Kibi no Makibi (吉備真備)

KIBI no Makibi (695 - November 3, 775) was a scholar, a statesman and a Kugyo (a court noble) who lived during the Nara Period. He was ranked Shonii (Senior Second Rank), and held the office of Udaijin (Minister of the right).

Makibi's father was SHIMOTSUMICHI no Kunikatsu, Ueji no shojo (Jr. Lieutenant of the Right Guards), in Shimotsumichi District, Bicchu Province (later Mabi Town, Kibi County, Okayama Prefecture, and present-day Mabi Town, Kurashiki City), and his mother was from the local ruling family, the Yagi clan, of Yamato Province (later Nara Prefecture). The Shimotsumichi clan was a branch of a powerful local ruling family, the Kibi clan, in the Kibi region.

Brief Biography

Makibi SHIMOTSU was appointed as a member of the Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty of China in 716 when he was 22 years old, and visited Tang in the following year, 717. On his way back to Japan, Makibi drifted to Tanegashima Island once but managed to arrive in Kyoto in 735 with various kinds of books. In Tang, he learned not only Confucianism, but also astronomy, music and military science, and brought back "Tokan Kanki" (historical records of Eastern Han Dynasty) to Japan, and offered to the Imperial Court many other books and materials, including Keisho (Confucianism documents [130 volumes of "Torai"]), an astronomical calendar book (one volume of "Taien Calendar" and 12 volumes of "Daienreki Ryusei"), a sun clock (Sokuei Kaneshaku), music instruments (Dorikkan, 鉄如方響, 写律管声12条), music theory books (ten volumes of "Gakusho Yoroku"), bows (arms) (絃纏漆角弓、馬上飲水漆角弓、露面漆四節角弓各1張) and arrows (20 of Shakosen [square arrow] and 10 of Heishasen [flat arrow]).

After his return, Makibi earned the favor of Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo, and got promoted to Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) in 737. In 738, when TACHIBANA no Moroe was promoted to Udaijin and seized power of the feudal government, Makibi was assigned with an important role along with the priest Genbo who returned from Tang with Makibi, and was appointed Ueji no kami (Guard chief). In 740, FUJIWARA no Hirotsugu raised a rebellion in Dazai-fu (the local government office in the Kyushu region) in an attempt to remove Makibi and Genbo. In 741, Makibi taught "Kanjo" (Historical records of the Han Dynasty) and "Raiki" (Book of Rites) to the Imperial Princess Abe (later Empress Koken and Empress Shotoku) as Togugakushi (an educator of the Princess). After his return, Makibi was on the fast track to promotion; he was promoted to Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade) and appointed Togu no daibu (Master of the Crown Prince's Quarters) and also Kotaishigakushi (an official in charge of education of the Crown Prince) in 743, given the surname of KIBI-ASON in 746, appointed Ukyo no Daibu Juyoi (Minister of the Kyoto Right Administration Office) in 747, and again promoted to Jushiijo (Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade) in 749. In 750, after Empress Koken was enthroned, FUJIWARA no Nakamaro started to wield his power and Makibi was relegated to the lower positions of Chikuzen no kami (the governor of the Chikuzen Province) and Hizen no kami (the governor of the Hizen Province), but in 751 Makibi was appointed the assistant to the Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty of China and visited Tang in 752 where Makibi reunited with ABE no Nakamaro. Although Makibi drifted to Yakushima Island on his way back to Japan, he safely returned to Kyoto with Ganjin (a priest of Tang) in 753.

In 754, Makibi was promoted to Dazai no shoni (Junior Assistant Governor-General) of Dazai-fu (a military base) in Chikuzen Province where he ordered to build Ito-jo Castle to reinforce the national defense against Shila (ancient Korean kingdom) in 756. He then received an order from the Emperor to prepare the Dazai-fu for the aftermath of the An Shi Rebellion which occurred in Tang, and was again promoted to Dazai no daini (Senior Assistant Governor General of Dazai-fu) in 759. In 764, Makibi was appointed as the chief in the Todai-ji Temple construction and returned to Kyoto at the age of 70. In 764, Makibi was appointed as the chief in the Todaiji-Temple construction and returned to Kyoto at the age of 70. When EMI no Oshikatsu (FUJIWARA no Nakamaro) raised a rebellion, Makibi was promoted to Jusani (Junior Third Rank) to head a government army (a punitive force to search and kill a rebel) as Chue no daisho (Major Captain of the imperial guard) and succeeded in crushing the rebellion, after which Makibi was conferred 'Order of Second Class' in 765. In 766, Makibi was appointed Chunagon (the vice-councilor of state) with the backing of Empress Shotoku (an empress regnant, a second enthronement of Empress Koken) and YUGE no Dokyo (Priest Emperor), and promoted to Dainagon (Major Counselor) upon the death of FUJIWARA no Matate, and Makibi finally assumed the post of Udaijin (Minister of the right) to take the helm of the state in tandem with Sadaijin (Minister of the left), FUJIWARA no Nagate. This was an extraordinary promotion that no one from one local ruling family could easily achieve, and Makibi also became the first scholar-turned minister in pre-modern history except SUGAWARA no Michizane.

