Sunday 19 November 2017

Heian period of Japan

The Heian period is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It precedes the Kamakura period(1185 - 1333 CE) and succeed the Nara period(710 - 794 CE). Throughout the period, Although the Imperial House of Japan had power on the surface, the real power was in the hands of the Fujiwara clan, a powerful aristocratic family who had intermarried with the imperial family.


Emperor Kanmu, the 50th emperor of Japan moved his capital to Heian-kyō (present-day Kyōto). Kanmu first tried to move the capital to Nagaoka-kyō, but a series of disasters befell the city, prompting the emperor to relocate the capital a second time.  A rebellion occurred in China in the last years of the 9th century, making the political situation unstable. The Japanese missions to Tang China was suspended and the influx of Chinese exports halted. The emperor died in 806 CE and reigned for 25 years.

Emperor Kanmu
Emperor Kanmu was succeeded by Emperor Heizei(51st emperor of Japan) who ruled for three years from 806 till 809 CE. He was succeeded by Emperor Saga(r. 809 - 823 CE). Emperor Saga played an important role as a stalwart supporter of the Buddhist monk Kūkai. The emperor helped Kūkai to establish the Shingon School of Buddhism by granting him Tō-ji Temple in the capital Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto).

To-Ji Temple

Emperor Junna was the 53rd emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession who reigned from 823 to 833. In the 10th year of Emperor Junna's reign, the emperor abdicated; and the succession (senso) was received by his adopted son who became Emperor Ninmyo. He reigned until 850 CE and died at the age of 41. He was succeeded by his son who became Emperor Montoku. He had six Imperial consorts and 29 Imperial children.

Emperor Montoku(55th Emperor of Japan)

Emperor Seiwa was the 56th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession during the Heian period. Seiwa's reign spanned the years from 858 through 876. He was succeeded by Emperor Yozei who reigned from 876 - 884 CE who was in turn succeeded by Emperor Kōkō who ruled from 884 - 887 CE.

Emperor Seiwa(56th Emperor of Japan)

As the Soga clan had taken control of the throne in the sixth century, the Fujiwara by the ninth century had intermarried with the imperial family. Toward the end of the ninth century, several emperors tried, but failed, to check the Fujiwara. For a time, however, during the reign of Emperor Daigo (897–930), the Fujiwara regency was suspended as he ruled directly. He was buried at Daigo-ji temple at Kyoto, Japan.

Daigo-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Fujiwara Clan were not demoted by Daigo but actually became stronger during his reign. Central control of Japan had continued to decline, and the Fujiwara, along with other great families and religious foundations. Within decades of Emperor Daigo's death, the Fujiwara had absolute control over the court. By the year 1000, Fujiwara no Michinaga was able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will.

Fujiwara no Michinaga

Emperor Ichijo was the 66th Emperor of Japan and reigned from 986 - 1011 CE. During his reign, Imperial visits were first made to the following four shrines: Kasuga, Ōharano, Matsunoo, and Kitano; and in the years which followed, Emperors traditionally made yearly Imperial visits to these shrines and to three others: Kamo, Iwashimizu and Hirano. He was succeeded by Emperor Sanjo whose reign spanned the years from 1011 through 1016.


The Fujiwara controlled the throne until the reign of Emperor Go-Sanjō (1068–1073), the first emperor not born of a Fujiwara mother since the ninth century. Go-Sanjo, determined to restore imperial control through strong personal rule, implemented reforms to curb Fujiwara influence. He also established an office to compile and validate estate records with the aim of reasserting central control.

Emperor Go-Sanjō(71st Emperor of Japan)

Emperor Shirakawa was the 72nd emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Shirakawa's reign lasted from 1073 to 1087. He was succeeded by Emperor Horikawa who reigned from 1087 until 1107 CE.  The period from 1086 to 1156 was the age of supremacy of the In-no-chō and of the rise of the military class throughout the country. Military might rather than civil authority dominated the government.

Emperor Shirakawa(72st Emperor of Japan)

A struggle for succession in the mid-twelfth century gave the Fujiwara an opportunity to regain their former power. Fujiwara no Yorinaga sided with the retired emperor in a violent battle in 1156 against the heir apparent, who was supported by the Taira and Minamoto (Hōgen Rebellion). In 1159, the Taira and Minamoto clashed (Heiji Rebellion), and a twenty-year period of Taira ascendancy began.

Heiji Rebellion

With Yoritomo firmly established, the bakufu system that would govern Japan for the next seven centuries was in place. Yoritomo then turned his attention to the elimination of the powerful Fujiwara family, which sheltered his rebellious brother Yoshitsune. Three years later, he was appointed shogun in Kyoto. One year before his death in 1199, Yoritomo expelled the teenage emperor Go-Toba from the throne. Two of Go-Toba's sons succeeded him, but they would also be removed by Yoritomo's successors to the shogunate and the end of Heian Period.

Yoritomo, founder and the first shōgun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan

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