Fujiwara no Yorinaga (藤原頼長)

FUJIWARA no Yorinaga (1120 – August 8, 1156) was a court noble at the end of the Heian period.

He was the second son of FUJIWARA no Tadazane and his mother was the daughter of FUJIWARA no Morizane, the Governor of Tosa Province. His legal wife was Yukiko, the daughter of FUJIWARA no Saneyoshi, a Gon Chunagon (a provisional vice-councilor of state) at court. His younger half brother was FUJIWARA no Tadamichi, a Kanpaku (Chief Adviser to the Emperor) who in 1125 was adopted by the family. His childhood name was Ayawaka (Lit. Iris Youth). Widely known as the Aku-safu ("evil" Minister of the Left) and Uji-sadaijin (Minister of the Left).

In 1130 he was conferred the rank of Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) at his coming of age ceremony and was appointed: Jiju (chamberlain), Konoe no shosho (Minor Captain of the Palace Guards), and Iyo no Gon no kami (Provisional Governor of Iyo Province). In the same year he was made Ukone no Gon no chujo (Provisional Middle Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards). In 1131 achieved Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank). Promoted to post of Gon Chunagon (a provisional vice-councilor of state) without going through the post of Sangi (royal adviser), and took Sachiko (eight years his senior) daughter of FUJIWARA no Saneyoshi as his wife. 1134 became Dainagon (chief councilor of state). In 1136 took on the dual roles of Naidaijin (Minister of the Center) and Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards). In 1139, as Sakone no daisho (Major Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards), he became togu no fu (an official in charge of education of the Crown Prince).

His name was held in high repute from the time Yorinaga was in the cradle; he was extensively read in Japanese and Chinese literature and highly regarded as a scholar, 'The most advanced student in Japan endowed with the talents in Japanese and Chinese literature.'
However, he was also seen as possessing an unforgiving and callous nature towards others, 'A mean and generally dangerous person' and was called the Aku-safu ("evil" Minister of the Left). It is said that everyone was aware of his liking of Confucianism and his extensive knowledge, but he expressed a surprising lack of skill with literature, declaring that he 'couldn't stand traditional Japanese waka poetry' and that Chinese poetry was also not his forte.

His father, Tadazane, disliked his elder brother Tadamichi, who was a mild-mannered Kanpaku (Chief Adviser to the Emperor), and favored his extremely gifted younger brother Yorinaga. Tadamichi's being 23 years older than Yorinaga meant that at one stage Yorinaga was just like Tadamichi's adopted son. However, once Tadamichi's real son Motozane KONOE was born in 1143, this relationship was bought to a grinding halt with Tadamichi and Yorinaga subsequently competing for advancement. Promoted to Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) in 1149. In the same year Tadazane handed over Tadamichi's position as head of the Fujiwara clan to Yorinaga. In 1150, Yorinaga took command of MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi's and MINAMOTO no Yorikata's troops, attacked Tadamichi's villa, and made off with the head clansman's seal and family treasures; Tadazane took them to the Sekkan regent family's Higashi-Sanjodono estate and handed them over to Yorinaga. Also that year, with hopes of becoming a maternal grandfather, Yorinaga gave over his adopted daughter FUJIWARA no Masaruko as the wife of Emperor Konoe.

In 1151, thanks to Tadazane's efforts, Yorinaga was proclaimed Internal Auditor. Furthermore, Tadazane's eldest daughter, FUJIWARA no Yasuko, (who was also Yorimichi's sister), was fond of Yorinaga but distanced herself from Yorimichi. Yorinaga was given her possession of the Higashi-Sanjodono estate and Sekkan regent family's Tsuchi-Mikadodono estate sites. Once in place as administrator, Yorinaga acted shrewdly by reviving the deliberations of the court and applied himself to reviving scholarship, which received the blessings of Emperor Toba. However, it was obvious that Emperor Konoe disliked Yorinaga. Also that year, he committed a deed of ordering family members to destroy the residence of FUJIWARA no Ienari, who was a favorite retainer of Cloistered Emperor Toba, the upshot being from that point onwards he gradually lost the confidence of the Cloistered Emperor.

In 1155 the childless Emperor Konoe passed away and Tadamichi and the Cloistered Emperor's favorite concubine FUJIWARA no Nariko supported the ascension of Emperor Goshirakawa; however, once enthroned, circumstances completely changed. With the death of Emperor Konoe, rumors surfaced that Yorinaga was cursed.
According to a Sharman kuchiyose medium, the Emperor's ghost had appeared bewailing 'Someone cursed me by driving nails into the eyes of the Tenko (celestial fox) statue on Mt Atago (Kyoto).'
That's why I was inflicted with eye disease and in due course died,' upon checking, it was found that nails had in fact been driven into the statue.
When the Chief Priest was queried, she responded, '5 or 6 years ago in the middle of the night, someone drove nails into it.'
Tadamichi and the Bifukumonin Temple said that this was the work of Yorinaga. Believing this, the Cloistered Emperor lost all confidence in Yorinaga, ceased private audiences with him, and in effect Yorinaga was overthrown. Furthermore, Kayanoin also passed away, and, having lost a major supporter, Yoshinaga was inevitably kept under house-arrest at Uji.

To break this deadlocked state of affairs, Yorinaga was forced by the Cloistered Emperor Toba to abdicate and afterwards he drew closer to a despairing Emperor Sutoku. In 1156, with the death of Cloistered Emperor Toba, he planned to usurp political power and brought together samurai warriors (including Minamoto no Tameyoshi, TAIRA no Masatada and MINAMOTO no Yorinori) at Retired Emperor Sutoku's Gosho Shirakawadono (Imperial Palace). Emperor Goshirakawa also brought together MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo, TAIRA no Kiyomori, and others, leading to an explosively tense situation and the outbreak of the Hogen no ran (Hogen Rebellion). The Emperor's side was superior in a number of battles, leading to ultimate victory, and Yorinaga received a serious injury when hit in the eye by an arrow fired by MINAMOTO no Shigesada. Whilst escaping he sought a meeting with his father Tadazane, but this was declined and he died in despair on board a boat.

After Yorinaga's death, his eldest son FUJIWARA no Kanenaga, second son FUJIWARA no Moronaga, third son FUJIWARA no Takanaga, and fourth son Norinaga were all banished to the countryside, and with the exception of Moronaga, they died in their place of exile. Moronaga alone survived and returned to the Miyako capital (Kyoto); however, having done so, he was afterwards unable to perform as his father, having been elevated to the Daijo daijin (Grand minister of state) role. Later his lifetime was buffeted by trials and tribulations with shogun Kiyomori banishing him once again.

Screen Productions

"Yumiharizuki", 1955, Director: Santaro MARUNE, Actor: Masao HORI. "The New Tale of the Heike" (Movie): 1955, Director: Kenji MIZOGUCHI, Actor: Koreya SENDA. "The New Tale of the Heike" (NHK Taiga Drama): 1972 NHK Taiga Drama, Starring: Mikio NARITA.
"TAIRA no Kiyomori" (TBS drama) 1972, TBS, Starring: Shigeru KOYAMA

[Original Japanese]