The courtly qualities of the ise taira are

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Unformatted text preview: val samurai. Despite the apparent lust of the samurai for armed combat and martial renown, much romanticized in later centuries, the underlying tone of the medieval age in Japan was from the beginning somber, pessimistic, and despairing. In The Tale of Genji the mood shifted from satisfaction with the perfections of Heian courtier The Advent of a New Age 81 society to uncertainty about this life and a craving for salvation in the next. Yet the very fact that the courtiers conceived of Amida’s western paradise as an idealization of their own world, and tried to recreate it in architecture and landscape, reveals that they were far from prepared to discard the temporal values they had long cherished. How different are the sentiments expressed in the opening lines of the Heike, a work that in many ways served to announce the advent of the medieval age: The sound of the bell of the Gion Temple tolls the impermanence of all things, and the hue of the Sala tree’s blossoms reveals the truth that those who flourish must fade. The proud ones do not last forever, but are like the dream of a spring night. Even the mighty will perish, just like dust before the wind.6 It is the age of mappò, the “latter days of the Buddhist law” (discussed in the last chapter), and the Heike, suffused with mappò sentiment, tells the story of how the Ise Taira, full of arrogance and hubris, have, under the leadership of Kiyomori, forced their way to the heights of court society, only to suffer grievous failure and destruction in their five-year war with the resurgent Minamoto. In the larger sense, however, the Taira are only the most spectacular example of decline in a time governed by the dark, inscrutable laws of mappò. In their years of residence in Kyoto the Taira have become more and more courtier-like; and in the Heike they can even be seen as surrogates for the courtiers, who are also in rapid decline and about to lose out historically as Japan’s ruling class to the emerging warrior el...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.

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