Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上田村麻呂)

SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro was a military officer of the Heian period.
His name Tamuramaro (田村麻呂) is also written '田村麿.'
He was awarded the Shosanmi (Senior Third Rank) and was appointed Dainagon (chief councilor of state), Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards) and Hyobukyo (Minister of Hyobusho Ministry of Military). Kun-nito (Order of Second Class). He was posthumously awarded the Junii (Junior Second Rank).

SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro came to notice as an officer in the Imperial Guards in Kyoto and achieved military success as one of the Vice Shoguns in OTOMO no Otomaro's army in the war against the Ezo people in Mutsu Province in 793. He succeeded Otomaro as the Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") and directed the government army, defeating the Ezo army in 801. He built Isawa Castle in 802 and Shiwa Castle in 803. During the Kusuko no Hen Conspiracy of 810, Tamuramaro prevented Emperor Heijo's escape. He was admired as a great warrior throughout the Heian period and became a legendary hero in later periods; before World War II, Michizane SUGAWARA and SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro were regarded as representing, respectively, the best literary and military traditions among the Japanese people.

SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro's father was SAKANOUE no Karitamaro of the Sakanoue Clan, which was celebrated for its military skills, as exemplified by Tamuramaro's grandfather, SAKANOUE no Inukai, and his father Karitamaro himself. His wife was MIYOSHI no Takako, Kiyotsugu MIYOSHI's daughter.

His children included SAKANOUE no Ono, SAKANOUE no Hirono, SAKANOUE no Kiyono, SAKANOUE no Masano, Shigeno, Tsugino, Tsuguo, SAKANOUE no Hiro, Takao, Takaoka, Takamichi and Haruko. His daughter, SAKANOUE no Haruko, later became a wife of Emperor Kanmu and mother of Prince Kadoi. His children, Shigeno, Tsugino, Tsuguo, Takao and Takaoka appear only in the 'Genealogical Chart of the Sakanoue Clan'; they are reported to have lived in places away from Kyoto, calling themselves by family names (such as 'Goro ADACHI (Shigeno)') like samurai in later periods, which means their names may have been added to the chart afterwards. Tamuramaro's descendents lived in Kyoto and served as Myobo hakase (teacher of the law in the Ritsuryo system) and Kebiishi police officers.


Tamuramaro was born as the second (according to the 'Genealogical Chart of the Sakanoue Clan') or third ('Biography of Tamuramaro') son of SAKANOUE no Karitamaro in 758. Tamuramaro served as an officer in the Imperial Guards.

From the time of Tamuramaro's youth, there had been a raging war with the Ezo people in Mutsu Province and in 789, the government army led by KI no Kosami was heavily defeated by the Ezo army led by Aterui. Tamuramaro participated in the preparations for the next military expedition, and upon being appointed as a Seito fukushi (Vice Commander) to assist OTOMO no Otomaro in 791, he embarked on the military expedition. There is a brief comment about this expedition in the "Ruiju Kokushi (Book of History)" that 'Vice Commander SAKANOUE Osukune no Tamuramaro conquered the Ezo army,' which leads us to believe that Tamuramaro was playing a leading part in the expedition as one of the four Vice Commanders.

In 796, he was appointed Mutsu no Azechi (Inspector of Mutsu), Mutsu no kami (the governor of Mutsu Province) and Chinjufu Shogun (Commander-in-Chief of the Defense of the North), all at the same time, to be in full command of the army, and the following year he was also appointed Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"). In 801, he set out on a military expedition, which resulted in his victory against the barbarians (Ezo).

After briefly returning to Kyoto, he went back to Mutsu Province in order to build Izawa Castle in the conquered area, accepting the surrender of more than 500 Ezo soldiers, including chief commanders Aterui and More. Although Tamuramaro insisted on acquitting the two commanders, his proposal was objected to by court nobles in Kyoto and the commanders were executed. In 803, he built Shiwa Castle.

