The onmyo-ji known as Abe no Seimei is one of most famous people in Japanese history and there are many stories, movies, and anime about his life. Many stories and folklore surround Abe’s life. Abe no Seimei is often associated with fox spirits known as kitsune, and the stories about him make him sound endow him with almost supernatural abilities. Sometimes it is hard to believe he was in fact an actual person. Moreover, although it is not 100% confirmed, most records strongly indicate that the famed Abe no Seimei was from Osaka.
The Life of Abe no Seimei
Born in 921 C. E. Abe no Seimei [安倍晴明], was one of the most prominent spiritualists in the Heian Period. These spiritualists were known as onmyo-ji [陰陽師]. Onmyo-ji were very important during the Heian Period because they specialized in Onmyo-do [陰陽道], a sort of mysticism that is composed of the Chinese Yin-Yang Theory, and the Five Elements Theory.
The people of the Heian Period were deeply superstitious and it was commonly believed that every disaster and natural phenomenon that could not be explained to be the work of a malicious by oni. By using their magic powers, onmyo-ji were able to ward off the oni and thereby played a crucial role in protecting the capital, Heiankyo in Kyoto. Moreover, onmyo-ji observed the constellations and made predictions about future disasters or calamities.
Of course, today this sounds like nothing more than hocus pocus, but onmyo-ji were heavily relied upon by many emperors and aristocrats. In his life, Abe no Seimei served six emperors and Fujiwara no Michinaga, who controlled the government and Imperial Family for long time.
Abe no Seimei’s debut as an onmyo-ji was rather late: around 40 years old. Nor was he from an aristocratic family, as many other prominent onmyo-ji were. Since there is no documentation of his parentage or youth, naturally many rumors and stories have sprung up about Abe no Seimei!
The Tales of Abe no Seimei
Here are just a few of the many tales and even rumors of Abe no Seimei.
The Gifted Student
Abe no Seimei served as an apprentice of Kamo no Tadayuki, one of the finest onmyo-ji of the time. One day, while following behind his master’s carriage, Seimei saw a group of oni running toward them. Seimei quickly informed Tadayuki about the oni, allowing Tadayuki to use his magic to conceal their presence from the oni’s sight. Upon realizing that Seimei could see oni just like him, Tadayuki taught Seimei everything about becoming an onmyo-ji.
There was rumored that Abe no Seimei frequently used invisible spirits called “shikigami”, to do his chores.
Ashiya Doman is Abe no Seimei’s biggest rivals. Doman’s true personality is quite a mystery, but many stories do not depict Doman as a charming man.
Wag the Dog
One day, Fujiwara no Michinaga tried to take his dog on a walk, but his dog refused to go out. Michinaga ordered Seimei to find out what was wrong with his pet. Seimei was eventually able to decipher that Doman had in fact tried to curse Michinaga. The poor dog had simply become fearful of the bad energy stir up by Doman’s attempt to curse Michigana. Michinaga then sentenced Doman to exile in Sayo, i.e. the edge of Hyogo Pref.
Abe no Seimei Shrine
This shrine was built shortly after his death in 1005 and is located on Abe no Seimei’s birthplace. Though this shrine is quite small, it very popular and there is always somebody visiting the shrine to pray.
Throughout the shrine you will notice there is some kind of star.
The star is called a gobousei [五芒星], and was frequently used by Seimei to ward off bad spirits.
Water from the well found on the shrine grounds was supposedly used when Seimei was born.
Throughout the shrine, Abe no Seimei is often depicted with a white fox. Abe no Seimei is strongly associated with Japanese fox spirits known as kistune. But why is this?
Information: Abe no Seimei Shrine
|Abenomotomachi 5-16, Abeno Ward, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture|
|20-minute walk south from Abeno/ Tennoji Station. You can take the Hankai tram Uemachi line and get off at the Higashi Tengachaya stop, which is right next to the shrine.|