Japan in the Heian Period and Cultural History: Crash Course World History 227

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In which John Green teaches you about what westerners call the middle ages and the lives of the aristocracy...in Japan. The Heian period in Japan lasted from 794CE to 1185CE, and it was an interesting time in Japan. Rather than being known for a thriving economy, or particularly interesting politics, the most important things to come out of the Heian period were largely cultural. There was a flourishing of art and literature in the period, and a lot of that culture was created by women. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu was the classic piece of literature of the day, and it gave a detailed look into the way the Aristocrats of the Heian period lived. While this doesn't give a lot of insight into the lives of daily people, it can be very valuable, and the idea of approaching history from a cultural perspective is a refreshing change from the usual military or political history that survives from so many eras. Citation 1: Morris, Ivan, The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. Vintage Books. 2013. p. 5 Citation 2: Morris, p. 14 Citation 3: Morris, p. 67 Citation 4: Morris, p. 114 Citation 5: Morris, p. 147 Citation 6: Quoted in Morris, p. 112 Citation 7: Morris, p. 198

The Misfitt
Summary of world history in one sentence: "Knock knock, it's Europe"
"Can you imagine a world in which rich people systemically receive lighter sentences for crimes committed than poor people?" You mean like now?
Alltime Conspiracies
Really interesting period of history. Good job!
Living Tar
In the year -1,000,000,000, japan might not've been here
Rich people hired Samurai; Poor people who could not hire Samurai did not hire Samurai.
Marco Zwinkels
So who is gonna be the next shogun ? Vote now on now on your phones! And everybody voted so hard that the caught fire and burned down.
Arisa Kawano
Wow this was very nicely put together. I'm a Japanese girl going to a Japanese high school but the heian era was actually the main part of my finals. What the Japanese school system concentrates on is specific dates and names of people and events tho so this was a very nice rap up of it all esp since we never compare anything to europe. Having a westerner cover your countries history was a very interesting video. Also something that I would like to add for insight from a Japanese scholar is that the stories written by women in this era such as genji monogatari etc. are still studied intensely in Japanese high schools. Except ofcourse the Japanese language has evolved so much that we learning how to read it is basically like an english speaker learning how to read latin.
fernando torrera
So japanese nobility were basically Emo
Iván Astigarraga
how about "sunrise laaand"
Thomas Thaxton
Japanese history is so interesting to me.
Jack Evans
"Can you imagine a world in which rich people systemically receive lighter sentences for crime committed than poor people." Sounds like America.
knock knock It's United States
ユーネポ / Yuunepo
I really want Game of Thrones Japan now
I've been seeing phrases from bill wurtz's history of japan video in the comments and I love it
Abby Ritter
I get that there's a habit of associating feminism with female supremacy, and that being opposed to feminism is being opposed to that supremacist attitude, but if you call John Green a feminist for acknowledging the achievements of women at a time when it was very hard for women to have any achievements, you're right, he is, but if you then criticise him for it, using feminist as an insult in that context, you are not arguing against female supremacy, you are arguing against women's achievements being acknowledged. You are arguing against women being important. You are not promoting equality or fighting against supremacy, you are promoting sexism.
Ruiqi Mao
While you touched on the notions of women being the early story tellers in Japan and that they operated within the restraints of a patriarchy, you failed to note the real achievement of these early pioneers. As you pointed out, the patriarchy dictated that the men write in essentially Chinese, it was the early women writers who, barred from learning that language, developed the Japanese language--as we know it today--as a direct result. Here the meek didn't so much inherit the world so much as they created their own. Eventually, of course, males followed their lead as Chinese fell out of favor.
Kun Shun
Interestingly, Heian sounds like 黑暗 in Chinese, which makes it sounded like the dark age. ( I checked it, and Heian is translated to 平安 in Chinese, which means safe/peacefu.
Please do Ethiopian history. they have such an interesting past, yet no one ever talks about it
Ke Ni
I'm also in awe that Japan has so many strong female historical characters and contributors to history. The Sun in Japan is female, did you know? It really is so rare! And especially seeing as how modern Japan is horrifically male-centred in business, politics, and domestic life (although many women wear the pants at home).
Cities that exist : - Hiroshima X - Nagasaki X - Some others
Oh god, I didnt know there were so many bill wurtz watchers.... I LAUGHED MY ASS OFF!
Ann Boylen
"Can you imagine a world in which rich people systemically receive lighter sentences for crimes committed than poor people?" That one made me laugh milk through my nose.
