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.