Haji Clan

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Haji Clan

The Haji Clan (土師氏) was a Japanese clan which claimed descent from the Shinto kami Amenohohi in the 12 generation. From the 5th to 7th centuries they were part of the uji class. Their private familiy records would have been useful in the compiliation of the Nihongi, the stories of the haniwa and Haji Be (mentioned below) likely drawn from these records.

This clan held many connections with people from Silla who lived in Japan, perhaps even marrying them. This led to them introducing Taoist and Buddhist beliefs into funerary practises. Their introduction of Buddhism is mentioned in the Sairinji Engi.


Haji Clan
Nomi no Sukune by Kikuchi Yōsai.

The clan is said to have been founded by Nomi no Sukune, though this can be a dubious claim. This claim is seen during the reign of Emperor Suinin when he bestowed the name of Haji on Nomi no Sukune after he took 300 potters and made the first haniwa to replace the practise of human sacrifice that was in use before this when high officials and imperial familiy members died.

However, not all branches of the clan claim descent from Nomi no Sukune. The Shinsen Shōjiroku, written in 815 states three branches of the Haji claimed him as an ancestor, with three others claiming Umashikaraine or Iirine as their ancestors, both of these men also being 12th generational descendants of Amenohohi. Later in 1106 Sugawara no Tsuratsune wrote the Kanke Godenki, inside he tried to rectify the family tree, placing Umashikaraine and Iirine as ancestors of Nomi no Sukune.

One of their legendary ancestors is said to have defeated a kami in a singing contest.

One branch of the Haji lived near the site apparently that of Emperor Suinins tomb, which may have helped in joining the Haji Clan with the story of the haniwa.

Associations with Haji Be and Asobibe

Nomi no Sukune’s name change also put him in charge of a group called the Haji Be. It was this group of people who made the pottery, with the Haji Clan overseeing the process.

It is thought they lived close by to the Haji Be with the Shinsen Shōjiroku saying they lived in Yamashiro, Yamato, Izumi and Settsu Province. The Nihongi additionally mentions Haji living in Kawachi. Aside from Yamato province, the Nihongi and Wamyō Ruijishō mention Haji communities or villages in these places called ‘Haji no Sato.’ Some instances see Haji no Sato and Haji members mentions together suggesting they lived together.

Branches of the family started to develop their own productions. Not only making the haniwa, they also worked on vessels for Imperial use. One branch with their Haji Be came to specialise in pottery for court use, taking the name of Niehaji (贄土師). Other branches developed to take charge of funerary rite (over taking the role of the Asobibe), making objects for funerary usage as well as funerary rites for high court nobility and the Imperial Family.

Some of the Haji did live in the same area of the Asobibe, meaning they would have been familiar with their functions allowing them to easily take over from them.

Kofu Period 300-538AD

The family would emphasise ties to Izumo, their ancestral home, likely due to the importance it had gained in the Kojiki and so they consilidated their geneology with the Izumo Magistrates.

They claimed to originally have held the title of Omi, but this was usually left for Izumo Magistrate family. It is perhaps their ties to this family which made them state this claim. Reliable sources show us they held title muraji which was appropriate to their status.

The Kanke Godenki says the great-grandson of Nomi no Sukune, Haji no Mino was granted the title of muraji during the reign of Nintoku. We also see the earliest mention of ‘Haji no Muraji’ in the Nihongi during Nintoku’s reign, however, no name is given to which Haji. Perhaps here the Kanke Gogenki was trying to rationalise the family history.

It is likely they came from Izumo to Yamato during the 5th century as the Yamato Court arose here. Legends say they came directly, but archaeological evidence shows they slowly emmigrated leaving settlements in Mimasaka and Harima Province. The story of Nomi no Sukune is therefore likely a fabrication to explain the Haji taking over Yamato land from older less influential familes.

Asuka Period 538-710AD

In 641 we known the Haji supervised their first imperial funeral.

