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The Clear Mirror
A Chronicle of the Japanese Court During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333)
By George W. Perkins
STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1998 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
Through Tangled Thickets
Time span: 1180 — 1218.
Main subject: Biography of Emperor Go-Toba from birth to age 38: accession (1183), assumption of authority after death of Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa (1192), abdication and establishment of chancellery (1198), literary activity.
Retired emperors with chancelleries (in-no-cho):
Go-Shirakawa. Head of the imperial family until his death in 1192. Insei 1158 — 1192, with a break from 5 xi 1179 to 1181, following a coup by Taira Kiyomori. (Between 21 ii 1180 and 14 i 1181, Retired Emperor Takakura presided over a ten-month-long nominal chancellery, with real power exercised by Kiyomori.)
Go-Toba (1198 — 1221). Insei ended by shogunate.
Other retired emperors:
Takakura (1180 until his death in 1181). Called New Retired Emperor.
Tsuchimikado (1210 until his death in 1231).
Antoku (1180 — 1183). Son of Emperor Takakura and Kenreimon-in.
Go-Toba (1183 — 1198). Son of Emperor Takakura and Shichijoin.
Tsuchimikado (1198 — 1210). Son of Go-Toba and Shomeimon-in.
Juntoku (1210 — 1221). Son of Go-Toba and Shumeimon-in.
Gishumon-in. Daughter of Kanezane; empress of Go-Toba.
Kenreimon-in. Daughter of Kiyomori; empress of Takakura; mother of Antoku.
Shichijo-in. Mother of Emperor Go-Toba.
Shomeimon-in. Mother of Tsuchimikado.
Shumeimon-in. Mother of Juntoku.
Motomichi, Fujiwara (Konoe) (1180 — 1183, 1184 — 1186,and 1198 — 1202).
Moroie, Fujiwara (1183 — 1184).
Kanezane, Fujiwara (Kujo) (1186 — 1191).
Yoshitsune, Fujiwara (Kujo) (1202 — 1206).
Iezane, Fujiwara (Konoe) (1206 on).
Hideyoshi, Ietaka, Jien, Kunaikyo, Masatsune, Teika, Yoshitsune.
The 82nd sovereign after the founding of the imperial line was Emperor Go-Toba, whose personal name was Takanari. He was Retired Emperor Takakura's fourth son. His mother was Shichijo-in, a daughter of Nobutaka, the master of the palace repairs office. Shichijo-in seems to have been something of a secret imperial favorite during Emperor Takakura's reign (a time when she served the empress as Lady Hyoe-nokami), for the future emperor was born to her on the fifteenth of the seventh month in the fourth year of Jisho . Around the spring of that same year, Emperor Takakura abdicated in favor of the three-year-old son of his empress, Kenreimon-in, and the consequent ascendancy of the Heike clan prevented the younger prince from receiving any special attention. Then the former emperor died on the fourteenth of the first month of the following year, which made it seem even less likely that the boy might succeed to the throne.
After the Heike carried off the new emperor, Antoku, to wander distant western seas, Priestly Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa summoned his remaining grandsons. It was in his mind to elevate the oldest, the Third Prince, to the imperial dignity, but the Third Prince took a dislike to him and burst into tears. He dismissed the child in a huff and called for the Fourth Prince, who went straight to his arms and settled happily onto his knee. "This is my real grandson," he said. "He looks just the way his father did when he was a little boy. He's delightful." He placed the four-year-old prince on the throne on the twentieth of the eighth month in the second year of Juei .
The Sacred Mirror, the Bead Strand, and the Sword are always transmitted to a new emperor when his predecessor steps down, but now, for the first time, the three treasures were missing, carried off to Tsukushi by Emperor Antoku. It was an extraordinary accession. (The Mirror and the Bead Strand were returned later. Most regrettably, the Sword sank with Emperor Antoku when he entered the sea.)
