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The Heian period (794 - 1185) by Brad Shows
JAANUS - Heian jidai 平安時代


The Heian Period - Court and Clan

- quote -
- source : samurai-archives.com - F.W. Seal -

The Fujiwara
Buddhism in Heian Japan
The Clans
Early Exploits
Hachiman Taro - Minamoto Yoshiie
The Rise of the Taira


In the year 794 ad the Japanese Imperial Court departed Nagaoka and transferred its seat to Heian-Kyo, or Tsuki no Miyako - the City of the Moon. The city had been laid out and built specifically to provide a new capital. Its builders, borrowing freely from Chinese conventions, had created an earthen-walled city three miles by three and a half miles, with straight streets intersecting to form no fewer then 1,200 blocks. The palace grounds, or daidairi, measured one mile by three quarters of a mile, and specific quarters were created to cater to merchants, nobility, and artisans. Japan had never seen a community like Heian-Kyo before and it is perhaps at this point that Japan as a state came into its own. At the same time, the Imperial shift to the new capital was in fact gradual, and could not be said to have been fully complete until a century or more had passed. Also shifting gradually was Japan's priorities, especially in the cultural field. Contact with China gradually petered off while native arts began to experience a state of great refinement, especially in literature. The great women writers of the later 10th century dominate the Heian Period's literary landscape, from the anonymous composer of the Kagero Nikki (the longest of the 'court diaries', ca. 975) to the famed 'Pillow Book' of Sei Shonagon and the monumental 'Tale of Genji' by Murasaki Shikubu. While reasonably well known outside Japan, the latter, composed around 1022, has yet to receive the recognition it deserves as possibly the world's 1st true novel. In most cultural pursuits -and in the realm of architecture- Chinese extravagance began to give way to a more thoughtful and conservative approach.

In the provinces, the movement towards imperial consolidation began to give way, out of a certain necessity, to the institution of shoen - estates which enjoyed a number of privileges, including varying degrees of tax exemption. Developed in the Nara Period and expanded in both scale and practice in the Heian Period, the granting of shoen allowed for the court to provide both individuals and institutions with a means of wealth in a country that lacked a real monetary system. In time, much of the imperial family's own income would be drawn from its own shoen (allowing for an increasingly comfortable lifestyle). This practice laid the framework for what would in time become the Japanese version of feudalism. 'Public' lands were known as kokugaryo and were administered by governors, often men of some ranking within either the court or religious community.

The Fujiwara
The Fujiwara clan continued to grow in strength until it had assumed a virtual monopoly on Heian politics. The manner in which this was accomplished was not through military force (or even the thinly-veiled threat of it) but rather a systematic implantation of marriage ties with the Imperial house. For a good two centuries, few emperors would have a mother of non-Fujiwara blood, even as this entailed the emperor commonly taking first cousins as consorts. The most successful of the Fujiwara, Michinaga (966-1027), had no fewer then four of his daughters married to emperors (with another marrying a prince who evidently suffered a breakdown before he could become emperor). The Fujiwara never made a bid for the throne itself, instead being content to act as regents and power brokers. Threats (real and potential) were identified and eliminated (often by means of exile) through the imperial apparatus and rarely through force of arms. By the time of Michinaga's death, a Fujiwara or close ally of the Fujiwara filled virtually every important civilian post within the government. At the same time, the Heian Period saw the growth of the practice of Insei, otherwise known as rule by 'cloistered' or retired emperors. Perhaps originally conceived as a way of keeping Fujiwara power in check, the strategy of retiring early and endeavoring to rule from 'behind the scenes' actually played into Fujiwara hands. At one point during the career of Fujiwara Kaneie (929-990) were no fewer then three retired emperors holding court, a situation that divided imperial authority and allowed Kaneie and his successor Michinaga to consolidate the Fujiwara hold on Kyoto.

This hold would finally be broken with the reigns of the emperors Go-Sanjo and Shirakawa. Go-Sanjo assumed the throne in 1068 at the age of 30, and it happened that his mother was not of Fujiwara blood. A heated dispute developed between the emperor and the steadily alienated Fujiwara over the issue of shôen (an area in which Go-Sanjo zealoulsy worked for reform). Faced with the danger that the Fujiwata would simply leave their court duties altoghether in protest, Go-Sanjo elected to continue his fight from behind the scenes. He retired in favor of his son Shirakawa in 1072 and was much freer to shape events now that he was unburdened of the many trappings of his former position. Unlike the former retired emperors who had spent their time living off the court's finances, Go-Sanjo stayed busy ruling through his son. While he was destined to die the following year, Go-Sanjo had established a precedent that Shirakawa would in time follow - this insei system essentially out-puppeteered the Fujiwara and assured that never again would that family hold the power it once had even as its vital role in running the goverment was left intact.

