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Ono no Takamura

Ono no Takamura, in a book illustration by Kikuchi Yōsai.

Ono no Takamura (小野 篁, 802 – February 3, 853), also known as Sangi no Takamura (参議篁), was a Japanese calligrapher and poet of the early Heian period.


Takamura was a descendant of Ono no Imoko who served as Kenzuishi, and his father was Ono no Minemori. He was the grandfather of Ono no Michikaze, one of the three famous calligraphers (三筆, sanpitsu). In 834 he was appointed to Kentōshi, but in 838 after a quarrel with the envoy, Fujiwara no Tsunetsugu, he gave up his professional duties pretending to be ill, and attracted the ire of retired Emperor Saga, who sent him to Oki Province. Within two years he regained the graces of the court and returned to the capital where he was promoted to Sangi.

Takamura is the subject of a number of odd stories and legends. One of the most singular of these legends is the claim that every night he would climb down a well to hell and help Yama (閻魔大王, enma daiō) in his judgements (裁判, saiban). In Sataku, Kyoto, there is a grave said to belong to Takamura. Near that grave is a grave marked Murasaki Shikibu, with a legend that it was placed there by the devil himself as punishment for lust (愛欲, aiyoku) for which Murasaki Shikibu descended to hell.

Takamura in later literature

Takamura features in several later setsuwa works such as the Ujishūi Monogatari and the Takamura Monogatari.

Ujishūi Monogatari

In Ujishūi Monogatari there is the following story about Takamura that illustrates his wit. One day in the palace of Saga Tennō, someone erected a scroll with the writing "無悪善" (NO EVIL GOODNESS). No one in the palace was able to decipher its meaning. The emperor then ordered Takamura to read it and he responded:

"It will be good if there is no evil (悪無くば善からん, saga nakuba yokaran),"

reading the character for evil (, aku) as "Saga" to indicate Saga Tennō. The emperor was incensed at his audacity and proclaimed that because only Takamura was able to read the scroll, he must have been the one who put it up in the first place. However, Takamura pleaded his innocence, saying that he was simply deciphering the meaning of the scroll. The emperor said, "Oh, so you can decipher any writing, can you?" and asked Takamura to read a row of twelve characters for child ():


Takamura immediately responded:

neko no ko koneko, shishi no ko kojishi (猫の子子猫、獅子の子子獅子),

using the variant readings ne, ko, shi, ji for the character (子). This translates to "the cat's young kitten, the lion's young cub" or with annotations:

"the young of cat (, neko), kitten (子猫, koneko) and the young of lion (獅子, shishi), cub (子獅子, kojishi)."

The emperor was amused by Takamura's wit and withdrew the accusation.

Takamura Monogatari

Takamura is the main character in the tale Takamura Monogatari, where he has a romantic affair with his half-sister. The work's date is heavily disputed, and few scholars take it to be historically reliable.[citation needed]


While people such as Ono no Michikaze are Takamura's direct descendants, he also had several spiritual descendants among the Samurai. In particular, several Samurai names such as Notarō (野太郎), Onota (小野太), Yatarō (弥太郎), Koyata (小弥太) can be traced to Takamura.

Representative poems

One of his poems is included as No. 11 in Fujiwara no Teika's Ogura Hyakunin Isshu:

Japanese text[1] Romanized Japanese[2] English translation[3]


Wata no hara
yaso shima kakete
kogi-idenu to
hito ni wa tsugeyo
ama no tsuri-bune

Fishing boats upon this sea!
Tell whoever asks
I am being rowed away to exile
out past the many islets
to the vast ocean beyond.

Takamura contributed six poems to the Kokin Wakashū: #335, 407, 829, 845, 936, and 961.

Japanese text[4] Romanized Japanese[5] English translation


naku namida
ame to furanan
watari gawa
mizu masarinaba
kaeri kuru ga ni

Tears cry
Like more rain and rain
Over the river
Better than
the taste of water

Works related to Takamura

  • Tatsumiya. meikai densetsu: takamura no ido 冥界伝説:たかむらの井戸 [Tales from the Realm of the Dead: Takamura's Well].
  • Yūko Satsuma. Fudaya Ichiren! 札屋一蓮!.
  • Yū Itō (1997). oni no hashi 鬼の橋 [Devil's Bridge]. 福音館書店. ISBN 4-8340-1571-8.

See also


  1. ^ Suzuki et al. 2009 : 21.
  2. ^ McMillan 2010 : 157.
  3. ^ McMillan 2010 : 13.
  4. ^ Katagiri 2009 : 328.
  5. ^ Hirofumi Yamamoto 2007. [ Kokin Wakashū Database entry on poem 829. Tokyo Institute of Technology.


  • Katagiri Yōichi 2009 (2nd ed.; 1st ed. 2005). Kokin Wakashū. Tokyo: Kinuma Shoin.
  • McMillan, Peter 2010 (1st ed. 2008). One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Suzuki Hideo, Yamaguchi Shin'ichi, Yoda Yasushi 2009 (1st ed. 1997). Genshoku: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Tokyo: Bun'eidō.
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Ono no Takamura
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