Emperor Go-Toba's accession audience took place on the 28th day of the seventh month in the first year of Genryaku . The ceremonies seem to have been performed in the customary manner. It is awesome to imagine the feelings of his older brother, the former emperor, and of all the others, high and low, when the news reached the Heike, who were still wandering in Tsukushi.
The imperial purification was held on the 25th of the tenth month in that same year, and the great thanksgiving festival followed on the 18th of the eleventh month. This poem by Middle Counselor Kanemitsu was inscribed on a folding screen in the Hall of the West. (I think the subject was a place in Tamba Province called Nagata Village.)
kamiyo yori kyo no tame to ya
Have they been waiting since the age
of the gods
yatsukaho ni nagata no ine no shinai for today's events — Nagata's long, rich
someken rice heads, bent low with ripening grain?
The young sovereign was very grown up and bright, and the retired emperor was well pleased with him.
The first reading took place on the first day of the twelfth month in the second year of Bunji , when His Majesty was seven. A junior consort entered the palace in the sixth year of the same era. A daughter of Tsukinowa Chancellor Kanezane, she progressed to the status of empress and later came to be styled Gishumon-in. Her only child was Shunkamon-in.
The emperor performed the capping ceremony on the third of the first month in the first year of Kenkyu , when he was eleven. He began to rule alone after the death of Priestly Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa, which occurred on the thirteenth of the third month in the third year of the same era. No billows rose on the seas in the four directions; no winds disturbed the branches. The realm was peaceful; the populace was tranquil. The waves of the sovereign's encompassing mercy overflowed the confines of our Isles of Rich Harvests; his benevolence was deeper than the shadows on Mt. Tsukuba. Because he was skilled in every pursuit, many men of talent appeared in the provinces, and the age was in no way inferior to earlier times.
His Majesty displayed particular talent as a poet. People quoted any number of his verses, including this noble composition, which was a clear indication of his concern for proper government [SKKS 1635]:
okuyama no odoro no shita o
Through tangled thickets deep, deep in
fumiwakete michi aru yo zo to the mountain heart I would push my way,
hito ni shirasen that I might show to others, "Even there
lies the right path."
In the first month of the ninth year of Kenkyu , the emperor ceded the throne to his oldest son, who had just turned four. He had reigned for fifteen years. He was barely twenty, not yet of an age to retire, but he may have preferred the freedom of movement and the peace and quiet of a former sovereign's life to the ever-present constraints imposed on a reigning emperor. Happily, he continued to govern as before.
The newly retired sovereign's customary residences were the Toba and Shirakawa mansions, both of which he had refurbished. He also built an indescribably elegant villa at Minase, where, during frequent visits, he celebrated spring blossoms and autumn leaves with entertainments so elaborate that they became the talk of society. The view of the distant Minase River from the villa was especially striking. The retired emperor composed these lines for a Chinese-Japanese poetry competition held around the Genkyu era [1204 — 1205]:
miwataseba yamamoto kasumu
The Minase River, flowing where haze
minasegawa yube wa aki to nani dims the base of the distant hills! Why
omoikemu did I think of autumn as the time for
At the villa, there were beautiful long thatched galleries, designed with exquisite taste. The arrangement of the rocks where the artificial waterfall cascaded from the hill in front, and the small garden pines, intermingled with mossy forest patriarchs, made the dwelling seem a veritable immortal's grotto, its occupant destined to flourish for a thousand years.
The retired emperor summoned a large party of gentlemen for a musical entertainment when the garden was first laid out, and Middle Counselor Teika, who was still a minor official at the time, presented two poems after the end of the festivities:
arihekemu moto no chitose ni
Still young despite the thousand years they
furi mo sede waga kimi chigiru must have seen, the pines on the peak
chiyo no wakamatsu pledge to live a thousand more, together
with His Majesty.
kimi ga yo ni sekiiruru niwa o In our sovereign's reign, a thousand years
yuku mizu no iwa kosu kazu seem presaged by countless droplets
wa chiyo mo miekeri spraying where the garden stream follows its
The personal name of the new ruler, Emperor Tsuchimikado, was Tamehito. His mother, the daughter of Dharma Seal Noen, gave birth to him while she was a court attendant known as Lady Saisho. She was later adopted by Palace Minister Michichika, and in the end came to be called Shomeimonin. Michichika was actually her stepfather, but he treated her like his own child after she was blessed with an imperial prince. He reared the prince in his Tsuchimikado Mansion.
