Daily Archives: June 7, 2009

Shelter Yourself from Outside Reality

Due to a multitude of historical circumstances and Japan’s geographic status as an archipelago, Heian-era aristocrats had little in the way of urgent state business. They no longer had contact with foreign states, nor was there any conflict from abroad. There were occasionally internal revolts, but provincial military clans easily took care of such things with the reward of minor titles.

While there may have been battles once in a while, they generally took place quite far from Heian Kyo, and thus had little to no impact on its denizens.  The aristocrats’ wealth came from large holdings of land across the country, but provincial governors loyal to the emperor collected taxes from the peasantry and kept law and order.  Not only did Heian aristocrats rarely leave Heian Kyo, but they were rarely forced to confront the world outside of the city walls.

A Heian lady spies on a game of Go rather than a foreign enemy.

This peculiar situation explains, in large part, the blind focus on the world at hand – gossip, intrigue, and matters of rank. Why focus on outside matters if you don’t have to?

If you live in contemporary America, though there may seem to be all kinds of world problems, the fact is, they probably are not directly affecting you. There is no real threat of foreign invasion by sea or over the Mexican or Canadian border, civil war or internal revolt beyond protest seems unlikely, and the battles we do know about or participate in happen in far off lands most of us will never go to. So if you want to truly have Heian mentality, turn off the news! Don’t read that newspaper. Gossip about your rival. Try to overhear conversations around board games. Pay attention to other peoples’ outfits at the store, and complain about them later. You’re truly Heian now.

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Filed under insularity, travel