Buddhism in Heian Japan
Buddhism continued to grow during the Heian period, helped by an almost harmonious co-existence with the native Shinto religion and the acceptance of its teachings by the Court. Great religious complexes sprang up in the central provinces, aided by grants of shoen and other land rights. Chief among these was the Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei, to the northeast of the capital. Founded in 788 by the monk Saicho, the Enryakuji grew throughout the Heian period to include thousands of buildings and to hold considerable influence as the vanguard of Tendai Buddhism. As the monastic complex grew, so did the willingness of its inhabitants to actively involve themselves in temporal affairs, or rather, to deal with issues in a very temporal manner. The early rivals of the Enryakuji included the older Nara temples, and, after the 10th Century, the Mii-dera temple. The latter came about as a result of a schism with the Tendai sect of Buddhism that saw a fair number of monks driven from Mt. Hiei and forced to establish their own place of worship. Outright battles between the Enryakuji and Mii-dera were common during the later Heian Period, and saw the later burned to the ground numerous times.

The famous warrior monks, or Sohei, of Mt. Hiei came about, it would seem, in an unexpected way.1 From its earliest times, the Enryakuji was held to be off limits to both women and law enforcement bodies. The latter prohibition attracted such a large criminal element to Mt. Hiei that Kakûjin (1012-81), the 35th abbot of the Enryakuji, called for his followers to form an army and drive away the undesirables. In fact, many of the men who took up arms may well have been those very same unwelcome fugitives they were intended to fight. From this time forward, Mt. Hiei would maintain a martial arm, one that it rarely hesitated to use. One frequent victim of the Enryakuji's heavy-handed tactics was none other then the emperor himself. As emperor Shirakawa is alleged to have said, "There are three things that even I cannot control: the waters of the Kamo river, the roll of the dice, and the monks of the mountain." When the monks of Mt. Hiei found themselves at odds with court over some affair (perhaps a question of land rights or taxation), they would gather and march down at to the gates of Kyoto, bearing on their shoulders the sacred palanquin (mikoshi) of the Shinto deity Sanno. So revered was this artifact that no one dared block its passage and much more often then not the emperor would give in to the monk's demands. The warrior monks of the Enryakuji would continue to play an important role in the Kyoto area for hundreds of years, until the advent of Oda Nobunaga. While evidently not the first monastic complex to take on a military aspect, the Enryakuji's reputation was great indeed.

The other great Buddhist movement of the Heian period had been founded by the priest Kukai (774-835) and was called Shingon. Shingon (or True Word) was centered on the worship of Maha-Vairocana (or Great Illuminator, otherwise known as the Dainichi Nyorai), believed to be the first and greatest of the Buddhas. Shingon held that the Dainichi Nyori was present in all things in the universe and by extension was all people. Essentially, Kukai taught that to understand the Great illuminator, one needed to unlock the mysteries of their own minds and spirits. This involved a large amount of ceremony and ritual - hence earning Shingon the label of 'esoteric Buddhism'.

A third school of thought in Buddhism was to emerge at the tale end of the Heian Period. The monk Hônen (1133-1212), a former priest of the Enryakuji, founded what would become known as the Jodo, or Pure Land. Jodo popularized Amidism, a form of Buddhism the monk Genshin (942-1017) had written about and that centered on the worship of the Amida Buddha. The Amida resided in the Western Paradise and welcomed in all the faithful. No undo ceremony or spiritual honing was necessary for admittance to Paradise, only a honest belief in the Buddha and the reciting of his name in praise (the nembutsu). By the start of the Kamakura Period, Jôdo would have a strong following among the common people, for whom its straightforward approach appealed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the established schools of Buddhism did not take kindly to Jôdo, and made very effort to limit its spread. Yet by the 15th and 16th centuries, Jôdo was to prove an exceptionally powerful force.

The Clans
The capital was perhaps not an exceedingly dangerous place for those notables of non-Fujiwara blood, but it could be a decided dead end. It is tempting, and not implausible, to imagine frustrated nobles departing for the wilds of the east, determined to make a name for themselves in the provinces. Those who left Heian-Kyo did so in the knowledge that they would never again be able to move casually in the 'world of the shining price'. As the Heian Period wore on, the divide in culture between those in the capital and those in the provinces would grow into a gulf.