In 645 the Taika Reforms reorganised the court, and so the power of the Haji changed. The Taiho Code created an ‘Office of Mausolea’ calling for ten Hajibe to serve under it and senior Haji Clan members to take charge of funerals for princes or nobles of the third rank or above. As they oversaw funerary rites for high officials and princes, their role became more bureaucratic with a semblence to their former selves.

During the conflict between the Soga and Mononobe Clans we know of two Haji members who undertook important duties for Soga leader, however, in 645 when the Soga were destroyed the Haji had shifted their alliances.

During the Jinshin War in 672 members of the Haji supported Emperor Tenmu, though one Haji was caught by the future Emperors forces. Haji no Umate fought during the Jinshin War seeing a long career afterwards before his death in 711AD. His later acts of placing offering on the tomb of Tenmu from Silla shows the Haji branching out into foreign diplomacy, including greeting envoys, undertaking diplomatic missions and also going to China as students.

Umate life saw him gratned the title of sukune, this during the time when Haji no Oi was head of the clan.

The eventual adoption of buddhism when Emperess Jito died in 703AD and was cremated changed the Haji status when it came to haniwa production and as funerary supervisors.

Nara Period  710-794AD

In 728AD a new outer fifth rank was created at court, and it seems the Haji family were to be appointed to this rank and only ever promoted under exceptional circumstance. It was impossible for them to achieve the higher ranks now.

By 729 a new edict saw the ‘Office of Mausolea’ remade into a bureau with many Haji appointed as directors here until 768. This allowed them to achieve the junior fifth rank. After 768 it was given to princes and those of imperial descent.

Haji no Ushikatsu was the last Haji to be director of the Bureau of Mausolea. In 751 it appears he was rather fortunate, his rank going from outer to inner, and in 755 he was promoted to junior fifth rank upper grade. He was the first Haji to acheive this since 728 and it is likely this was due to the fact he helped in the establishment of Todaiji.

Many other Haji held connections to Todaiji, helping in its construction, but also later in the Sutra Copying Office (Shakyōjo). In fact, Haji is the second most common name in this office. The Kodai Jimmei lists 5 proof readers, 14 sutra copyists and 11 Haji involved in the construction of Todaiji.

Heian Period

An edict in 797AD finally ended their connections to funerals.

Becoming the Sugawara Clan

The clan eventually wished to change their name from Haji. On the 25th day, 6th month of 781, 15 members of the Haji Family, headed by Haji no Sukune Furuhito took a petition before the Kanmu..

The petition stated their ancestor was the creator of the haniwa and they oversaw their creation to be used in funerals. However now their clan only takes charge of funerals, their job had changed. As this was not what their ancestor had wanted they asked for their name to be changed to Sugawara where they now dwelt. This was granted by the Emperor.

Furuhito managing to change the families name encured they could once again rise above the outer fifth rank which has been imposed on them in 728AD.

After this name change two other branches of the Haji followed suit, changing their names to Akishino and Ōe. As late as 867AD Haji still came to the capital to request their name be changed to Sugawara.


The 14th century document known as the Sompi Bummyaku compiled geneologies of only six families, one of which being the Haji Clan, showing that they were considered impotant to the past of Japan.

Poets and Scholars

Poetry by Haji members can be seen in the Man’yōshū. poems by Haji members in this text are numbers 557-8, 825, 843, 3660, 3844-5, 3955, 4047 and 4067.

One of the most prolific poets was Haji no Mimichi who has 5 that survive.

One of his poems goes as follows:

Japanese textRomanized Japanese
English translation
Ume no hana
Morohito no
Asobu o mireba
Miyako shizo mō
Decorated with sprays of plum blossoms
They all amuse themselves.
When I see them,
I long for the capital.

They had many notable scholars during their time, one being Haji no Oi who helped compile the Taiho Codes. During the Nara Period there were many unnamed Haji known for their learning.1



1. Borgen, R. (1975) “The Origins of the Sugawara. A History of the Haji Family”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.30 No.4 pp.405-422

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