Heian-kyo’s aristocrats had plenty of leisure time for sporting events, games, and contests. Men enjoyed watching horse races, archery contests, and sumo wrestling. In sumo wrestling, young men of great weight try to throw each other to the ground or out of the ring. When the weather was warm, men and women alike enjoyed watching boat races along the river that ran through the city.
Groups of courtiers played a game called kemari, in which they kicked a leather ball back and forth, keeping it in the air for as long as possible. They played in the same elegant robes they wore at court. Women used the stone pieces of the popular board game goto play a game called rango. The object was to balance as many stones as possible on one finger.
Each of the many festivals and celebrations on the Heian calendar had its own customs. Many involved contests that tested athletic, poetic, or artistic skill. For example, in the Festival of the Snake, cups of wine were floated in a stream. Guests took a cup and drank from it. Then they had to think up and recite a poem. Other special days featured contests that judged the best-decorated fans, the most fragrant perfumes, the loveliest artwork, or the most graceful dancing.
Dancing was an important skill for Heian-kyo’s nobles, since dance was part of nearly every festival. Bugaku performances were a popular form of entertainment. Bugaku combined dance with music and drama. Bugaku dancers wore masks and acted out a simple story using memorized movements. (Caption)
Noblemen, dressed in silk robes and court hats, enjoy a game of kemari. The object of the game was to keep the ball in the air as long as possible. Page 235
21.7 Sculpture and Painting During the Heian Period
During the Heian period, artists continued to be influenced by Chinese art. Gradually, however, sculptors and painters created their own Japanese styles.
Early Heian sculptors commonly made an entire work from one piece of wood. Later in this period, sculptors made statues by carving separate pieces from carefully selected wood and then joining them. With the help of assistants, sculptors could make the separate parts in large quantities. As a result, they could create a group of similar statues quickly and precisely. Jocho, an artist who worked for Fujiwara Michinaga, probably developed this technique.
Jocho made perhaps the greatest masterpiece of Heian sculpture, the Amida Buddha. This Buddha, “The Lord of Boundless Light,” was the subject of much popular worship in Japan. Jocho’s beautifully carved statue expresses a sense of deep peace and strength.
In painting, Heian artists consciously developed a Japanese style. To distinguish it from Chinese-style art, they called it yamato-e, or “Japanese painting.” Painters drew their scenes with thin lines and then filled them in with bright colors. Lines were made quickly to suggest movement. In a restful scene, lines were drawn more deliberately.
At first artists used the new style to paint Buddhist subjects. But over time they focused on nonreligious scenes. There were four main types of yamato-e: landscapes showing the four seasons, places of natural beauty, people doing seasonal tasks, and scenes from literature (called “story paintings”).
The new style of painting was used to decorate walls, screens, and the sliding doors of houses and temples. Some of the most famous examples of yamato-e, however, are scroll paintings. A scroll painting shows a series of scenes from right to left, so that viewers see events in time order as they unroll the scroll. Scroll painting had been invented in China, but Heian painters added their own distinctive touches. For example, they often showed scenes inside buildings from above, as if the viewer were peering though an invisible roof. (Caption)
This statue is made of joined pieces of wood. The peg at the shoulder would have fit into the arm piece. Page 236
21.8 Writing and Literature During the Heian Period
Writing was the most valued form of expression in Heian Japan. Everyone was expected to show skill in using words well. Early Heian writers composed artful poems in Chinese. As time went on, distinctly Japanese ways of writing developed, both in daily life and in the creation of works of literature.
Writing in Daily Life Poetry was part of daily life in Heian-kyo. People were expected to make up poetry in public. If they could not think up a few clever lines to fit an occasion, others noticed the failure. Men and women carefully created poems to charm each other. When someone received a poem from a friend, family member, or acquaintance, he or she was expected to write a response. The reply poem was supposed to have the same style, mood, and imagery as the original.
