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Go west : Dazaifu and Sugawara no Michizane

Date Published: Last Update:2015/04/10 Others ,

Michizane with his poem

- Michizane by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1885) -
On the top right, his poem, which was written when he was eleven, is shown.
Illustration from GATAG

Sugawara no Michizane is the person who is worshipped as god of study at the shrine, “Dazaifu Tenman-guu”.
“Sugawara” is the family name and “Michizane” is the first name.

He is also well-known as one of the Big Three Onryou (vengeful spirit) in Japan, along with Taira no Masakado and Emperor Sutoku.

Life of Sugawara no Michizane

He was born into an academic family in 845 and known as a child prodigy.
It is said that he composed a “waka”, Japanese style poem at the age of five.

Michizane's poem 2

The poem with 5-7-5-7-7 morae.
"Ako" is Michizane's childhood name.

Oh, what beautiful
red, plum blossoms!
On my face,
I even want to wear them.

When he was eleven, he wrote a jueju style poem, consisting of four lines with five Kanji characters each.
(In Japanese, “jueju” is “zekku”.
And “gogon-zekku” is the name for the poem of four lines with twenty Kanji characters in total.)
This is the poem.

Michizane's poem 1

I can get the meaning from the characters, but not sure how to read the poem.

Title: “Looking at Japanese plum blossoms in a moon-lit night”
The moonlight are bright like snow in sunshine.
The plum blossoms look like shining stars.
How wonderful it is, as the golden mirror (moon) is moving,
for the garden to be filled with scent of plum blossoms.

Michizane passed exams to get promoted, and rapidly worked his way up.
After he served important posts in the court, he was designated as “U-daizin” in 899.

“U-daijin” literally means “Right Minister”.
It was the third top of “Daijyou-kan” next to “Daijyou-daijin” and “Sa-daijin” (“Left Minister”).
“Daijyou-kan” was the highest govenment body in the old times.

In 900, there was a party in “Seiryou-den”, the pavillion used as the Emperor’s habitual residence.
Michizane wrote a poem entitled as “Shuushi” (lit. “Thinking in autumn”) there, and Emperor Daigo was quite impressed by it.
The emperor took off one of his clothes and gave it to Michizane.
This moment is probably the height of his life.

At that time, there was a very powerful family, the Fujiwara.
Michizane was a pain in the neck for the family and many people felt jealous of him because they thought he went too far as a person from an academic family.
In the same year as the party was held, Michizane was advised to retire by a scholar, Miyoshi Kiyokuki (“Miyoshi” is the family name), but he refused.

Then in the following year, he was suddenly relegated to Dazaifu on the charge of an alleged conspiracy against the emperor.
The false appeal was made by “Sa-daijin”, Fujiwara no Tokihira.

During his miserable days in Dazaifu, he was thought to have prayed to god for peace and prosperity of the nation under the emperor as well as for the time to come when his name would be cleared, but he surely held a grudge against people who had framed him.
He left poems filled with negative feelings like sorrow or anger.

In 903, about two years after he spent moaning his severe fate in Dazaifu, he passed away.
Now, “Dazaifu Tenman-guu” is on the location where Michizane’s body is believed to have been buried.

Dazaifu 04

- "Dazaifu Tenman-guu" with plum trees -


There are several mysterious legends around him.
I’m going to write about them in the next post.


Related posts:
#Dazaifu (1: General Info)
(3: Michizane – legends)
(4: Michizane – vengeance)
(5: Michizane – Tenman-guu)
(6: Dazaifu – to the main shrine)
(7: Dazaifu – the main shrine and around)
(8: Dazaifu – Kyushu National Museum)

#Hakata (1: General Info)
(2: Moomin Cafe)
(3: Juventus Lounge)
(4: Kushida Shrine and others)

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A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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