CHAPTER IV. THE HEIAN EPOCH
This period might be entitled "Fujiwara Bureaucracy." As was stated at the close of the preceding chapter, the Fujiwara family began as early as 645 A.D. to monopolize the civil offices and to control the imperial Court by a kind of "supervising statesmanship." It was perhaps the first case of a political "ring" in Japanese history. "Every new office, as fast as created, was filled by them." It is true that it was not till the latter part of the ninth century that the titles of Sesshō and Kwampaku, both of which seem to correspond to "regent," were conferred on Fujiwara statesmen, and thus "the imperial authority passed virtually into the hands of the Fujiwara family." But, as the substance is more than the title, it is not out of place to make the Heian and Fujiwara epochs practically synchronous.
It is well also to notice a point made by Hearn, that "the remarkable duration of the Fujiwara rule, as compared with others, may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that the Fujiwara represented a religious, rather than a military, aristocracy." He asserts that "the Fujiwara were a religious aristocracy, claiming divine origin - clan-chiefs of a society in which religion and government were identical, and holding to that society much the same relation as the Eupatridae to the ancient Attic society." Nor should the fact be ignored that the Fujiwara Bureaucracy was maintained by constant resort to the encouragement of abdication on the part of the emperors, and to setting upon the throne in their places youths or mere children, who would, of course, need the supervision of a Fujiwara. The latter, however, were very careful to maintain "the center of political gravity" in the Court; to base their own power "on matrimonial alliances with the throne"; and to govern "through the Emperor." But, none the less, they became "the proprietors of the throne and dictated as to who should be made Emperor." And Seiwa (859-876) enjoyed the double honor of being not only the first child emperor, but also the first male sovereign to reign under a regent. And that was the first time that "the great office of Regent was filled, not by an august descendant of the sun-goddess but by a mere subject," of the Fujiwara family. In fact, during the Fujiwara Bureaucracy it was only the children of Fujiwara consorts of the emperors who "could hope to be placed on the throne."
The Heian Epoch is taken to begin when the Emperor Kwammu(782-805) located his capital at Uda, now known as Kyōto. This event was a "subject of national rejoicing," so that the people gave to the place a new name, Heian-kyō, or "Capital of Peace." But the era was far from one of tranquillity, as will be very evident as we proceed. The new capital was laid out quite regularly and with much grandeur. "The streets lay parallel and at right angles, like the lines on a checkerboard"; and "an elaborate system of subdivision was adopted." The imperial citadel and palace were located in the center of the northern section of the city.
It was in the reign of Kwammu that the posthumous names now used for all the emperors, from Jimmu down to Kwammu's predecessor, were selected by a famous scholar. Toward the end of the eighth century the renowned general, Tamura-maro, at the head of an expedition again the rebellious Ainu in the northern province of Mutsu, succeeded in completely subjugating them. It is claimed by Brinkley that Kwammu"ranks as one of Japan's three greatest sovereigns - Tenchi, Kwammu, and Go-Daigo (Daigo II)," because "he essayed to get into close touch with the people." Kwammu was a "schoolmaster emperor," because he had been serving as rector of the university; and he is reckoned by Murdoch among the very few Japanese emperors "who have proved themselves to be statesmen." For he not only reigned but also ruled. And Brinkley thinks that Kwammu's reign "marks the parting of the ways in mediaeval Japan"; for "his was the last really resolute struggle made during three and a half centuries to stem the influences that were plainly tending toward the substitution of bureaucracy for imperialism, the subordination of the throne to the nobility."
But there were rival families to dispute the supremacy of the Fujiwara. One of the most prominent of these was the Sugawara family, of whom the best-known representative is Michizane. This was a literary family; and Michizane was "a brilliant scholar in Chinese." He was the tutor of the Emperor Uda (888-896), and became a counsellor and minister of Uda's son and successor, Daigo (897-930). But the Fujiwara regent finally succeeded in having this "wise and honest counsellor" transferred, by a kind of "honorable banishment," to a position in the island of Kiōshiu, where he soon died. But the famous scholar has since been deified under the name of Tenjin, and is "the patron saint of men of letters and of students."
