Heian period (平安時代) 794 – 1192
Heian period（平安時代 ) is from the time when the Emperor Kanmu(桓武天皇) moved the capital city to Heian-Kyo(平安京) at 794, that is Kyoto(京都) today.
The circle indicates the time we discuss in this section.
During the Heian period, the Emperors ruled the country, yet early part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to the Fujiwara family, a very wealthy aristocrat family. Fujiwara family managed their daughters to marry Emperors. By doing so, real political power shifted to the family of the Emperor’s wife. They were called “Sekkan-Ke” (摂関家) which means a guardian or a representative of the Emperor. During the Heian period, aristocrats’ lifestyle was elegant, refined, and they had a graceful culture. This is called Fujiwara culture. Many essays and novels were written by females during this time. The most famous one is “Tales of Genji (源氏物語)” by Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部). The Imperial court held ceremonies quite often, followed by the elaborate and extravagant banquets. Imperial social life became important for getting ahead in their political careers. Women had participated actively in those occasions. Many high officials had several huge houses. Sometimes those houses were inherited by daughters. The courting procedures were different then. The aristocrats of the Heian period, they were polygamous society. In the beginning, a man sends a poem called Waka to a lady whom he set his eyes on, carried by his servant, hoping she will write him a poem back. Once he was accepted, at first, a lady allows him to visit her for a short time from some distance away. Little by little, closer and longer stay. After they are married, a groom visits the wife’s house a few days at a time or longer, unless she is the legal first wife. A legal first wife lives with her husband in his house. Their children were raised by the wife’s family. In those days and up until the next Kamakura period also, the wife’s side of the family (wife’s background) was considered important. By the middle part of the Heian period, the Emperors regained their power over the imperial court, since their mothers were not from the Fujiwara family
Those two are scenes from the “Tales of Genji”. I found those pictures in Kyoto sometime ago.
Origin of Samurai
Upper-class people during the Heian Period, their lifestyle may be graceful and elegant, but the Imperial court did not have strong political power to control the country. There were many thieves, constant fires and combats everywhere. It was unsafe and disorderly. The imperial court, nobleman, and temples needed to protect themselves and maintain the public peace. Those hired hand (forces) were the origin of Bushi (武士) or Samurai (侍). Samurai spread their power by uniting among themselves and putting down uprisings, grew bigger and powerful. Two large Samurai groups were Heishi (or Heike) and Genji. Little by little they gained power in the Imperial court. After many power struggles, Heishi (平氏) started to control the Imperial court. Heishi also managed their daughters to marry the Emperors. In the latter part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to the Heike family. They became tyrannical and arrogant. That behavior created too many enemies against Heike. The Genji ( 源氏 ) joined with the Fujiwara family started a war against Heike and chased Heike to the place called Dan-no-Ura (壇ノ浦) at 1185 and defeated Heike. This is called Genpei-Gassen (源平合戦). The Heike’s loss was the end of the Heian period.
The Heian Period is the time, the shape of the swords changed to the curved shape. Until this time, swords were straight. The study of swords starts from the Heian period. During this time, the elegant and graceful taste of Fujiwara culture reflected on the swords. Their elegant lifestyle reflected clearly on the swords. The group of wordsmiths in the Kyoto area created a certain sword style that was called Yamashiro Den(Yamashiro School). Their shape of the swords shows a graceful line. The most well-known sword during this time is Sanjo-Munechika (三条宗近), a national treasure. Yamashiro Den represents the Heian period swords