Heian period (平安時代)   794 – 1192

Heian period(平安時代)started 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.

5 time line diagram

The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section.

During Heian period, the Emperors ruled the country, yet early part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to Fujiwara family.  Fujiwara family managed their daughters to marry the Emperors.  By doing so, real political power shifted to the Emperor’s wife’s family.  They were called “Sekkan-ke” (摂関家), that means a guardian, a representative of the Emperor.  During Heian period, their life style 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.  Most famous one is “Genji Tales (源氏物語)” by Murasaki Shikibu(紫式部).  The Imperial court held ceremonies quite often, followed by elaborate and extravagant banquets.  Imperial social life became important.  Women had participated actively in those occasions.  Many high officials had several huge homes.  Those homes were inherited by daughters.  Mating procedures were different then.  First, a young woman and a man exchanges poems carried by their servants. Eventually, a young woman allows him to visit her for a short time from some distance.  Little by little, longer stay and closer.  When they decided to marry, a groom moves into the wife’s house.  Children were raised by wife’s family.  Those days (and next Kamakura period also), wife’s side of the family were considered important.  The middle part of the Heian period, the Emperors regained their power over the imperial court, because their mothers were not from the Fujiwara family.

Origin or Samurai

Upper class people’s life was graceful and elegant, but Imperial court did not have strong political power to control the county.  There were many thieves, constant fire and combats everywhere.  It was unsafe and disorderly.  Imperial court. noble man, and temples needed to protect themselves and maintain the public peace.  Those hired hand (forces) were the origin of Bushi or Samurai.  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 several power struggle, Heishi started to control the Imperial court. Heishi also managed their daughters to marry to the Emperor.  The latter part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to Heike family.  They became tyrannical and arrogant.  That created too many enemies against Heike.  The Genji joined with the Fujiwara started a war against Heike and chased Heike to the place called Dan-no-Ura(壇ノ浦) at 1185 and defeated them.  This is called Genpei-Gassen (源平合戦).  The Heike’s loss was the end of the Heian period.

This is the time, the shape of the swords changed to a curved shape. Until this time, swords were straight.  The study of swords start from the Heian period on.  During this time, the elegant and graceful taste of Fujiwara culture reflects on the swords.  Their preference of their lifestyle appeared clearly on the swords.  The group of sword smiths in Kyoto area created a certain sword style that were called Yamashiro Den (School).  Their shape of the swords shows graceful line.  Yamashiro Den represents the Heian period swords.

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