The period of Daigo's rule is regarded by some as "the Golden Age of Japanese history" because "his administration was based on care for the people." But it was only a few years later that the "only instance of a rebellion directed against the throne" occurred. Taira Masakado, Governor of the provinces of Kazusa, Shimōsa, and Hitachi, raised the standard of rebellion and proclaimed himself Emperor. And in the province of Iyo, Fujiwara Sumitomo also led a revolt against the government. The latter, however, succeeded in defeating and beheading these rebels. But, as Masakado's ghost used to haunt the earth, the rebel was apotheosized in the thirteenth century and is still one of the deities worshiped at the shrine of Kanda Myōjin behind the Educational Museum in Hongō Ward, Tōkyō.
For about half a century nothing happened worth chronicling. The Emperor Ichijō, whose reign (986-1011) covered the change from the tenth to the eleventh century, was a well-educated man, whose reign "was marked by the works of several savants," including learned women.
It was only a few years later, during the reign of Go-Ichijō (Ichijō II) (1016-1036), when "the power and influence of the Fujiwara reached their zenith." The most powerful chief of that clan was Michinaga, who died in 1027. It is said that he "once composed a stanza, the purport of which was that all the world seemed to have been created for his uses, and that every desire he felt was satisfied as completely as the full moon is perfectly rounded." The condition of this time is described in a work appropriately called Eigwa Monogatari, or "Story of Grandeur."
About fifty years later the Emperor Shirakawa seems to have succeeded in curbing temporarily the power of the Fujiwara and to have been the actual ruler of the country, not only during his own nominal reign (1073-1086), but also for more than forty years after he had abdicated and taken the title of Hō-ō. But, in this way, he "himself inaugurated a new form of the very abuse he had abolished: he instituted a system of camera emperors. . . . . He virtually directed affairs of state. . . . . The reigning sovereign had only to fold his hands and follow the counsels of his predecessor." This rule of Shirakawa extended over the reigns of three nominal sovereigns, until his death in 1129. Even when he was "cloistered Emperor," "he maintained a Court of his own, with officials and guards and all the state that surrounded the actual occupant of the throne."
Shirakawa, however, seems to have been so largely under the influence of the Buddhist priesthood that he was unable to restrain their lawlessness when they began to employ "sacerdotal soldiers," trained in "barrack monasteries," to enforce their demands. Indeed, Shirakawa is the one who gave utterance to the following well-known lament: "There are but three things in my dominions that do not obey me: the waters of the Kamo River, the dice of Sugoroku [backgammon] players, and the priests of Buddha."
These great monasteries had long been amassing wealth and power and had found it necessary to hire mercenaries for protection against attacks from rivals and for aggressive measures. "Each of them had become a huge Cave of Adullam - a refuge for every sturdy knave with a soul above earning a livelihood by the commonplace drudgery of honest work. Each of them had in truth assumed the aspect of a great fortress."
During the reign of Shirakawa's son, Horikawa (1087- 1106), there arose another disturbance in Northern Japan, where the population consisted largely of Ainu and adventurous Japanese. A Minamoto chief, named Yoshiiye, was sent against the rebels and, though it took him years to bring them into subjection, he acquired so much fame by this campaign that he became known as HachimanTarō, and thus ranked as the eldest son of the wargod. He was also "the first archer of national renown"; and Tametomo, one of his descendants, was the most famous Japanese archer, of whose strength and skill many marvelous tales are related. One of these stories is a variant of the tale about William Tell and the apple; and another relates a Samsonic exploit when Tametomo's arm healed after the muscles had been cut. He is said after that to have escaped to the Riūkiū Islands and to have founded the dynasty of kings who ruled over those islands.
The references in this chapter to Taira and Minamoto hint that the end of the Fujiwara Bureaucracy and of the Heian Epoch is drawing near. The Emperor Shirakawa did what has often been done elsewhere. Just as Vortigern, the British king of Kent, is said to have invited the Jute leaders, Hengist and Horsa, to protect his realm against the incursions of the Picts, so Shirakawa begged the military families of the Taira and the Minamoto to come to the capital (Kyōto) to protect it from the priests. The usual result followed in this case. In 1155 A.D. the Emperor Shirakawa II ascended the throne, but was attacked by an ex-emperor, Sutoku, who wished to resume the imperial power. In this strife the Minamoto family was divided, but the Taira family espoused the cause of the new emperor and was successful. Shirakawa II, however, soon abdicated and was succeeded by his son, Nijō (1159-1164). Strife then arose between Minamoto Yoshitomo and Taira Kiyomori, the latter of whom was victorious. In these two contests the Fujiwara family was completely ruined; so that, with the victory of Kiyomori in 1159 A.D. may end both the Fujiwara Bureaucracy and the Heian Epoch. Henceforth, for a long period of several centuries, "Japan was governed not by the scepter, but by the sword." The Japanese Jutes, Angles, and Saxons (the Taira and the Minamoto) dispossessed the Japanese Britons (the Fujiwara).
