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An Overlooked Golden Age?: Representations of the Heian Era in Contemporary Japanese Public History Venues
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Department of Cultural Sciences. (Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4041-6150
2016 (English)In: Every Picture Tells A Story – The Visualization of Japanese History, Oslo, 10-11 March, 2016, 2016Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The Heian era (794-1185) saw the authorship of several of Japan’s foremost literary masterpieces, a flourishing of other art forms, and the development of an indigenous writing system. Moreover, it has typically been portrayed by historians as an age of peace and stability. In these and other respects, it would seem like useful material for the creation of a Japanese national identity. Indeed, as early as the 1880s, Suematsu Kenchō translated part of the period’s foremost literary work, The Tale of Genji, into English to show the Western world that Japan had a long history of cultural achievements. As Japan increasingly turned to totalitarianism, however, the Heian era was largely eschewed in favor of later periods of warrior rule and its representative work The Tale of Genji was considered dangerous for its insinuation that the Japanese imperial line was not unbroken since time immemorial.

This study investigates how the Heian period is represented in public history fora such as museums and textbooks in contemporary Japan. It contends that despite Japan’s postwar attempt to refashion its image as a peace-loving, cultural nation, the Heian era has not been rehabilitated as a “golden age” but instead is sublated in these contexts. It argues that a variety of factors, especially the period’s sexualization by recent manga and anime versions of The Tale of Genji and Heian society’s different family structures, have led political elites to emphasize the Tokugawa period as the “golden age” in Japan’s past that should be considered representative of its “traditional” culture. The hegemonic power of anime and manga on the Japanese public’s imagining of the Heian era stymies the attempts of public history venues to depict the period as a “respectable” source of pride, leading them to downplay it instead.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016.
Keyword [en]
Heian, golden age, national identity, museum, history textbooks
National Category
History Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
Research subject
Humanities, History; Humanities, History Education; Social Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-52010OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-52010DiVA: diva2:918059
Conference
Every Picture Tells A Story – The Visualization of Japanese History, Oslo, 10-11 March, 2016
Available from: 2016-04-08 Created: 2016-04-08 Last updated: 2016-04-22Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Cite
Citation style
  • apa
  • harvard1
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
  • Other style
More styles
Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
  • fi-FI
  • nn-NO
  • nn-NB
  • sv-SE
  • Other locale
More languages
Output format
  • html
  • text
  • asciidoc
  • rtf