Grachev M. "Kanjin" report by Fujiwara Atsumitsu ("Researches", 1135)

"Kanjin" report by Fujiwara Atsumitsu ("Researches", 1135)

by M.V. Grachev

This article is the first commentated Russian translation of the monument of political culture by Fujiwara Atsumitsu (1063-1144), representing critical point of view on state affairs and dangers.

Key words: Fujiwara Atsumitsu report, Heian period, emperor's court, bureaucracy, formal documentation, reports to throne.

With regards to the image of perfect service in ancient and medieval Japan serving for the benefit of the state guided by the call of duty is the major goal of any official and the first thing that any loyalist should do is to give advice to the emperor.

Serving a lord is a heavy burden. Taking decisions that can affect lives of many people is a great responsibility. Any action should be based upon reality in order to reach the desired result. Only dignified statesman can change in the course of time thus letting the load of responsibility go side by side with purity. Well-timed action is a sign of effectiveness of administrative apparatus and a guarantee of state prosperity. A statesman must act as a researcher who studies the world and seeks practical implementation of his ideals and when required he should put as much efforts as possible to guard the interests of the state; the one who previses of what has happened is an ordinary and indifferent servant; only that man who can previse of what is only about to happen is a worthy citizen; should somebody avoid advising he cannot be a true loyalist[1]. These basic principles were implanted into mind of the future statesman during school years both in private and state schools. "Shujing" (the Book of Documents), one of the important educational texts of Nara and Heian[2] periods, says: "the governor only gains true wisdom when he listens to advice"[3].

A report to a monarch (or ex-monarch) that contains a detailed account of an issue as well as outputs and suggestions of the reporter was considered as one of major politics instruments when the governor expostulates on any possible defects in the state management system. The routine practice of reporting was subject to a specific order full of formal procedures[4]. However in case of emergency when efficient measures had to be taken immediately it was the report data that had supreme significance. This was another side of the efficiency a monarch's servant showed as it was his right to decide whether information should be considered urgent. In this case a report, though it should have been made in a manner of high literature, was a confidential document not for public referring to the sphere of non-declaratory but real politics. Here we can trace out two different ways of participation of an official in state administration. On one hand there were highly standardized routine service duties with numerous conventions and on the other hand there was a possibility for independent assessment of the situation in urgent cases, when an official most relied on his professional skills in order to show his potential in the civil service.

Perfect reports were included into anthologies to become show-cases for court officials for a long time[5]. One of the most well-known reports was "Kanjin" (Researches) by Fujiwara Atsumitsu (1063-1144) included into anthology "Honcho Zoku Monzui" (a sequel to "The Literature Essence of Our Court") compiled by a famous author Fujiwara Suenaga by order of Emperor Konoe (1141-1155). The report by Fujiwara Atsumitsu, senior assistant of the head of ceremonial department was made in 1135 and addressed to a former Emperor Toba (took the vows and became insei in 1123, died in 1156). Fujiwara Atsumitsu complains about general moral decline and focuses on poor economy of the state. Various unusual phenomena and natural disasters were considered as supreme evidence of the upcoming "chaos".

Fujiwara Atsumitsu's report appeared in following historical background: historical sources describe numerous disasters that happened in Japan right before 1135.

In 1096 Japan suffered a severe earthquake measuring 8-8.5 on the Richter scale according to opinion of modern professionals. Terrible consequences of the earthquake are described in medieval documents[6]. At that time the officials clearly showed their readiness to bear responsibilities. They came to the Emperor's palace to do whatever they could. The diary of Fujiwara Munetada (1062-1141) describes numerous officials' actions aimed at investigation into the causes of the events and search of possible solutions such as research of celestial and earthly signs, rigorous investigation of similar cases in archives, praying to Shinto deities and performing Buddhist rituals, fortunetelling, reporting to the imperial name, etc[7].

In 1110, 1118-1119, 1127-1128, 1133-1135 Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku islands were affected by drought resulted in crop failure, hunger and epidemics. On a gloomy day an eyewitness of severe disasters that were happening in the capital area wrote: "Endless rain that started yesterday night was accompanied by a stormy wind. Many houses in the capital were destroyed. This year is marked by floods, horrible fires and blasting storms"[8].

Heavens showed ominous proof as well. Heavenly signs were believed to show significant events therefore people took them seriously and with caution. The diary of Fujiwara Yukinari (972-1028) describes an eclipse that caused panic among the officials as there was no forehanded reaction from a relevant state office[9]. In 1006 a rare astronomic event happened - a supernova was born: "at night a guest-star started to shine brightly in the Lupus constellation. Its dazzling light resembled a moving and shimmering Fiery planet. One could observe it on the southern side of the concave for several days and nights. Some people said: "Could have the main star of the Lupus constellation changed that shines so brightly"[10]. From the diary of Fujiwara Michinaga (966-1028) we know that the "supernova" was a reason of dither at the court of Ichijo (986-1011). After a month of occurrence of the supernova the private escort of the Emperor was still on high alert and the Emperor was extremely concerned[11]. The comet that appeared in the "eastern sector of the concave" in 1110 was considered to be a sign of the upcoming "flood and hunger"[12].

