Konoe Motohiro (近衛基熙)

Motohiro KONOE (April 28, 1648 - October 13, 1722) was a court noble and Kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor) who lived in the early to mid Edo period. He became the central figure within the Imperial Court during the reign of Emperor Higashiyama and tried to improve relations with the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). He was the family head of the Konoe family, which was the head of Gosekke (five Sekke regent families). His Go (byname) was Yumi. Character names were Yu (悠) and Kiku (菊).


Motohiro was born the eldest son of Naotsugu KONOE (Kanpaku and Sadaijin (chief of Imperial Japanese Council of State, Left Division)) on April 28, 1648. His mother was Imperial Princess Akiko, the daughter of Emperor Gomizunoo. His birth mother was the concubine of Konoe. His childhood name was Tajimaru. His father, Naotsugu, passed away at a young age, and the Retired Emperor Gomizunoo ordered that Motohiro be adopted outside of the Konoe family, under the roof of the retired emperor, since Naotsugu did not have a son with his legal wife, Imperial Princess Akiko.

Motohiro participated in the Genpuku (Coming of Age) ceremony in January 1655 (December 1654, in old lunar calendar) at which time he was granted the rank of Shogoinoge (Senior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade Rank), and became Sakone gon no shosho (Provisional Minor Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards). He received successive promotion to the head of the Sekkan-ke regent family and came in line with Kugyo (the top court officials) when he was promoted to the rank of Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) in 1655. He became Gon no Chunagon (Provisional Middle Counselor) in 1656, Gon no Dainagon (Provisional Major Counselor) in 1658, and was honored with Imperial Princess Tsuneko, the daughter of the Retired Emperor Gomizunoo, becoming his legal wife on January 9, 1665 (November 23, 1664 in old lunar calendar). Motohiro was assigned as Naidaijin (Minister of the Center) at the age of 18 in July 1665, as Udaijin (Minister of the Right) in 1671, and promoted to Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) in 1677.

He came one step closer to becoming the Kanpaku, but Cloistered Emperor Gomizunoo, who had supported him, passed away in 1680, and Emperor Reigen began to control the government himself.
Emperor Reigen was known for having a distaste for the bakufu, and Motohiro himself was also treated with hostility as one of 'pro-bakufu clique.'
Udaijin Kaneteru ICHIJO, favored by Emperor Reigen, was assigned as Kanpaku in 1682 before Motohiro, who after that was not assigned duties at the Imperial Court of Reigen. He was granted only the rank of Juichii (Junior First Rank), with difficulty, in 1686. Some may have thought that Motohiro was favored by the Edo bakufu, but the reality was totally the opposite, since Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, the Seii taishogun (great general who subdues the barbarians) at that time was facing his successor problem with Tsunatoyo TOKUGAWA (who later became the Sixth Shogun Ienobu TOKUGAWA) of the Kofu clan, whose legal wife was Hiroko KONOE (who later became Teneiin), the eldest daughter of Motohiro. Tsunayoshi acted coldly toward Motohiro, the father-in-law of Tsunatoyo, and Motohiro truly went through an inactive period.

However, when Emperor Reigen passed his position to Emperor Higashiyama, Motohiro succeeded in overthrowing Kaneteru ICHIJO in 1687, once seeing that Sento Gosho (the Imperial Palace) began Insei (rule by a retired emperor).
He was finally assigned to his long-wished Kanpaku in February 1690 to authorize the Imperial Court of Emperor Higashiyama, and he opposed the Retired Emperor Reigen's attempt to regain power, by labeling him a member of the 'pro-bakufu clique.'
Once Emperor Higashiyama grew up, he began to detest the Insei of the Retired Emperor Reigen, and became more dependent on Motohiro. In addition, the bakufu was cautiously observing the actions of the Retired Emperor Reigen and began to forge closer ties with Motohiro, who had a strong influence over Emperor Higashiyama.

Motohiro passed the Kanpaku and Toshi choja (chieftain of the Fujiwara family) positions to his right-hand man, Kanehiro TAKATSUKASA, in 1703, and in 1707 his eldest son, Iehiro KONOE, became Kanpaku and Toshi choja. In 1704 Shogun Tsunayoshi gave up waiting for the birth of a son and invited Ienobu to become his successor, and Ienobu and his legal wife, Hiroko, entered the Edo-jo Castle. Motohiro went to Edo in 1706 on the invitation of Tsunayoshi and Ienobu, a rare move for the Sekke regent family, and met with Tsunayoshi, and Ienobu and Hiroko, husband and wife. At that time, Motohiro told Tsunayoshi and Ienobu that Emperor Higashiyama sought to assign Imperial Prince Yasuhito (later became Emperor Nakamikado) as his heir.

