Another famous Heian woman author is Sei Shônagon, a lady-in-waiting to Empress Sadako. Murasaki Shikibu considered Sei a rival because they served competing empresses and literary salons.
During the Heian period, an imperial court based in the capital of Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto) wielded the highest political authority in the land. The city’s name means “Capital of Peace and Tranquility,” and the Heian period is usually remembered as having been an age of art, literature, and culture. During these years, Japanese developed a strong sense of native aesthetics. Female authors serving at court, women including Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shōnagon, created splendid literary works such as The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book. Not everything was peaceful, however. Warriors also started to become important political figures in the Heian period. In fact, these four centuries contain a tremendous amount of change. Over the course of the Heian period, society moved from an interest in foreign things to native ones, from elite Buddhism to religion for the common people, and from rule exclusively by those at court to power shared with the newly rising samurai. The ways these political, social, religious, and economic developments interacted with and transformed each other are what make the Heian period so fascinating and important.
The Tale of Genji and other works such as Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book, the Mother of Michitsuna’s Kagerō Diary, and The Sarashina Diary offer valuable insight into life among the Heian elites. Women were literate and enjoyed a considerable number of rights, such as the ability to own and pass on property and to choose their own heirs. Their skill in composing elegant poems in a graceful hand and their taste in clothing were considered important assets in attracting men. As for appearance, women took great pride in their long hair but wore elaborate, colorful, many-layered kimono that hid their figures. Social expectations and clothing that limited movement meant women did not travel easily. As they were not given bureaucratic positions in government, they had little need to journey on a daily basis. When they did travel— perhaps to visit a relative or a temple—it was often by ox-drawn cart. This slow means of transportation made a trip of even a few miles seem quite long. Men were more mobile and traveled regularly between their homes and the court, where they served in office. More importantly, for Heian elites, the city of Kyoto was the center of the social, cultural, and political world. The elites expressed no desire to live anywhere else. Men being sent to the provinces on official business lamented that they had to leave Kyoto behind.
In painting, artists turned to bright, opaque colors to illustrate native Japanese themes in a style that Heian people labeled yamato-e (Japanese pictures). The term implied a clear distinction between Japanese and Chinese art (which was labeled kara-e and showed images associated with China), even though yamato-e techniques were inspired by Chinese paintings of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. Buddhism provided another important inspiration for art, as temple architecture and sculpture achieved new heights of grandeur. Heian Japanese also developed the emaki, the subject of this unit’s lesson. Emaki are long illustrated scrolls combining text with painting to tell a story. Some had religious themes, such as those illustrating the founding of a major temple (like the Shigi-san engi emaki) or the actions of a vengeful deity (like the Tenjin engi emaki). Others illustrated great literary works such as The Tale of Genji and Murasaki’s diary. The Frolicking Animals Scroll was somewhat unique in that it used no color and was accompanied by no text.
Notable also is this authors frankly critical portrayal of her husband, Fujiwara Kaneie, a descendent of the main branch of the Fujiwara. Kaneie later ascended to the highest rank in the court bureaucracy and fathered empresses and regents. Moreover, Kagerô Diarys unprecedented description of female thoughts and life would later influence Murasaki Shikibus similar engagement with the female mind in Genji.
Equally short-lived was the 'blaxploitation' cycle, which emerged with (Ossie Davis, 1970) and included (1971) directed by Gordon Parks. (Like Stanley Kubrick, Parks was formerly a professional magazine photographer.) Melvin van Peebles critiqued the blaxploitation cycle with his incendiary film in 1971. The following year, John Boorman's (1972) introduced what became known as 'hixploitation': films with menacing yokels and foreboding backwoods. Other exploitation trends include 'Canuxploitation' (Canadian directors including Bob Clark and David Cronenberg), 'Mexploitation' (Mexican Lucha Libre wrestler-hero films such as Benito Alazraki's from 1961, one of the industry's low-budget Churro films) and, 'nunsploitation' (Ken Russell's profane orgy , 1971).
The greatest work produced at this time was The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, lady-in-waiting to Empress Akiko. Considered the worlds first novel, Genji is written as an absorbing portrait of Heian court life, the splendor of its rituals, and aesthetic culture.
Shikibu was born into the Fujiwara family, daughter of the governor of a province, who also was a well known scholar. Always very intelligent, as a child she learned more quickly than her brother, causing her father to lament, "If only you were a boy, how happy I should be!" He did, however, allow Shikibu to study with her brother, even letting her learn some Chinese classics, which was considered improper for females at the time.