Life of the Heian

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Life of the Heian


The Heian period lasted from the death of Kammu Tenno in 806 to the end of Fujiwara Tokihira’s ruling in 909. The early period of Heian continued to the Nara period that focused on the development of the ritsu-ryo system of the policy. The early Heian period was a time of inefficient edicts of the government, which led to the emergence of feudal society. Life of the Heian strongly depended on the new systems divided into three main categories that comprised development of the shoen system, regency system, and transformation of provincial nobility life that became more politically active and began to protect their rights.

Court Politics and Social Behavior

During the Heian period, three branches of the Fujiwara clan were active in the court politics. Historians considered four branches had descended from the four sons of Fujiwara Fuhito (Murasaki & Waley, 2000). However, one of those branches was eliminated. After the retirement of the Heizei emperor, Saga Tenno changed his directions and soon sent the retired emperor into exile. Saga continued the policy of Kamu and he was an effective ruler until his death. The government of that time supported the invention of wooden drying racks for sheaves of rice, which dried the grain more quickly. It was useful practice spread among many farmers. Furthermore, it is still used in agriculture. Saga also made many forces complete the project, merging an official compilation of materials, which positively influenced the amending of the administrative codes. One of the positive innovations during the Saga ruling was establishment of the office with the military unit in Kebiishi that provided security for the official buildings (Schirokauer et al., 2005). The other innovation was designation of the special block of land for farming. The government fed workers, paid their expenses and taxes, what was regarded as a workers’ profit. The main goal of such reform was to split the wealth between the peasants and the government and to restrict the aristocracy who often appropriated government’s profits. However, his ruling also had some negative sides. For example, a failed reform of the lands redistribution.

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The Fujiwara Regency began with Michiyasu’s designation for a prince crown that was reassigned to Montoku Tenno in 850 (Morris, 1995). The main problem of that period was a fast drop of revenues from taxes. A response for that problem was urging the people to pay more attention to the agriculture, which caused a spread of shoen¹ and displacement of lands from the tax registers. In 862, provincial administrations stopped to work for the benefits of the government and became its personal fief (Morris, 1995). The historian data shows that further ruling of Mototsune was more aggressive than ruling of Yoshifusa and it helped to resolve many problems faced by the government. It identified five inner provinces with the senior officials who thoroughly watched a social behavior. According to the original law, the female members could have 2/3 of the allotment of a male part, which was soon cut to 1/3 and eliminated in 880 (Morris, 1995). Further, the allotment for male was changed from entirely rice paddy to a mixture of paddy land and dry land for wheat or other crops. After 891, much attention was paid to the development of classic Japanese literature, which previously meant Chinese literature.²

The ruler Fujiwara Yasunori belonged to the southern branch of the Fujiwara clan that was knocked out of the top aristocracy. He ruled for many years and gave qualified advice to the government regarding the changes of courtsides’ condition. Among the significant changes of that period was the attempt to cut the costs for a central government reducing unnecessary officers. It also considerably decreased the number of guard‘s units representatives.

Beginning with 902, the government issued a number of edicts directed towards the reforms of provincial government, focusing more on the restoration of the proper operation of political issues according to the original ryo.³ The analysis of edicts showed that during the ruling of the different emperors, the government constantly changed and it did not consider positive and negative practices of previous emperors, concentrating more on the new visions (Murasaki & Waley, 2000). Common people of the Heian period did not live in luxury and they obediently complied with the edicts of the new emperors and government. Emperors fought for poverty and tried to transfer their power of authority to the descendants. The aristocrats always had many privileges and using their status creamed off the government’s revenues. Society of the Heian period consisted completely of aristocrats headed by the emperor, and they were not interested in any other things except for leisure. Because of a high rank, they had a very sensitive nature and thought much about a beauty, music, and luxury clothing. They accepted common people as sub-human. Men of the Heian period were not interested in a beauty of the women but more in their breeding, skills to write poesy, and exquisite calligraphy. Original religion of the Japan was Shinto that comprised of mixture of animism and worshiping to the deities. Spread of Buddhism religion was initiated by the Korean kingdom in 522 and supported by the Soga family (Murasaki & Waley, 2000). However, it was opposed by the Mononobe and Nakatomi clans. During Prince Shotoku’s rule, Buddhism was established, which led to a deep integration of Buddhism into Japan’s aristocratic society. Only during the third stage of the Heian’s period development, the provincial nobility began to feel more independent, which helped them become more politically active. The first significant changes concerned the militarization of this class, which led to the development of such social groups as samurai, who previously had status of servants and had no military connotation. The provincial nobles began to form the private militaries, arming their dependents, including farmers and servants, rodo.

