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Tachibana clan (kuge)

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Tachibana clan
(橘氏 Tachibana-shi) was one of the four most powerful kuge (court nobility) families in Japan's Nara and early Heian periods. Members of the Tachibana family often held high court posts within the Daijō-kan (Ministry of State), most frequently Sadaijin (Minister of the Left). Like the other major families at court, they also constantly sought to increase and secure their power by marrying into the imperial family. However, as the Fujiwara clan gained power over the course of the 9th and 10th centuries, the Tachibana were eclipsed and eventually became scattered across the country. Though serving in high government posts outside the capital, they were thus denied the degree of power and influence within the court at Kyoto (Heian-kyō) which they once enjoyed. They bore no direct relation to the samurai Tachibana clan (立花) from the 14th century, who traces their lineage to the Fujiwara clan.

The name of Tachibana was bestowed on Agata-no-Inukai no Michiyo by Empress Gemmei in 708. She was the wife of Prince Minu, a descendant of Emperor Bidatsu and mothered Princes Katsuragi and Sai. She later married Fujiwara no Fuhito and bore Kōmyōshi (Empress Kōmyō). In 736, Princes Katsuragi and Sai were given the surname Tachibana, renouncing their imperial family membership. They became Tachibana no Moroe and Tachibana no Sai respectively.

Over the course of the Heian period, they engaged in countless struggles with the Fujiwara family for domination of court politics, and thus essentially for control of the nation; on a number of occasions this developed into outright violent conflict. One of these conflicts was the uprising of Fujiwara no Sumitomo in 939-941. Though the rebellion was ultimately suppressed, the Tachibana family was scattered in the process, and lost much of its power.

Tachibana no Kimiyori (877-941) was among those who pursued Sumitomo to Kyūshū; he settled there and established himself as an official representative of the court. He or his descendants likely gave their name to Tachibana castle, after which the later Tachibana clan of the 14th century onwards was named. Another branch family developed in Iyo province, becoming known as the Iyo Tachibana family. Tachibana Tōyasu, who executed Fujiwara no Sumitomo, was the progenitor of this branch; Kusunoki Masashige, a celebrated pro-Imperial commander of the 14th century, claimed descent from Tōyasu.

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