The Fujiwara clan (藤原氏)

The Fujiwara were a noble clan that existed in Japan from the ancient period until the early modern period. The clan is believed to have descended from Amenokoyane no Mikoto, a legendary ancestral deity.

Families that belonged to the clan used the clan name Fujiwara as their family name during the Heian period, but from the Kamakura period onward they each used their respective family names, such as Konoe, Takatsukasa, Kujo, Nijo and Ichijo, and therefore used the clan name Fujiwara only in official documents.

The Origin of the Clan

The Fujiwara clan was descended from NAKATOMI no Kamatari, who had been awarded an official status title (called Uji-Kabane) 'FUJIWARA no Asomi' from Emperor Tenji for his outstanding contributions to Taika-no-kaishin (the Taika Reform). Fujiwara is one of the four major family names (Minamoto, Taira, To (or Fujiwara) and Tachibana), and the Fujiwara family, also known as the To clan, was the earliest member of the Fujiwara clan.

Fujiwara, as an official title, was awarded to Kamatari upon the approach of death, and after his death, due partly to the fact that NAKATOMI no Kane, the Udaijin (minister of the right) and head of the Nakatomi clan, had been executed in the Jinshin no Ran War, the Kamatari Group temporarily faced a serious decline, although they had taken no part in the war. Subsequently, the scope of those who were entitled to the title FUJIWARA no Asomi was defined when Yakusa no Kabane (the official ranking system) was established during the reign of Emperor Tenmu. However, because FUJIWARA no Fuhito was still too young at the time, it is likely that Kamatari's cousin and son-in-law, NAKATOMI no Omimaro, assumed responsibility as the head of the clan in order to govern it as a temporary successor until Fuhito was ready to take on the leadership; additionally, other members of the Nakatomi family were permitted to use the title FUJIWARA no Asomi until Fuhito was old enough. Therefore, when Fuhito grew old enough to assume the leadership, the official name of clan members other than Fuhito, the rightful successor to Kamatari, was changed to the original Nakatomi in order to create a system that enabled Dajokan (the grand council of state) to be governed by the Fujiwara clan and Jingikan (the Department of Worship) by the Nakatomi clan.
(Omimaro was appointed as Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) based on the recommendation of Fuhito after Omimaro's official name was changed back to Nakatomi, and since his seventh son, ONAKATOMI no Kiyomaro, rose to the post of Udaijin (minister of the right), his descendants were regarded as being the main branch of the Nakatomi clan and were called the Onakatomi (great Nakatomi) clan.)

FUJIWARA no Fuhito

FUJIWARA no Fuhito, who was recognized as the rightful successor to Kamatari, formulated the Taiho Code in collaboration with SHIMOTSUKE no Nokomaro, thereby contributing to the establishment of the Ritsuryo system (ancient legal system), and also sent his daughter Kyushi to Emperor Monmu's kokyu (imperial harem). When Obitono-oji (later Emperor Shomu) was born, Fuhito sent his other daughter, FUJIWARA no Komyoshi (later Empress Komyo), to the kokyu. It is written in "Kofuku-ji Engi (Origin of Kofuku-ji Temple)" that there are certain matters about Fuhito's birth that haven't been officially recorded; meanwhile, it is explicitly stated in Okagami, Kugyo Bunin (Official Records of the Ancient Government) and Sonpi Bunmyaku (Ancient Family Tree Charts) that Fuhito was Emperor Tenchi's child born out of wedlock.

Four Families of the Fujiwara Clan

When Obitono-oji succeeded to the throne after Fuhito's death, there arose a conflict between the four sons of Fuhito (four Fujiwara brothers) and their opponents led by Nagayao, which deepened as time progressed. The Nagayao no Hen (the Conspiracy of Nagayao) in 729, which led to his suicide, is believed to have been a conspiracy organized by the four brothers in order to slander and expel Nagayao, who had been opposed to their attempt to make Komyoshi, their half-sister and the Emperor's wife, the first Empress chosen from outside the Imperial Family. The four Fujiwara brothers later split into four families (Nan, Hoku, Shiki and Kyo) and became the founders of the four Fujiwara families. In 731, each of the four brothers rose to the position of Giseikan legislator. This provides evidence to show that the Fujiwara clan had control of the bureaucracy not only through its Kokyu policy but also through its involvement in the establishment of the Ritsuryo system (legal code) since Fuhito.

After the Fujiwara four brothers died one after another in 737 due to an epidemic of smallpox, TACHIBANA no Moroe, the priest Genbo and KIBI no Makibi attempted to curtail the power of the Fujiwara clan, but they were overpowered by FUJIWARA no Nakamaro. TACHIBANA no Nakamaro subsequently organized a coup to drive Nakamaro out of power, but this coup also failed.

