+ Bibliography
+ About the Speakers


The Capital Heian and the Fujiwara Family
The Heian Period (794-1185) began when the imperial capital was moved from Nara to Heian (now Kyoto). During this period, Japanese classical court culture flourished.
Classical Japan Video Clip

Robert Oxnam :: Around the year 1000, the Heian court elite brought Japanese classical culture to its height. The Fujiwara family came to dominate court politics. Like the Medicis of later European history, the Fujiwara patronized poetry and the arts over a long period of peace.

Haruo Shirane :: It's an extremely small society, maybe consisting of just a few hundred people at the very top, and spreading out to maybe five hundred, a thousand people. It represents less than one percent of the population. The rest of the people are toiling in the rice fields. They're illiterate. We never really hear from them. This is a very rare instance in which the wealth of the entire country is being funneled into one spot, which was the imperial court, and in particular, the salons of the consorts.

H. Paul Varley :: The period when the Japanese fully developed their classical court culture — which was late ninth, tenth, eleventh centuries — was a time when at the court affairs were in the hands almost entirely of a single family, the Fujiwara. The Fujiwara, as others had done before them, married into the imperial family and became regents to the emperor, so that, for the most part, emperors during this period were figureheads, and the Fujiwara were the real rulers, the real managers of affairs at the capital, at the court.

Haruo Shirane :: The political situation is that the powerful Fujiwara, the commoner clan, is jockeying for power by marrying their daughters into the throne. And the way that they gained power was by earning the affections of the Emperor through their daughters. And the way that they made their daughters attractive was to create a literary and cultural environment.

H. Paul Varley :: The image that we have of them is standing at the pinnacle of court society, having monopolized marital relations with the imperial family, in other words, simply, they're the ones who provided the consorts for the emperors and, therefore, their offspring became crown princes and emperors in their return.

But in addition to very skillfully engaging in marriage politics, and that being the basis of their power, the Fujiwara were also the models in terms of court culture and the arts, and of course court society during this time, during the time of Michinaga, around the year one thousand. And around the time of the writing of the Tale of Genji, the court reached its zenith of brilliance as a cultural entity. Classical aesthetics, classical tastes, classical literature were at their peak at this time and the Fujiwara were patrons of that art and culture. So that we have the image of them as very successful politicians in marriage politics and also as patrons of the arts.