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THE FUJIWARA PERIOD
900 TO 1200 A.D.
THE Fujiwara period dates from the ripened ascendency of that family at the accession of the Emperor Daigo, 898 A.D. With it begins a new development in Japanese art and culture, which may be termed the national, in contrast to the predominating continental ideas of preceding epochs. All that was best in Chinese thought and Indian wisdom had long found its way to Japan, till now the pent-up energy of this assimilated culture was precipitating the race upon the evolution of its own special forms, both in life and in ideals.
For the national mind may be held, in the Heian period, to have completed the apprehension of the Indian ideal. And now, according to mental habit, it isolates it, and makes its realisation its solitary purpose. In this the Japanese, by their greater Indian affinity, enjoy an advantage over the Chinese, who are withheld by that strong common sense which is expressed in Confucianism, from the unbalanced development of any single motive to its full intensity.
Those disturbances in China which, towards the close of the Tâng dynasty, prevented the exchange of diplomatic amenities between the two countries, and the conscious dependence which Japan began to place on her own power, induced the statesmen of the time amongst whom stands that Michizane who is so revered as Tenjin, patron of letters and learning to resolve on sending no more embassies to Choan, and to cease borrowing further from Chinese institutions. A new era began, in which Japan strove to create a system of her own, based on the revival of purely Yamato ideals, for the administration of civil and religious affairs.
This new development is marked in letters by the appearance of important books, written in Japanese by women. For till now, in comparison with the classic Chinese style of the scholars, the vernacular language had been considered effeminate, and was left to become the proper instrument of woman only. So dawned the great era of feminine literature, in the course of which may be mentioned Murasa ki Shikibu, authoress of the grand romance of Genji; Seishonagon, whose sarcastic pen anticipates, by seven hundred years, Madame Scudery's witticisms on the court scandals of the Grand Monarque; Akazome, noted for her peaceful and pure conception of life; and Komachi, the great sad poetess, whose life exemplifies the loves and sorrows of that refined and voluptuous epoch. Men imitated the style of these ladies, for this was, par excellence, the age of woman.
Confined in their island home, with no questions of state to trouble their sweet reveries, the court aristocracy found their serious occupation in art and poetry. The lesser duties of statecraft were left to inferiors, for to the over-refinement of the time it appeared that useful duties were both lowering and impure, so that the handling of money and the use of arms were functions fit only for the menial classes.
Even the administration of justice was relegated to the lower orders. Governors of provinces would almost spend their lives in the capital, Kyoto, leaving their representatives and henchmen to take charge of their local duties, and some were even heard to make the proud boast that they had never left the metropolis.
To Buddhism, still the dominant element in the nation's range of variation, the halo of the eternal feminine draws closer in the Jodo ideal of the Fujiwara epoch than at any other moment in its history. The strict and masculine discipline of the monk-taught doctrines of preceding ages seeking salvation through personal effort and self-mastery alone had brought about its own reaction, and the movement of revolt coincided with a renewal of that Tendai conception of the Buddhistic idea, prevalent in the Asuka or pre-Nara period, when perfection was regarded as attainable by mere contemplation of the Abstract-Absolute. Thus the religious consciousness, exhausted by despair of the terrible struggle for Samadhi through renunciation, swings back upon the thought of the madness of supreme love. The prayer which dissolves the self into union with the ocean of infinite mercy takes the place of the proud assertion of the privilege of manhood in self-realisation. So, in India, also, Sankaracharya is succeeded by Ramanuja and Chaitanya, an age of Bhakti succeeds an age of Jnan.
A wave of religious emotion passed over Japan in the Fujiwara epoch, and, intoxicated with frantic love, men and women deserted the cities and villages in crowds to follow Kuya or Ipen, dancing and singing the name of Amida as they went. Masquerades came into vogue, representing angels descending from Heaven with the lotus dais, in order to welcome and bear upward the departing soul. Ladies would spend a lifetime in weaving or embroidering the image of Divine Mercy, out of threads extracted from the lotus-stem. Such was the new movement, which, however closely paralleled in China, in the beginning of the Tâng dynasty, was nevertheless so completely and distinctively Japanese. It has never died, and to this day two-thirds of the people belong to the Jodo sect, which corresponds to the Vaishnavism of India.
