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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

There was extravagance and elaboration



Of Nimmyo's luxury and architectural extravagance we have already spoken, and of the arraignment of prodigality in dress, banquets, and funerals in the famous report of Miyoshi Kiyotsura (see p. 246). Indeed, we might almost cite the madness of the Emperor Yozei as being a typical, though extreme, case of the hysteria of the young and affected court nobles. Two of the Fujiwara have been pilloried in native records for ostentation: one for carrying inside his clothes hot rice-dumplings to keep himself warm, and, more important, to fling them away one after another as they got cold; and the other for carrying a fan decorated with a painting of a cuckoo and for imitating the cuckoo's cry whenever he opened the fan.


If the men of the period were effeminate and emotional, the women seem to have sunk to a lower stage of morals than in any other era, and sexual morality and wifely fidelity to have been abnormally bad and lightly esteemed. The story of Ariwara Narihira, prince, poet, painter and Don Juan, and of Taka and her rise to power (see p. 238) has already been told; and it is to be noted that the Fujiwara working for the control of the Throne through Imperial consorts induced, even forced, the Emperors to set a bad example in such matters. But over all this vice there was a veneer of elaborate etiquette. Even in the field a breach of etiquette

was a deadly insult: as we have seen (p. 254) Taira Masakado lost the aid of a great lieutenant in his revolt because he forgot to bind up his hair properly before he received a visitor. At Court, etiquette and ceremony became the only functions of the nominal monarch after the camera government of the cloistered ex-Emperors had begun. And aristocratic women, though they might be notoriously unfaithful, kept up a show of modesty, covering their faces in public, refusing to speak to a stranger, going abroad in closed carriages or heavily veiled with hoods, and talking to men with their faces hid by a fan, a screen, or a sliding door, these degrees of intimacy being nicely adjusted to the rank and station of the person addressed. Love-making and wooing were governed by strict and conventional etiquette, and an interchange of letters of a very literary and artificial type and of poems usually took the place of personal meetings. Indeed, literary skill and appreciation of Chinese poetry and art were the main things sought for in a wife.



The pastimes of Court society in these years differed not so much in kind as in degree from those of the Nara epoch. In amusement, as in all else, there was extravagance and elaboration. What has already been said of the passion for literature would lead us to expect to find in the period an extreme development of the couplet-tournament (uta awase) which had had a certain vogue in the Nara epoch and was now a furore at Court. The Emperor Koko and other Emperors in the first half of the Heian epoch gave splendid verse-making parties, when the palace was richly decorated, often with beautiful flowers. In this earlier part of the period the gentlemen and ladies of the Court were separated, sitting on opposite sides of the room in which the party was held. Later in the Heian epoch the composition of love letters was a favorite competitive amusement, and although canons of elegant phraseology were implicitly followed, the actual contents of these fictitious letters were frankly indecent.

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