Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Heian

Episode 271 – You’re Going on the List

This week, we cover the fascinating tale of Sei Shonagon and the Makura no Soushi, or Pillow Book. Why is a collection of anecdotes considered to be one of Japan’s greatest literary classics? What makes the Pillow Book so famous? And why does Isaac love it so very much?

Sources

Henitiuk, Valerie. Worlding Sei Shonagon: The Pillow Book in Translation.

Sato, Hiroaki. Legends of the Samurai.

Ivanova, Gergana. Unbinding the Pillow Book: The Many Lives of a Japanese Classic.

Images

Sei Shonagon views the snow in Yamato province, by Utagawa. A Tokugawa era woodblock print.

Sei Shonagon as depicted in a mid-Edo woodblock print.

Sei Shonagon, from the late Edo woodblock print series “Six Fashionable Female Poetic Immortals.” I think she would have adored being described with all those words.

Sei Shonagon with her poem from the Hyakunin Isshu (no. 62) above.

Sei Shonagon became one of the most famous women in Japanese history, justifying her inclusion in this series of woodblocks by Utagawa Kunisada I: A Mirror of the Renowned Exemplary Women of Japan.

Episode 270 – A Brief and Fleeting Dream

This week, we cover the life and work of one of Japan’s most famous authors: the 11th century courtier Murasaki Shikibu. Why do we know so little about who she was? What inspired her to write Genji? Why do I dislike her work so viscerally? And how did it become so famous?

Sources

Shriane, Haruo, editor. Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production.

Shirane, Haruo. A Bridge of Dreams: The Poetics of the Tale of Genji.

Bowring, Richard, trans. The Diary of Lady Murasaki.

Images

For Edo period Japanese who did not want to slog through the original classical Japanese, there were emaki — illustrated versions — of the story of Genji. This scene is from Azumaya,, chapter 50 of the tale.

Another emaki of Genji, this one from the Takekawa chapter. A male courtier (bottom right) steals a glimpse of some lovely ladies.

Cover piece from Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji.

A cover from the manga edition of Genji Monogatari.

Murasaki Shikibu gazes at the moon, being inspired to write the tale of Genji.

In addition to writing Genji, Murasaki Shikibu was also an accomplished poet. One of her poems is included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, probably the most famous poetry collection in Japan. Her poem (no. 57), as translated by LingWiki: “Meeting on the path / but I cannot clearly know / if it was he / because the midnight moon / in a cloud had disappeared.
This illustrated version shows Murasaki, along with her poem written in phonetic kana above. No contemporary pictures of her exist; she’s labeled as Murasaki, and is wearing purple (the color Murasaki), and that’s how you can tell it’s her.

Episode 150 – The Birth of the Samurai, Part 5

We’re live, folks! Sorry for the delay. It’s time for the career of Taira no Kiyomori, the man whose talent and ambition was matched only by his temper and his ego.

 

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334

McCullough, Helen Craig, trans. The Tale of the Heike.

Black, Jeremy. War in the Early Modern Period.

Keene, Donald, trans. Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa) 

Images

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A diorama of Fukuhara during its brief time as Japan’s capitol. Courtesy of the City of Hyogo tourism office.

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Prince Mochihito depicted escaping from Kyoto after his declaration of rebellion. This image (like most others I’ve been using) is from the Edo period, when stories of this time provided grist for the mill of popular entertainment presses.

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Another image of Prince Mochihito.

Episode 147 – The Birth of the Samurai, Part 2

This week, Minamoto no Yoshiie establishes the power of the Seiwa Minamoto family, upsetting a careful balance of power. Also, he drops the hottest rhymes of 1063.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334

Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai: A Military History.

“The Rise of the Warriors” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol II.

Images

 

Episode 4 – The Golden Age of Heian

This week’s episode covers the Heian Period (794-1185 AD). We will be discussing the political structure of the Heian government, the major changes that occured in the period, and the aristocratic culture of the time.

You can listen to the episode here.

Sources:

Totman, A History of Japan.

Morris, Ivan. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

“Ladies in Rivalry,” by John Delacour. http://weblog.delacour.net/archives/2002/03/ladies_in_rivalry.php

Images (courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Fujiwara no Michinaga was the most powerful power-broker of this era and led the Fujiwara to the height of their power; he dominated Japanese politics during the latter half of the 10th century, and was reputed to be able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will.

Fujiwara no Michinaga was the most powerful power-broker of this era and led the Fujiwara to the height of their power; he dominated Japanese politics during the latter half of the 10th century, and was reputed to be able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will.

This is a diorama of Kyoto from the period; right now we're looking north towards the grounds of the Imperial palace.

This is a diorama of Kyoto from the period; right now we’re looking north towards the grounds of the Imperial palace.

This is a map of the central part of Kyoto, constructed during the Heian period. The yellow area is the Imperial palace. The black-and-white striped line is the modern Japan Rail line, and the red area is the modern Kyoto station.

This is a map of the central part of Kyoto, constructed during the Heian period. The yellow area is the Imperial palace. The black-and-white striped line is the modern Japan Rail line, and the red area is the modern Kyoto station.

An image of Sei Shonagon from the Edo Period, approximately 800 years after her death. The writing above her is one of her poems, which is included in the Hyakunin Isshu.

An image of Sei Shonagon from the Edo Period, approximately 800 years after her death. The writing above her is one of her poems, which is included in the Hyakunin Isshu.

According to (a probably untrue) legend, Murasaki Shikibu was inspired to write the Tale of Genji while gazing towards the moon during a visit to a temple. This is an artist's representation of that event from the Edo Period, about 800 years after the fact.

According to (a probably untrue) legend, Murasaki Shikibu was inspired to write the Tale of Genji while gazing towards the moon during a visit to a temple. This is an artist’s representation of that event from the Edo Period, about 800 years after the fact.

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