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Painting by Kobayashi Eitaku depicting Sugawara no Michizane reborn as the Tenjin.             Source: Public Domain

Tenjin: How to Become a God in Classical Japan (Video)


In classical Japan, Sugawara no Michizane, later known as Tenjin, rose from humble beginnings to become a revered figure. Born in 845 AD during the Heian Era into a scholarly family, he excelled in classical Chinese literature, gaining prominence in the court bureaucracy. His career faced challenges when appointed as the governor of Sanoki Province, but this period allowed him to indulge in his passion for literature.

Upon his return to the capital, a power struggle between the imperial family and the Fujiwara clan unfolded. Michizane, aligning with Emperor Uda's vision, received rapid promotions, reaching the peak of his influence as the Minister of the Right in 893. However, his close ties to the imperial family became a double-edged sword.

Falsely accused of plotting against Emperor Daigo in 901, Michizane was demoted to a minor administrative post at Dazaifu. Despite former Emperor Uda's attempts to mediate, Michizane, along with his children, faced exile. His poignant poem about a plum tree reflected his longing for the capital.

Tragically, Michizane's death in 903 led to suspicions of vengeful spirits. Disasters struck Kyoto, prompting the posthumous restoration of Michizane's position and his deification as Tenjin in 987. Today, over 10,000 shrines dedicated to Tenjin stand across Japan, embodying his transformation from a historical figure to a revered deity of literature and academics.

Top image: Painting by Kobayashi Eitaku depicting Sugawara no Michizane reborn as the Tenjin.             Source: Public Domain

By Robbie Mitchell

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I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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