In the last chapter, you learned how the Japanese used kana to write the syllables of their language with simplified Chinese characters. In Heian times, there were two ways of writing syllables, much like two separate alphabets. One, katakana, was more formal. Men used katakana when they wrote anything important. The second way of writing syllables was hiragana. Characters in hiragana are formed with simple strokes that make writing and reading easier and faster. Hiragana was mostly seen as “women’s writing.” Court women favored hiragana for personal writing, and some of them used it to create lasting works of literature. Over time, hiragana took its place alongside katakana as part of Japan’s written language.
Heian writers took care to present their work in a beautiful manner. Calligraphy skills were as important as the ability to create poetry. People believed that handwriting revealed their character and goodness better than the words they used. Calligraphy was often displayed on colorful, handmade paper. Sometimes the paper was even perfumed.
Women Become Japan’s Leading Writers The female companions to the courtiers of Heian-kyo were usually selected for their intelligence. They often took a great interest in literature. As a result, women led the flowering of a golden age of Japanese literature in the 10th and 11th centuries. (Caption)
Murasaki Shikibu, shown here at her desk, was a leading writer during the Heian period. She wrote The Tale of the Genji, often called the world’s first novel. (Vocabulary)
imagery descriptive or imaginative language, especially when used to inspire mental “pictures” Page 237
The best-known Heian writer was Murasaki Shikibu. Born into the Fujiwara family, she served as a lady-in-waiting to one of the daughters of Michinaga Fujiwara. Her novel, The Tale of Genji, is a Heian masterpiece. Today it is regarded as one of the great works in world literature.
The Tale of Genji is often called the world’s first novel. The book follows the love life of Genji, a fictional prince. It paints a vivid picture of life in the Heian court. Much of the book focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the characters, particularly the women. As a result, The Tale of Genji has served as a model for the modern romance novel.
Shikibu also kept a diary about her life in the court. Like her novel, her diary offers historians a close look at court life in the 10th and 11th centuries.
The other leading writer of the time was Sei Shonagon. Like The Tale of Genji, Shonagon’s Pillow Book presents a detailed picture of life in Heian-kyo. Pillow Book is a collection of clever stories, character sketches, conversations, descriptions of art and nature, and various lists. Here is Shonagon’s list of “Things That Should Be Short”: A piece of thread when one wants to sew something in a hurry.
A lamp stand.
The hair of a woman of the lower classes should be neat and short.
The speech of a young girl. Like Sei Shonagon, many Heian women wrote their thoughts and experiences in diaries. A book called The Gossamer Years is the earliest existing example. This diary by an unknown noblewoman describes her unhappy life as companion to a Fujiwara leader. Writers often included artwork, poems, and letters in their diary entries. (Caption)
The Tale of Genji describes the life of Japanese nobles during the Heian period. The painting on this detail of a six-panel screen is an illustration of a scene from the novel. Page 238
21.9 The End of the Heian Period
The Heian period is known as Japan’s Golden Age of peace. But despite the glittering imperial court, problems were brewing that would bring an end to the Heian period.
Aristocrats in Heian-kyo lived very well, but in Japan’s rural areas most people were quite poor. The peasants’ farming and other work supported Heian-kyo’s rich. Even so, the wealthy looked down on the poor and ignored their problems.
While the rich focused on culture in Heian-kyo, events in the countryside began to weaken the Heian court. The practice of giving large estates to top nobles slowly reduced the emperors’ power. Those who owned these estates paid no taxes. After a time, tax-free land was quite common. The government could no longer collect enough taxes to support the emperor.
Japan’s rulers began to lose control. Bandits roamed the countryside. People of different religions began to band together to attack and rob each other. The government was now too weak to supply law enforcement. Estate owners created their own police and armies to protect their lands. The profits from landowners’ estates went to paying the warriors instead of supporting the emperor.
By the 12th century, the power of some local lords rivaled that of the weakened imperial government. Fighting broke out over control of the land. Meanwhile, various clans struggled for power in the capital. By 1180, there was civil war in Japan.
In 1185, Minamoto Yoritomo, the head of a military family, seized power. A new era began in which military leaders controlled Japan. You will read more about this era in the next chapter. (Caption)
The wealthy nobles during the Heian period ignored the problems of poor people in Japan’s rural areas. Page 239
21.10 The Effect of the Heian Period on Japan Today
As you have learned, the Heian period saw the birth of a uniquely Japanese culture. The effects of this flowering of culture are still felt today. In fact, much of Japan’s culture has remained quite constant since the Heian period. This can be seen most clearly in Japan’s literature and drama.
