Literature in Heian period

In the Heian period a lot of importance was placed on art and literature. The aristocracy paid a lot of heed to developing a refined taste in literature and developed strong customs and behavioural conduct.  During this period the nobles of the court known as ‘kuge’ accentuated on appearance and decorum and dictated rules for every aspect of life. Art, literature and poetry were an essential part of the imperial court. All the people working in the imperial court were expected to have a good education in writing and poetry. One’s writing skills were the parameter for earning a good reputation and position within the court.

Heian period was very rich period in development of Japanese culture because Japan was heavily influenced by the Chinese society and their culture, but it was in this period that japan started to keep clear of the Chinese influence on their way of lifestyle and their own traditions and practices.

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In the Heian period, only men used to write works in kanji (the writing system that was borrowed by China) but they mostly or only wrote poems, and historical documents and not fiction. Whereas the women, although were not versed in kanji writing system but still wrote in kana. Men used to write in the Chinese script as it was believed that it was of higher social status. Ironically, the women of this period were the one who developed Japanese writing method and played a key role in the rise of Japanese vernacular literature. Female authors in Japan were more popular than the male because they wrote in an accessible language, the language of the common people, ‘kana’. The women wrote tales and fictional stories, the kinds that men usually shied away from. 

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The new writing system, Hiragana, was used by women to write their tales that gave them more freedom to express their emotions freely. Use of hiragana empowered women to be able to be able to write about their thought, feelings and their everyday hardships and lifestyle in the nation that they lived in. For the author Shounagon, she spent years in mastering kanji writing system so she could display her level of intelligence in the society dominated by men, and she often used kanjis in their writings. The most cardinal works of literature were written by women in the Heian period, the most notable work being ‘The Tale of Genji’ and ‘The Pillow Book’. Both books are considered to be masterpieces and very important work of literature of that time even today. Both books documented the important aspects of lifestyle of people during the Heian era.

source: Mikiso Hane

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