Emperor Tsuchimikado's accession audience took place on the third of the third month in the ninth year of Kenkyu , his purification on the 27th of the tenth month, and the customary great thanksgiving festival in the eleventh month. His capping ceremony was celebrated on the third of the first month in the second year of Genkyu . He was a handsome, appealing lad. His character was not quite as firm as his father's, but he showed deep sympathy for the feelings of others.
The new regent, Motomichi, had served Emperor Go-Toba in the same capacity. He was succeeded later by the Go-Kyogoku Lord, Yoshitsune, who held the post for a long time. Yoshitsune was a veritable sage of poetry, and Retired Emperor Go-Toba shared his interest in the art and encouraged its practice. An anthology of verse, Senzaishu [Collection for a Thousand Years], had been compiled during the Bunji era [1185 — 1189], but none of His Majesty's compositions had been included, probably because he was still a child at the time. Now, during this new reign, the Retired Emperor commissioned a new anthology. He instructed Commander of the Gate Guards of the Left Michitomo (Palace Minister Michichika's second son), Ariie of third rank, Middle Captain Teika, Ietaka, Masatsune, and others to collect a wide variety of verses, composed from the earliest times to the present, and then he personally joined them in sifting and choosing among their individual preliminary selections, a most unusual and interesting procedure. His Lordship the regent, whom I have just mentioned, assisted with the project.
Here is a history of the imperial anthologies, beginning with Man'yoshu]Collection for a Myriad Ages], which was commissioned from the Tachibana Minister of the Right in antiquity, during a Nara emperor's reign.
Kokinshu [Collection of Early and Modern Poetry] was compiled by Tomonori, Tsurayuki, Mitsune, and Tadamine during the reign of the saintly Engi Emperor.
I think I have heard that the five poets of the Pear Court were instructed to compile Gosenshu [Later Collection] after the Ichijo Regent, Lord Kentoku, was appointed head of the poetry office during the reign of the wise Tenryaku sovereign, while he was still a chamberlain-lesser captain. Or am I mistaken about that?
Later, there was Shuishu [Collection of Gleanings] in ten books, compiled by Priestly Retired Emperor Kazan himself.
Then Goshuishu [Later Collection of Gleanings] was commissioned from Civil Affairs Minister Michitoshi during the reign of Emperor Shirakawa.
The selections for Shikashu [Collection of Verbal Flowers], compiled by order of Retired Emperor Sutoku, were made by Akisuke.
After Emperor Shirakawa abdicated, he ordered Toshiyori to compile another anthology, Kin'yoshu [Collection of Golden Leaves]. Displeased because Prince Sukehito was identified by his personal name, he rejected the work when it was first submitted, and he also found something amiss when it was resubmitted. Only on the third trial did it meet with his approval. That was an unusual case, because the judgment of the compilers had usually been accepted without question.
It was splendid indeed that Retired Emperor Go-Toba should have taken a personal part in the process of selection.
Before the compilation of the new anthology, the retired emperor held a poetry contest in 1,500 rounds. The best authors were chosen as participants; the foremost practitioners of the art were named as judges. His Majesty included himself among the judges, but refrained from committing his criticisms to writing, remarking modestly that he could not hope to function at the same high level as the others, and merely indicating which poems he considered superior, and which inferior. It was an impressively graceful way of handling things.