The most famous of these clans (and by extension many later families) owed their existence to a bit of foresight on the part of the Emperor Temmu. Concerned that in time the Imperial house would grow to an unmanageable size and cost, Temmu declared that descendants of the emperors in the sixth generation were to be deprived of the rank of prince and instead receive a family name. This began to be observed in the time of Kammu (r.782-805) and provided the genesis of the Taira and Minamoto. The Taira (or Heike, or Heishi) were descended from Prince Katsurabara (the emperor Kammu's son), whose eldest son Takamune first took the name Taira. Katsurabara's second son, Takami, received permission to give the Taira name to his own son, Takamochi. Takamochi received the name in 889 on the authority of the emperor Uda and his son Kunika (d.935) settled in Hitachi province. It is primarily the line established by Takami's descendants that we will be encountering from this point onward.

The Minamoto (or Genji) were founded in a similar way but in their case, a total of four branches were established, each of which was named after the emperor from it was descended: the Saga-Genji, Murakami-Genji, Uda-Genji, and Seiwa-Genji. Of these four, the last could be considered the most important historically. Founded by the son of Prince Sadazumi (and therefore grandson of the emperor Seiwa), Tsunemoto (894-961), this branch took the name Minamoto in 961.

At this point, a common misconception should be noted. Contrary to what one might think, there was little unity of purpose amongst the various branches of the Taira and Minamoto. This is relevant in that the rise of the warrior house is sometimes attributed to the formation and growth of these two clans, which while true to some extent, is misleading. The names Taira and Minamoto were practically generic by the 11th Century, and numerous members of the two families formed their own offshoot families, often taking the name of the district in which they lived (the Ashikaga of Shimotsuke are a nice example). Furthermore, the court enjoyed a greater influence in the provinces then might be expected. One of the ways in which it affected this was the appointment of trusted men who became career governors. Most commonly drawn from the Minamoto and Taira families, these men were given successive appointments in various provinces, sometimes where a questionable element was thought to exist. As well as providing strong governors where needed, this strategy also assured that no Minamoto or Taira chieftain would be in one place long enough to form dangerously strong ties with his vassals there. As Jeffery Mass has pointed out, the various heads of the Minamoto and Taira were military-nobles, leaders whose ties were strong in both capital and province. Later events (those leading up to and following the Gempei War) do not weaken this view - rather, they substantiate them. The Heiji Distrubance of 1156, for instance, saw Minamoto and Taira allied on either side of the contest, and very much a part of Kyoto politics in general. Taira Kiyomori and Minamoto Yoritomo were able to achieve what they did largely as a result of the familiarity of their houses and the court, a point we will touch on again somewhat later.

The court had at one time moved to limit the potential power of the clans by decreeing that weapons were to be restricted to the Imperial military or otherwise regulated by the Ministry of Military Affairs (the Hyôbûsho). As conscription was abandoned in the early Heian Period, so was this decidedly half-hearted law. Just when one could really begin to refer to 'warrior houses', however, is a matter of great debate. The truth is that much of the development of the samurai is a matter of conjecture. We do see the term applied to palace guards in the 10th Century, but little can be drawn from that example beyond an affirmation of the 'one who serves' translation of the word. That the clans maintained some form of private army can be safely assumed, but to the extent that these were professional is most unclear, and likely the archetypal samurai of the 10th-13th Century was much like the later jizamurai - men of the land who counted military service as but one of their duties. Nonetheless, that a plentiful basis for the warrior tradition in Japan would be provided in the Heian Period goes without saying.

Early Exploits
In the year 935, a grandson of Taira Takamochi, Taira Masakado, petitioned the court for the respectable title of Kebiishi (Commissioner of Government Police). Masakado was something of a hothead, and according to the Konjaku Monogatari, was quick to resort to battle to resolve problems with his neighbors. Perhaps in view of this, the court refused Masakado the title he sought. Infuriated, he returned to his lands in the Kanto region and threw up the flag of rebellion, though perhaps not so much against the court as his local rivals. He killed his uncle Kunika and clashed with Taira Sadamori while attracting a number of neighboring landowners to his side. Emboldened by his successes and the lack of a reaction from Kyoto, Masakado went so far as to declare himself emperor, claiming a mandate to do so from the Sun Goddess herself. This proved a grave error, however, as it stiffened the opposition of his enemies and allowed the court to declare him a rebel. Loyalist forces under the command of Taira Sadamori and Fujiwara Hidesato first forced Masakado onto the defensive then defeated him at the Battle of Kojima in 940. In the course of the fighting Masakado was struck by an arrow in the head and was killed.

