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Classical Japan during the Heian Period

An overview of classical Japan. Chinese influence merges with Japanese culture. Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki. 

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we're going to do in this video is talk about roughly 1000 years of Japanese history that take us from what's known as the Classical period of Japan through the Japanese Medieval period all the way to the Early Modern period and the key defining characteristic of the Classical period is this is when Japan really began to unify and have an imperial form and began to borrow a lot of the traditions and philosophy and even religion from China. Then as we get into the Medieval period, Japan gets fragmented, it comes under military rule, and then as we get into the Early Modern period, it gets reunited. So as I mentioned, China had a huge influence on Japan. Even though China never conquers Japan, because of how close they are, many things like the idea of a centralized bureaucracy, the Japanese borrow many of these ideas from China during the Classical period. In fact, the Japanese rulers sent delegations to China in the 7th century in order to understand all of what the Chinese do, in order to run their government, to run their country, and they start to borrow a lot of the ideas of Buddhism and Confucianism and merge it with some of their own beliefs which are often known as Shinto, which you can view as the original Japanese belief system. So the first part of the Classical period that we're gonna go into some depth is the Heian period. Its capital Heian-kyo, modern day Kyoto, and as I mentioned, it was known for taking a lot of these ideas from China and particularly the Tang dynasty in China and bringing them to Japan. The Heian period was known as a golden age of Japan. It was a time of culture, it was a time of architecture, people in the imperial court would focus on the arts, they would focus on philosophy. As an example, this right over here is the Byodo-in Temple in Kyoto which shows the level, and this is actually only part of it, it shows the level of cultural advancement of this time. As I mentioned, the arts were a big deal and women in the imperial court of Heian China had a lot of influence, in fact, the most influential family, the Fujiwara family maintained its influence by having the emperors marry women from their family and those women would end up having a lot of control over the emperor and of course the next emperor. But to get a sense of the arts of this period, here's an excerpt from the Tale of Genji which was written by Lady Murasaki, who was believed to be a member of the Fujiwara family. And Lady Murasaki gets a lot of credit, before Chaucer, before Shakespeare, she is by many historians viewed as the first true novelist that we know of in human history, not just Japanese history. But I encourage you to read it, its actually quite riveting, the Tale of Genji, and this is just a small quote from that story or from that novel, it's about a very handsome prince, Genji. "The difference between enlightenment and confusion "is of about the same order as the difference "between the good and the bad in a romance. "If one takes the generous view, "then nothing is empty and useless."