Abe no Seimei

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  • Born: 921?
  • Died: 1005/9/26
  • Titles: Onmyoji, Daizen no Daibu, Sakyo no Kon no Daibu, Kokusoin Betto
  • Childhood Name:
  • Japanese: 安倍晴明 (Abe no Seimei), sometimes 清明 (Seimei)


Abe no Seimei is an historical figure shrouded in, perhaps, more myth and legend than fact. "Sonpi Bunmyaku" (尊卑分脈) claims he is the son of Daizen no Daibu Abe no Masuki, the 9th generation descendant of Udaijin Abe no Miushi.

There is a tradition that Abe no Semei was born in Abeno (阿倍野) in Osaka, and there is now a shrine to Abe no Seimei in that district.

The date of Seimei's birth is contested. At least two sources claim he was born in 894, but others claim 921 as the date of his birth.

When Seimei was still young, he was taken as a student by Kamo no Tadayuki and inducted into the ways of Onmyodo. Tadayuki also had a son, Yasunori, who was famous for his knowledge of astronomy (Tenmongaku),[1] Yasunori taught both Seimei and his own son, Mitsuyoshi, teaching Seimei the way of astrology and divination while teaching his own son the art of calendar-making. Supposedly, his reasoning was that astrology, being so important, should be taught to the more capable of the two. Regardless, there was a break and the Abe[2] were given charge of astronomy and divination while the Kamo family took on the duties of the calendar, which was seen as the lesser task.[3]

Despite this story, the 11th century chronicle Eiga Monogatari mentions Seimei and "Koei" (Mitsuyoshi) as two of the greatest diviners of their day, although there does appear to be a rivalry between the two families.

Abe no Seimei had at least two sons who were also onmyoji--Yoshihira and Yoshimasa.

The traditions of the Tsuchimikado[4] (Tsuchimikado-ke Kiroku 土御門家記録) claim that Abe no Seimei died in 1005.

Seimei is said to be buried at Seimei Shrine in Kyoto.[5]


Abe no Seimei is rather like the Merlin of Japanese history. He is said to have had great spiritual powers, and there are many legends concerning his birth and death (some legends claim he never aged and never died).

Many legends claim that Abe no Seimei was the son of a fox. One such legend claims his father once helped a fox, whom he later married. It is said that his father, Yasuna, helped save a fox from the hand of Akuemon. She then turned into a woman, who married Yasuna, and together they had a son. The son, however, saw through his mother's illusion, and when he did, she went crying back to Shinoda forest. When the young Seimei went after his fox-mother, she appeared to him and gave him spiritual power.

Seimei's name is said to have been given to him by the emperor when he was granted 5th court rank for curing the emperor's illness using Kin'u Gyokuto Shu(金烏玉兎集)[6] which he is said to have received from "Hokudo Jonin" of China.

In many of the tales, Seimei is played against the esoteric priest, Ashiya Doman, whom some legends claim is the older brother of Akuemon. These stories often pit Seimei's Onmyodo against the esoteric Buddhist power of Doman.


Abe no Seimei is often depicted with one or more shikigami, or servant spirits. It was often believed that men of great spiritual power could call upon the aid of spirits to serve them. Seimei is often depicted with twelve shikigami, one for each branch of the zodiac.


Modoribashi, or the 'returning bridge', shows up in several stories of the supernatural, and is often considered to have an important connection with Abe no Seimei.

The name of the bridge comes from a story where a priest named Jozo was in Kumano when his father became very ill. Jozo rushed back to the capital, but his father had passed away. Above Modoribashi, he met his father's funeral procession, and stopped it to say incantations of the corpse. His father came back to life, and since he had 'returned' (modoru) from that other world, the bridge was called modoribashi.

Another story tells of Watanabe no Tsuna, a warrior working for Minamoto Yorimitsu. As he was on a mission from his lord one night, Tsuna came across a lone woman at Modoribashi, who asked for help getting back to her home on Fifth Avenue (Gojo). Tsuna allowed her to ride with him on his horse, but as she got on behind him she turned into a demon. She grabbed him by the hair and tried to carry him off into the sky, but Tsuna drew out his sword and cut off the demon's arm. The demon woman fled towards Mt. Atago, leaving her severed arm.

Tsuna took the arm to his lord, Yorimitsu, who then took it to Seimei. Seimei instructed Yorimitsu: "For seven days, purify yourself and seal up the demon's hand, reading the Ninno Sutra over it as a prayer." On the seventh day, at the reading of the sutra, the demon appeared to get the arm, and it turned out to be Yorimitsu's own mother. She took the arm and escaped by busting through the roof of the house.[7]

Abe no Seimei in Fiction

There have been numerous fictional accounts of the life of Abe no Seimei, from books, movies, manga, and anime.


  • Masuda Hidemitsu (2004), 陰陽道の本, Gakken, Tokyo, Japan.
  • Frank, Bernard (1998), Kata-imi et Kata-tagae: Etude sur les interdits de direction a l'epoque Heian, College de France, Institut des Hautes Etudes Japonaises, Paris.
  • Tyler, Royall (1987), Japanese Tales, Pantheon Books, New York.
  • McCullough, William H. and Helen Craig (1980), A Tale of Flowering Fortunes: Annals of Japanese Aristocratic Life in the Heian Period, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
  • Ury, Marian (1979), Tales of Times Now Past: Sixty-Two Stories from a Medieval Japanese Collection, Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, MI.
  • Nakayama Shigeru (1969), A History of Japanese Astronomy: Chinese Background and Western Impact, Harvard University Press, MA.


  1. The Onmyô-ryô, or Bureau of Yin Yang, was in charge of divinations and portents as well as arranging the calendar.
  2. Later the Tsuchimikado branch of the Abe.
  3. Oddly enough, in China, precedence was usually reversed, with the calendar being considered much more important than the astronomy and divination.
  4. The Tsuchimikado family descended from Abe no Seimei, who had a residence on Tsuchimikado avenue in the capital
  5. "Abe no Seimei," FindaGrave.com, 2003.
  6. "The Book of the Sun and Moon". Literally "the golden bird" (or sun) and "the jewel rabbit" (the moon). The sun and the moon are often symbols of yin and yang.
  7. This story appears in Heike Monogatari.
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