Red Gina
Japan is an island by the sea, filled with volcanoes, and it's ~B E A U T I F U L~
3:42 holy shit that's Kim Jong Un
"How bout i do anyway?"
yjhm yhj
It's interesting how female writers were there in Asia while not much in other places
Attila the Fun
Compared to Europe Compared to Europe Compared to Europe Compared to Europe Compared to Europe Compared to Europe Compared to Europe Goddamn it, compare it to its more immediate neighbors like China, Korea and maybe India and the middle East. I understand why you compare Heian Japanese society to Europe but come on, don't you think comparing with the immediate neighbors is also important?
kevin go down to the prelims lee
they died in a tornado
Garrett Carpenter
"The nice thing about doing boring ceremonial work at night is that there was a lot of wine." Sake, John, Sake.
He is trying so hard not to be eurocentric but by always making comparisons with Europe, he is actually defeating his goal Bringing everything back to Europe, even if it is to portray Europe in a "negative" way is still eurocentricism The only way to not be eurocentric is actually to be indifferent to Europe especially when speaking on a subject completely unrelated to Europe or the West...
Hey look it is highschool politics, but Japanese and historically significant. History does repeat itself.
is that the palace that burned down because everyone voted too hard?
Hey John! Could you please do a crash course economic history next? As in, the Dutch tulip mania, the British South Seas bubble, the rise of the Rothschild, ect ect. Money is an often ignored aspect of world history which is really the key to explaining many of the events that happened. When applicable it is really a much more concrete subject to talk about than "resources" in the abstract. It also is likely the aspect of history that is most applicable to the modern world. Scientific discoveries happen once and permanently improve things, wars become less common as our world become more peaceful, culture and memesets changes. Financial crises on the other hand are something that are just as much of a problem now as they were four centuries ago and there are many lessons to be learned that are still applicable today.
Greg Keal
open the country stop having it be closed
The last half of John's video about heian noblewomen living under "patriarchy" is disingenuous. When the 0.01% are privileged, they are ALL privileged. Heian women weren't "forced" to wear heavy (incredibly rich and elegantly designed) clothing, they *competed* with each other to wear the best clothing, much as the men did. Same with long straight hair, which it should be remembered had to be cared for and tended by handmaidens and servants to maintain its sheen and luster. Further, heian women were dominant consumers of poetry and art of the age, mainly *because* they were the leisure class's leisure class; they were not required to participate in military or political matters, so they were free to spend their time pursuing the epitome of leisure pursuits. John seems to be rewriting heian women's chase after extreme luxury as a struggle, while not doing so with the men. Why not? Because reporting history is second to reporting politicized narratives here. "Crash" course indeed.
White Romantic
Okay, I'm about halfway through the video and I just want to say... Go is awesome. Very fun. It's like a simpler version if Chess but with more strategy. I have a board but no one ever wants to play,
Dev S
So a bunch of corrupt crony incest socialite snobs who had nothing better to do other than be sad and broody is a sign of being well bred to write depressing poetry. in modern standards, they sound devoid of humanity.
C3- KO
The Mongols have invaded China! *We've invaded China* said the Mongols. *Please respect us, or we might invade you too* _Okay_ said Japan. And so the Mongols invaded Japan, but died in a tornado. Then they tried again and had a nice time fighting with the Japanese, then died in a tornado.
I'm not sure if it is accurate to say that "most of the cultural achievements were done by women" (I'm paraphrasing here). Certainly the Tale of Genji and the Pillow Book are two famous works done by Heian women, (interesting sidenote, the respective authors of both those works were actually rivals). Waka poetry was practiced by men and women, but it was usually men who were responsible for imperial sponsored compilations of poetry. Furthermore, waka poetry was allowed by women because it was poetry written and recited in Japanese. But composing Chinese poetry was done by many Heian poets as well. And at certain points in the Heian period it was more respected than waka poetry. And usually only men learned Chinese (since it was the language they conducted business with). There may have been more women writing in prose, (like Murasaki), but this was generally because prose was looked at as trashy-pop art. Fun to read, but not respected. Poetry was what was big, and I'm fairly certain it was men who played a larger role in composing and editing official court poetry.
That one guy who sacked Constantinople
Like clocks, and guns, and *JESUS*
bill wurtz is better
Syahrul Anwar
turn on the subtitles minute 8:43 instead of the heian period at least culturally was dominated by women particularly murasaki shikibu it translated to the heian period at least culturally was dominated by women particularly more sucka shit! hahaha
A Shitbucket To Put Stuff In
And root for the blues... not the greens.... does anyone else get it?
muh patriarchy
Dante's Disco Inferno
7:40 Pikachu, Sailor Moon, and Hello Kitty. I approve.
I’m a Gaint Wonka Bar
Xai CricketEmpress
THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!! I cannot TELL you how many times I've searched for Japanese History BEFORE the Muromachi and came up with next to NOTHING! I went out of my way to purchase a Japanese History textbook and never got to finish it because my bag got stolen. I didn't get to pick it apart like I would have once I read through it. THANK YOU for covering SOMETHING other than the Age of Samurai!
