Heian Culture

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As a culture evolves to reflect the changing sentiments of a people, so too do the social structures keeping it in place. Regardless of the context, each concept relies on the other for support, thereby ensuring their initial establishment and continued existence. The moment cultural values shift often indicates a broader reconstruction of institutions of power. A new government, for example, must develop a functional social apparatus that not only maintains its power, but also aligns with the ideals of its people. Conversely, major events might lead to an upheaval of public opinion, allowing a society to outgrow its current structures. Historically, Japan’s development as a nation is no different. Social and political paradigms ultimately…show more content…
Already normalized to the customs of court society, Sei Shōnagon judges the worth of those she encounters based on their physical presence. When describing female visitors from the Office of Grounds, for example, she notes that “some of them were not properly powered…[and] their skin showed through unpleasantly” (Shōnagon 22). In this instance, Sei Shōnagon uses their appearances to evaluate “their exposure [or lack thereof] to high society within the capital” (Jones 4). Incidentally, the rank system afforded those in the upper orders special privileges, including access to the court. As a lady-in-waiting, Sei Shōnagon is familiar with the beauty standards of the capital elite. In contrast, the disheveled appearances of the other women indicate their unfamiliarity with the subject, and thus, their lower rank. The act of devaluing one’s worth based on their status is likewise present in other moments throughout The Pillow Book, usually in reference to other social outsiders as well. Provincial governors, for example, are an “undistinguished lot” of “common-looking men not worth one’s attention” (Shōnagon 196). Despite their function within the social hierarchy, their intrinsic value remains inconsequential to the esteemed elite of the court. Though the rank system itself provided an institutional structure for power during the Heian…show more content…
With the end of the Heian court came the emergence of the Tokugawa shogunate, in turn signaling the deconstruction of the original rank system. As a replacement, the new government established a hierarchy based on four social classes. With the samurai holding the highest position, the order of the lower three reflected the importance of agricultural production (McDonald Feb. 6th). Accordingly, merchants, as mere transporters of goods, existed at the bottom most level. However, the rise of a “new social order shaped by the growth of a nationwide market” disrupted the fundamental core of this structure (Kuriyama 71). In a burgeoning economic society, merchants played a vital role in weakening the influence of the bakufu through a strategic understanding of capital. The resulting social tensions, as well as a financial crisis, heralded another end of an era, transitioning Japanese society away from feudalism and toward rapid modernization. During the Meiji Restoration, “Japan came to acquire almost all of the ingredients of a modern state,” including a centralized government, a national economy, and an emphasis on industrialization (Iriye 729). Furthermore, the expansion of education allowed for the political and economic development of the public to better serve the nation “as citizens, producers, and taxpayers” (ibid. 730). Production in this case, however, did not equate to
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