Ienobu became a shogun with the death of Shogun Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA in June 1709, and Motohiro's ties with the shogun family deepened. Emperor Higashiyama abdicated the throne to Emperor Nakamikado in July, and in November began Insei while Motohiro became Daijo-daijin (Grand minister of state). This rank was vacant for a long time after the death of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, and Motohiro was the first to be inaugurated to the position during the Edo period (Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and Hidetada TOKUGAWA were actually assigned to this position but did not participate in the imperial court government), and Motohiro, who had deep trust from both the Emperor Higashiyama and Ienobu TOKUGAWA, was inaugurated to the position. In December he retired from the Daijo-daijin position due to health problems. However, soon after, Emperor Higashiyama suddenly fell ill from smallpox and died just nine days after Motohiro's retirement from the Daijo-daijin position.

In the following year, 1710, Motohiro strongly demanded to visit Edo, and met with Ienobu and Hiroko, husband and wife. He resided at Kanda Palace for two years hence and became a consultant for shogun and officers of the bakufu concerning bakufu and imperial court politics. The origin of this is considered to be Hakuseki ARAI's seeking Motohiro's advice on Chosen Tsushinshi (the Korean Emissary) and Diplomatic Protocol, but Motohiro went to Edo when the restart of Insei of Retired Emperor Reigen became definite from the sudden death of the Retired Emperor Higashiyama, and tried to reconstruct the relation between the Imperial Court and the bakufu, as well as to solve the establishment problem of Shin miyake (a new imperial family) (later became Kaninnomiya), which had started to formalize while Emperor Higashiyama was alive. The Retired Emperor Reigen, who disliked Motohiro associating himself closely with the Kanto region, personally sought a prayer of curse ("Reigen Shinpitsu Gokiganmon") at Shimogoryo-jinja Shrine, and in it denounced Motohiro as 'Shinkyokujanei no akushin' (Bad retainer who acts for his own benefit and with insincerity). Sekke regent families other than the KONOE family opposed the demands of Hiroko (who became the wife of Shogun), which made her niece, Hisako KONOE (Iehiro's daughter), become the Nyogo (consort) of Emperor Nakamikado, and went on the side of the Retired Emperor Reigen (from the adoption system of the time, the grandsons of Norihira TAKATSUKASA occupied the heads of the four Sekke regent families other than the Konoe family and had intimate relationships with each other).

While Motohiro was known as the Kugyo who promoted the shogunate marital union with the imperial family, he strongly opposed the Koka (marriage of an imperial princess to a subject) of Yasonomiya (Imperial Princess Yoshiko), the daughter of the Retired Emperor Reigen, to Shogun Ietsugu TOKUGAWA after the death of Ienobu under recommendation from Hakuseki ARAI (this was probably due to an attempt by Ietsugu's biological mother, Gekkoin, to get rid of Retired Emperor Reigen, who tried to improve the relation with the bakufu, and Hiroko KONOE (who became a monk called Teneiin)), and did not forget to distance himself from the bakufu as Choshin (Imperial retainer). He also showed a strong resentment toward the promotion of Keishoin, the mother of Tsunayoshi and a close associate of Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA, to a higher position than those they actually deserve, due to the excessive issuance Buke-kani (official court titles for samurai).

In the diary he wrote from 1655 to his death, called "Motohiro koki," Motohiro regarded with humor the bloodshed inflicted on (Yoshinaka) KIRA by Naganori ASANO during the Genroku Ako Incident, as 'what a unusual occurrence it is,' and wrote about the reaction of Emperor Higashiyama, who heard about the incident, as 'the Emperor said that it is a funny thing.'
This was evidence that Emperor Higashiyama and Motohiro disliked Yoshinaka KIRA, who supposedly manipulated imperial court politics in many ways as one member of the bakufu.

Motohiro became a Buddhist priest in 1722 and gained the Homyo (Buddhist name) of Yuzan. He passed away in October of the same year. He died at the age of 75. He was buried in Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto. His Hogo (posthumous Buddhist names) were Oenmanin Zenkaku (応円満院禅閣) and Oenmanin Shogaku(応円満院証岳).

His contributions to literature

Motohiro was under the tutelage of Emperor Gomizunoo, and was influenced by various studies, including Waka (Japanese poetry). He excelled in Kado (the art of tanka poetry), shodo (the art of Calligraphy), and painting. He received Kokin denju (instruction in how to interpret "Kokinshu," the Anthology of Old and New Japanese Poems) from Emperor Gosai in 1683 and provided Kokin denju to his grandson, Iehisa KONOE, in 1718. He knew in detail about Yusoku-kojitsu (knowledge of court rules, ceremony, decorum and records of the past) and constantly studied the ancient rites with other intellectuals at that time, Tokikata HIRAMATSU, Motokazu HIGASHIZONO, Sadamoto NONOMIYA, Kinzumi SHIGENOI, and Munetsune TAKAHASHI. Motohiro's diary was called "Motohiro koki" or "Oenmanin Kanpaku ki," which showed his extensive knowledge of the ancient practices here and there, as he recorded his editing of intellectual papers, the study of Emakimono picture scrolls and ancient paintings, and the recreation of methods to produce kimono and everyday goods. He wrote "Ikki sho" (a total of 74 volumes), where he studied "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of the Minamoto Clan) and added annotations.

[Original Japanese]