At around the same time the Minamoto clan gained some prestige by suppressing a formidable fleet of pirates commanded by Fujiwara Sumimoto that preyed on shipping in the Inland Sea between 936 and 941. Both Masakado and Sumimoto had presented the court with very real challenges, and both had failed due to the willingness of other chieftains to respect the wishes of the court and offer battle on the emperor's behalf. Those who rendered such services could hope for land grants and other rewards, and over the years certain families came to grow particularly powerful. Once such family was the Minamoto, whose capture of Fujiwara Sumimoto had earned them acclaim soon to be overshadowed by the endeavors of one of their most famous sons: Minamoto Yoshiie.

Hachiman Taro
Minamoto Yoshiie, a man who came to embody the spirit of the samurai and a legend even in his own time, was the son of Minamoto Yoriyoshi. Yoriyoshi, the third generation of the Seiwa Genji, was a noted commander, and in 1051 was commissioned to defeat the rebellious Abe family of Dewa. The Abe had for years held prominent posts in this distant, forbidding region, and had come to enjoy a near autonomous existance. Like Taira Masakado, the Abe had been tasked with subduing the northern barbarians, and, from the Court's point of view and over time, become barbarians themselves.

Yoriyoshi's chief opponent was Abe Yoritoki, an unscrupulous character who died of an arrow wound in 1057. By this point in the so-called Former Nine-Years War, Yoriyoshi's son Yoshiie had joined the expedition. A promising young warrior, Yoshiie participated in the Battle of Kawasaki (later in 1057) against Yoritoki's heir Sadato. In a snowstorm, the Minamoto assaulted Sadato's stronghold at Kawasaki and were driven back; in the course of the hard-fought retreat Yoshiie distinguished himself and earned the nickname 'Hachimantaro', or 'First son (or First born) of the God of War (Hachiman)'. Abe Sadato comes across as an altogether more impressive man than his father, and proved a formidable foe even for Yoshiie and Yoriyoshi. Yet the Minamoto cause was much assisted by the enlistment of Kiyowara Noritake, a locally powerful figure whose rugged northern men swelled Yoriyoshi's ranks.

In 1057 the fighting culminated in a series of actions that further enhanced Yoshiie's reputation. Sadato had attacked the Minamoto troops but suffering a reverse retreated into a fort by the Koromo River. Yoriyoshi ordered a spirit assault on the fort, which Sadato was forced to flee. During the chaotic retreat, Yoshiie was supposed to have chased Sadato and had an impromptu renga (linked verse) session with his enemy from horseback, afterwards allowing him to escape, as related in the Mutsu Waki…

'Yoriyoshi's first son, Hachiman Taro, gave hot pursuit along the Koromo River and called out, "Sir, you show your back to your enemy! Aren't you ashamed? Turn around a minute, I have something to tell you." When Sadato turned around, Yoshiie said:

Koromo no tate wa hokorobinikeri
Koromo Castle has been destroyed. [The warps in your robe have come undone]

Sadato relaxed his reins somewhat and, turning his helmeted head, followed that with:

toshi o heishi ito no midare no kurushisa ni
over the years its threads became tangled, and this pains me

Hearing this, Yoshiie put away the arrow he had readied to shoot, and returned to his camp. In the midst of such a savage battle, that was a gentlemanly thing to do. 3

The likelihood that this incident actually occurred is probably nil but it made Yoshiie seem all the more colorful, and gave him an opponent worthy in both warfare and culture. Tales like these laid the groundwork for the samurai mystique, and provided young warriors with ready-made role models and measures against which to test their own prowess and bravery.

Yoshiie may have spared his noble opponent, but the war was nearly over. Sadato continued his flight until he reached one of his remaining forts, this one on the Kuriyagawa, and prepared for another stand. The government troops arrived and after a few days of fighting brought the fort down. Sadato and his son died, and his brother Muneto was captured. Yoshiie gave thanks to his (nick)namesake by establishing the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine near Kamakura on the way back to Kyoto. Yoriyoshi was awarded the governorship of Iyo for his services against the Abe while Yoshiie was named Governor of Mutsu. Interestingly, Abe Muneto was released into the custody of the Minamoto and lived in Iyo, becoming a companion of Yoshiie's.

