39|Part 2: 5|Heian Period History (平安時代) 794-1192

39 Heian Time line

The circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section

This chapter is the continued part of Chapter 5.  Please read chapter 5 before reading this section.

Around the 11th century in the 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.  The author herself is at the corner on the back of the bill.  We consider the bill very beautiful, instead of using it, people just keep it, so it does not circulate much.  I have four bills and I am keeping them, I can not bring myself to use it.  It is too nice to use.

The novel is about 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, which is called Uji Jyu- jyo.   The title of the chapter he dies is “Vanishes into the cloud (雲隠れ)”, it is very poetic.  The Tales of Genji depict the daily life of the aristocrat society, their customs, lifestyle, and how people think in those days.  The description of the process of the courting is as I described in the chapter “5|Heian Period History 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 is supposed to be a most charming, good-looking, smart, and sophisticated aristocrat, and all the women fall for him.  He goes around all kinds of female one after another, 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 depicts hero and heroines thought, emotion, daily life, how man think toward women vice versa with her amazing writing skill.  The author, Murasaki Shikibu created the 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.

Once you have the general idea of how the Heian aristocrat life was like, it makes you realize why the Heian sword is shaped the way it is.  And it becomes easier to identify the Heian sword from amongst other swords that are made other times and other provinces.   All sword reflects the society where it was forged.

During the Heian period, the Yamashiro Den is the representative sword style of this time.  In the next section, the subject will be discussed mostly center around the Yamashiro Den, but there are other sword groups.

* 1    The back of 2000 yen bill

39 Part 2 Shikibu with arrow

5 Heian 3 photoes.jpg

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