Of the four Fujiwara families, the Ceremonial House failed to prosper but the other three families participated in the political affairs of the Imperial Court, whereby each family tried to overpower the other two. There were times when either the Southern or the Ceremonial Houses prospered, but they both fell into decline during the early Heian period as a result of political conflicts and internal rebellions, after which the Northern House came to enjoy the greatest prosperity.

There are arguments about the rightful successor to the Fujiwara clan: some people regard FUJIWARA no Muchimaro, Fuhito's eldest son, as the rightful successor (the Southern House of the Fujiwara clan theory), while others argue that FUJIWARA no Fusasaki, Fuhito's second son who rose to prominence earlier than his older brother, was the successor (the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan theory). While it is true that Fusasaki was trusted during his life by Emperor Genmei and Emperor Shomu and was awarded the same Naishin post (government post) as his grandfather Kamatari, considering the general custom that prohibited the rightful male successor to a high-ranking official from holding an important government post, it is more likely that the Southern House was initially the rightful successor of the Fujiwara clan.

The Northern House of the Fujiwara Clan

The four families continued to rise and fall, and from the mid-Heian period onward the Northern House alone came to enjoy prosperity. FUJIWARA no Yoshifusa, the son of FUJIWARA no Fuyutsugu, married into the maternal line of Emperor Seiwa, becoming the first regent chosen from among imperial subjects. The strategy aimed at driving other clans out of power and strengthening one's own power through marriage with the Imperial Family was inherited by FUJIWARA no Mototsune, the adopted son of Yoshifusa and a maternal relative of Emperor Yozei, who acted as regent for the young Emperor and as chief adviser to the Emperor once he had reached adulthood. From that time until the late Edo period, the posts of regent and chief adviser to the Emperor were gradually monopolized by this family line of the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan (except for the Toyotomi clan). Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI was the only person other than members of the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan who was appointed to serve as chief adviser to the Emperor (Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI was appointed under the name of FUJIWARA no Hideyoshi), and there is no example of a person other than members of the five major Fujiwara families (called Gosekke) who was appointed as regent to the Emperor.

Rule by Sekkan (Regent to the Emperor)

Having driven other clans completely out of power by the Anna no Hen Conspiracy in the tenth century, the Fujiwara clan reached its peak during the golden age of the rule by Sekkan, when FUJIWARA no Michinaga and his son FUJIWARA no Yorimichi held power. However, political rule by retired emperors who did not have marriage relationships with the Fujiwara clan started during the late Heian period, and as the focus of political activities shifted toward the military rule by the Minamoto clan and the Taira clan the Fujiwara clan gradually fell from power.

From Titles of Official Status to Family Names

The descendants of the Fujiwara clan split into five different families (Konoe, Takatsukasa, Kujo, Nijo and Ichijo) during the Kamakura period, and these five families continued to monopolize the posts of regent and chief adviser to the Emperor, exercising their influence within the narrow circle of court nobles; however, they remained isolated from mainstream politics until the Meiji period.

In addition to the five major families, there were numerous offshoots and branches of the Fujiwara clan, such as the Sanjo, Saionji, Kan in, Kazanin, Miko hidari, Shijo, Kajuji, Hino and Nakamikado families.

Besides court noble families, various samurai families in turn descended from the descendants of the Fujiwara clan, including the Utsunomiya clan group, which descended from FUJIWARA no Michikane of the Northern House, the Nasu clan group, which descended from FUJIWARA no Nagaie of the Northern House, and FUJIWARA no Toshihito and FUJIWARA no Hidesato, who descended from FUJIWARA no Uona, the son of FUJIWARA no Fusasaki of the Northern House.

Fujiwara in the Contemporary Period

There is no family with the Fujiwara name among the families of former court nobles or feudal lords that belong to the former Fujiwara clan. "Fujiwara" is no longer used as an official title of a rank but as a family name, and Fujiwara families in contemporary Japan are unlikely to be related to the historical Fujiwara clan. Families belonging to the Fujiwara clan use their own family names, such as Konoe and Kujo, instead of the clan name. There were numerous low-ranking samurai families that used Fujiwara as the family name even before the Edo period. Among the members of FUJIWARA no Sumitomo's group, retainers would often adopt their lords' family names as a sign of respect. Today, it is generally acknowledged that the names of ordinary families that were recorded in the family register compiled during the early Meiji period had been inherited from their ancestors, but since no written records are available it is impossible to accurately identify the origins of these names.


[Original Japanese]