Ancient Japan - Classical Japan - Heian Period

Heian Period

The Heian period, lasting from 794 to 1185, is the final period of classical Japanese history. It is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially its poetry and literature. In the early 11th century, Lady Shikibu Murasaki wrote Japan's (and one of the world's) oldest surviving novels, The Tale of Genji. The Man'yōshū and Kokin Wakashū, the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry, were compiled during this period.

Strong differences from mainland Asian cultures emerged (such as an indigenous writing system, the kana). Due to the decline of the Tang Dynasty, Chinese influence had reached its peak, and then effectively ended, with the last imperially sanctioned mission to Tang China in 838, although trade expeditions and Buddhist pilgrimages to China continued.

Political power in the imperial court was in the hands of powerful aristocratic families (kuge), especially the Fujiwara clan, who ruled under the titles Sesshō and Kampaku (imperial regents). The Fujiwara clan obtained almost complete control over the imperial family. However, the Fugiwara Regents who advised the Imperial Court were content to derive their authority from imperial line. This meant that the Fujiwara authority could always be challenged by a vigorous emperor. Fujiwara domination of the Court during the time from 858 until about 1160 led to this period being called "the Fujiwara Period." The Fujiwara clan gained this ascendancy because of their matrimonial links with the imperial family. Indeed, because of the number of emperors that were born to Fujiwara mothers, the Fujiwara Regents became so closely identified with the imperial family, that people saw no difference between the "direct rule" by the imperial family and the rule of the Fujiwara Regents. Accordingly, when dissatisfaction with the government arose resulting in the Hogen Rebellion (1156–1158), the Heiji Rebellion (1160) and the Gempei War (1180–1185), the target of the dissatisfaction was the Fujiwara Regents, as well as the Imperial family. The Gempei War ended in 1185 with the naval battle of Dan-no-ura in which the Minamoto clan defeated the Taira clan. In 1192, the Court appointed Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan to a number of high positions in government. These positions were consolidated and Yoritomo became the first person to be designated the Seii-tai-shogun or "Shogun." Yoritomo then defeated the Fujiwara clan in a military campaign in the north of Japan. This spelled the end of the Fujiwara Period and the end of Fujiwara influence over the government.

The end of the period saw the rise of various military clans. The four most powerful clans were the Minamoto clan, the Taira clan, the Fujiwara clan, and the Tachibana clan. Towards the end of the 12th century, conflicts between these clans turned into civil war, such as the Hōgen (1156–1158). The Hogen Rebellion was of cardinal importance to Japan, since it was the turning point that led to the first stages of the development of feudalism in Japan. The Heiji Rebellion of 1160 also occurred during this period and the uprising was followed by the Genpei War, from which emerged a society led by samurai clans under the political rule of the shōgun—the beginnings of feudalism in Japan.

Buddhism began to spread during the Heian Period. However, Buddhism was split between two sects—the Tendai sect which had been brought to Japan from China by Saichō (767–822) and the Shingon sect which had been introduced from China by Kūkai (774–835). Whereas, the Tendai sect tended to be a monastic form of Buddhism which established isolated monasteries or temples on the tops of mountains, the Shingon variation of Buddhism was a less philosophical and more practical and more popular version of the religion. Pure Land Buddhism (Jōdo-shū, Jōdo Shinshū) was a form of Buddhism which was much simpler than either the Tendai or Shingon versions of Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism became very popular in Japan during a time of degeneration and trouble in the latter half of the 11th century.

Read more about this topic:  Ancient Japan, Classical Japan

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... institutions in Nara moved the capital to Heian-kyō (Kyōto), which remained the imperial capital for the next 1,000 years ... The term Heian period refers to the years between 794 and 1185, when the Kamakura shogunate was established at the end of the Genpei War ... The period is further divided into the early Heian and the late Heian, or Fujiwara era, the pivotal date being 894, the year imperial embassies to China were officially discontinued ...
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