Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Cited by 9
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
March 2008
Print publication year:
Online ISBN:

Book description

This volume provides the most comprehensive treatment of the Heian period, the golden age of the Japanese imperial court, in any Western language. From Heian-kyo, founded in 794, the Japanese emperor ruled over an elaborate government modelled on China's absolute monarchy. Ambassadors to the T'ang court and students studying in China brought back laws, ideas, Buddhism, temple architecture, sculpture, and wall-painting. Chinese influences blended with native Japanese elements in courtly painting, calligraphy, poetry and prose. The world's first novel, The Tale of Genji, was completed about 1020. In 1185 the elegant and peaceful world of the court was shattered by the struggle of the Taira and Minamoto warrior clans, who usurped real political power and left the emperor with a symbolic, legitimizing role. Contributors to this volume emphasize political history, the land system, provincial administration, the capital and its society, aristocratic culture, and the acceptance of Buddhism and popular religious practices.


‘All teachers, students, and researchers into Japan’s past should be grateful that there is now an authoritative source describing the entirety of Japanese political and cultural history in greater detail that ever before.’

Source: Monumenta Nipponica

Refine List

Actions for selected content:

Select all | Deselect all
  • View selected items
  • Export citations
  • Download PDF (zip)
  • Save to Kindle
  • Save to Dropbox
  • Save to Google Drive

Save Search

You can save your searches here and later view and run them again in "My saved searches".

Please provide a title, maximum of 40 characters.


  • 1 - The Heian court, 794–1070
    pp 20-96
  • View abstract


    The move to Heian-kyō marked the end of a temporally long peregrination that had taken Japanese rulers and their courts from one site to another ever since the inception of the statutory system of government in the seventh century. By the time death ended the reign of Kammu's grandson Nimmyō, the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan was well on its way to complete domination of both the emperor and the organs of his statutory government. The Fujiwara regency was in many aspects simply a prolonged and institutionalized phase in the cyclically shifting balance of power between the imperial line and the noble clans. Japan's relations with the other countries of East Asia during the Heian period were driven by the familiar twin engines of fear of external power, on the one hand, and desire for material and cultural gain on the other.
  • 2 - The capital and its society
    pp 97-182
  • View abstract


    This chapter deals with the establishment of a new capital city in the Kyoto river basin during the reign of Emperor Kammu in the eighth century. It describes the construction of the Greater Imperial Palace, the layout of the emperor's residential compound, and the existence of public buildings, facilities and spaces. Little is known about individual residential land occupancy and use in the early days of the city; individuals who held court rank may have been entitled to varying amounts of land. The most conspicuous and best-known part of large official or courtly population was the political and social elite: the imperial clan and the court nobility. The Heian noble wife also enjoyed many customary rights that tended to give additional substance to the degree of her social and economic autonomy. The chapter also discusses the Heian officialdom's functions, and the capital city's economy and administration. The Heian city was also an intensely ceremonious and ritualistic city.
  • 3 - Land and society
    pp 183-235
  • View abstract


    The population in rural Heian Japan increased moderately and with it the area of land under cultivation. Additionally, by putting pressure on agricultural resources, growth in population stimulated a search for means of increasing crop yields. This chapter discusses the changes in agrarian technology, social structure, taxation, and landholding of the Heian Japan. Heian peasant households were larger than those of more recent times, maintained a larger and steadier supply of labor within the household, and generally maintained a greater degree of independence one from the other. Two major changes in land tenure marked the early Heian period: the cessation of the distribution of household fields, and the reorganization of farmland to meet the changes in tax structure. Starting in 749, the government actively assisted the major temples, most especially Tōdaiji, in finding land that could be developed into estates of reclaimed fields. These estates were the first to be called shō, or shōen.
  • 4 - Provincial administration and land tenure in early Heian
    pp 236-340
  • View abstract


    In the early Heian period state power declined, except in the capitals (kokufu) of the sixty-five (or sixty-six) provinces. While the central government declined, these provincial offices (kokuga) retained, and even increased, their power over local land and people as local elites took over their functions: the collection of taxes, the administration of land, and the promotion of agriculture. This chapter focuses on these changes that took place during the ninth and tenth centuries. The provincial governments turned out to be unique bargaining grounds for the division of resources between capital and countryside, and that function, combined with the functions of the governments as repositories and redistributors of wealth, ensured their survival well beyond the Heian period. In 731, a new system of policing provincial officers was put into operation, which the custodial aspects of office, forcing incoming governors to seek out and take charge of all government assets that were supposed to be on hand, particularly tax-grain.
  • 5 - Chinese learning and intellectual life
    pp 341-389
  • View abstract


