The Awazu were a family of low ranking courtiers. These documents recount how, during the cataclysmic Ōnin War (1467-77) which devastated the capital, they rescued the Emperor’s wardrobe, which was housed in Yamashina, to the southeast of the palace. Once marauding armies threatened this region with arson, the Awazu rescued these clothes, and earned the praise of emperors, and courtiers. For four generations, the Awazu, and their lords, the Takakura, basked in the glory of these deeds, and received promotions and words of praise from three successive emperors. One even managed to attain the fifth court rank, a marker of the high nobility, in 1546.
These documents were preserved in a scroll, which contains a postscript revealing that by 1733 Awazu Kiyooki was appointed to the palace guards (takiguchi). The name given for the scroll, the Heishi, can be misleading, for it refers to the clan (uji) name of Taira (or Heishi), but the proper name for the descendants of this house is Awazu.
Images provided by Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
This document is from a court lady of Go-Hanazono, a retired emperor. These documents, which first appear in the thirteenth century, became a favored way for emperors to transmit messages. The letters are written almost completely phonetically in Japanese hiragana syllabary. This document was sealed, and viewable only to the participant, and an ink mark (sumihiki) and remains of a piece cut form the document (kirifu) remains visible to the far left of the document. This document was written during the Ōnin War (1467-77) and recounts how the emperor Go-Hanazono came to know how Awazu Kiyonori, described here as a retainer to the Takakura, rescued ceremonial robes from their storage box in Yamashina, where such robes were woven and stored. Go-Hanazono asks Takakura Nagatsugu to have Kiyonori bring them to the palace.
Takakura Nagatsugu acknowledges and celebrates the praise that Awazu Kiyonori received from the emperor for his service in rescuing the emperor’s clothes. The Awazu were the retainers of the Takakura, and their relationship, and praise for their service (chūsetsu) mirrors the language of warriors.
Hirohashi Morimitsu here writes a letter praising Awazu Kiyonori for his rescue of the clothes. This document functions in tandem with the earlier kuzen an so as to explain why Kiyonori was rewarded with the sinecure of Governor of Chikuzen.
Takakura Nagatsugu again praises Kiyonori for his actions, and states that the glory of his service rebounds favorably on the Takakura as well. This dates from the day after Kiyonori’s promotion.
This document written on the same day of Kiyonori’s promotion, again praises him for his exemplary service as a retainer of the Takakura. The clothes, which the emperor had heard were rescued on 7.22, were transported to the palace on 7.25, which is why this second court lady document (nyōbō hōsho) was issued just three days after the first.
This kuzan an from emperor Go-Tsuchimikado records a promotion for Kiyonori’s son Kiyohisa to the office of Uemon no shōjō in 1478. This post was often linked to a position in the capital police, which was responsible for providing order and adjudicating cases in the capital.
In 1501, Kiyohisa received the same sinecure of Governor of Chikuzen as his father Kiyonori from Emperor Go-Kashiwabara. Later document would reveal that this promotion stemmed from lingering glory of his father’s rescue of the imperial wardrobe.
Late in life, Takakura Nagatsugu, who had renounced the world and adopted the religious name of Jōyū, recounted the impressive actions of Kiyohisa’s father Kiyonori in rescuing the ceremonial clothes to an otherwise unknown monk named Sonshin. Grateful for the interest in these events, Nagatsugu (Jōyū) ordered Awazu Kiyohisa to dispatch his original documents to the court so as to prove the veracity of this story, and make it more widely known.
In 1733, Awazu Kiyooki relied on the help of nobles such as Shigeno Kinzumi to decipher these “incomparable treasures of this house” and clarify who in fact had received these documents. Based on their explanations, Kiyooki recorded this information on small sheets of paper. He also exulted at how he had received a promotion to the sixth rank, and post of palace guard (takiguchi), and instructed his descendants not to be remiss in remembering these deeds. Presumably at this time, these documents were made into a scroll, as was typical for most document collections. His descendants most likely remained in the Yamashina area, but at some time, they were parted from these documents, which were shipped to America to be part of the Yale Association of Japan Collection.