The Saionji Family (西園寺家)

The Saionji Family were court nobility descended from the Fujiwara clan. The Saionji Family was of the Fujiwara clan Fujiwara-hokke Kaninryu, and the Kakaku (family rank of court nobility) was the Seiga Family. The Toin Family and Imadegawa/Kikutei Family were branch families of the Saionji Family. There was a samurai family--the Saionji clan in Iyo-no-kuni--as a major offshoot that used the Saionji surname. The family crest is Hidari-mitsudomoe.

The progenitor of the Saionji Family was FUJIWARA no Michisue, the third son of FUJIWARA no Kimizane. Kintsune SAIONJI, who was a great grandson of Michisue, was confined by the imperial court during the Jokyu-no-ran War because, having married the niece of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, he was being watched over as a relative of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun); after the war, however, Kintsune gained the confidence of the shogunate, wielded the real power in the imperial court through holding the office of Kanto Moshitsugi, and rose to the position of Daijo daijin (grand minister of state), raising the social standing of the Saionji Family. The family name of Saionji comes from the name of the temple Kintsune built at Bettei, in Kyoto (Kitayama-so, Kadono-gun, Yamashiro-no-kuni). This hall is also called Kitayama-dono Palace, and the current Kinkaku-ji Temple was built by Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA after he was given this land by the Saionji Family.

Since the generation of Kintsune, the Saionji Family gained support from the Kamakura shogunate and came to power that surpassed the sekke throughout the Kamakura era. Sanekane SAIONJI approached Daikaku-ji through genealogy and made his daughters marry Kameyama ho-ou, the ex-emperor, or the Emperor Godaigo. However, since the generation of Sanekane's son Kinhira SAIONJI, the Saionji Family this time supported the Jimyoin-to genealogy when the Daikakuji-to genealogy started to keep a distance from the bakufu, thereby deepening the conflict with the Daikakuji-to genealogy. Thereafter, at the generation of Kinmune SAIONJI, the Saionji Family was dismissed from the post of Kanto Moshitsugi after the fall of the Kamakura shogunate. Kinmune harbored Yasuie HOJO, who was a remnant of the Hojo clan, the assassinated Emperor Godaigo, who had started Kenmu-no-shinsei; plotted a rebellion to back the ex-emperor Gofushimi of Jimyoin-to genealogy; and was arrested and executed, the plot having been exposed by the betrayal of Kinmune's younger brother, Kinshige SAIONJI. During the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Kinmune's son Sanetoshi SAIONJI served Hokucho (Japan) and rose to the post of minister of the right, whereby the family name was restored. During the Muromachi and Edo periods the Saionji Family was also known for having biwa (Japanese lute) players as a family business. In the early days of the Edo period, Saneharu SAIONJI welcomed Tokuhime, who was the eldest daughter of Kyumu NAGAOKA (also known as Tadataka HOSOKAWA), as the Midaidokoro (wife of a shogun or a highest-ranking nobleman) of the heir (later disinherited) of Tadaoki HOSOKAWA, and invited her to accept the post of Sadaijin (minister of the left); moreover, Kyumu NAGAOKA offered various forms of financial support to the Saionji family, including donating a property that yielded 600 koku of rice (Menko-shuroku).

At the end of the Edo period, Kinmochi SAIONJI was adopted from the Tokudaiji Family of the same kaninryu, worked as a politician after the Meiji Restoration, served as prime minister, and had great influence as a genro on the political scene during the Taisho and Showa eras. There is an anecdote that Kinmochi was not good at playing the biwa Japanese lute, which should have been the family business of the Saionji Family, and during Kinmochi's time in office as prime minister, the Emperor Meiji said out of mischief to Kinmochi, "For the first time in a long while, I would like to listen to biwa Japanese lute," and therefore he was forced to play the biwa Japanese lute in dire distress together with the officials of Utaryo in the Imperial Household Ministry.