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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: January 2016

7 - Introduction: court culture, women, and the rise of vernacular literature

from Part II - The Heian period (794–1185)


The eighth-century ritsuryo state system, with its system of ranks, ministries, and university, continued to operate throughout the Heian period and provided the framework for a court-based state system, which emerged at the beginning of the tenth century. One of the major characteristics of this court-based state was gradual concentration of power outside the capital in the provincial governors, drawn from middle-rank aristocrats, who were the fathers of women writers of this period. The early Heian period was marked by the continued prominence of Chinese-based literature and culture and the gradual introduction of vernacular cultural forms, particularly the court-based vernacular literature written in kana, a new syllabary, which flourished from the tenth century onward. One of the striking characteristics of the emergence of Japanese vernacular literature was the central role played by women writers who were closely associated with the imperial court in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, such as Murasaki Shikibu, Sei Shonagon.

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