in "Eiga monogatari," it is said that, on the contrary, Saneyori remained an honest man, a rarity among the nobles of the time. "Chugaisho" (a collection of sayings of FUJIWARA no Tadazane) says 'Kujodono (Morosuke) has a big penis' as a legend handed down in the Sekkan family.

When Saneyori died, many people gathered in front of the gate to the Ononomiyadai Residence and cried in sorrow.

Record of Office and Rank

Dates are according to the lunar calendar. Unless indicated otherwise, records are based on the descriptions of "kugyo bunin" (directory of the successive Imperial officials).

Waka Poetry

Anthologies Compiled by the Imperial Order
Gosen Wakashu
Every time leaves of a bush wave, I feel loneliness in a village in a mountain valley.
Mada shiranu/Hito mo arikeru/Azumaji ni/Ware mo yukite zo/Sumu bekarikeru (Someone, it seems/Had not yet heard./Better for me had I too/Journeyed to an eastern province/And made it my home.)
Matsu mo naki/Wakana mo tsumazu/narinuru wo/itsushika sakura/Haya mo sakanamu (Not a pine/Nor a young shoot have I plucked/That's all that's come of today;/How I wish the cherries/Would bloom more quickly!)
Crickets sing fully, I remember old autumn.
Shui wakashu (Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poems
cherry blossoms bloom peacefully, I cry remembering the deceased.
Okureite/Nakunaruyori ha/Ashitazu no/Nado te Yowai wo/Yuzurazari kemu (Given that it is said to enjoy a long lifespan, why does the crane among the reeds give my brother its life, rather than cry for my brother's death.)
Ana koishi/Hatsuka ni hito o/Mizu no awa no/Kiekaeru to mo/Shiraseteshi gana (Ah, what a longing!/After catching but a glimpse,/To become like foam,/Vanishing as I faint/With the need to tell my love.)
Shinkokin Wakashu (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry)
Ominaeshi/Miru ni Kokoro ha/Nagusama de/itodo Mukashi no/Aki zo koishiki (On seeing a patrinia, I miss the autumn when my wife was still alive, rather than find comfort in it.)
Shokukokin Wakashu (Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry, Continued)
Ikemizu ni/Kuni sakaekeru/Makimoku no/Tamaki no Kaze ha/Ima mo nokoreri (A wind creates ripples on the surface of a pond, so the wind that blew through the Tamaki no miya Palace in Makimoku remains in the water of this pond.)
Shin Senzai Waka shu (New Collection of Japanese Poems of a Thousand Years)
Uguisu no/Yado no Hana da ni/Iro koku ha/Kaze ni shirase de/shibashi matanamu (Don't tell the wind, at least, the well-colored plum flower, in whose tree the bush warbler resides, is waiting expectantly to be scattered by wind; since our relationship is as deep as the color of this red-blossomed plum, I want to prolong its secrecy.)

Shikashu (a private poetry collection)
Aimitemo/Koi nimo Mono no/Kanashiku ha/Nagusame gataku/Narinu beki kana (You say that you miss me only when you see me; since you would miss me more if I came to see you, how can I comfort you?)

[Original Japanese]