In 1083 Yoshiie was commissioned by the Court to subdue another rebel, this time against the same Kiyowara family who had assisted the Minamoto in the previous war. After the Abe's defeat, the Kiyowara had been elevated and filled the power vacuum in the north. A power struggle had broken out among various family members, and in the end Yoshiie was sent to quell the disturbance. The conflict became known as the Later Three-Year War and culminated, after a setback at Numu (1086), in the Battle of Kanazawa. In an incident that became a famous military anecdote, Yoshiie's men were advancing to contact when a flock of birds began to settle in a certain spot then abruptly flew off. Yoshiie suspected an ambush and had the place surrounded, sure enough revealing the enemy army. Yoshiie went on to reduce Kanazawa through siege and the Later Three-Year War drew to a close. The Court was pleased that the Kiyowara had been suppressed, but viewed the conflict as outside the Court's responsibility, as technically Yoshiie had not been commissioned by the emperor to fight. This meant that no rewards would be distributed to Yoshiie's men, an unfortunate situation Yoshiie remedied by paying them himself with his own lands. This action greatly enhanced Yoshiie's reputation and also secured lasting bonds of loyalty for the Minamoto in the Kanto region, bonds that would pay dividends in the following century.

Stinginess aside, the aristocracy held Yoshiie in near-awe, and Fujiwara Munetada dubbed him 'The Samurai of the greatest bravery under heaven.' At the same time, the Court kept Yoshiie at arm's length. It did go so far as permitting Yoshiie to visit the Imperial Court in 1098; a rare honor that by it's very rareness indicates the widening gulf between the Court and provincial houses. This alienation would in the end contribute to the eclipse of Imperial authority by the samurai in the later 12th Century.

The Rise of the Taira
Perhaps as a result of Taira Masakado's belligerence or simply through the whims of fortune, the Taira family had not achieved the same fame as had the Minamoto. This began to change during the career of Taira Tadamori (1096-1153). His father, Taira Masamori, had been a particularly successful 'career-governor', acting as headman to no fewer then nine provinces over the course of his life. Tadamori would not match that record, but did become close to retired emperor Shirakawa, and as a result received the title of kebiishi and the governorship of Bizen, Harima, and Ise. He earned the gratitude of the court by suppressing Inland Sea pirates, and gradually the Taira's power base shifted to the western provinces. Tadamori received a favored concubine from his Imperial patron, and nine months later she gave birth to a child who would come to be known as Taira Kiyomori (1115-1181). He became a commander of palace guards in the capital and in 1146 the governor of Aki province, in the meantime earning a reputation for decisiveness. In one celebrated (and possibly apocryphal) event in 1146, one of his men insulted the head priest of Kyoto's Gion Shrine, prompting a large group of warrior monks to march on the city and demand Kiyomori's chastisement. Kiyomori rode out and to the shock of all present, shot an arrow into their mikoshi, a decided act of sacrilege that did have the effect of scattering the monks.

Tadanori died in 1153 and was succeded by Kiyomori, who was to advance his family's fortunes considerably by backing the right horse during the Hôgen Disturbance (Hôgen no ran) of 1156. Trouble had been brewing in the court since 1141. In that year, the retired emperor Toba forced his eldest son, the Emperor Sutoku (r.1123-1441), to abdicate in favor of a two-year old (borne by a favorite consort) to be known as Konoe. Konoe died in 1155, but Toba, rather then sponsoring Sotoku's son as successor, insisted that a half-brother be placed on the throne. Much to Sutoku's chagrin, Go-Shirakawa took the throne in November of 1155. Lines began to be drawn between Sutoku and Go-Shirakawa, a situation enflamed by a bitter feud that divided the Fujiwara family. Toba died in August of 1156 and events began to move quickly, though Sutoku was gripped by a hesitation that would prove fatal for his cause.

The Taira and Minamoto were both to be divided in the conflict. Kiyomori threw in with Go-Shirakawa, while his uncle Tadamasa took up Sutoku's cause. Minamoto Yoshitomo joined with Kiyomori even as his own uncle Tameyoshi and brother Tametomo joined Sutoku. The warrior monks of Mt. Hiei gave their nominal support to Sutoku, but could not be counted on. Yoshitomo suggested a sudden and decisive night raid on Sutoku's compound, the Shirakawa-den, a strategy that his brother Tametomo had actually urged Sutoku to authorize against Go-Shirakawa. Unlike his half-brother, Go-Shirakawa gave permission for the attack to proceed and in a violent action that left the Shirakawa-den in flames, Sutoku's side was crushed. Master archer Tametomo distinguished himself with great acts of bravery, and was afterwards spared, though at the cost, we are told, of the tendons in his firing arm. Sutoku was sent into exile to Sanuki Province, where he later died at the age of 64. Kiyomori and Yoshitomo were not so lenient towards their own uncles, whom they had executed.

