The Heian Period and Japanese Civilization

The Heian Period and Japanese Civilization

Japanese early literature carries much history about the Heian period that is known as a period of the redefinition of culture, literature, and art. During this time, the highest political authority in the land belonged to the imperial court with its capital in the modern Kyoto. Kyoto was previously referred to as Heian-kyo, which means ‘the capital of peace and tranquility.’ Native aesthetics developed quite widely in this period as changes such as disdain for foreign attributes and love for local customs took root. The Heian period has a lot of fascination regarding the Japanese history as social, cultural, economic, political, and religious developments influenced each other and brought about more change. FumikoEnchi’s novel The Waiting Years offers a literal insight into this society where women bore the brunt of societal pressures and the dominant patriarchal system that influenced all aspects of life within this period, to an extent of a proscribed definition to morality.

Social Roles, Occupations, and Statuses

One of the most dominant aspects in these writings is the role of women and men in the Japanese society during the Heian period. Essentially, women took the position of subjugated members of society whose main role was to serve as wives to their husbands and mothers to their children. In The Waiting Years,Tomo serves as a representation of the status that women were accorded in society, even when these women were wives to powerful people in the imperial court. Men in this society took the praise and had regard as important national builders. Importantly, this novel was set in the early 20th century when Japan was experiencing high transformations and was focusing on building a high international image. Women’s position in society were a construct of the authorities through a discursive entity that placed them as home creators where they were supposed to bear sons and create a home sanctuary where the men would go back in the evening to recreate their energies as they focused on national growth (Walker, 2014).

Hence, as the positions of men in this society are elevated, women come up as subjugated members of society. Regardless of their position as inferior societal members, women in this society have an important role as they serve as guardians of societal morals. Tomotries all that is within her power to conceal the shame that the family men such as his husband and son are bringing with their wives and concubines (Enchi, 1972). Therefore, the position and status of women in this society may be below that of men, but the roles that women play in this society are of equal importance and help in propagation and development of the society.

The visibility of the occupation, statuses, and social roles of individuals in these writings depends on how the community and society in general perceive these individuals. From the subjugated position that women are subject toin this society, it becomes impossible to raise their voices or pursue their desires. In the waiting years, Tomo has her own opinions and desires that she wishes she could stick to, such as the desire not to attend the charity bazaar (Enchi, 1972). Being the wife of a high-ranking official within the court, she had to avail herself even if she had no meaningful duty to perform. Similarly, the anthology of Japanese literature depicts a similar story of the fate that women were subject to. In The Tales of Ise, a certain lascivious woman is in love and wishes to meet a man who can show her affection, but she cannot openly express this desire (Monogatari, 1994). Such instances clearly show the status and regard that is extended to women in this society who languish on desires, but cannot pursue them.

For men, the virtue of being male members of society has given them regard as important nation builders that society adores. YukitomoShiwakawa is the rich government official and Tomo’s husband, but Tomo is his wife only nominally (Enchi, 1972). The social constructs in this society are what have determined men’s position and status by defining the society as a patriarchal hold. Most women in Enchi’s story except for Suga are mothers, and when Enchi or the society refers to children, their reference is usually sons as they are taken in higher regard than the daughters. Similarly, the treatment of women by Narihira where she sleeps with the lascivious woman who is in love with her, only for him to leave her further stamps the status of different genders. Men can easily create a relationship with a woman to satisfy their desires and later leave regardless of the pain that the woman has to go through. As such, the social constructs of the society in this Heian period are what determines the various social roles, statuses, and occupation of the various characters.

Limitations on behavior

The limitations hereby on behavior or desire to act in a certain way comes from societal definition and construct of expected behavior. The dynamics of a patriarchal society dictates that men have the overall societal control while women can only watch and perform their maternal duties. The setting of the novel by Enchi is at a period where Japan fostered institutional motherhood entrenched in the citizenry of the emerging nation state. The motherhood discourse obliterated the rights of these women to express their desires openly during this Heian period. The expectations were that they would exhibit a voluntary dependence on the male member of the household. Ambitions and persona enterprises for women had to be in check while men pursued their desires at a time when the nation state needed them. Hence, the limitations and definition of behaviors and ambitions came from social constructs and the societal expectations.

The functionalities and comparison

The societies depicted in these writings are a prelude to the 21st century society that majorly functions on the patriarchal basis. Though there may be little improvements on the role and social status of women, these societies are all in pursuance of a male hegemony entrenched into the societal fabric. Societal functionalities were defined right from the basic institution of the family referred to as the ie. Feudalistic tendencies that run the society not only come from the political system, but are rather evident from the basic structure of society which is the family.

In Kagero Niko within the anthology of Japanese literature, the author gives the story of a prince, his wife, and the concubine from the wife’s position. Though the prince had a wife, he sought out a concubine from down the alley who later conceived a baby boy. For the wife, being left by her husband was enough pain but now that the concubine had conceived the pain was unbearable (Keene, 1994). Following the child’s birth, the prince abandoned the concubine, as his status would bring ridicule.As such, this narrative shows that even the ruling class is not devoid of following the norms laid down by society. The prince was wary of what society would perceive of him and had to return to his wife. Power did not determine the functioning of society or the definition of wrong and right as it had to go by the social constructs.

Though all societies depicted in these writings seem to run by the social constructs, the contrast comes from the power that imperial members of the court held. In The Waiting Years, Yukitomo could easily ask his wife to bring him concubines and lay with them openly, but in Kagero Niko, the prince is afraid of the ridicule that such actions would bring. Thus, the functionalities of these societies may be similar, but they exhibit differing definitions of morals. Morals are important in the functionalities of any society as they help in the definition of wrong and right and influence the dynamics of society.

The Heian period had societal functionalities pegged on social constructs and phallocentric attributes determined by the ruling authorities. Not only did these attributes determine social roles, behaviors, status of individuals and proliferation of morals, they marginalized the women in society as they sought to foster patriarchal hegemony. In The Waiting Years, Tomo climbs up a female slope in exhaustion only for her to find that she is terminally ill. The slope is representative of the hard life that women in this society have to go through as they continue being victims of feudalism in the Heian period.


 

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