This chapter is a detailed part of chapter 4 Heian Period History. Please read chapter 4 before reading this section.
The circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section
Around the middle Heian period, a novel, Genji Monogatari (Tales of Genji: 源氏物語) was written by a female author, Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部). She was an aristocrat court lady. Her father was Fujiwara Tametoki (藤原為時), a scholar. There were several novels and essays written by female authors around this time, but “Tales of Genji” is the worldly known literature as the greatest Japanese literature. The Tales of Genji is a treasure for Japanese. Because we love this novel so much, the Ministry of Japan Mint issued a 2000 yen bill*ᴵ with a scene from the novel. See the photo below. The author herself is at the lower right corner on the back of the bill. We consider the bill very beautiful, instead of using it, people just keep it, therefore, it does not circulate much. I have four bills but I can not bring myself to use it. It is too nice to use.
The novel is about a man named Hikaru Genji‘s (光源氏) love history (yes, history) from the time he was about 16 years old until he dies. There are 10 more chapters after his death, called “Uji Jyu- jyo”. This section is a story of his son and grandson. The title of the chapter when he dies is “Vanishes into the cloud (雲隠れ)”, a very poetic title. The Tales of Genji depicts the daily life of the aristocrat society, their customs, lifestyle, and how people think in those days. Surprisingly, though they did not have the technology we have, the way they thought was not much different than us. The description of the process of the courting was described in 4 | Heian Period History (平安時代) 794 – 1192.
The author created Hikaru Genji (光源氏), the main character, as a high-level aristocrat, an illegitimate son of the emperor. He was depicted as a most charming, good-looking, smart, and sophisticated aristocrat, and all the women fell for him. He goes around all kinds of female one after another, a beautiful woman, not so good-looking but very smart, very young, older woman, stepmother, wealthy and not so wealthy, etc. It sounds like the story from the tabloid magazine. But Murasaki Shikibu depicted heroes and heroines’ thoughts, emotions, daily life, how a man thinks toward women vice versa with her amazing writing skill. The author, Murasaki Shikibu wrote this novel to entertain the female audiences in the court where she was living. It became very popular then, it is said that even the emperor at the time was asking her how the next story develops. Genji Monogatari is translated into English. You can buy the translated book on Amazon or go to YouTube and search for “Genji Monogatari”, or “Tales of Genji”. You will find many Genji Monogatari in anime, old TV programs, and old movies, full and short clips.
Another female author, Sei Sho-nagon (清少納言) had written an essay called “Makura no Soshi: 枕草子” around the same time. In it, she described the court lady’s daily life and mentioned Kakigoori (shaved ice: かき氷). High-class people then must have a chance to eat shaved ice, though the ice was not easy to come by during summer in the middle Heian period.
Once you have the general idea of how the Heian aristocrat life was like, it makes you realize why the Heian sword is shaped like the way it is. And it becomes easier to identify the Heian sword from amongst other swords that were made different times and other provinces. All swords reflect the society where the swordsmiths lived.
During the Heian period, the Yamashiro Den is the representative sword style. In the next chapter, the subject matter is center around the Yamashiro Den. But there were other sword groups in different regions.
*1 The back of 2000 yen bill
Part of the Burke Album, a property of Mary Griggs Burke (Public Domain) Paintings drew by Tosa Mitsukuni (土佐光国), 17 century. The scenes are based on the Tales of Genji