Heian authors influenced many later Japanese writers. The Tale of Genjiby Murasaki Shikibu and Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon are classics. They are as basic to Japan as Shakespeare’s works are to English speakers.
The success of these writers had a major effect on Japan’s written language. The Japanese people today write with the same characters used in The Tale of Genji.
Heian influence can also be seen in modern poetry. The short poems called tanka were very popular in Heian times. Tanka poetry is still a vibrant part of Japanese literature today.
Modern Japanese drama also shows Heian influences. As you may recall, the bugaku performances of Heian times blended dance and drama. Bugaku led to Japan’s unique Noh theater. In Noh dramas, a chorus sings a heroic story as performers dance and act it out. Noh theater is centuries old, but it is still a popular form of entertainment in Japan. 21.11 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you learned about the Golden Age of Japanese culture. During the Heian period, aristocrats—especially the Fujiwara family—dominated the imperial court. They created a culture that was uniquely Japanese.
The aristocrats of Heian-kyo lived in great luxury. They prized beauty, elegance, and correct manners. Heian artists created new Japanese forms of sculpture and painting. Court women wrote classic works of Japanese literature.
The Heian period ended in civil war and the rise of new military leaders. In the next chapter, you will learn how these leaders created a warrior culture in Japan. (Caption)
This painting is another illustrated scene from The Tale of Genji. (Vocabulary)
Noh theater a classic form of Japanese drama involving heroic themes, a chorus, and dance Page 241
In the last chapter, you read about the court culture of Heian-kyo. Now you will learn about the rise of a powerful warrior class in Japan: the samurai.
As you learned in Chapter 21, in 1185 Minamoto Yoritomo came to power in Japan. In 1192, he took the title of shogun, or commander-in-chief. Yoritomo did not take the place of the emperor. Instead, he set up a military government with its own capital in the city of Kamakura. While the imperial court remained in Heian-kyo, emperors played a less and less important role in governing Japan.
The start of the Kamakura government marked the beginning of a new era in Japanese history. Increasingly, professional warriors—samurai—became Japan’s ruling class. The era of the samurai lasted for 700 years, until the emperor was restored to power in 1868.
Samurai were famed for their courage and skill. One young samurai told of being shot in the left eye with an arrow. Plucking out the arrow, he used it to shoot down the enemy marksman.
Over time, an elaborate culture and code of conduct grew up around the samurai. A samurai was expected to be honest, brave, and intensely loyal to his lord. In fact, the word samurai means “those who serve.” The samurai code was very strict. Samurai often killed themselves with their own swords rather than “lose face” or personal honor.
The samurai were more than fearless fighters. They were educated in art, writing, and literature. Many were devout Buddhists. Their religion helped them prepare for their duties and face death bravely.
In this chapter, you will meet Japan’s samurai. You will learn about their code of conduct and the lasting mark they left on Japanese culture. (Caption)
Use this illustration of a samurai as a graphic organizer to help you learn more about the samurai’s unique military skills and why the samurai are important in Japan’s history. Page 242
22.2 The Rise of the Samurai
The military government established by Minamoto Yoritomo was led by a shogun, or commander-in-chief. Although emperors continued to rule in name, the real power shifted to the shoguns.
Samurai Under the Shoguns Yoritomo and his successors rewarded warriors, or samurai, with appointments to office and grants of land. In return, the samurai pledged to serve and protect the shogun.
The rise of the samurai brought a new emphasis on military values in Japanese culture. All samurai trained in the arts of war, especially archery. During this period, women as well as men could be samurai. Girls and boys alike were trained to harden their feelings and to use weapons. One samurai wrote, Of what use is it to allow the mind to concentrate on the moon and flowers, compose poems, and learn how to play musical instruments?... Members of my household, including women, must learn to ride wild horses, and shoot powerful bows and arrows. Shifting Loyalties By the 14th century, Japan’s warrior society resembled the lord-vassal system of medieval Europe. The shogun now ruled with the help of warrior-lords called daimyos. In turn, the daimyos were supported by large numbers of samurai. The daimyos expected to be rewarded for their obedience and loyalty with land, money, or administrative office. The samurai expected the same from the daimyos they served.