Development of the Shoen System

According to the studying of historians, shoen was accepted as a conspicuous aspect of the Heian period (Morris, 1995). The Shoen system contrasted with the ritsuryo system that belonged to the Nara period and the feudal system that developed during the later periods. In that period, the prohibition of the private land was not absolute, and many authorities tried to pass it over using the lands for a personal purpose. Furthermore, many people wanted to grab the politic lands and illegally use them. Nevertheless, all lands remained taxable and they were under a power of the district government. Shomu Tenno claimed to provide funds for the operation of the Todaiji temple, granting lands by the taxes exemption. Taxes were given to the temple as revenue (Schirokauer, Brown, Lurie, & Gay, 2005). Further, this estate was additionally granted with different degrees of immunity from the local officials. The nobility liked such type of landholding. The noble people could open up a new land, donate it to the temple, and consequently participate in a management agreement. Thus, the lands were permanently extirpated from the taxes. Yoshifusa had a right to create such charters on his own. Thus, he began to enrich himself in such a way and empowered his political allies with the alike privileges. The complaints of reformers proved that the most significant channel of creation the shoen was the provincial governors.

After the 12th century, the noble men could simultaneously have six or eight governorships (Schirokauer et al., 2005). Such a system led to a slow collapse. The rate of the court referrals to the enforcing decisions went down and the level of local violence grew. Many conflicts between the local people and governments of the courtsides concerned the improper tax register. One of the initiators of a tax reform was Zuryo who had assessed a rate of every farming land and identified a definite amount for covering a crop tax, heat tax, and corvee. The government supported that method, which violated the law. 175 farmers organized with the aim to fight against the tax innovation; as a result, Zuryo was exiled (Morris, 1995). Between 892 and 909, there was a new attempt to restart the redistribution system of lands, but the historians did not provide information about the result of such reform. After the death of Fujiwara Tokihira, the shoen system received equal status with the taxation system and it was included to the sources for the revenues of the capital’s nobles. The shoen system began to fall apart in the 13th century with the coming of a completely new form of land holding, the type of which still exists.

Building the Power for Bushi 4 Class

During the Heian period, the aristocracy was a warrior class, who routinely trained with weapons, played a violent sport, and practiced in a sword fighting. The regular militaries included border guards on the northern coast of Kyushu and armed forces in the northeast. The troops had militia model and they fought on foot with crossbows (Schirokauer et al., 2005). On many occasions, military officers grabbed peasants and handing them spears, proclaimed them an army. Such a technique began to change after the spread of the shoen system. The authorities conscripted peasants for a short period. Some of them performed police liabilities, which were regarded as a part of their obligation for a corvee labor. Local landowners began to arm their workers and used them as a private militia. Warrior traditions actively spread in a rural population. Focusing on the building of a great army, many aristocratic warriors attempted to deal with the landowners. They asked the landowners, who had armed people to fight for them, and aristocrats promised to fight for landowners in case of need (Morris, 1995). Feudal vassalage was not slavery but a deal built on a mutual support and respect. The historic data proved that there was no actual feudal army, but only the well-armed landowners who often supported gangs and bands, who stole everything they could and fought against the shady and not fair governors (Schirokauer et al., 2005).

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Life in Heian Japan was under the constant influence of court politics and aristocracy ambitions. The imperial court, which was situated in the capital Heian-kyo, had the highest political authority. Politic aspect of the Heian period had many weak sides because emperors and government did not consider mistakes of previous authorities and constantly fell into the same trap. Warriors became significant political figures and during four centuries faced a great number of changes. After the 12th century, there came a period of self-conscious development among many people, which induced them to fight for the rights. Society began to concentrate more on the development of native things but not foreign affairs.


1 Japan literatures contained many fragments written by Japanese but using Chinese characters, both poetries also used the same methods. Original ryo comprised specific aspects that belonged to the subsequent kyaku and shiki.

2 Shoen was a name given to private estate that was under the land redistribution and was free from some taxes and entry of public officials.

3 Original ryo comprised specific aspects that belonged to the subsequent kyaku and shiki.

4 The bushi were warriors of premodern Japan, who later belonged to the military class that in period from 1603 until 1867 became a highest ranking social caste.