Sugawara Michizane

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What We Face in the Islands A Word from Our Ancestors

Japanese political figure and scholar of Chinese literature of the Heian period, who was later deified as Tenjin, the patron of scholarship and literature.

Sugawara was born into a family of scholars, and as a boy he began studying the Chinese classics. After passing the civil-service examination in 870 he entered the Japanese court as a scholar and poet. In 886 he was appointed governor of Sanuki Province (modern Kagawa prefecture) on the island of Shikoku.

Sugawara returned to Kyoto in 890. He was promoted to a succession of important posts by the emperor Uda, who sought to use him to counterbalance the influence of the powerful Fujiwara family. By 899 he was made minister of the right (udaijin), the second most important ministerial position, by Uda's son, the emperor Daigo. Daigo, however, favored the Fujiwara, and in 901 Fujiwara Tokihira, Sugawara's rival, convinced the emperor that Sugawara was plotting treason. Sugawara was banished from the capital by being appointed to an administrative post on the island of Kyushu.

Following Sugawara's death there two years later, a series of calamities--storms, fires, and violent deaths--were attributed to his vengeful spirit. To placate the spirit, Sugawara was posthumously reinstated to high rank and later was deified. His writings include a history of Japan and two volumes of Chinese poetry.

A major festival honoring Tenjin is held annually on July 25 at the Temman Shrine in Osaka. There are also numerous local shrines throughout Japan at which schoolchildren buy amulets for luck during the period of school entrance examinations in the spring.

Copyright © 1994-1998 Encyclop¾dia Britannica, Inc.


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