This time, professional manga translator/editor, publisher, and friend of yuri manga Erica Friedman (Yuricon, ALC Publishing) contributed her story in celebration of new release of KUZUSHIRO’s “Kimino Tamenara Shineru” Vol. 2!! Read the story below, and become interested in Heian period(*1)?! *1 Heian Period is an important period of Japanese history which ran from 794 C.E. to 1185 C.E..
Heian Imperial Life
In our first essay we introduced you to the main characters of Kimino Tamenara Shineru and to the Heian Period in general. This time, we’ll talk about some specifics of life in the Imperial Court.
One of the key things to be aware of when we discuss “Murasaki Shikibu,” or “Sei Shonagon,” is that these were not their “real” names. Women at court were usually known by a pseudonym or nickname. Only immediate family might, if anyone, use their given name.
“Sei” is an alternate pronunciation for the character “Kiyo,” from Shonagon’s family name “Kiyohara,” and “Shonagon” is the title of the position held by a close male relative. (It’s because of this title that the other ladies-in-waiting are able to quickly deduce that she’s from a family of the lower nobility.) Her real name may have been Kiyohara Nagiko.
“Shikibu” is, again, a title of office, and “Murasaki” is generally thought to be a nickname. Her real name may have been Fujiwara Takako, mentioned as a lady-in-waiting in a court diary in 1070.
In the Tale of Genji, ladies throughout are given poetic nicknames like “Lady of the Bitter Orange.” These kinds of nicknames are thought to have been relatively common among the women of the court. Of course, Kuzushiro-sensei is also having a little fun with the ladies-in-waiting, naming them after their hair color (or perhaps vice versa, giving them hair colors based on the names he’s chosen.) By virtue of their names, Murasaki has purple eyes and hair, Kou has red hair, Sui green, Shirogane silver.
Clothing and Fashion
The 12-layered kimono, the juunihitoe, is recognized even by the Japanese as a stereotypically “Japanese” item of clothing. Murasaki’s Tale of Genji includes many mentions of the various layers and subtle color combinations in kimono worn by men and women of the court. These combinations were determined by season and position at court.
Fashion then, as it still does, dictated hair style, makeup and other details of couture. Women of the time drew their eyebrows high on the forehead and reddened their lips, and both men and women powdered their faces and blackened their teeth. Men of the court often wore a thin mustache or goatee. Hats, known as the kazaori eboshi, were worn by men as indicators of rank (and are still used today for ceremonial purposes. It’s not impossible to walk around Tokyo at New Year’s and come across a man dressed in Heian period clothing in a Shrine precinct.)
A Life of Ritual
The Emperor and his court lived a life that was severely proscribed by ritual. Onmyouji (divination experts) would determine through several means what days were auspicious and inauspicious – even certain directions were well known for being unlucky. The Emperor spent much of his time participating in rituals to ensure the peace and safety (Hei-An) of his country. Forces that needed to be kept in balance included the 8 directions, the 5 elements and of course the complementary forces of In and Yo (Yin and Yang.) To keep these forces in balance, the Emperor and his court might walk only in one direction for the day, or never visit a particular portion of the palace.
Rituals were divided into several kinds, including rituals of the outer court (where administrative personnel resided and worked), rituals of the inner court, rituals which would include participation by imperial officials and rituals performed by the Emperor or his stand-ins. Prayers by the Emperor were a major part of his role and Imperial Court life.
The layout of the Heian-kyo, the capital city, was meant to reflect (and be an improvement upon) the Chinese Tang Dynasty capital of Chang-An. The order with which the city and the palace were laid out reflected the order and tranquility conferred upon the land by the Emperor.
The palace grounds are a large rectangular enclosure but, although it was the official residence of the Emperor, he more often stayed in temporary residences with his nobles in their homes. (Much the same way the French King would travel to his nobles’ estates and let them host him and his retinue…and probably for many of the same reasons.)
The enclosure was home to ceremonial and administrative buildings and the residential compound of the Emperor, known as the Inner Palace. The Inner Palace was also home to the Imperial consorts, and other buildings, both ceremonial and administrative, that were related to the Emperor himself. Teishi would later reside in the Office of the Empress’s Household (the “Chuuguushiki”) in the Outer Palace, after having left the palace entirely for a time, when her position at court became less secure.
Teishi was the Emperor’s favorite consort for years, but her family lost power when her father died and her brother Korechika (the one who gave her the paper for “The Pillow Book”) was temporarily exiled. Fujiwara no Michinaga then became the most powerful member of the clan, and had his daughter Shoushi made a consort to the Emperor. Shortly after, perhaps feeling his position threatened because Teishi had just borne the Emperor a son, he arranged for Shoushi to share the position of Empress with Teishi; Teishi was given the title “Kougouguu,” and Shoushi, “Chuuguu” (Teishi’s old title). Teishi’s own father had unwittingly laid the groundwork for this when he arranged for Teishi to share the position of Empress with Fujiwara no Junshi (the Empress from the previous Emperor); before that, the “Kougouguu” and “Chuuguu” titles had been held by one person, who was considered *the* Empress. Teishi and Shoushi were the first joint Empresses to a single Emperor, but this arrangement did not last for long, as Teishi died soon after.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but, Kuzushiro-sensei plays pretty fast and free with all this, so you don’t have to worry too much about what really happened – you can just enjoy the antics in the Inner Palace.
- Erica Friedman (Editor) and Erin Subramanian (translator)
Win a Copy of Sei Shonagon’s “The Pillow Book”!
JManga and ALC Publishing are offering you a chance to win your own copy of Sei Shonagon’s diary, known as “The Pillow Book.” You can read about how small things are cute, (and also annoying) and many other of Shonagon’s most secret thoughts.
Purchase Kimino Tamenara Shineru, Volume 2 on JManga during July 26th to August 1st 23:59 and be automatically entered to win – it’s that easy.