Both Genshin, the formulator of the creed, and Genku, who carried it to its culmination, pleaded that human nature was weak and, try as it might, could not accomplish entire self-conquest and direct attainment of the Divine in this life. It was rather by the mercy of the Amida Buddha and his emanation, Kwannon, that one could alone be saved. They did not put themselves in conflict with the earlier sects, but, leaving them to work out, each its own results in its own way, declared that it was for strong natures and rare individuals to develop by what they called Shodo, or the Path of Saints, while for the ordinary masses a prayer, even a single prayer, addressed to the almost maternal Godhead, represented in Amida, the Immeasurable Light, was enough to draw the soul into His world of purity, called the Jodo, where, free from the pains and evils of this wretched life, they could evolve into the Buddhahood itself.
This prayer they called "the easier path," and their images, softened by the spirit of femininity, produced a new type, very different from those of the stately Buddhas, and fierce representations of the Divine wrath, known to the preceding age as the Siva-like Fudo, Destroyer of Earthly Passion and Sentiment. Shin-ran, a disciple of Genku, founded the Honganji sect, now the most powerful in the country, of the adherents of this idea.
Japanese painting, with its delicate lines and refined colours, begins now to be characterised, from the tenth century onwards, by a predominating use of gold, which, not unlike the gold backgrounds of medieval artists in Europe, is explained by the argument that yellow light must permeate the regions of Amida.
Its subjects of illustration are the Kingdom of Amida, or ideal Mercy, the Kwannon of Seishi, or ideal Power, and the twenty-five Angels, who, with their heavenly music, escorted spirits into Paradise. There is no better representation of this idea than in the grand picture of Amida and the twenty-five Angels by Genshin himself which picture is now kept in Koyashan.
The sculpture of the period rose to its greatest height in Jocho (of the eleventh century), whose Amida is still to be seen in all its glory at Hoodo, in Uji, one of the innumerable temples which the Fujiwara ministers consecrated to the new Jodo, or Faith in the Land of Purity. The Fudo of this sculptor is so sweet as to be almost an Amida a fact which is significant of the strength of that feminine influence that could change even the mighty form of Siva himself.
But, alas! in a world so worldly, no such dreamland could long persist! The storm was already brewing in the provinces that was to scatter to the four winds that festival of flowers which reigned in Kyoto, the capital. Each local disturbance added to the power of those provincial magistrates who actually held the reins of government, and ultimately constituted them the daimyos and barons of succeeding ages. Revolts in the North gave an opportunity to the martial family of Minamoto, and their long campaign of fifteen years won the hearts of the uncivilised peoples east of the Hakone Pass, who were almost as much dreaded by the people of the court as the hordes of Goths by the later Romans. The suppression of pirates in the Inland Sea also called into prominence the power of the Taira, so that towards the end of the eleventh century the military strength of the empire was divided between these two rival families of Minamoto and Taira. The aristocracy of the court pleading in their extreme effeminacy that the true man was a combination of man and woman were going so far as to imitate women in painting their faces and in their attire, and could not, in their frivolity, understand the danger that was threatening them so close.
A civil war between two aspirants for the imperial throne in the middle of the twelfth century completely unmasked the powerlessness of the Fujiwara court. The Commander-in-Chief of the forces was not even able to mount his horse, and the Captain of the Imperial Guard found it impossible to move, in the heavy armour which had become fashionable at the period. In this dilemma the warlike families of Mina-moth and Taira, held in contempt by the court, and treated as an almost inferior class, though they were both descended from the imperial loins, were necessarily called in to assist the rivals for the throne.
The family of that imperial candidate who was supported by the Taira arms gained the ascendency, and held it close on half a century. Then they succumbed to the habits and ideals of the Fujiwaras, so as completely to lose their valour. The scion of the Minamotos found them then an easy prey, and all their power and prestige were destroyed in the epic battles of Suma and Shioya.
Choan is the present city of Suiang, in the viceroyalty of Shenshi, where the Empress-Dowager took refuge recently, during the unfortunate occupation of Pekin by the Allies. Choan, with Rakuio or Loyang, formed the two chief capitals of the Hang and Tang dynasties. In this and other cases we have followed the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese names.
Bhakti. That love of God, and devotion in love, which attains to selflessness. In Europe St. Teresa and some of the modern Protestant sects may stand as examples.
Gnan. That supreme illumination of the intellect in which the transcendent oneness of all things becomes self-evident.
Sankaracharya. The greatest Hindu saint and commentator of modern times. He lived in the eighth century, and is the father of modern Hinduism. He died at the age of 82.
Ramanuja. A saint and philosopher of the Bhakti type. He lived in Southern India in the twelfth century. He is the founder of the second great school of the Vedanta philosophy.
Chaitanya. Known as the "Prophet of Nuddea," in Bengal, an ecstatic saint of the thirteenth century.
Suma and Shioya. Two places near Kobe, Japan.