In 770, after Empress Shotoku died, Makibi backed FUNYA no Kiyomi and FUNYA no Ochi as candidates to the next Emperor, but his effort bore no fruit and it is believed Makibi later said 'I have never imagined to live to see myself humiliated this much'. However, this series of events concerning the enthronement is only described in the history books and historical fictions compiled in later times, such as "Mizu Kagami" (The Water Mirror) but not appear in "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued); therefore, many critics (including Sadako TAKINAMI, a historian of ancient Japanese history) doubt the authenticity of the descriptions on the events. Although Makibi offered his resignation due to aging after the enthronement of Emperor Konin, the Emperor only allowed him to resign from his concurrent post of Chue no daisho (Major Captain of the imperial guard), but retained him as Udaijin. In 771, he again submitted his resignation, which was accepted. His later life after resignation was not known, except the fact that he died in 775.

Although it is not known exactly where Makibi died or where his tomb is, there is one tomb called "KIBI zuka" (KIBI zuka tomb) in the precinct of Nara University of Education of Nara City, which is believed to be Makibi's tomb.

Besides his own duty, Makibi was responsible for arranging the "Sekiten" hosted by Imperial Court, which honored saints of Confucianism including Koshi.

It is believed that Makibi wrote "Shikyo Ruijo", "Dosen Wajosan" and "Santei Ritsuryo Code".


According to the literature such as "Godansho" and "Kibinootodo Nitto Emaki", Tang men who tried to kill Makibi confined Makibi in a castle where a devil lived, but Makibi could escape from the castle without any difficulty, because the devil turned out to be a wraith of ABE no Nakamaro who visited Tang with Makibi. Makibi was also forced to decipher a difficult 'Yamatai shi' (Poems on Japan) and to play Igo (a board game of capturing territory), but he managed to succeed in all of the challenges facing him with the help of the wraith of ABE no Nakamaro. The Tang men finally tried to kill Makibi by not feeding him, but Makibi hid the sun and the moon with a tool of sugoroku (a Japanese cardboard game), which startled the Tang men so much that they decided to release Makibi.

There is another interpretation of the legend that Makibi was kept to stay in Tang for a long period of time because he was so smart that Genso (the sixth Emperor of Tang) did not want him to leave Tang. Makibi came back with a young man called EN Shinkei (later called, KIYOMURA no Sukune) who mastered phonology, and according to FUJIWARA no Nagazane, KIYOMURA no Sukene tried to change the reading of kanji (Chinese characters) from the Wu reading to the Han reading, which is said to have contributed to the creation of katakana (one of the Japanese syllables). It is also said that Kyubi no kitsune (a fox having nine tails), a divine legendary beast in Japan, was on board the ship back to Japan.

In the military strategy book of the Medieval Period, Makibi was praised as a founder of the Japanese art of warfare for his achievement to bring back "Rikuto" (an ancient Chinese strategy book) which was possessed by Choryo (a politician and a war strategist in early China).

It is also said that KIBI no Makibi brought home "Hoki-Naiden", a scripture of Onmyodo (an occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements), from Tang, and tried to hand it down to the descendants of ABE no Nakamaro at the foot of Mt. Tsukuba of Hitachi Province. "Kinu" (a gold bird with three legs, which is believed to be living in the sun) indicates the sun and "Gyokuto" (a rabbit, which is believed to be living in the moon) means the moon and the two elements comprise 'yin-yang'. ABE no Seimei is said to have been a descendant of the ABE no Nakamaro family, and "Kinu Gyokuto shu" (aka. Hoki-Naiden), which is believed to have been used by ABE no Seimei as a book of secrets of Onmyodo, is said to have been compiled in the end of the Kamakura Period or early Muromachi Period. According to one legend, Hakudo shonin, an immortal mountain wizard of China, became a disciple of Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri Bodhisattva associated with wisdom, doctrine and awareness) and reached enlightenment. Then, Hakudo shonin was given from Monju Bosatsu a book of secrets called "Monju Ketsuju Butsureki kyo", and brought it back to China, and "Monju Ketsuju Butsureki kyo" is said to be "Kinu Gyokuto shu". Also, "Konjaku Monogatari Shu" (The Tale of Times Now Past) describes that Makibi used Onmyodo to appease the raging spirit of FUJIWARA no Hirotsugu who killed Genbo, while in "Hoki sho", Makibi was regarded as a founder of Japanese Onmyodo, as he brought the Onmyo book "Hoki Naiden" to Japan.

In "Uji Shui Monogatari" (a collection of the Tales from Uji), Makibi is described as a person who stole an ambitious dream of someone else, and for which, he could move up the promotional ladder to Udaijin.

As Calligrapher

During his stay in Tang, Makibi learned Chinese writing from Chokyoku, and spread the calligraphy which originated in Jin (a dynasty of China) across Japan after his return.

[Original Japanese]