The Hôgen Disturbace left Kiyomori in a strong position, and the following year he was made the head of the Daifuzu on Kyushu, a post once considered a dead-end but now a chance for Kiyomori to consolidate his hold on the western provinces. He actually remains a popular figure in western Japan, remembered for his economic initiatives and his patronage of the Itskushima Shrine on Miyajima. Thanks to his friendship with Go-Shirakawa's chief councilor Fujiwara Michinori (Shinzei), Kiyomori's influence at court and prestige continued to grow - much to Minamoto Yoshitomo's dismay. Yoshitomo had not been as fortunate in the wake of the Hogen Disturbance, and he became jealous of his erstwhile ally. He made an alliance with a certain Fujiwara Nobuyuki, a rival of Michinori, and together they plotted to depose their respective opponents. By this point, Go-Shirakawa had retired in favor of his son Nijô, and as the latter was also fond of Kiyomori, the conspirators were careful to wait for just the right opportunity to move.

Yoshitomo's chance came in January of 1160. Kiyomori had recently departed the capital to make a pilgrimage to Kumano and in his absence Yoshitomo seized both Go-Shirakawa and Nijô. Fujiwara Michinori suffered the burning of his mansion and was forced to commit suicide in an attempt to reach Kiyomori. In the afterglow of their success, Yoshitomo and Nobuyuki granted themselves titles and rewards-only to reap the consequences of their actions. Kiyomori rushed back to capital and with the able assistance of his son Shigemori made his way to his mansion at Rokuhara. Even as the two plotted some counter-attack, both Nijô and Shirakawa were rescued and brought under Taira protection, leaving Kiyomori a free hand in his planning. The Minamoto headquarters were assaulted, and after a stiff battle Yoshitomo was forced to flee the capital and headed eastward. He made it as far as Owari province before being murdered in his bath by Taira supporters even as three of his sons fell into Kiyomori's hands. These were Yoritomo, Noriyori, and Yoshitsune, all of whom Kiyomori spared and sent to the eastern provinces. This act of benevolence would later be bitterly regretted by the Taira. To the other members of the conspiracy, little compassion was shown. Yoshitomo's rashness had seen the Minamoto clan stripped of many of its most prestigious chieftains and the Taira left virtually unchallengeable.

With a now doubly grateful Go-Shirakawa and Nijô restored to their places in Kyoto, Kiyomori's influence continued to grow. That same year he received a court title (the Senior Third Rank) and in 1167 was granted the title of dajodaijin, or Grand Minister of State-the highest rank bestowed on a subject by the Emperor. Popular history has traditionally painted Kiyomori as a cruel military dictator, who relegated his imperial patrons to the role of mere puppets. In fact, at least initially, Kiyomori and Go-Shirakawa may have acted more as partners then puppet-puppeteer, and Kiyomori's military strength does not justify the picture of a warrior usurping the throne. Like so much of Japanese history, the relationship of the court and clan (be that warrior or otherwise) defies easy explanation or quantification.

Needless to say, Kiyomori was not without an enormous ambition, and as the years passed, his relationship with Go-Shirakawa proceeded to turn sour. The Taira clan began to resemble the Fujiwara in its rampant nepotism, and it is perhaps only now that we can begin to describe either 'Taira' or 'Minamoto' as inclusive units. Stung and shamed by the events of the Heiji Disturbance, the Minamoto went dormant for the next twenty years. In that time, the three sons that Kiyomori had spared came of age. The stage for the epic Gempei War had been set.

- - - - -

1. The term sohei was in fact not a contemporary term, and many of the accepted assumptions regarding the activities of the so-called warrior monks are now being challanged. For what promises to be an illuminating look at the secular powers held by religous institutions in medieval Japan, see the forthcoming work by Prof. Mikael S. Adolphson - "The Gates of Power' (Hawaii, to be published in December).

2. Sato Legends of the Samurai pg. 99

3. Much of the following chapter is drawn from the biography of Yoshiie found elswhere on this page.

- source : F.W. Seal -


- quote -
The Heian period (794 - 1185)
by Brad Shows
To escape the Buddhist Monastery influence on the court the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784. Then, before it was actually completed, it was moved to Heian in 794, the present location of the city of Kyoto. In the beginning of the ninth century Emperor Kanmu restricted the places where Buddhist temples were built keeping them away from the center of the city and palace until his death in 806. However after his death things changed and Buddhist temples were built throughout the city (Leonard 31).

Inside the city, according to Totman, the Heian city population was around one hundred thousand, with only about five thousand of those being aristocrats. The rest were from various classes of people from the untitled but influential subordinates and clerics to the slaves. The aristocratic courtiers had to have attendants who took care of their needs and craftsmen who created the elaborate decorations of the court, monasteries, or shrines. There were also merchants and artisans who occupied the markets of the city to trade their goods like animal skins, vegetables, ceramics, medicine, and iron utensils (#Totman 57). Also, many of the nobles were large landowners or administrators of Shoen.

