Distinctive Aristocratic Culture Flowers in Heian Period


The word “Miyabi” refers to the refined style of court or dynasty. It also has connotations of an urban feel, or something sophisticated or noble. It began to be employed in a cultivated culture developed by aristocrats who ruled Japan around the eighth to 12th centuries.
The Heian Period (794-1185 B.C.) was when “Miyabi” culture developed and flourished. In Japanese history it was a period between the relocation of the Japanese capital to Henankyo in Nara (following the successive relocations from Nara and Nagaoka) and the Heike clan’s lost battle at Dan-no-ura in the Striates of Shimonoseki. The nearly 400 years was seemingly enough time for aristocrats to develop their own culture that incorporated a distinct Japanese spirit and sensitivity in the cultural sphere. In the political area, it was a harbinger of the age of the warriors who plunged the latter half of the Heian period into war.
At the end of the ninth century (the early Heian Period) Japanese missions to Tang China, or Kentoshi, was discontinued, which in turn led to the flowering of Japanese own culture. The culture has become more Japanized, and prominently reflected in the architecture, paintings, literature, and design of handicrafts. The aristocrats established their own independent culture that flourished around imperial families and further refined it with their heightened sensitivity.

Jidai Festival Commemorates Foundation of Heian Jingu Shrine, Offers Glimpse of Old Manners.
Japanese traditional cultures are well recognized in the world and characterized by elegance and sensitivity. During the Heian Period, a number of masterpieces were born, including Kokinwaka-syu, a collection of poems that was greatly different from Manyo-syu, another old anthology created 150 years before. While Manyo-syu conveyed authors’ intuitive feelings with simple and powerful messages, Kokinwaka-syu highly valued grace and refinement.
By seeking ultimate techniques, artists tended to imply another connotation underneath its surface meaning. When it comes to the way to appreciate the art of this time, whether it is sliding door paintings or handicrafts, some experts say, “Look at it in the dark,” not in a bright space. When you try this, you will find that colorful gild ornamental arts seemingly pop out of the darkness, giving birth to a subtle shade. The shade hiding behind the showy beauty now presents itself with depth and resonance as seen in Waka poems, the techniques of which often uses double meaning.
A taste for double meaning must be related to the circumstances surrounding the aristocrats. During the Heian Period, not all aristocrats enjoyed their lives. There were strict ranks among them. A different rank means different treatment. The rank was not fixed, so some could rise through the ranks while others might fall. To go up the ladder must have involved any attempt since a failure could risk their lives or their families’. Every effort was made to get in the way of their political rivals. Aristocrats were engaged in a fierce power struggle for their intense desire to reach to the top, a situation that exerted a great influence on their views on various things, including cultures.

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The times have changed, now is the Heisei Era. The beauty of Miyabi culture has continued to enchant people since it is the essence of timeless beauty with refined techniques as commonly seen in architects such as temples and shrines, literatures such as wake poems and stories, and handicrafts such as lacquer wares.
The traditional arts represented in Miyabi culture attract people at home and abroad with their sophisticated beauty that takes their breath away. While we are attracted to the simple and unprocessed beauty, the Heian Era was a period when aristocrats manipulated light and shade to discover a beauty. The techniques were deeply associated with the severe condition which aristocrats were faced with.
A number of cultural assets were tools for aristocrats who needed to exert their influences to protect themselves from their rivals and to succeed. To embrace the arts of the Heian Era, you don’t have to be familiar with the situation behind the beauty, but simply think of the days long past and discover new things that can be applied in our lives. But if you could leave something important behind as did those aristocrats in the Heian era, who risked their lives for a living, you would be able to come closer to the horizon on which they were standing.
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