Over time, the position of the shogun weakened as daimyos became increasingly powerful. Daimyos began treating their lands like independent kingdoms. Samurai now allied themselves with their daimyo lords.
In the late 15th century, Japan fell into chaos. Daimyos warred with one another for land and power. Samurai fought fierce battles on behalf of their lords.
After a century of bloody warfare, a series of skilled generals defeated their rival daimyos and reestablished a strong military government. In 1603, the last of these leaders, Tokugawa Ieyasu, became shogun. Ieyasu established a new capital in Edo (present-day Tokyo).
For the next 250 years, Japan was at peace. Samurai served under shoguns and administered the government. It was during this time that the samurai ideal came to full flower. Let’s look now at what the samurai way of life was like. (Caption)
Minamoto Yoritomo, Japan’s first shogun, liked to release wild cranes on the beach near his castle. (Vocabulary)
daimyo a local lord in Japan in the era of the samurai Page 243
22.3 The Samurai’s Armor and Weapons
A samurai was, first and foremost, a warrior. Let’s look at what a samurai wore in battle and the weapons he used.
Armor A samurai went into battle dressed in heavy armor. Under the armor he wore a colorful robe called a kimono and baggy trousers. Shinguards made of leather or cloth protected his legs.
Samurai armor was unique. It was made of rows of small metal plates coated with lacquer and laced together with colorful silk cords. This type of armor was strong, yet flexible enough for the samurai to move freely.
Boxlike panels of armor covered the samurai’s chest and back. Metal sleeves covered his arms. Broad shoulder guards and panels that hung over his hips provided additional protection. Some samurai wore thigh guards as well.
After dressing in his body armor, the samurai put on a ferocious-looking iron mask that was meant to frighten his opponents as well as protect his face. Last came his helmet. Before putting on the helmet, he burned incense in it. That way, his head would smell sweet if it were cut off in battle.
Weapons Samurai fought with bows and arrows, spears, and swords. A samurai’s wooden bow could be up to eight feet long. Such long bows took great strength to use. In battle, sharpshooters on horseback rode toward each other, pulling arrows from the quivers on their backs and firing them at the enemy.
In hand-to-hand combat, some foot soldiers used spears to knock riders off their horses and to kill an enemy on foot with a powerful thrust.
The samurai’s most prized weapon, however, was his sword. Japanese sword makers were excellent craftsmen, and samurai swords were the finest in the world. They were flexible enough not to break, but hard enough to be razor sharp. Samurai carried two types of swords. To fight, they used a long sword with a curved blade. A shorter sword was used for cutting off heads.
Wearing a sword was the privilege and right of the samurai. Swords were passed down through generations of warrior families and given as prizes to loyal warriors. Even after peace was established in the 17th century, samurai proudly wore their swords as a sign of their rank. (Caption)
Samurai wore elaborate suits of armor with many layers. The layers allowed the samurai to be protected while moving freely. This series of drawings shows a samurai putting on a suit of armor. Page 244
22.4 Military Training and Fighting
The way the first samurai trained and fought was called “The Way of the Horse and the Bow.” Later, the art of swordsmanship became more important than archery.
Military Training Learning the skills of a samurai required extensive training. Young samurai were apprenticed to archery masters who taught them mental and physical techniques. Samurai practiced until they could shoot accurately without thinking. They also learned to breathe properly and to shoot at their enemies while riding on the back of a galloping horse.
The art of fencing, or swordsmanship, was just as demanding. A samurai had to learn how to force an enemy to make the first move, how to stay out of range of an enemy sword, and how to fight in tight spaces or against more than one opponent. He practiced continually until he could fence well without thinking about it.
Sometimes in battle a samurai might lose or break his sword. Samurai learned to continue the fight by using other objects as weapons, such as metal fans or wooden staffs. They also learned how to fight without weapons by using