Episode 509 – The Golden Age of Heian

This week, we turn our attention to two of the defining institutions of the Heian period, both of which will be very important for us going forward. First are the shoen, or private estates, the growth of which led to the fragmentation and decentralization of the government. The second is the rising power of the warrior class–known to history as the samurai.


Segal, Ethan, “The Shoen System” and Karl F. Friday, “The Dawn of the Samurai” in Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850

Morris, Dana, “Land and Society” and Cornelius J. Kiley, “Provincial Administration and Land Tenure in Early Heian” and Rizo Takeuchi, “The Rise of the Warriors” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol II: Heian Japan


A map of shoen estates in the vicinity of Nara from the 800s CE. Up to the Sengoku period, shoen estates were the main method by which land was organized in Japan.
Yugeshima, which was once a shoen estate for Toji — and which was briefly governed by the pirate Ben no Bo Shoyo.
A depiction of the fighting from the Latter Three Years’ War (Gosannen War). Note the horseback warriors with bows and arrows; this was the standard mode of combat for samurai during their early history.
A depiction of Minamoto no Yoshiie, the man who made his name fighting the Zenkunen War in the North. This is a much later depiction by Utagawa Kunishige, from the late Edo period.