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.
A Rock and a Hard Place
One day, Emperor Kazan came down with a terrible headache. He summoned Seimei and ordered him to find the cause of his splitting headache and to put an end to it. Seimei told Emperor Kazan that in his former life, the emperor was a monk from Yoshino and that the skull of his old body had become stuck between some rocks. The only way to cure his headache was to relieve the pressure on his old skull. After some searching in Yoshino, the emperor’s servants did indeed find a skull under a rock. Once the rock was removed the Emperor’s headache disappeared.
Ashiya Doman is known as 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.
Life after Love
While studying abroad in China, Abe’s wife had an affair with Doman. After Seimei came back from China, Doman peeked through some of the secret books that Siemei brought back from China and used a curse from one of those books to kill Seimei. However, Seimei was revived by his teacher Hakudo, who had taught him Onmyo-do in China.
Abe no Seimei Shrine [安倍晴明神社]
Even though Abe no Seimei is full of mystery, one of the most supported hypothesis about his origins say that he was born in Osaka. So, naturally, there is a shrine to the famous onmyo-ji a short walk from Tennoji Station!
Getting to Abe no Seimei Shrine
Abe no Seiemei shrine is 20-minute walk south from Abeno/ Tennoji Station. You can take the Hankai tram on the Uemachi line and get off at the Higashi Tengachaya stop, which is right next to the 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?
Coming next time,
The Legend The Kistune of Kuzu no Ha
The adventure continues…