Japanese History – Part 3, 794AD to 1185

Japanese History – Part 3, 794AD to 1185

Between 794 to 1185 – Heian Period

Emperor Kammu, the 50th Emperor of Japan, moved the seat of government in 794 to Heian (Kyoto); this successfully secured its strength and lessened the leverage the Buddhist monasteries held over the government. But, while this limited one of the players in the power struggle to control Japan it did nothing to weaken the Fujiwara’s power. As a result the Fujiwara clan, which came to power during the Nara period when Emperor Tenji gave the clan their surname, now became the primary force of power during most of the Heian period through the office of Regent.

Around 801 Emperor Kammu through the hand of shogun Seii Taishogun had finally gained control of northern Honshu ending the thirty eight years war to bring the Emishi (蝦夷) under the control of the imperial government; however this control would remain shaky for some time. The Emishi are most likely the descendants of the Jomon and Kofun peoples who were quite similar and shared a common language that was dissimilar and distinct from Japanese. The Japanese were later arrivals to the archipelago (likely descendants of the Wu (吳)). While today the majority of the Emishi have disappeared through racial mixing, a few remain in the far north of Honshu and Hokkaido and are known as the Ainu people.

All through the Nara and Heian period the Emperors tried to limit the power of the Fujiwara but with only limited success until Emperor Daigo begin in 885. Daigo suspended the Fujiwara regency while he was emperor. It should be noted, however, that a key part of how the Fujiwara clan, as the Soga clan before them, were able to stay in power for so long was through the intermarriage of their clan with that of the imperial line. And as such Emperor Daigo was a member of the Fujiwara clan. Despite not controlling the office of regency, the Fujiwara clan got even stronger and the power of the central government weakened.

As the central government lost power all the great clans and religious factions where strengthened. One of the primary mechanisms for this was Shoen (荘園). By this time, shoen had obtained legal status and through this legal status high ranking officials and religious organizations could own land (shoen) without paying taxes or returning it to the state as mandated in the Taika Reform. With this small land holders would deed over their land to one of these protected shoen in return for a portion of the produce of the land. As this process continued over time, more and more of the land mass was in the hands of the powerful clans and religious organizations returning things effectively to the way the were before the Taika Reform was put in place.

As the shoen grew and the power of the central government waned, the land owners needed better protection than the government provided.  They started to employ bushi (武士), warriors, to provide this protection. As the bushi of the shoen developed stronger bonds they developed into samurai () clans. This was true of the Fujiwara as well as two other notable clans, the Taira and Minamoto clans. These clans, while all having ties to the imperial line began fighting with each other.

In 1068, Emperor Go-Sanjo was determined to improve the situation. He was the first emperor not part of the Fujiwara line since the 800s. He took personal control of the situation implementing reforms to curb the Fujiwara’s power. In 1156, the Fujiwara saw an opportunity to regain control by siding with the retired emperor against the heir apparent. The heir apparent was supported by both the Taira and Minamoto clans. However, the Fujiwara bid was thwarted, leaving bushi of the Taira and Minamoto clans in control.

Within four years, these two clans clashed leaving the Taira bushi in control. Twenty years of Taira control was too much for Minamoto no Yoritomo. They were putting a 2 year old boy up for emperor. Prince Mochihito called on Yoritomo for  help. This began a five year war that concluded in 1185 with Minamoto no Yoritomo as shogun at Kamakura where he rule the land requiring the emperor to preside with no political or military power. With this the shogunates ruled until the Meiji Restoration.

OK, OK, but what was happening with Sake in the Heian period?

Recall back in 689, sake was reserved for the imperial court and the department of brewing was created. Prior to this restriction, sake had been produce by the common people much as it is today. The Harima no Kuni Fudoki (“The Geography and Culture of Harima Province”) which was compiled in the early Nara period (prior to 720) gives the earliest complete description of the sake brewing procedure. From the restrictions established in 689 through to the 900s Sake production was limited to the government. Production shifted from the government during the 900s to temples and shrines as they took up sake brewing and became the most prolific brewers for the next 500 years.

In 905, Emperor Daigo (醍醐天皇) called for a census of all regulations to be preformed. This resulted in a compilation, the Engishiki (延喜式), completed in 927. The Engishiki included a listing of 13 types of sake that were being made at that time. The 13 types were based on characteristics like the degree of milling (how much pounding it received) and the amount of koji used. Goshu, Reishu (amazake) and Sanshuso were the highest grades, Tonshu, Jyuso and Kosake were in a grade for low ranking officials. Zakkyushu was issued to officials as part of their salary, shirki (white sake) and Kuroki (black sake) both used in Shinto ceremonies and aesake which was a cooking grade.

The process for making Goshu as documented in the Engishiki is the same method used by the “gods” to brew Yashiori no sake to defeat the eight headed dragon documented in both the Nihon Shoki  and the Kojiki (also part 1 of this thread). The same method is used to brew Reishu and Shiroki except no additions are made after the first ferment. Kuroki is brewed just like Shiroki but with the addition of wood ash. Uncharacteristically, Sanshuso is not restricted to the standard rice, koji, water ingredients as it also includes malts and millets.

Between 1192 to 1333 – Kamakura Period

To be continued…

Click to Enter a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *