Abe no Seimei
|Abe no Seimei|
Abe no Seimei as drawn by Kikuchi Yōsai (菊池容斎), a popular painter in Japan.
– Abemonju-in Temple in Sakurai, Nara, Japan
|Died||1005 (aged 83–84)
|Post||Onmyōji – adviser to the Emperor on the spiritually correct way to deal with issues.|
Abe no Seimei (安倍 晴明?, February 21, 921 – October 31, 1005) was an onmyōji, a leading specialist of onmyōdō during the middle of the Heian Period in Japan. In addition to his prominence in history, he is a legendary figure in Japanese folklore and has been portrayed in a number of stories and films.
Seimei worked as onmyōji for emperors and the Heian government, making calendars and advising on the spiritually correct way to deal with issues. He prayed for the well-being of emperors and the government as well as advising on various issues. He was also an astrologer and predicted astrological events. He enjoyed an extremely long life, free from any major illness, which contributed to the popular belief that he had mystical powers.
The Seimei Shrine, located in Kyoto, is a popular shrine dedicated to him. The Abeno train station and district, in Osaka, are sometimes said to be named after him, as it is one of the locations where legends place his birth.
Life and legends
|Part of the series on|
|Japanese mythology and folklore|
|Mythic texts and folktales|
|Legendary creatures and spirits|
|Mythical and sacred locations|
|Shintō and Buddhism|
Seimei's life is well recorded, and there is little question about it. Immediately after his death, however, legends arose much like those surrounding Merlin. Many legends of Seimei were originally written in the Konjaku Monogatarishu, and by the Edo period there were many stories in circulation that focused on his heroic acts.
Abe no Seimei was a descendant of the poet Abe no Nakamaro and a disciple of Kamo no Tadayuki and Kamo no Yasunori, 10th-century diviners of the Heian court. He became Kamo no Yasunori's successor in astrology and divination, while Yasunori's son took on the lesser responsibility of devising the calendar. Seimei's duties included analyzing strange events, conducting exorcisms, warding against evil spirits, and performing various rites of geomancy. He was said to be especially skilled in divining the sex of fetuses and finding lost objects. According to the Konjaku Monogatarishu, he correctly predicted the abdication of Emperor Kazan based on his observation of celestial phenomena.
Seimei's reputation grew sufficiently that, from the late 10th century, the Onmyōryō, the government ministry of onmyōdō, was controlled by the Abe clan. The Kamo clan likewise became the hereditary keepers of the calendar.
According to legend, Abe no Seimei was not entirely human. His father, Abe no Yasuna, was human, but his mother, Kuzunoha, was a kitsune (a "fox spirit"). At a very early age, no later than five, he was allegedly able to command weak oni to do his bidding. His mother entrusted Seimei to Kamo no Tadayuki so that he would live a proper human life and not become evil himself.
The Heian period, especially the time when Seimei lived, was a time of peace. Many of his legends revolve around a series of magical battles with a rival, Ashiya Doman, who often tried to embarrass Seimei so that he could usurp his position. One noted story involved Doman and the young Seimei in a divination duel to reveal the contents of a particular box. Doman had another person put fifteen mandarin oranges into the box and "divined" that there were fifteen oranges in it. Seimei saw through the ruse, transformed the oranges into rats, and stated that fifteen rats were in the box. When the rats were revealed, Doman was shocked and defeated.
Seimei is involved in numerous other tales as well. He appears as a minor character in the Heike Monogatari and is said to be responsible for divining the location of the Shuten-dōji, a powerful oni purportedly slain by Minamoto no Yorimitsu. He is sometimes said to be the onmyōji who discovered Tamamo no Mae's true nature, although the time of the Tamamo no Mae story does not coincide with Seimei's lifetime; other sources credit the act to a descendant, Abe no Yasuchika.
After Seimei's death the emperor had a shrine, the Seimei shrine, erected at the location of his home. The original shrine was destroyed in war during the fifteenth century, but it was rebuilt in the same location and still stands today.
Abe no Seimei is credited with the writing of the Senji Ryakketsu, an onmyōdo primer.
His name appears in many works of fiction, often as a helpful, wise man and rarely as an enemy. There are exceptions such as Nurarihyon no Mago where Seimei was also a great ayakashi and the Lord of Darkness.
The first modern fictional work credited with bringing back popular interest to onmyōdō mysticism in Japan is the 1985 historical fantasy novel Teito Monogatari by Hiroshi Aramata.  In the novel's story two of the primary characters, Yasumasa Hirai and Yasunori Katō, are descendants of Seimei and have inherited all his knowledge. Yasumasa Hirai is notable example because his appearance is modeled off classic depictions of Seimei and many of his actions are based on those of Seimei's from stories in the Uji Shui Monogatari. Yasunori Katō is also notable because his first name "Yasunori" is derived from the name of Seimei's legendary teacher and he proudly wears the Seiman (five pointed star) on his gloves and handkerchief. Unlike Hirai though, Katō's burning hatred for the Japanese Empire has transformed him into an oni. With one in defense of the Empire and one against it, the two men naturally become enemies.
In 1988, Baku Yumemakura started a novel series named Onmyoji with Seimei portrayed as a handsome young man who lived in a Heian-period world populated with mysterious beings. This was turned into a manga by Reiko Okano and became popular with teenage girls. In 2002, an NHK television series was made, based on the novels. A version of Abe has also been rendered by acclaimed Taiwanese manga artist Ethan, who has stated that he is a huge fan of the novel.
Since 1989, Abe no Seimei has been depicted as a bishōnen. He appears in Kouta Hirano's Drifters manga series leading a group of Magicians called Octobrist. He appears as a handsome young man and wears a beret.
The movie Onmyoji, starring Mansai Nomura as Seimei, was released in 2001 (2004 in the U.S.) by Pioneer (now Geneon). As with any other work featuring both Seimei and Minamoto no Hiromasa, the film was based on Yumemakura's novels. Despite Yumemakura having been involved, the manga adaptation and the movie adaptation are quite different in style and plot.
The horror/survival video game Kuon featured Seimei as a female exorcist who becomes a playable character near the end of the game.
To capitalize on the success of the Onmyoji films (a sequel was made in 2003), Fuji Television produced a miniseries in 2004, called Onmyoji: Abe no Seimei. This series has no ties to cinematic releases.
The character Hao Asakura from Hiroyuki Takei's Shaman King is directly based on Seimei. Hao is the author of a magical book called Chō-Senjiryakketsu, clearly inspired in Seimei's Senji Ryakketsu. They also share facts about their lives, such as their mother being called a demon fox and their ability to create oni since they were young.
Seimei can be seen in the anime Magical☆Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, which was released in 2004 in the U.S. by ADV Films. The show's focus was on the Onmyoji practice of changing events to avoid an ill occurrence and the misadventures of two youths. Seimei also appears in the anime Gintama as an onmyoji, as well as in the anime Shonen Onmyouji which is about his grandson. Seimei is a central character in the anime called Otogi Zoshi.
Abe no Seimei had been shown in a manga called Nurarihyon no Mago by Hiroshi Shiibashi, as an evil Nue, dark lord of the Ayakashi, born from an evil fox. Nurarihyon no Mago was adapted into an anime series starting on July 2010.
Abe no Seimei also appears in the manga Igyoujin Oniwakamaru as an evil spirit who plans to revive himself to begin his second life and rule over both humans and yokai.
Seimei appears in the Anime New Getter Robo as the leader of the villainous oni
Abe no Seimei's origin story would be retold on the Japanese Animation television show, Folktales from Japan, in episode 83. His story would appear in third segment of the episode, telling the tale of the meeting of parents and early life known as Doujimaru. It would show how he would be commanded by his mother to become fortune teller at the capital to help others.
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