Sugawara no Michizane

Sugawara no Michizane
Sugawara no Michizane by Kikuchi Yosai.

Sugawara no Michizane

Sugawara no Michizane (菅原 道真/菅原 道眞) was a member of the Sugawara Clan living during the Heian Period who was famous for his knowledge of classical chinese literature amongst other things. Born in 84512 he died March 26th 903.3

The son of Sugawara no Koreyoshi12 he was also a distant decendant of Haji no Mimichi.4 He was on the 5 yen bill until its discontinuation in 1929.3

Sugawara no Michizane
Michizane on the 5 yen bill.

Career

Michizane aged 11, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

In 866 we see him appointed as Governor of Sanuki Province which he held for 4 years, and in 877 he was appointed as Professor of Chinese literature,12 a position which he held for ten years.2

During his time as minster he suggested delegations to China stop due to instability there, this was accepted in 894.

In 899 the Emperor Uda gives him the title of udaijin, but unfortunately jealousy from the Fujiwara Clan (Fujiwara no Tokihira1) would see him banished in 901 after they accuse him of treason against Emperor Daigo. His banishment would see him sent to Dazaifu in Kyushu where he was to govern, dying here in 903 whilst still proclaiming himself innocent.12 It is said he died from malnutrition.3

Poetry and Literature

His poetry was similar to that of his ancestor Haji no Mimichi, as they both use plum blossoms to express sorrow.

This particular poem can be found in the Shin Wakashū and goes as follows.

Japanese text
Romanized Japanese4English translation4
Kochi fukaba
Nioi okoseyo
Ume no hana
Aruji nashi tote
Haru o wasuruma
When the east wind blows,
Let it send the fragrance of
The plum blossoms.
Although your master is gone,
Do not forget the spring.

Other accounts state whilst eating super he wrote 20 poems on 20 different subjects at the same time.3 He also helped in the compilation of the Sandai Jitsuroku which was the last of the ‘six offical histories.’ He also went on the create a version of these books called the Ruijū kokushi themed topically instead of chronologically.2

Poems of his were included in the Wakan rōeishū.2

Unrestful Ghost

Sugawara no Michizane
The spirit of Michizane, Yoshitoshi.

After his death many bad things are said to have happened at court.123

A partial list of his attacks include the following. 903 torrential rains all year. 905 drought. 906 floods. 907 bad floods. 911 floods which engulfed villages. 912 large fire in Heiankyo. 913 death of his rival. 914 more Heiankyo fires. 915 chicken pox outbreak. 918 terrible floods. 922 whooping cough outbreak. 923 death of the crown prince aged 21. 925 death of late crown princes son. 930 lightning strike in the palace walls killing several officials.3

To try and end the string of bad omens he was posthumously givn the highest honors, with some of his deified names being Tenjin Sama, Karai Tenji, Kan Shōjō and Temmangu. He is now seen as a kami of literature.12 Many shrines to him include a reposed deer which people attributed with the power to cure disease. Students have the habit of rubbing these statues before exams in the hopes of improving their grades.1

The text known as the Gukansho theorized that the gods made his spirit reappear as an example of the repurcusions of false accusations.3

Footnotes

1. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.
2. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
3. Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2012) “Yurei Attack: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide” Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.
4. 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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