Ono no Takamura (小野篁)

ONO no Takamura (802 - February 7, 853) was a bureaucrat, scholar and poet in the early Heian period. Also known as 'Yasosho' and 'Yakyo' because of his rebelliousness.


ONO no Takamura was a descendant of ONO no Imoko who served as a member of the Japanese official diplomatic delegations sent to China during the Sui dynasty and his father was ONO no Minemori. One of Sanseki (Three famous calligraphers in Japan) ONO no Tofu was his grandchild. In his juvenile years, Takamori accompanied his father to the Mutsu Province where he excelled in archery and horsemanship but was enlightened by the saying of Emperor Saga and joined Daigakuryo (Bureau of Education under the ritsuryo system) thereby starting his bureaucratic career. He worked in various areas including Danjodai (Police Agency) and was knowledgeable about legal matters playing an active role in the compilation of "Ryonogige"(The Commentary on the Legal Code).

He was appointed to be a Japanese envoy to China during the Tang Dynasty in 834, but due to a disagreement with FUJIWARA no Tsunetsugu, the senior envoy, he turned down the appointment, claiming to be ill; moreover he incurred the anger of Retired Emperor Saga by writing a poem criticizing the government, which resulted in him being sent to Oki Island. He was exonerated after a year and half and returned to Kyoto. Afterwards, he advanced to the post of Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) Sangi (Royal Advisors).

Anecdotes and Legends

According to Koden (A memorial piece) included in "Nihon Montoku Tenno Jitsuroku" (A true record of Emperor Montoku in Japan), Tofu was six feet and two inches tall. In other words, he was a big man standing over 180 cm.

Also according to Koden, his literary talent was second to none.

Additionally, since he was indifferent about money and would give his pay to his friends, he was always poor.

It is said that Takamura descended to hell via a well to assist the King of Hell in his court every night. This well is located on the grounds of Rokudochinno-ji Temple in Higashiyama, Kyoto. The wooden statue of the King of Hell, which is said to be made by Takamura, and the wooden statue of Takamura himself, are enshrined in Enma-do Hall also located on the grounds of that temple.

In Kita Ward, Kyoto City, a tomb which is believed to be that of Takamura and a tomb which is said to be that of Murasaki Shikibu are placed side by side based on the legend in which Shikibu was condemned to hell for the sin she committed by describing carnal desires in her book and after such condemnation Takamura interceded with the King of Hell for her.

There is an anecdote in "Konjaku Monogatarishu" (Tales of Times Now Past) in which, after dying of an illness, FUJIWARA no Yoshimi was taken to the office of the King of Hell; but, was brought back to life by Takamura's intercession.

In the literary works such as "Ujishui Monogatari" (Tales of Ujishui), in the era of Emperor Saga, there was graffiti written by Takamura which said, 'Everything will be fine if there is no evil,' which could be read in a couple of different ways. Nonetheless, however, it could be interpreted as saying, 'It would be better if Emperor Saga did not exist.'
The angry Emperor Saga told Takamura to come up with an answer for a puzzle that repeats a letter meaning child 12 times and Takamura answered, 'Kittens of kittens and cubs of lion cubs,' thus solving it.

It is said that, in those days when there was only one copy of "Bai-Shi Wen Ji" (a collection of poem by Bai Letian, a famous Chinese poet) in Japan, when the emperor showed that book to Takamura after changing a character in a poem written by Bai Letian for fun, Takamura returned the book after correcting the character modified by the emperor.

It is said that Bai Letian was looking forward to meeting Takamura when the latter was assigned as a Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China.

"Takamura Monogatari" (Tales of Takamura), a story of a tragic love between Takamura and his half-sister featuring Takamura as the main character is complete fiction.


ONO no Tofu and ONO no Komachi are well known but samurai belonging to Musashi Shichito such as Inomata Party or Yokoyama Party called themselves 'Yataro' or 'Koyata' for being descendants of ONO no Takamura. Some also called themselves 'Yataro' or 'Koyata' transformed from the original kanji characters for the same names.

Well Known Poems

Now my ship has set sail over the sea, will the fishing boats let that person in Kyoto know of my journey towards those countless islands (11th of the One Hundred Waka Poems by One Hundred Poets).

If my tears were raindrops the river to the next world would be swollen and would bring my loved ones back to me (Kokin Wakashu (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry)).

[Original Japanese]