Are you sure this isn't current U.S. history disguised as Japanese history?
before I watch this video, the only things I know about japan is earthquake, samurai and anime. Thank you crash course world history for the knowledge.
Blaine Drummond
Sounds a lot like Tumblr.
Brain Bites
Very informative stuff! I always enjoy learning about Japanese history. Also, Thought Cafe is doing a super awesome job. 
Sitizen Kane
I am aware that women were usually the ones that were writing during this era but I also heard that when they did write, they were not allowed to use chinese characters when they wrote- which led to the use of the "less civilized" japanese syllabatory hiragana.
If you're the prince of a country, who joins the army, generals and kings will play a big part in your life.
Max Tan
We want a playlist about japan history! JAPAN HISTORY only!
3:43 Guy on the right looks like Kim Jong-Un! Either that or I've been watching too many NK videos lately...
This video is kind of worthless thanks to Bill Wurtz.
They blackened their teeth for dental benefits believe it or not, it acted like a protective seal. The reason it was black is probably due to either aesthetics or the material they used.
We get it, you don't like the historical focus on Europe, hence the little monologue at the start of every episode, yet you insist on comparing everything to Europe and then moaning about how much worse Europe is/was.
LOVE the cartoon that starts around 7:30! Props to the animator! Pokemon, Hello Kitty and Sailor Moon prizes! And the derp who shot himself with an arrow! Bwahahaha!
it's hilarious that what you see while John talks about upperclass women having the right to the manor rights during the Heian period is a print of courtesans from Edo Japan, which started about 500 years after the end of the Heian period, which itself was 500 years long. Major facepalm.
Watch Princess Kaguya. it's around heian era.
Now there's more aaaaart
Cola kun
why is learning like this a lot more fun than sitting in a class
I love this!  I kind of also wish that the lesson incorporated more of the influence of Confucianism, which was part of the reason for the political system and why women in particular stayed indoors among other things like why they were all related to each other.    All people generally did stay indoors too, but I feel like there could have been more discussion or emphasis on how being able to pursue the arts and such was a symbol of high class because it meant you had the time to do it. The lower classes were illiterate and did not write themselves because learning to become literate was not essential to their survival since lower classes were primarily laborers.  The division in the nature of work is also marked by sun exposure which is why aristocrats usually try to stay indoors because sun exposure and getting a tan means that you actually work outside and are "low class".  Perhaps it's not a big deal to you to talk about this, but I think it's an important discussion because such belief systems are true across Asia and why "white skin" is popular.  A lot of Eurocentric Westerners incorrectly assume that the obsession with White skin has to do with "whitewashing" and wanting to imitate Caucasians and maybe that's true for other cultures, but it is totally not for Japan or any other Asian nation.  It is because since ancient times, having white skin was a sign of affluence because it meant you weren't doing hard labor by working outside.  I know this is a more history focused lesson, but I really feel like knowing that historical context also helps people today to better relate to each other in modern times. Also, the make up of Heian-kyo according to historical record was supposedly based off the capital of Tang China, according to my professor, so it's actually really hard to talk about the Heian period without discussing China.  I mean, there's a discussion of writing and how women's writing dominated, but linguistically speaking there's differences in how the written language was used because historically katakana and kanji were used for official government documents and actual court business, so it was only studied by men, so women usually only knew hiragana and when we're looking at documents and studying them, you can kind of infer a lot about the document you're looking at just based on the alphabet being used. I'm pleased that part of the lesson included that the ability and right to write for women was a unique phenomenon in how the Heian Japan patriarchy played out.  It was a distinctly unique trait that unfortunately died out over time as the aristocracy fell out of favor.  At the same time, I feel like there could have been more expressed in how Murasaki Shikibu's work and Sei Shonagon's were kind of more or less competing with each other because they were in competing salons vying for the Emperor's attention.   In addition to that, as much as their works are some of the prominent bodies of work that Japanese historians study, I feel like there should be more talk about the significance poetry played in that.  A large amount of Genji is filled with poetry when it comes to describing scenes, feelings, and relationships between characters especially in critical moments.  There are also sites out there solely dedicated to the poetry in Genji and nothing else.  I also feel like this is significant in terms of understanding Japanese literature because in the West, we tend to think more of haikus, which is a result of the Tokugawa era influence that you mention earlier in the episode, but really, waka poetry was the jam back in the day.  Haikus are really just a shortened form of waka. XD This is a lot, but generally I think this is a great overview for starters.  It'd be nice if there'd be a greater expansion on Japanese history because kids in school really don't learn enough about world history and other cultures at all until they get to college, which some never even attend.
Nebojsa Galic
So basically it is a period where Japan was ruled by Kardashians and Paris Hilton?