It may be true that when a man of stature masters an accomplishment, his inferiors will wish to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps that is why there were so many excellent poets of both sexes in Retired Emperor GoToba's day. One of them was a certain Lady Kunaikyo. A descendant of Emperor Murakami through Minister of the Left Toshifusa, she belonged to a house that had once enjoyed great prestige, but her father had died as a mere gentleman of fourth rank after holding a succession of minor offices. Although she was very young, she wrote poetry of almost unfathomable depth — quite an extraordinary thing. Before the contest in 1,500 rounds, the retired emperor said to her, "The other participants in this competition are all famous and experienced poets. You may not quite fit into the same category yet, but I thought it wouldn't do any harm to include you. Try your best to compose verses that will be a credit to me." The blush that suffused the lady's face and the tears that filled her eyes were moving evidence of her devotion to the art. Among the 100 poems she submitted, each one of special interest, there was this [SKKS 76]:
usuku koki nobe no midori no Pale here, deeper there — the green of
wakakusa ni ato made miyuru the young grasses on the wild meadow
yuki no muragie where can be seen the traces of the
snow's uneven melt.
Who would have expected a novice to think of gauging the rate of last winter's snow melt by the color of the grasses? If she had lived to mature years, she would have "moved the invisible spirits and gods." We can only regret her premature death.
The anthology of which I have been speaking was called Shinkokinshu [New Collection of Early and Modern Poetry]. On the 26th of the third month in the second year of Genkyu , Retired Emperor Go-Toba held a banquet at the Kasuga Hall to mark its completion — an affair that created a great stir. The former sovereign composed this poem in allusion to Kokinshu, the collection compiled in the Engi era [901 — 922]:
isonokami furuki o ima ni
Again we follow the old pattern
narabekoshi mukashi no ato o transmitted from the ancient age when
mata tazunetsutsu songs of the past were placed alongside
those of the day.
shikishima ya yamato koto no ha Well have they been polished — the
umi ni shite hiroishi tama wa precious jewels gathered from the vast
migakarenikeri ocean of poetry composed in this land
The other guests seem to have presented poems by turns, but it would be too much trouble to repeat them all.
Uneventful days passed until the second year of Jogen . Then, on the 25th of the twelfth month, there was a coming-of-age ceremony for Retired Emperor Go-Toba's second son, a prince born of Shumeimon-in.
The retired emperor doted on the boy. He provided him with incomparable costumes and furniture, paid close attention to his upbringing, and finally put him on the throne, in the eleventh month of the fourth year of the same era .
Having just turned sixteen, Emperor Tsuchimikado ought to have been able to look forward to many prosperous years. It was a terrible blow to be deposed. Back in the Eiji era , Emperor Sutoku had not wanted to step down when Priestly Retired Emperor Toba made him abdicate in favor of Emperor Konoe. He had sent pleading messages to the priestly retired emperor until the very night of his successor's elevation, and had turned over the imperial regalia with great reluctance, nursing an anger that led ultimately to the Hogen Disturbance. But Emperor Tsuchimikado's nature was noble and magnanimous. Granted that he could scarcely have been happy about the situation, he never let his feelings show. People thought he had been ill treated, and his mother, Shomeimon-in, was heartbroken.
In the twelfth month of that year, the former emperor Tsuchimikado was given the honorific title of retired emperor. He was called the new retired emperor. Go-Toba continued to control the government as senior retired emperor.
Excerpted from The Clear Mirror by George W. Perkins. Copyright © 1998 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of ContentsAbbreviations Introduction The Clear Mirror Preface 1. Through tangled thickets 2. The new island guard 3. Mourning attire 4. Three sacred mountains 5. Snow on the central plain 6. Descending clouds 7. Snow on the Northern plain 8. Asuka river 9. Pillow of grass 10. Waves of longevity 11. Ornamental combs 12. Plovers by the bay 13. The hills of Autumn 14. A farewell to Spring 15. Wintry showers 16. Sarayama in Kume 17. The dayflower Appendix Notes Bibliography Index.