Heian Period - The period of peace in Japan

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The Heian Period [平安時代] or Heian jidai is the last division of classical Japanese history, which runs from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the emergence of the capital of Heian-kyō (now known as Kyōto).

This is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their peak. The Heian period is also considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and stood out for its art, especially poetry and literature.

Although the Imperial Household of Japan had power on the surface, the royal power was in the hands of the Fujiwara clan, a powerful aristocratic family that married the imperial family. Many emperors actually had mothers from the Fujiwara clan. Heian (平安) means “peace” in Japanese.

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Heian period - the peace period in japan
A painted parchment, dated 1130, illustrates a scene from the “Rio Bambu”.

History of the Heian Period

The Heian period was preceded by the Nara period and began in 794 AD after the move from Japan’s capital to Heian-kyō, by the 50th emperor, Emperor Kanmu.

Kanmu first tried to move the capital to Nagaoka-kyō, but a series of disasters occurred in the city, prompting the emperor to move the capital a second time, to Heian. A rebellion occurred in China in the last years of the 9th century, making the political situation unstable.

Japanese missions to China were suspended and the influx of Chinese exports stopped, a fact that facilitated the growth of the independent Japanese culture called kokufu bunka.

Therefore, the Heian Period is considered a high point in Japanese culture that later generations have always admired. The period is also noted for the emergence of the samurai class, which would eventually assume power and start the feudal period of Japan.

Heian period - the peace period in japan

Rise of the military class

Under the first courts, when military recruitment had been centrally controlled, military affairs had been taken out of the hands of the provincial aristocracy. But as the system went down after 792, local power holders became the main source of military strength again. The restoration of an efficient military system was done gradually through a process of trial and error.

At that time, the imperial court did not have an army, but rather depended on an organization of professional warriors composed mainly of oryoshi, who were appointed to an individual province and tsuibushi, which were nominated through imperial circuits or for specific tasks. This gave rise to the Japanese military class. However, the final authority remained with the imperial court.

Those who owned Shōen (private property) had access to labor and, as they obtained improved military technology (such as new training methods, more powerful bows, better armor, horses and swords) and faced with worsening local conditions in the 9th century, the service military has become part of the life of the shōen.

Heian period - the peace period in japan

Not only them, but also civil and religious institutions have formed private guard units to protect themselves. Gradually, the provincial upper class was transformed into a new military elite based on the ideals of the bushi (warrior) or samurai (who serves).

Rise of Buddhism

Buddhism began to spread across Japan during this period through two main sects, Tendai and Shingon. Tendai originated in China and is based on the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important sutras in Mahayana Buddhism; The monk Saichō was the key to its transmission to Japan. Shingon is the Japanese transmission of Chen Yen's Chinese school. Shingon was brought to Japan by the monk Kūkai.

Emperor Kanmu himself was a noted patron of the Tendai sect. Kūkai impressed later emperors and future generations alike with poetry, calligraphy, painting and sculpture. Shingon, through the use of symbologies and rituals, had a wide appeal in the country.

Heian period - the peace period in japan

Economic situation in the Heian Period

Despite all the cultural and religious development in Japan, the country's economic situation was unfortunate.

Until the year 1000, Fujiwara Michinaga managed to corner and dethrone emperors at will. Little authority was left to traditional officialism, and government affairs were handled by the Fujiwara clan's private administration.

At the same time, the Fujiwara clan proved to be incompetent in the management of Japan and its provinces, since, as the economy was so weak, the government was no longer able to issue currency and the money disappeared. Thanks to this, the payment in rice was implemented to replace the local money.

The Fujiwara clan was also unable to maintain adequate police forces, leaving thieves and other criminals to roam freely, which dramatically affected the safety of travelers.

Heian period - the peace period in japan

The end of the Heian Period

The aristocrats in Heian-kyo lived very well, but in rural Japan most people were quite poor. Peasant agriculture and other jobs financed the wealthy in Heian-kyo. Even so, the rich despised the poor and ignored their problems.

As the rich concentrated on culture in Heian-kyo, events in the countryside began to weaken Heian's court. The practice of giving great properties to the upper nobles slowly reduced the power of the emperors. Those who owned shoens they didn't pay taxes. After a while, tax-free land was quite common. The government was no longer able to collect sufficient taxes to support the emperor.

Rulers began to lose control. Criminals roamed the countryside. People of different religions started to come together to attack and rob each other. The government was too weak to provide law enforcement. Owners of from Japan shoens they created their own police and armies to protect their lands. The profits of the landowners were to pay for their private security instead of supporting the emperor.

Heian period - the peace period in japan

In the 12th century, the power of some local lords matched that of the weakened imperial government. Land control disputes have arisen across the country. Meanwhile, several clans fought for power in the capital. In 1180, there was a civil war in Japan.

In 1185, Minamoto Yoritomo, head of a military family, took over. A new era began in which military leaders controlled Japan, known as Shogunate.

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