The Fujiwara family 藤原

  • Published on : 21/12/2018
  • by : S.R.
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A clan of influence

In Japanese history, great Japanese leaders are best known among emperors or shoguns (military leaders). However, there was another form of supreme power in ancient Japan, that of regents. And the family at work was that of the Fujiwara.

The great ancestor: Nakatomi no Kamatari


The Fujiwara family took off during the Asuka period (~mid- 5th century-710) during which the founding ancestor Nakatomi no Kamatari - who would later obtain the name "Fujiwara" - developed, together with the crown prince Naka no Ôe and Emperor Kôtoku the reform of Taika. This reform, which followed the victory against the Soga clan, institutionalized the centralization of the country on the model of neighboring Tang China. As a result of his role, Kamatari was awarded the "kabane" (name of titles and ranks at court) of Fujiwara and permanently installed his family in the immediate orbit of power.

Stamp depicting Fujiwara no Kamatari


A marriage strategy of power


After Nakatomi, the Fujiwara family multiplied the marriages between the women of the clan and the members of the imperial dynasty, thus allowing a rapprochement by blood and strengthening their status. During the Heian period (794-1185) they relied on these family ties to take the post of regent, "sesshô", and a sign of their power instituted the post of regent for adult emperors: the "kanpaku". Created for the first time in 884 for Fujiwara no Mototsune, it symbolized the increasing subjection of the emperors to the Fujiwara. In the long run, the two titles merged to give the name "sekkan", a contraction of the two titles. At the height of their power, a regent could continue to exercise command despite the change of emperor, in a way representing the true continuity of the family.


Read also: The titles of rulers in the history of Japan

Painting of Fujiwara Michinaga, by Kikuchi Yôsai


A slow decline


The Fujiwara were omnipotent in the 10th and 11th centuries, notably with the central figure of Fujiwara no Michinaga, who was the grandfather of three emperors. The first hitch in this unchallenged domination came with Emperor Go-Sanjo (1034-1073), the first emperor in 170 years not to have a Fujiwara mother, and who during his 5-year reign partially regenerated the imperial house. His son Shirakawa (1053-1129) extended this desire for independence, and, through the institution of the retired emperor, took over power from the Fujiwara regents. The latter lost control after the Gempei War (1180-1185) and the creation of the bakufu (military government) of Kamakura.

Portrait of Minomoto no Yorimoto


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