The Hirata Family (平田家)

The Hirata family was a low ranked court official family called 'jigeke,' of the Nakahara clan line. The family served as a secretary 'suino' at the Bureau of Archives for generations. During the Edo period, the family was a low ranked court official family next to the Oshinokoji family that served as the head secretary 'kyokumu' at the Council of State Secretaries, and the Mibu family which served as the head secretary kanmu at the Senior Recorders of the Left.

Establishment of the Suino family

The founder of the Suino family was Motokuni (or Nagakane) HIRATA, a son of NAKAHARA no Sukeyasu (the younger brother of KIYOHARA no Yorinari, an adopted son of NAKAHARA no Moromoto). In a narrow meaning, the Suino family refers to the family line descended from the twelfth generation descendant of Motokuni, Motosada HIRATA who lived during the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States)--Motosada's son Motokiyo--Motokiyo's adopted son Mototada.

From the end of the Heian period, the heads of this family line were appointed secretary called 'suino' at the Bureau of Archives for generations--though sometimes intercepted by other families; from the latter half of the Muromachi period, the post became hereditary within this family line. The heads of the family line concurrently served as supervisor of the Palace Storehouse Bureau or supervisor of the Right Division of the Inner Palace Guards' Headquarters; besides, some also served as supervisor of the Royal Pages Office or clerk of the Senior Retired Emperor's Office. Suino' was originally in charge of taking managing money and materials exclusively for the Bureau of Archives; however, as the Imperial Court was losing authority and accordingly the court offices stopped their functions during the warring period, 'suino' began to provide the service for other imperial offices.

Rise of the Suino family

Mototada HIRATA (1580-1660) entered the service of the Bureau of Archives while quite young, and studied the precedents of customs and practices in the imperial court and their rules under Hidekata FUNABASHI. Emperor Goyozei was pleased with Mototada's ability and granted Mototada permission to enter the ex-emperor's palace--which was an extraordinary privilege for low ranked officials; then, Mototada was raised from Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade), the Lieutenant of the Headquarters of the Inner Palace Guards to Shoshiinojo (Senior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade), the Treasury Commissioner in the Office of the Treasury. Mototada's son, Kokai HIRATA, was a disciple of the Buddhists monk Tenkai (advisor to Ieyasu Tokugawa). Accordingly, the Hirata family formed a close relationship with the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). The Edo bakufu intended to control the Imperial Court by taking part in reestablishing the order of the Imperial Court; on the other hand, the Imperial Court desired to restore Court ceremonies--as intentions of both sides matched, restructuring of the lower ranking officials was carried out. It was decided that the head secretary of the Council of State Secretaries 'kyokumu,' the Oshinokoji family; the head secretary of the Senior Recorder of the Left 'kanmu,' the Mibu family; and a secretary of the Bureau of Archives 'suino,' the Hirata family were to lead the lower ranking officials in respective offices to carry out clerical work and miscellaneous business for the ceremonies under the command of commissioners and court officials (according to "Kinchu shosei shoshi to shoji"). Consequently, the lower ranking officials not only in the Bureau of Archives, but also in the Bureau of the Library, Water Office, Palace Storehouse Bureau were placed under the control of suino. Following the restructuring, the fief income of the Hirata family was raised to more than thirty-one koku and the Hirata family ranked third among the lower ranking court official families. Those treatment provoked antipathy of the Oshinokoji family and the Mibu family, both of which controlled over the lower ranking court officials, being called 'the two major offices' and 'the heads of the lower ranking officials' for a long period. Especially, the Mibu family reacted sharply because their former subordinate officials, including those of the Palace Storehouse Bureau, were taken over by the Hirata family, which culminated in the dispute between 'suino' Mototada HIRATA and 'kanmu' Takasuke MIBU in 1634. In the dispute, Takasuke MIBU stated that 'suino' carried out imperial offerings to shrines and 'suino' was present at the conference of the court nobles in those days, which violated 'the old rules,' and besides, 'suino' obtained too much income, wore formal attire and daily attire in the imperial court, and behaved equivalent to 'the two major offices' in spite of its humble origin, all of which disturbed the order. Against that opinion, Morotada stated that the task and treatment of 'suino' were under 'the new rules' made during the Keicho era, but were stipulated by Ieyasu TOKUGAWA for restoring the Imperial court; therefore, 'kyokumu' and 'kanmu' had to comply with it. Those including the regent Akiyoshi ICHIJO and the shogun's deputy for Kyoto, Shigemune ITAKURA examined the dispute, but the examination ended leaving the dispute unsettled when an illegal official rank selling of Takasuke MIBU was discovered and Takasuke was dismissed and expelled from the court.