In 804, Tamuramaro was appointed Seii taishogun once again for the third military expedition to Mutsu. However, that same year, the expedition was cancelled by Emperor Kanmu, who accepted FUJIWARA no Otsugu's argument that military expeditions and the construction work for the new capital were placing an intolerable burden on the people (Great Political Debate). Although Tamuramaro was no longer able to serve as a military commander, he continued to remain in the post of Seii taishogun, which was originally created as an emergency office.

He was promoted as a result of his military success and in 805, he was allowed to serve as a Sangi (councillor). He was promoted to Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) in 806 and to Dainagon (Major Counselor) in 810. In 807, he was appointed Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards). Tamuramaro is also reported to have constructed Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto. While the story is generally accepted as a historical fact, there are many different versions and the details remain unclear.

When a conflict arose between ex-Emperor Heijo and Emperor Saga, Tamuramaro was appointed by the ex-Emperor as a palace construction officer for the transfer of the capital to Heijo. However, during the Kusuko no Hen Conspiracy, Tamuramaro supported Emperor Saga. His son, SAKANOUE no Hirono, was dispatched to Omi Province in order to block Omi Barrier, while Tamuramaro was ordered to attack the army of the ex-Emperor along the Minodo road. In this incident, Tamuramaro requested and was granted the release of the captured FUNYA no Watamaro. Although the ex-Emperor intended to build an army in the Togoku areas east of Kyoto, upon being informed in Koshita Village, Soekami-gun, Yamato Province, that his way was completely blocked, he returned to Heijokyo (Nara) and became a priest.

Tamuramaru died of illness at the age of 54 on June 21, 811. On the day of his death, Emperor Saga refrained from attending to affairs of state in mourning and composed Chinese-style poems in praise of Tamuramaro. He was posthumously awarded the Junii (Junior Second Rank).

An ancient grave in Nishinoyama in Yamashina Ward, Kyoto City, is believed to be his.

Legends of Tamuramaro

After his death, many stories of Tamuramaro were made in areas across Japan, developing into legends and legendary figures that were far removed from the historical Tamuramaro. In these legends, his name is written in several different ways. Legends about Tamuramaro are also often amalgamated with those about another celebrated Shogun in the Heian period, FUJIWARA no Toshihito, with the two sometimes being confused or placed in a father-son relationship. In these legends, Tamuramaro is not always a warrior who wages war against barbarians, but a hero who fights off oni (ogres) and bandits in various areas. During the Kamakura period, another important legend was added to the traditional repertoire, in which Tamuramaro fights off the oni of Mt. Suzuka. In more complex versions, Tamuramaro marries Akutama, a beautiful oni living in Mt. Suzuka in Ise who practises witchcraft, and with her help, fights against oni leaders named Akuro-O or Otake-O to drive them off to Mutsu (names and details vary). These legends have been collected and reorganized in various forms, such as the storybook "Tamurazoshi", the Noh song "Tamura" and the Joruri (narrative ballad) "Tamura Sandaiki (story about the three generations of the Tamura family)." They were also recorded in books published in the Edo period, such as the "Zen-zen Taiheiki" military epic.

There are a number of temples that are believed to have been founded by Tamuramaro scattered throughout the Tohoku Region, mainly in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. Most of the stories about these temples tell how Tamuramaro succeeded in fighting off barbarians and oni with the help of certain deities (such as the Deity of Mercy) and how he founded these temples to express his gratitude. Legends are found even in areas that are unlikely to have been visited by Tamuramaro. Except for the legend about Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto City, most of these legends are probably fictional stories created in later periods. There are also hot springs that are believed to have been discovered by Tamuramaro and even stones that Tamuramaru is believed to have sat on. In Seisui-ji Temple in Nagano Prefecture, there is a helmet crest (an important cultural property) that is believed to have been presented by Tamuramaro.

[Original Japanese]