Outside the city the country was still a barbaric place to live in the Nara and Heian periods. Most people of that time lived in the provinces and were primarily agricultural producers who produced rice for themselves and their superiors. There were also the provincial officials, administrators, and clerics living in the provinces. Local provincial monasteries, and shrines existed as well. There were various other people from the constable forces to the peasants. The peasants lived in close-knit village communities. They paid taxes through produce or labor and may have traded goods locally as well. Also, there were still Ainu and Ezo areas in the northeast, but they were eventually defeated or retreated to the north (Totman 58).

The post of regent to the emperor was established in the Heian period. It is the most powerful of any of the other offices in the government. He actually has control over the imperial government giving little or no power to the emperor himself. The emperor ruled in name only. The early emperors were usually children and therefore, it was very easy for the regent to exercise control over the government.

The Fujiwara family also increased its influence on the Imperial family and Japan with the establishment of the post of Regent to the Emperor. They made this post hereditary sealing the families control over both the Imperial family and Japan until the eleventh century (Leonard 31-32). During the beginning of the 9th century the city was being built, and the majority of Japan's people consisted of the peasant class. The people above that level who were slightly more cultivated were the provincial officials, priests, and landowners (Leonard 32). The highest class of people were the aristocrats who lived in the city itself. They were directly associated with the Imperial family in some way. Many of the historical accounts of this era come form this group of highly educated class of people.

The Heian period is considered the classical period in Japanese history because during that period, the development of the Japanese culture flourished. Japan had an explosion of artistic and literary expression during that time (Leonard 31). It was during the period from 794 to 1185 that this explosion took place. During that period the aristocracy ruled the country from a lavish city called Heian-kyo. There the aristocracy practiced writing literature, poetry, music, and art. They wore elaborately decorated clothing (Leonard 35). The aristocracy developed a court culture of values and rituals. The Japanese writing system "kana" was developed during this period. Many of the classical writings of poems and stories were developed during this time like, "The Tales of Genji," "Kagero Nikki" court lady's diary and others. This was a period of peace and tranquility in which the aristocratic Japanese, of that time, were able to create a unique culture.

In the early classical period art always had a religious theme, but much latter art was used to represent the daily life of the aristocrats. The art that represented court life was known as Yamato-e a form of Japanese painting (Totman 42). This form of painting was colorful and was used to illustrate landscapes and the life of notable courtesans (Totman 42).

The architecture of the time was also borrowed from the Chinese. The elaborate buildings of the time required great architectural knowledge and skills. As with all other forms of art it began as a direct copy, but by the end of the Heian period it had been given a Japanese flavor. The first cities were laid out in the symmetrical model of the Chinese, but latter strayed from symmetrical layout and construction (Totman 42).

Additionally, woodworking, bronze casting, writing poetry, sculpting, and music were all perfected during Japan's classical period. Music was used in the court and was known as gagaku. It was an orchestra form of music using wind instruments, kotos Japanese string instruments, and percussion instruments (Totman 51). It was performed in concert form and also was accompanied by dancers (Totman 51). This form of court music is still in use today (Totman 51).

Dai Nichi, Heian Era 1176, at Enjyo-ji in Nara Photo Courtesy Emperor Kwammu sent Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) and Kukai (Kobo Daishi) to China to find a more spiritual form of Buddhism (Bunce 9). Saicho brought back the Tendai sect and Kukai brought the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Both sects promised that they would be beneficial to the state and allow state control of their monasteries and their activities (Totman 34). Kukai's Shingon sect had elaborate ceremonies that the Tendai sect eventually adopted. This form of religion esoteric Buddhism appealed to the aristocrats of the court. The religions used secrete formulae, magnificent symbolism, and emotional participation in its rituals. Only the court elite could afford to practice such a religion with its expensive and time consuming practices (Totman 37). This is known as Aristocratic Buddhism, and it created a separation of those who are worthy of and could attain the grace Buddha and those who are not worthy (Totman 37).

The Tendai-Shingon was the religion of the aristocrats, but the rest of the country followed other sects of Buddhism and Shinto beliefs. Still in the villages the people mainly followed the Shinto religion because they had little contact with the court elite.

In the late Heian period a combining of the Shinto and Buddhist religions in the form of Ryobu-Shinto took place. It was a way to spread Buddhism among the non-aristocratic people of Japan. Ryobu-Shinto is a combination of the Shingon Buddhism and Shinto religions. It eventually became more like, Buddhism absorbing the Shinto religion because many of the Shinto rituals and native deities took on a Buddhist appearance (Bunce 11).

