For the next couple of days, I will be blogging about the Heian Japan (794-1185) and the Byzantine Empire. For tonight, let me just write a little bit about the Heian Japan. The Heian Period is considered one of the two Classical Periods in the history of Japanese Civilization–the other being the Nara Period. Now, before going further with the Heian Period, let me just point out the temporal boundaries of the Heian Japan, that is, the Nara and Shogunate periods.
the Heian Period is preceded by the Nara Period (710-794) and succeeded by the Shogunate Japan (1185 – end). For the time being, it’s safe to say that the Nara Period is the period that prepared Japan for the peak of its classical culture, which is the Heian period. During the Nara Period, the Japanese nobility started to aggressively learn the Chinese ways and adopted everything Chinese (by Chinese, I am here referring to the Tang Chinese, which can be considered the peak of Chinese civilization).
The Nara Period is when the Japanese started the massive spread of Buddhism and application of Buddhist values to change the older spiritual ways of worshiping the Sun Goddess Amaterasu–due to the advance of Buddhism, the native Japanese ways received its new name: Shinto. The other application of Buddhist values is the decision to have a permanent capital. Prior to this Sinicization, the Japanese had only temporary capital, which always moved to a new place whenever the emperor died because they believed that a death “polluted” a place while a capital should always be a “pure” place; therefore, the death of an emperor was always followed with the relocation of the capital to a new place. With the advance of Buddhism, such practice was considered out of date. Then, the Japanese had their first permanent capital in the city of Nara in 710, thus started the Nara Period. The permanent capital also followed the Tang Chinese template, with the development following the grid pattern.
The Heian Period was succeeded by the Shogunate Japan, in which the power was in the hand of the military generals known as the Shogun (duh! :D). The rise of the military power started during the late Heian era, when the local aristocracies started to decline in their power and governance without the help of the paid military force or bodyguards known as the “Samurai.”
I hope there can be more opportunities to discuss the actual Heian period itself.