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Heian Period
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Heian Period

The History of Japan
Jomon
Yayoi
Yamato period
Nara period
Heian Period
Kamakura period
Muromachi period
Azuchi-Momoyama period
Edo period
Meiji Era
Taisho period
Japanese expansionism
Occupied Japan
Post-Occupation Japan
Heisei
The Heian period (平安時代) is the last division of classical Japanese history that runs from 794 to 1185. The Heian period is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art and especially in poetry and literature. The name heian is a word that means "peace" in Japanese.

The Heian period is preceded by the Nara period and began in 794 after the movement of the capital of Japanese civilisation to Kyoto by the 50th emperor Kammu. It is considered a high point in Japanese culture that later generations have always admired. Also, the time period is also noted for the rise of the samurai class, which would eventually take power and start the feudal period of Japan.

Nominally, sovereignty lay in the emperor but in fact power was wielded by the Fujiwara nobility. The entry of the warrior class into court influence was a result of the Hogen disturbance. At this time Taira Kiyomori revived the Fujiwara practices by placing his grandson on the throne to rule Japan by regency. Their clan would not be overthrown until after the Genpei War, which marked the start of the shogunates. The Kamakura period began in 1185 when Minamoto no Yoritomo seized power from the emperors and established a bakufu, the Kamakura Shogunate, in Kamakura.

This period saw the flowering of the Shingon school of esoteric Buddhism, founded by Kukai, as well as the Jodo Shinshu, or True Pure Land, school, founded by Shinran.

Heian period literature

Although written Chinese remained the official language of the Heian period imperial court, the introduction and wide use of kana saw a boom in Japanese literature. Despite the establishment of several new literary genre such as the novel and narrative monogatari (物語) and essays, literacy was only common among the court and Buddhist clergy.

The lyrics of the modern Japanese national anthem, "Kimi Ga Yo," were written in the Heian period, as was The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, one of the first novels in Japanese. Murasaki Shikibu's contemporary and rival Sei Shonagon's revealing observations and musings as an attendant in the Empress' court were recorded collectively as The Pillow Book in the 990s. The famous Japanese poem known as the iroha was also written during the Heian period.

Heian period economics

While on one hand the Heian period was indeed an unusually long period of peace, it can also be argued that the period weakened Japan economically and led to poverty for all but a tiny few of its inhabitants. The aristocratic beneficiaries of Heian culture, the Yokibito meaning the Good People, numbered about five thousand in a land of perhaps five million. One reason the samurai where able to take power was that the ruling nobility proved incompetent at managing Japan and its provinces. By the year 1000 the government no longer knew how to issue currency and money was gradually disappearing . The lack of a solid medium of economic exchange is implicitly illustrated in novels of the time, for instance messengers are rewarded with useful objects, e.g. an old silk kimono, rather than paid a fee. The Fujiwara rulers also failed to maintain adequate police forces, which let robbers free to prey on travellers. This is again implicitly illustrated in novels by the terror that night travel inspired in the main characters.


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