Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jidai Matsuri Pt 3... Heian Era; It's a Woman's World

22nd October, 2006 - The parade is in the Kamaura - Heian period now.... it's been a long wait. Fujiwara Tameie (1198 - 1278), shown above, also went under the name Abutsu-Ni. She wrote Izayoi-Nikki.... the diary of a woman scorned by her married husband. Sounds very modern to me. For all that the Japanese had come to written language late, they quickly developed a style that was both vibrant and honest; at once both heavily influenced by Chinese literature, but also at the same time imbued with a truly Japanese voice. She is considered one of the more important literary figures of the time, though her poetry is not considered particularly refined.

Lady Shizuka (1165 - 1211 AD). She is also known as Shizuka-Gozen, a Kyōto dancer that was the love of Minamoto Yoshitsune. She was a court dancer who had transcended popular history into the realm of literary posterity in the Heike Monotagari. This period of history related to the titanic struggle between the two clans within Japan; the Minamoto (aka Genji) and the Taira (aka Heike). She is as much a figure of myth as history, but like most larger-than-life heroines in Japan, she met an unfortunate end. She had become pregnant after a dalliance with Yoshitsune - who by now was also in bitter dispute with the new Kamakura Shogun and half-brother, Yoritomo... After being captured by Yoritomo, he had been given her the promise that should the baby be born a girl then she and the baby would survive. Whilst their exact fate was unknown... what was known was that the baby was born a boy.

Yasusame Archers (1220). If you've spent any time in Japan, or have an interest in martial arts, then you've almost certainly come across reference to the Yasusame archers, who were famous for their horse-borne archery skills that have today become somewhat a Japanese cultural icon. The goal is to ride whilst shooting targets in quick succession... hmmm... I'll leave this one to the experts as my fingers still smart from the bow-string from High School physical education. He is also, I note, the only male that has found his way into this post. What does that say about the Heian Era, or Jidai Matsuri, or my photographic choices?

It's not all about the Samurai spirit or the sophistication of court ladies... the festival also celebrates the next generation of Kyōto children...

Not always with happy results....

But often this has the feel of a local Christmas Pageant... with children momentarily taking centre-stage as the city celebrates the cycle of life that continues to shape it's living history.

A moment to reflect on where we've come from....but there is still a long way to go...

And military history is always never far from the forefront... but perhaps less often associated with the women of Japan - though this would be a gross oversight.

Tomoe Gozen (1157 - 1247 AD)... She was the wife of General Kiso Yoshinaka, and fought side by the side with her husband, in the battles of men, in men's armour, . And like many women in Japan, she became a nun after his horrible death... hmmm.. I'm sure the husband would have preferred a long and not-so-illustrious retirement... 

Of course, she lives mostly upon the pages of fiction, and it's hard to know how much is real. However, her counterpart today certainly exuded a certain degree of arrogance that may have fielded the great battles of yore (in this case against the same Yoshitsune mentioned before). Either that or the saddle was becoming just a little too real for her... She certainly owned  the parade ... 

Tokiwa Gozen (1160). No need for six steps of separation in Japan. Here we find Tokiwa Gozen who was the mother of Yoshitsune. During the civil war in 1159 (around the Heiji disturbance) between the Minamoto clan and the Taira (lead by Kiyomori) she lost her husband, and is seen here in-transit back to Kyōto to plead for the life of her mother. Things took a strange turn when she instead became the mistress of that self-same Taira Kiyomori in order to save her son, Yoshitsune. Such was the fate of the women of the time. The Minamoto had been effectively destroyed by the Taira during this civil war that had centred around Kyōto; yet the two survivors, Yoritomo and Yoshitsune (who later became a monk... hmmm this story is complicated) eventually lead to the destruction of the Taira clan and the raise of the Kamakura Shogunate government.

Of course, the moment of truth is often hard to discern in the eyes of youth - but one should never underestimate the seeds we sow when our children are young and full of the promise of life before them.

Murusaki Shikibu & Sei-Shonagon (980, 1000 A). As mentioned above, the Japanese were very late in formulating their own written language - but had for centuries been dependent on the Chinese written language with which to express themselves in writing at least. Yet there was a culture that yearned to express themselves in written form as they did in spoken form. It was an unusual twist of fate that lead women, freed from court fomality, to take up this new alphabet (the phonetic kana) when it finally arrived. They did so with great enthusiasm and wrote about the sorts of things that women often thought about... Love.

 Murusaki Shikibu is often cited as having written the first novel... The Tale of Genji. Strangely - this name is a pseudonym - her real name is unknown. Her contemporary, Sei Shonagon who is most famous for her Pillow Book was not far behind.

Yet still there was something in faux-Murusaki's expression during this parade that said it all... I'm #1 here, and don't you forget it. I have wondered how they select the people to fill the roles in Jidai Matsuri... and whether they consider bearing when they allot roles. Or is this a role for life that one grows into?

Ono-no-Komachi (850)...  the official guide is somewhat vague... "A woman famous for her wit and beauty, whose costumes were created in consultation with the Gods".... Wikipedia is a little less vague...she was one of the famous Waka poets in the Heian era. She was also reportedly involved in a heated love affair where she'd promised to become a man's lover if he'd love her every night for 100 nights... unfortunately for him he missed a night near the end (as happens), but so torn with grief that he subsequently gave up all hope for life and died. Hmmm - her writing style must really have had some bite!

Waka-no-Hiromushi (790 AD). She supposedly started one of the original orphanages in Japan, but by the looks of her hapless children here, they'd have sooner snuck off for a quick cigarette and some teenage no-good. Not sure also why one is carrying a bow... not a good sign I would have thought. According to this date she must have been one of the original inhabitants of the newly constructed Kyōto.

Kudara-o-Myohsin (unknown). The wife of a powerful government minister, and Chief Lady-in-Waiting to the Imperial Court of Emperor Kammu - legendary progenitor of Kyōto.

Clearly she had some inside knowledge... always handy for a Lady-in-Waiting.

Almost there everyone - we've knocked off the Heian period, and where therefore on the last leg. Keep in there!

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