The period from 650 to 1100 has been described as the "classical age of Japan." It was so named because great and lasting strides in education, literature, government, and religion were made during that period. However, this was true for only a small handful of people lucky enough to be born of noble blood. The majority of Japan was still a barbaric and backward place in which to live. Probably the most notable developments of the period were the establishment of a central government and a writing system. The classical period eventually came to an end, as the aristocrats focused on court life and lost sight of the country outside of the walls of their "heaven on earth" they had created. This eventually led to the power shifting from the central government to the outlying provinces and gave rise to the warrior class.
- source : Brad Shows, 2003 -


- source : JAANUS - Heian Jidai -

The Heian period (794-1185), during which Heiankyou 平安京 (later, Kyoto) became the political and cultural capital of Japan.
The period is divided into Early ; *Kounin-Jougan jidai 弘仁貞観時代 or simply Jougan jidai 貞観時代 (794-894), Middle ; *Fujiwara jidai 藤原時代 (894-1086) and Late ; Insei (Cloistered Rule) jidai 院政時代 (1086-1185).

Early Heian culture was still under the influence of the Chinese Tang dynasty, but in 894 imperially sponsored embassies to China were abolished because it was thought that the Tang dynasty would soon be overthrown and a new, Japanese culture *kokufuu bunka 国風文化 began to develop.
The end of the period is almost universally placed at 1185, the year in which the Minamoto 源 shogunate was established in Kamakura 鎌倉.

During the early part of the Heian period, two new sects of esoteric Buddhism were introduced from China to Japan: these were the Tendai 天台 which focused on *Shaka 釈迦 (the historical Buddha) at the center of devotion, and Shingon 真言 which worshipped Vairocana (Birushana 毘盧遮那) the Buddha of Essence. Both sects established temples in the mountains, adapting their building arrangements to suit the environment. Murouji 室生寺 in Nara, is the only esoteric temple from this time that remains untouched by fire. The images worshipped at these isolated temples were provincial variations of urban prototypes. They were made by local workers, sometimes the monks themselves, and were carved out of single tree trunks, a style that seems traceable to the Kushan Indian and the Gandaharan style. A good example is the *Yakushi 薬師 (9c) at Jingoji 神護寺 in Kyoto. Shingon also brought with it a pantheon of deities inspired by Indian Hindu gods. These images had multiple arms and heads and fierce countenances to indicate their intensity of purpose. Both sculpted and painted mandalas, or cosmic graphs were used to focus believers' meditation.
See *mandara 曼荼羅 mandala.
A life-sized sculptural mandara is set on a large altar in the Lecture Hall *Koudou 講堂 of Touji 東寺 (Kyouougokokuji 教王護国寺) in Kyoto, and the famous painted *Ryoukai mandara 両界曼荼羅 (Two World Mandara ) also belongs to this temple. The middle part of the Heian period was dominated by the Fujiwara family who inspired exquisitely elegant art forms. Pure Land Buddhism joudokyou 浄土教, based on the worship of *Amida 阿弥陀 and rebirth into the Western Paradise saihou joudo 西方浄土, became popular with the court and, in time, the common people as well. Byoudouin Hououdou Hoo-Do 平等院鳳凰堂 (1053) in Kyoto is an example of an aristocratic residence complete with temple, garden and pond that was constructed in order to replicate in this world, the Western Paradise in all its splendor.

flourished under the Fujiwara with the creation of such notable works as GENJI MONOGATARI 源氏物語 (The Tale of Genji) written around 1000 CE by a noblewoman of the court, Murasaki Shikibu 紫式部, and KAGEROU NIKKI 蜻蛉日記 (Gossamer Years), written by the mother of Fujiwara no Michitsuna, Fujiwara no Michitsuna no haha 藤原道綱母 (977), and with the development of the thirty one syllable poem waka 和歌.

The late Heian period, characterized by the rule of cloistered, retired emperors insei 院政, was even more opulent than the middle period, as the imperial family spent lavishly on the new clan temples and secular projects such as the creation of one hundred paintings illustrating excerpts from GENJI MONOGATARI (see *genji-e 源氏絵) and poems of the thirty-six poets, the SANJUUROKUNIN SHUU 三十六人集 Sanjurokunin Shu, on scrolls of gorgeous colored papers with gold and silver decorations.
The elaborate and beautiful HEIKE NOUKYOU 平家納経 Heike Nokyo (Sutras Dedicated by the Heike) were also produced during this period.

Finally, the lengthy peace and prosperity of the era was broken by conflicts over competition for power between the Minamoto (Genji 源氏) and Taira 平 (Heike 平家) clans.

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