Noel Z
Is it weird that I'm not even Forced, to drink from the cup of defeat anymore? I just keep it on my end table, and have a few sips throughout the day XD
Benito Faggotini
Buddhism in Japan came from one of the three kingdoms of Korea. Lots of cultural and religious objects like statues or swords found in Japan today are sent from Korea, not China. Buddhism came to Korea from China then to Japan from Korea
Matthew Calmert
6:01 So the upper class were all emo-artists?
I wanted to learn about the heian period, not how great women are.
Justin Kennedy
It would make me very happy if you did an episode on the Maori culture.
Name Here
It was during this time that women invented Japan's first syllabary based writing system, Hiragana, still in use today.
Holy Doggo
'"The emperor didn't really care, he was off somewhere writing poetry"
No one in Europe owned land except the king. The feudal lords rented the land by paying in military support
Adam J
Patriarchy?  Well, done with Crash Course, thanks for the World History.  But I don't want to be lectured to with your political ideology.
Tanay gaur
Make a video on pirates
Gart Lonm
so japanese aristocracy engaged in rap battles too. wow
The people in here make me laugh. I would PAY to see these anti-feminist take a college course like Cultural Anthropology, Minority Studies, Women's Studies, or most humanities classes for that matter! They wouldn't last through the first day before their heads exploded!!!   
Chris Killian
Much better than Europeans? Why not compare them to Australian aborigines? Or Mayans. Kinda harping on the Europeans a bit aren't we?
Heian era Japan was so peaceful, elegant, tranquil, and overall, beautiful. No matter what people say, everyone has their own opinions. It was time the arts and ideals to push for women rights ! It was very peaceful and people actually elegant and very polite, makes me wonder where all that went now in days.....its a shame that such teachings are being lost same as tradition....
Vivian Woh
Can you do Korean history next pls????? Goryeo and Joseon fighting!
Mono no aware..."The Pathos of Things" I believe that is the term he was searching for in this video....verses....a required melancholy.... MONO NO AWARE!
Harlley Gurrola
Anyone notice the illustrations of Pikachu and Sailor Moon in the thought bubble at 7:39-7:40?
Pretty good.
Thank you so much for introducing my country in Heian period!
Jevon Hosea Thenadi
Could you do a crash course about the history of Indonesia?  I thought that it might be interesting.
Mr. Boma's Balloons
I could have used this 3 weeks ago when I was teaching this period to my 7th graders!
maria sol
amazing! i love how japanese women were so powerful in that times... until the meiji period....
"Medival times doesn't closely reflect Europe in medival times". ...What? I mean just... Fucking what?
Vincent Irkalla
TL;DR, Japan is superior to Europe at everything, even during the Dark Ages.
Lovely segment!  I feel like most non Japanese literature majors skip over Heian-kyo in favour of the Edo period.  Also, while I love 'Tale of Genji' I'm glad you also mentioned Sei Shounagon because her 'Pillow Book' is amazing.  If 'Genji' is idealized court society 'Pillow Book' is about real life and how things don't always work the way you want them to.
Robert Perlini
love the series again a reminder canada recently voted #1 on earth, again. we do not seek to be the best, just works out that way. anyways just letting you know the insults (whether intentional or not), do not phase us in canada. peace
Added bit of info, during the period it was actually ideal to have a daughter as opposed to a son because a daughter could be cultivated and generate social mobility for a family where as a son would only maintain his status. A duaghter on the other hand could be married into royalty and eventually give birth to an emporor. It was for this reason that families in the Heian period would often adopt beautiful young girls of lower status giving both sides the potential for social mobility.
Does interest in this subject mean I'm a weeaboo?
Your videos are informational and all but I really wish you would stop mispronouncing (and misspelling) the names of Japanese people. For example: Murasaki Shikibu is not Murasaka Shikibu, and Ieyasu Tokugawa (in the other Japan video) isn't Iyeasu Tokugawa.
Chiho Fukuda
Honestly, as a person from Japan this video explained about the Heian Period way easier to understand than my history teachers did in high school here. AND I find this lesson more informative. They didn't even teach us more than half of what John was saying...
I see a lot of parallels with the aristocratic culture of 18th century England and France. There are the Romantic and Sentimentalist movements, the emphasis on refinement, art and artistry, as well as the development of the novel that allows us to see the era through the eyes of educated women.  Am I alone in seeing these parallels?
Lill David
Someone should watch Terry Jones medieval lives
Nacho Pyro
get your awesome stubble back, it was cool ______________ /0___________0\ | | |______________|
Vrixton Phillips
Still gotta love that episode from the beginning of Genji, where Genji's mom needs to go see the emperor, but her rival has had a maid put a rotten pear in the hall leading away from her chambers, so she's stuck there, and the anxiety of being so hated by a peer disturbs her so that she goes home, has genji, and dies.