    This chapter discusses Chinese learning of the Heian upper class, a portion of which was regarded as fundamental in the education of males. By the early Heian, the continental immigrants (kikajin) had largely been assimilated among the Japanese population, and their skills had been acquired by Japanese. At the center of Chinese learning and Confucian teaching in the Heian scheme was an idea of the Chinese sage-king. The sage-king myth was cultivated in part through the writing of histories in the Chinese manner, or at least in what Japanese had come to regard as the Chinese manner. If Six National Histories helped enact as well as record the fiction of a harmonious Confucian state, the compiling of official statutes may well be the one substantive achievement of that state. The institution that shaped the men who staffed the statutory system's bureaucracy, wrote the sage-kings' histories, and compiled their laws was the Heian Academy.
  • 6 - Aristocratic culture
    pp 390-448
  • View abstract


    In this chapter, aristocratic culture is used to mean a style of social and artistic expression characteristic of the Japanese court at Heian-kyō and limited primarily to its members. One of the conspicuous aspects of this culture is the preoccupation with beauty which influenced standards of judgment in the arts such as secular painting, calligraphy, Buddhist art, music including Chinese cosmopolitan music, and Heian poetry. It also impacted other aspects of ordinary life as may be seen by from a survey of upper-class domestic architecture and furnishings, textiles, dresses and costumes, dietary customs, and occupations and pastimes such as wrestling and falconry. From around 950 on, the typical aristocratic residence consisted of a group of buildings situated in a large urban estate, its stands of pine and maple trees, artificial hills and streams, and architecture of this type, the buildings were carefully designed to harmonize with the setting.
  • 7 - Aristocratic Buddhism
    pp 449-516
  • View abstract


    Since its introduction into Japan in the middle of the sixth century, the Buddhist religion experienced steady growth. With the rapid expansion of the Buddhist church in Nara and the great respect accorded to learned or charismatic clerics, it was perhaps inevitable that monks would become deeply involved in the affairs of state. Sharing his father's fear of an unrestrained church, Emperor Kammu, or his Council of State, in the course of his reign issued more than 30 directives that sought to correct abuses by the clergy and reduce the threat that temples and monasteries posed to the national economy. The Heian period was dominated by two Buddhist schools, Tendai and Shingon. Unlike Tendai, which was temporarily eclipsed when Saichō passed from the scene, Shingon continued to enjoy unwavering support from the imperial family and aristocracy even after Kūkai's death. The vocal recitation of Amida Buddha's name was the primary devotional act leading to rebirth in Pure Land.
  • 8 - Religious practices
    pp 517-575
  • View abstract


    This chapter deals with the establishment of religion in Japan during the Heian era with a focus on presence or concurrent establishment of shrines in the immediate vicinity of temples, and about the growth and status of ritual practices in both shrines and temples. The creation of the Twenty-two Shrine-temple system, coupled with the reformulation of ritual procedures, was a momentous event indicative of what came to be the dominant ideology of the state. The frequency with which both ominous and auspicious natural events occurred during the Heian period indicates most clearly the mood of the times. The notable increase in records of natural occurrences interpreted as heavenly warnings or blessings is related to the evolution of the goryō belief system. The Heian period also saw Buddhist prelates going on pilgrimage to shrines in order to ask for the protection of the kami in their endeavor to achieve awakening.
  • 9 - Insei
    pp 576-643
  • View abstract


    In late Heian times, the retired sovereigns Shirakawa, Toba, and Go-Shirakawa dominated the court as few former sovereigns, reigning or retired, had done. Later historians referred to this form of political domination as insei or cloister government, a term derived from the fact that abdicated emperors resided in well-appointed villas or religious cloisters (in) from which they conducted politics (sei). Besides rifts in two most important noble houses, there was a serious split in one of the major warrior leagues of the day, the Seiwa branch of the Minamoto. The Seiwa Genji, along with the newly risen Taira, was heavily relied upon as the military arm of the Heian court. Yoshitomo and his father Tameyoshi were engaged in a dispute over the position of Minamoto warrior hegemon. One of the sources of Taira power in late Heian times was wealth obtained through control of the China trade, which initially began on a private basis.
  • 10 - The rise of the warriors
    pp 644-709
  • View abstract


    The Japanese warrior or Bushi specified the professional warrior as distinguished from peasant conscripts, court military officials, and palace guards. One of the Taira leaders, Masakado involved himself in disputes centered on the resistance of landowners to provincial exactions. The Masakado rebellion marked the advent of the private professional warrior in Japanese political history. Another revolt was that of Tadatsune who seems to have become involved in the plunder of government tax receipts in two provinces, Kazusa and Shimōsa, where he was a vice governor at one time. Two lengthy wars followed the Tadatsune revolt at twenty-year intervals, keeping the east, in this case the far northeast end of Honshu beyond the Kanto provinces, in a state of unrest for nearly 60 years. The two later eleventh-century wars are called the Earlier Nine Years' War (zen kunen no eki: 1051-62, or 1056-62 according to some) and the Later Three Years' War (go sannen no eki: 1083-87).


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Book summary page views

Total views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between #date#. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.