Fujiwara no Motonaga (藤原元命)

FUJIWARA no Motonaga (藤原 元命, date of birth and death unknown) was a middle-ranking government official during the mid Heian period. FUJIWARA no Uona line of the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan. His father was FUJIWARA no Tsuneomi. His mother was the daughter of 源致. Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade).

Summary

At that time, a zuryo (provincial governor), who was a Kokushi hittokan (the head of the provincial governors), had too much power in Japan's local administration, causing frequent appeals and armed conflicts against zuryo by farmers, which was called "Kokushi kasei joso." In 988, an appeal was made in Owari Province as well, and its petition submitted to Daijokan (Grand Council of State) called 'Owari no kuni (Owari Province) Gunji (a local government official) Hyakusho (farmers) ra no Gebumi (letter)' or 'Owari no kuni moshibumi' (Petition for Owari Province) became a famous historical document representing the detail of the Kokushi kasei joso. FUJIWARA no Motonaga, who was then the Governor of Owari Province and was accused of his illegality by the petition, was dismissed as the Provincial Governor at the Jimoku (ceremony for appointing officials) in 989. Nonetheless, he remained in the bureaucratic circle such as serving as a substitute for Shokeiben (Top leader) at the Yoshida Festival in 995, and his son Yorikata became Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade), Governor of Iwami Province and Yorikata's son Yorinari became Jugoinojo (Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade), Governor of Echizen Province, continuing a family of zuryo.

Public Estimation

Owari no kuni Gunji Hyakusho ra no Gebumi' bolstered Motonaga's image as emblematic of a zuryo severely extorting farmers based upon their own greed. His reputation in narratives told in later generations was quite bad as well.
In a book named 'Jizo Reigenki,' it was written that he 'became a beggar at the gate of To-ji Temple as he ran out of a means of livelihood, ending up dying from hunger.'
Also, in the origin of Nyoi-ji Temple on Mt. Zugo in Owari Province, it was written that Motonaga was unable to cross a creek called Jigokusawa (the hell creek) due to the ice over it, so he used a nearby sotaba (a tall, narrow wooden tablet set up behind a grave for the repose of the dead) as a bridge. Although Jizo Bosatsu (the guardian deity mainly for children) was carved at the surface of the sotoba, Motonaga and his retainers ignored it and tread over it. Afterwards Motonaga and his retainers were about to die from severe diseases, but Jizo Bosatsu saved their lives.
However, folklore goes on to say, 'Motonaga Ason (second highest of the eight hereditary titles) was detested by the local people because he would not stop his wrongdoings until his death, thus (his retainer) Tameie felt horrendous about Motonaga's sins and constructed a hexagonal, two-story Buddhist temple...'

In those days, actually, there were many similar Kokushi kasei joso, but 'Owari no kuni Gunji Hyakusho ra no Gebumi' accused Motonaga as becoming one of the most famous, since it was the only one to record the whole content of the petition. Also, the petition provides precious material to show how provincial governors controlled their assigned provinces, and the situations of those provinces at that time. For example, in article 19 'Because there were no boats to transport at Umatsu (馬津)..' and in article 25 'Motonaga collects 12,000 bundles of rice and more for clothing of kodokushi (購読師) and for an annual offering to monks and nuns' exactly describe the works kokushi should do as la ocal administrator.. Furthermore, he was also accused of failing to provide social welfare services such as distributing food to save struggling people suffering from starvation or fire disasters, all of which were the responsibilities of kokuga (provincial government offices), and part of which had to be compensated by gunji and others using their personal assets.

However, the petition is the only one left today, and there is no other evidence to show how Motonaga refuted those appeals, thus the actual situation at that time remains unknown. According to a diary of a Court noble, only one article among 31 articles of the petition was judged to be illegal.

