Portrait of Sugawara Michizane, early 14th century

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Sugawara Michizane (845-903) was a celebrated statesman and scholar during Japan's classic Heian period. His rivals, in an attempt to undermine his influence at court, falsely accused him of plotting to kill the emperor. As a result, Michizane was exiled to the island of Kyushu where he eventually died. Later, several calamities at court were attributed to Michizane's vengeful spirit. He was deified as the Shinto god Tenjin and shrines were dedicated to him in Kyoto and Kyushu in order to placate his ghost. Since that time, Michizane has been venerated as a patron saint of scholarship. Even today, students offer prayers to Michizane prior to taking important examinations. This portrait of Michizane shows him dressed in the formal black robes and lacquered cap of a high court official. The simple woven straw mat on which he sits, however, suggests the hardships he endured in exile.

Portrait of Sugawara Michizane
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