Heian period

Heian period
(794–1185) Period of Japanese history named for the capital city of Heian-kyō (Kyōto).

It is known mainly for the flourishing culture of the court aristocracy, which devoted itself to the pursuit of aesthetic refinement as displayed in poetry and calligraphy. Murasaki Shikibu's contemporaneous novel The Tale of Genji depicts that life. A less refined view of Heian Japan is offered in one portion of Konjaku monogatari, a collection of stories and folktales. Aesthetics were also emphasized by the Shingon Buddhist sect, which, along with the broadly syncretic Tendai (Chinese Tiantai) sect, replaced the earlier Nara Buddhist sects in influence. Pietism gained popularity in the late Heian, leading to the founding of the Pure Land sect by Honen. Politically, civilians dominated until 1156, when warriors were called in to settle a political dispute and never left. A brief period of rule by the Taira military clan ensued. See also Fujiwara family; Gempei War; Sugawara Michizane; Taira Kiyomori.

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▪ Japanese history
      in Japanese history, the period between 794 and 1185, named for the location of the Imperial capital, which was moved from Nara to Heian-kyō (Kyōto) in 794. The Chinese pattern of centralized government that was first adopted in the Nara period (710–784) gradually changed as the growth of private estates (shōen), exempt from taxation, encroached upon the public domain and reduced the substance of state administration. From the mid-9th century the court was dominated by members of the Fujiwara Family, who controlled the Imperial line as regents by marrying their daughters to Imperial heirs. Their influence reached its peak under Fujiwara Michinaga, who dominated the court from 995 to 1027, but then declined as a succession of non-Fujiwara emperors came to power. A new centre of authority emerged in 1086 when Emperor Shirakawa retired early and established a cloistered regime (insei) to rule behind the throne, a system continued sporadically by later emperors.

      The period was characterized by the flourishing culture of the court aristocracy, which actively engaged in the pursuit of aesthetic refinement, leading to new developments in art and literature. Lady Murasaki Shikibu's (Murasaki Shikibu) 11th-century novel, The Tale of Genji (Tale of Genji, The), is a brilliant record of life among the nobility and is considered one of the great works of world literature. In religion the esoteric sects of Tendai and Shingon (Shin) Buddhism practiced formalistic rites that paralleled elaborate court ritual. The doctrines of the True Pure Land sect, emphasizing simple faith in Buddha Amida, also grew in popularity. These doctrines offered solace to the populace during the social upheaval that occurred in the late Heian period, which was marked by local disturbances and armed struggle among provincial military bands. This strife reached the capital itself in 1156, when warriors of the Taira and Minamoto clans backed rival claimants to the throne. The Taira were victorious, and they maintained tenuous control over the court until 1185. See also Fujiwara style.

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Universalium. 2010.

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