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CHAPTER 4 Historical Tales The Fujiwara Regency A new type of historicalwriting—Historical Tales—emerged duringthe long period of the Fujiwara Regency. The turning-point between the ancient imperial period and the classical era was the assumption by Fujiwara Yoshifusa (804-872) in 858of the position of Regent (Sessho). There had been other regencies in Japanese history; two aspects of Yoshifusa's regency made it distinctive. First, the Fujiwara family were not members of the immediate imperial family. When the head of an aristocratic family took the position of Regent, it signalled the end of the line of vigorous Emperors. After Yoshifusa, the Fujiwara Regents solidified their control over the Emperors by making the position permanent and hereditary in their family. For generations they occupied the posts ofRegents and Chancellor (Kanpaku) undisputed and unchallenged, and indeed the Regency lasted for more than a millennium, as a striking example of the persistence ofpolitical institutions inJapan after the loss oftheir function. The last Regent was Nijo Tadataka, a memberof a recognized branch family of the Fujiwara, who was Chancellor from the 12th month of 1863to the first month of 1867, and Regent from the first to the 12th month, 1867. Historians of the Heian period, such as the author of Eiga Monogatari (A Tale of Flowering Fortunes) and Okagami (The Great Mirror)inevitably saw the Fujiwara as possessing honour, power, and glory, and in their works they responded with enthusiasm to the success of the Fujiwara clan. Notes to Chapter 4 are found on page 144. 42 HISTORICAL TALES 43 Second, Fujiwara Yoshifusa was the grandfather of Emperor Seiwa. His rise to power was the result of assiduous and unswerving work at marriage politics by generations of the family, and this became the distinguishing feature of the period of the Fujiwara Regency. They worked to arrange marriages and inheritances to ensure that the incumbent uponthe throne was under the power of strong Fujiwarafamily ties. Characteristically the position of Regent was held by the maternal uncle or grandfatherof the Emperor. In addition the Fujiwaracoldly sought to prevent the Emperor from attaining maturityand experience, and hence a sense of independence. Early abdication of Emperors became common after the tenth century, seldom by their own choice. The Fujiwara Regency was also based on a changing administrative and economic system. The ancient imperial government consisted of a central government and a network of 66 provinces, ruled by Provincial Governors appointed in rotation by the capital. The rotation and discipline of Provincial Governors fell into decline, however, and in the tenth and eleventh centuries Provincial Governors tended to view the provinces as territories belonging to their own families. As a consequence, the flow oftax revenue from the provinces to the capital began to dry up. Landholding also ceased to function according to the design of the imperial state. Originallythe state had assumed theoretical ownershipof all land and tried to regulate it through a system of periodic reallocation. Its intention was to reallocate land holdings every six years, but this proved impossible. In 834 the reallocation period was changed to 12-year intervals; and then the entire reallocation scheme was abandoned in the early tenth century. In any case, it was never intended to apply to all the agricultural land of the country: aristocratic families and religious institutions were permitted to hold land exempt from reallocation . These holdings became the core of ever-expanding private estates (shoen), providing wealth and independence for the great aristocratic houses. Everyone participated in the growing trend towards private estates, including the imperial house itself. In principle the imperial house remained tied to the imperial state based upon the landholding and taxation systems described in ancient law, but in practice it was obliged tojoin in the competition for private estates, in order to obtain income. Thus by the eleventh century, circumstances forced even the imperial family to work against the principles upon which the ancient imperial state had been founded. The cumulative change over the centuries was great. These trends could not be described adequately by the style ofhistorical writingfound in the Six National Histories. The Six National Histories started as national histories, and Nihon Shoki istruly such, a work of considerable conceptual achievement, describingthe origins and development of the 44 POLITICAL THOUGHTIN JAPANESE HISTORICAL WRITING nation and the state. As we have seen, the scope of the Six National Histories gradually narrowed, becoming primarily an account of the public acts of Emperors and government officials. Possibly one reason for the narrowing of...


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