All the unusual signs mentioned above in the context of associative thinking and deep-rooted religious mind of medieval men led Fujiwara Atsumitsu to the conviction that a threat faces the state and the whole world may plunge into chaos as those natural disasters were believed to be omens of the upcoming misfortunes affecting the universe. A learned scholar feeling sure of his rightness took the initiative motivated by a debt and made a report based on the "research" of dreadful precedents and possible "world disturbing"[13]. Fujiwara Atsumitsu's beliefs made him "humbly" expect the Emperor to take the measures that could properly affect the universe and return the country to the "right order".

The full translation of Fujiwara Atsumitsu's report (1135) is published below. The translation is based on the text of "Kodai Seiji Shakai Shiso" (Political and Social Thought in the Ancient Period). Edited by Yamagishi Tokuhei et al., Tokyo: 2001, pp. 170-184 (original text: pp. 311-314).

For full text of the article and Russian translation of the literary monument see:
M.V. Grachev Fujiwara Atsumitsu's Report "Kanjin" ("Researches", 1135) // Japan 2013. Annual edition. - Мoscow, 2013. pp. 154-175.


[1] Shoku nihongi (Sequel to "The Chronicles of Japan", 797). Ed. Aoki Kazuo, Sasayama Haruo et al., Vol..1-5. Tokyo: 1989-1998. Tempyo hoji, 3-6-22, 759.; Seiji yoryaku (Brief Outline of Government, XI century). Vol. 1-2. Tokyo: 1981. P. 629

[2] The laws obliged to study "Shujing" for 200 days. Engishiki (Procedures of the Engi Era). Vol. 1-3. Tokyo 1998, Vol. 2, P. 523.

[3] Shangshu (The book of Documents). "Si Bu Cong Kan" Series. Shanghai: 1936. P. 9б; Honcho monzui (The Literature Essence of Our Court) / Ed. Osone Shosuke. Tokyo, 1992. P. 138.

[4] For full description of the report procedure with asynchronical precedents see "Saiguki" ("The Record of the Western Palace"). Tokyo: 1995. Pp. 393-401.

[5] All perfect report examples taken from the court anthology "Honcho monzui" (The Literature Essence of Our Court) see: Japan in the Heian Era (794-1185): anthology: compilation, translation from ancient Japanese, comments by M.V. Grachev, Moscow 2009, pp. 43-45, 68-94, 99-103.

[6] Yata Toshifumi. Chusei-no kyodai jishin (The Greatest Earthquakes in the Middle Ages). Tokyo: 2009. P. 30-45.

[7] Chuyuki (The Diary of the Minister of
the Right), vol. 1-6, Tokyo, 1934-1935, Kaho, 3-11-24, 3-11-25, 3-11-26, 3-11-27, 1096.

[8] Chuyuki , Chosho , 3-9-12, 1134

[9] Gonki (Diary of the Provisional Major Counselor). Vol. 1-2. Tokyo 1965. Tyoho, 2-3-1, 1000. The eclipse of 975 was shocking both for people and beasts ("birds gathered in groups and flew around in confusion and chaos"). The following measures were taken immediately: amnesty proclaimed; public readings of "The Benevolent Kings Wisdom Sutra"; all entertainments with sumo wrestling cancelled; sutra readings organized in seven major Buddhist temples, offerings made to deities in thirteen Shinto shrines, the exiled sent back to native lands. Nihon kiryaku (Short Report on Japan). Tokyo: 1995. Ten'en, 3-7-1, 3-8-27, 975.

[10] Meigetsuki (Record of the Clear Moon). V. 1-3. Tokyo. 987. Kanko, 3-4-2, 1006

[11] Mido kampakuki . V. 1-3. Tokyo: 1952-1954. Kanko, 3-5-10, 3-5-11, 1006.

[12] More information on the fear of the unknown appeared after the comet occurred at the court of the Emperor Toba (1107-1123) and transferred from generation to generation can be found in Nakayama Tadachika's diary (1131-1195) Sankaiki (Diary of the Mountain Spirit). Tokyo: 1932. Tisho, 2-1-7, 1178

[13] Brightest example: Shoku nihongi, Yoro, 3-2-17, 721. Also see "Precepts" by Fujiwara Morosuke (908-960). Japan in the Heian Era. P. 107.