The rise of the suino status and the expelling of Takasuke MIBU were, in fact, closely tied to each other. When the Imperial Court was losing authority during the Sengoku Period (Japan), a large number of the lower ranking officials lost jobs; when peace was restored under the control of Nobunaga ODA and then Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, the offices of 'kyokumu' and 'kanmu' recruited the lower ranking court officials due to shortages and formed a strong master-servant relationship with them even by using money in some cases. Consequently, the two offices treated the lower ranking court officials as virtually their own vassals. The Edo bakufu and the high ranking Imperial court officials might have been worried about such activities of the two offices and managed to suppress them by granting authority corresponding to those two offices to 'suino' in order to reestablish order in the Imperial court and streamline imperial court operations. Trusted by Emperor Goyozei and enjoying a relationship with the Edo shogunate through the Buddhist monk Tenkai, Mototada HIRATA was the right person to play the role, which led the rise of the Suino Hirata family.

Even after the order of the Imperial court was reestablished, the Suino Hirata family kept control over about sixty families of the lower ranking officials at the Bureau of Archives, and remained in charge of the administration of the Imperial ceremonies as 'kyokumu' and 'kanmu.'

Establishment and the end of the three major office system

The lower ranking officials during the Edo period were divided into three offices 'Kyokumu,' 'Kanmu,' and 'Suino' with a hierarchy of the class controlling over the lower ranking officials; the class consisting of the general lower ranking officials; and the class in charge of chore which could be attained by townsmen and farmers through purchasing stock.

The Suino Hirata family was in the controlling class equivalent to the Kyokumu Oshinokoji family and the Kanmu Mibu family; yet in the traditional court noble society, Suino was regarded as people of humble origin as stated by Takasuke MIBU. Kyokumu' and 'kanmu' were still recognized as 'the heads of the lower ranking officials' (according to "Shotoku kuge ran"), whereas the Hirata family was regarded as lower than the two families. According to 'Kanni Osadame' issued in 1750 by the Retired Emperor Sakuramachi and Kaneyoshi ICHIJO, the Oshinokoji family and the Mibu family were allowed to rise to Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank), but members of the Hirata family could be appointed Jushiinojo (Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade) at the age of seventy or older, being not allowed to rise to Shoshiinoge (Senior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade) unless special services were recognized in particular. That rule was taken over after the Meiji Restoration: The Oshinokoji family and the Mibu family were conferred the title of Viscount, but the Hirata family was treated as a family of samurai descendants like the general lower ranking officials.

In "Unjo benran taizen" in 1868, after descriptions of 'Kyokumu' and 'Kanmu,' a sentence was added meaning that the Oshinokoji family, the Mibu family, and the Hirata family were collectively called 'Sansai.'
When today's historians refer to the Imperial Court and the lower ranking officials during the Edo period in their research, they customarily adopt the definition of 'the heads of the lower ranking officials = Sansa,' instead of 'the heads of the low ranked officials = Kyokumu and Kanmu,' adopted in the traditional court noble directories, to place the actual conditions first.

Records of the Hirata family

From the end of the Heian period, the Hirata family served as secretary 'suino' at the Bureau of Archives for generations; the successive heads of the family recorded things including knowledge necessary for political affairs, public affairs, and ceremonies in a diary to hand down to their descendants. Fragments of the diaries of Motomori and Motosada HIRATA during the Sengoku Period exist, but only the diary of Mototada HIRATA of 1588 remains in complete form. After that date to 1868, the first year of the Meiji period, the diary remains almost in the original form, although intermittently lost; especially for a little less than 200 years after 1674, the diary mostly survived with only about ten years lost. Records remaining other than the diaries include: hereditary documents of ceremonies and precedents of customs and practices in the imperial court and their rules; drawings; and 32 volumes of 'Hiratake nikki burui' in which only the records 'bekki' on important ceremonies are compiled separately from the diaries. The Archives and Mausolea Department of the Imperial Household Agency keeps these records as 'Hiratake kiroku' after the records were presented to the Imperial Household Ministry in 1901.

Because of the official status of the Hirata family, the records contain few descriptions about important political events; instead, they contain details of the Imperial Court ceremonies, daily life in the imperial court, and the lower ranking official system during the Edo period, providing movements of the secretaries which cannot be seen in the court nobles' diaries and records.