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an ancient Japanese family constituting the highest stratum of the feudal aristocracy. The Fujiwara family was descended from the Nakatomi clan, which provided the hereditary priests of the Japanese Shinto religion.
The political rise of the Fujiwara was largely due to the Taika reforms of the seventh century (seeTAIKA). In the eighth century the custom was established of marrying emperors only to women of the Fujiwara family; the custom continued until the early 20th century. The Fujiwara emerged in control of the government in the ninth century; by the year 859, members of the family had taken the official titles of regent (sessho) and chancellor (kampa-ku). The power of the Fujiwara was partially due to the consolidation of the shoen system of private feudal estates, which were exempt from all taxation and received administrative and judicial immunity. A large number of these estates were owned by the Fujiwara.
The Fujiwara formally continued to rule until 1184. They had lost real power, however, by the mid-llth century owing to the decline of centralized authority in Japan caused by feudal fragmentation.