It was a turning point in 'the early period of the dynastic polity,' when the local administration did not function anymore in the traditional framework of the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based upon the ritsuryo code). Hyakusho' (peasants) at that time were not actual 'farmers,' but were gunji and Tato fumyo (cultivator/tax manager) who undertook cultivation of 'myo' (rice field lots in charge of a nominal holder) to conduct large-scale management of several industries including agriculture, to accumulate their profits.
They were, so to speak, an emerging force of 'agricultural managers.'
Or, they could be called 'operators' or 'taxpayers,' who were not limited to the field of agriculture. Farmers' worked under them. Meanwhile, the Imperial Court granted greater discretionary power to kokushu (or 'zuryo', the head of the provincial governors) beyond the bounds of the traditional Ritsuryo system, aiming to invigorate provincial agriculture and industries, and also to increase tax revenues. In the era of Emperor Kazan when Motonaga became the Governor of Owari Province, FUJIWARA no Koreshige, Motonaga's nephew (or uncle, according to one theory), and FUJIWARA no Yoshichika also advanced those policies.

Owari Province at the time of Motonaga was also exposed to those conflicts of interest, and Motonaga was not the only one who confronted that situation. 14 years earlier, in 974, indigenous people of Owari Province also denounced their kokushi (kokushu) resulting in his resignation, and 20 years later, in 1008, and also in 1016, they again appealed, although the results remain unknown. In the case of Kokushi kasei joso in Kaga Province happened in 1012, although the governor tried to confront the appeal preparing evidence and witnesses for rebutment, the trial was set aside because the witnesses, the indigenous persons of Kaga Province, did not appear in court.

The word "kokushi kasei" might present an image of one-sided deprivation by kokushi tormenting weak farmers, but in fact, not only farmers sometimes appealed to the court, but also there was even a case where more than a dozen mounted horsemen of the Tanba indigenous people attacked and burned the residence of Governor of Tanba Province FUJIWARA no Sukenari at Nakagomon, Kyoto in December 1023 (Shoyuki (The Diary of FUJIWARA no Sanesuke)).

While Motonaga got off without litigation because Owari Province was near the capital Kyoto that provided an easier access to law specialists, if a similar conflict had happened in the Kanto region between kokushi and people in his province (fumyo - tiller of public rice fields) managers, gunji, and zaichokanjin - the local officials), it would have amounted to a war. Incidents such as the War of Tengyo by TAIRA no Masakado, an episode in "Konjaku Monogatari Shu" (The Tale of Times Now Past) Volume 25 Section 9 'a story of MINAMOTO no Yorinobu no Asomi attacking TAIRA no Tadatsune,' and TAIRA no Tadatsune War, which exhausted the Kanto region for years, all represented conflicts between kokushi and the indigenous people, indicating that 'peasants' were not just mere farmers. Today's established theory appreciates 'Owari no kuni Gunji Hyakusho ra no Gebumi' against Motonaga during that historical context.

Meanwhile, one theory holds that FUJIWARA no Koreshige, Motonaga's nephew (or uncle, according to one theory) performed well as a close associate to Emperor Kazan who ascended the throne in 984, and was deeply involved in developing many policies the emperor vigorously issued. The policies issued by Emperor Kazan established a new system 'Kazan shinsei' (new laws issued by Emperor Kazan) with 'innovative contents' including manor regulation acts, a ban on armaments, a price control ordinance, reform of the local administration, and so on. This system conflicted with gunji and Tato fumyo at that time, who had links with Sekkan-ke (the families which produced the Regent and the Chief Adviser to the Emperor) and influential temples and shrines ("Engu oshinke," a general term for imperial families and nobles who gathered strength by approaching the Emperor's power). Emperor Kazan was trapped in a ruse by the Sekkan-ke to abdicate the throne in 986, and the Sekkan-ke subsequently came into power again. In the aftermath of this change, Motonaga, who also carried out public administration in line with Kazan shinsei, was said to be dismissed under the pretext of his tyranny in Owari Province.