While the Heian Epoch was far from such a period as its name might indicate, it is yet interesting for its developments in the peaceful pursuits of civilization. It was during this era that two powerful Buddhist sects, the Tendai and the Shingon, were founded, the former by Saichō and the latter by Kukai. The chief temple of the former was established on Mount Hiei, northeast of Kyōto; that of the latter on Mount Kōya in Yamato. Both of these sects belong to what is known as the Great[er] Vehicle (Mahayana). The Tendai doctrines are based on "pantheistic realism" and recognize a large number of deities, whose idols are worshiped. The Shingon ("True Word") sect taught "three great secret laws, regarding Body, Speech, and Thought"; its philosophy includes mysticism and pantheism. The Tendai teachers were ascetics and have also been called "the Jesuits of Japan"; the Shingon believers seem to be "Buddhist Gnostics."
The most interesting feature of the Buddhism of this epoch was the wholesale adoption of Shintō deities into the pantheon as incarnations of Buddha. This idea was formulated by Kukai, or Kōbō Daishi (774-835), into a regular system, afterward known as Ryōbu Shintō, which was maintained for more than a millennium. Concerning this composite religion, which illustrates the Japanese facility for compromise, Knox says that, "while the name was Shintō, the substance was Buddhism."
The genius of Kōbō Daishi was further manifested, if we may trust tradition, in the invention of the Japanese hira-gana, or running script, which consists of fortyseven cursive forms of entire Chinese characters. The kata-kana, or side script, consisting of sides or parts of Chinese characters, is accredited to a man named Kibi-noMabi, who died in 776 A.D. The latter are arranged in a partly artificial table of fifty sounds (gojiu-on). The former were arranged by Kabō Daishi in an artificial poem, which reads as follows:
Iro wa nioedo Chirinuru wo - Waga yo tare zo Tsune naran? Ui no oku-yama Kyō koete, Asaki yume miji, Ei mo sezu.Professor Chamberlain's revised translation is the following:
Though gay in hue, [the blossoms] flutter down alas! Who, then, in this world of ours, may continue forever? Crossing today the uttermost limits of phenomenal existence, I shall see no more fleeting dreams, neither be any longer intoxicated.In brief, "All is vanity."
The religious spirit of this epoch affected its artistic works, which "are full of intense fervor and nearness to the gods." Kanaoka, however, was also "the first great secular painter of Japan," and was "especially famous as a painter of horses." It is also interesting to note that it is considered "possible that the beginnings of Japanese art were strongly affected by Persian influences," which are thought to be discernible in Kanaoka's pictures. In the tenth century was founded "the first purely native school, called the Yamato School, which afterward, under the name of the Tosa School, became the recognized style for the treating of historical subjects." It was the beginning of "a new development in Japanese art and culture, which may be termed the national, in contrast to the predominating continental ideas of preceding epochs." The Heian Epoch is the Classical Period, the Elizabethan Era, and the Woman's Era of Japanese literature. Its anthology includes the poetry of the Kokinshiu, the sketches of Makura-no-Sōshi, the diary known as Tosa Nikki, and Genji Monogatari in fiction. The most famous poets represented in the Kokinshiu are Yukihira, Narihira, Tsurayuki, and Ono-no-Komachi, "the great sad poetess whose life exemplifies the loves and sorrows of that refined and voluptuous epoch." The Tosa Nikki, or Tosa Diary, describes a trip made by the author, Tsurayuki, from Tosa to Kyōto, and is said to be the "best extant embodiment of uncontaminated Japanese speech." It has been translated into English by the late Mrs. Flora Best Harris with the title Log of a Japanese Journey.Makura-noSōshi, or "Pillow Sketches," by a woman named SeiShonagon, is called "one of the most polished literary sketches ever produced in Japan, as the Genji-Monogatari was a peerless novel." The author of the latter was also a woman, named Murasaki no Shikibu, whom Aston compares with both Fielding and Richardson as a realistic novelist. And Aston says that these last two works "by common consent mark the highest point to which the classical literature of Japan attained." By these four literary classics, the first two of the tenth century and the last two of the eleventh century, rather than by political intrigues or nascent art or even Buddhist activity, we should remember the Heian Epoch.