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La cour et l’administration du Japon à l’époque de Heian (review)

From: Monumenta Nipponica
Volume 63, Number 2, Autumn 2008
pp. 396-399 | 10.1353/mni.0.0041

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Any person interested in Japan, not only specialists of ancient and medieval Japanese history and literature, needs to know about the traditional imperial court system: it remained a reference for the military aristocracy as well as the court itself and marked Japanese culture in general until the end of the Edo period in 1868. The balance of political power changed drastically between the eighth and nineteenth centuries, but court offices and titles continued to exist and, weakened or not, continued to carry symbolic importance. How many times do we find a daimyo or bakufu official of the Edo period referred to by a court title, such as ukyôdaibu (prefect of the capital, right sector)! Francine Hérail’s book La cour et l’administration du Japon à l’époque de Heian (The Court and Administration of Japan in the Heian Period) provides a complete survey of the court’s organization and the ascribed jurisdiction of its various offices. The book is a revised edition of an earlier study, Fonctions et fonctionnaires japonais au début du XIesiècle (Japanese Court Offices and Court Officials in the Early Eleventh Century, 2 vols., Paris: Publications Orientalistes de France, 1977), which has long been out of print. With its detailed index of Japanese office names, La cour et l’administration can be used as a dictionary of the Heian court. It has maps of the Greater Imperial Palace (daidairi) and the emperor’s residential compound (dairi), with romanized readings and French translations of these names; an index of personal names, which can help the reader trace the careers of court nobles of the early eleventh century; a table of court offices and the corresponding required court rank; and genealogical charts for the imperial, Fujiwara, and Minamoto families.

The book’s arrangement mainly follows that of the Heian court. It has five chapters dealing with (1) the Council on Shrine Affairs (Jingikan) and the Council of State (Daijôkan); (2) the eight ministries (shô); (3) the Board of Censors (Danjôdai), the Six Guards Headquarters (Rokuefu), the Imperial Police (Kebiishi), and others; (4) the capital offices (kyôshiki), the crown prince’s household (tôgûbô), other house-holds, the women’s quarters or rear palace (kôkyû), and others; and (5) other court institutions, including administrative offices such as the regent (sesshô), the chancellor (kanpaku), the Chamberlain’s Office (Kurôdodokoro), and the office of the saigû princess (saigûshi), as well as organs in charge of material life, such as the court library, workshops, performers of music and dance, and the emperor’s personal meal services, including the storehouse of special food tribute (niedono).

In the above I used the English translations of Heian office names in William H. and Helen Craig McCullough’s translation of A Tale of Flowering Fortunes (Stanford University Press, 1980), vol. 2, appendix A, pp. 789–831, which are followed by numerous English-language authors. As this circumstance bespeaks, Hérail’s book is the only detailed survey of Heian court organization in any Western language. A compilation of English translations of court offices can be found in the “Online Glossary of Japanese Historical Terms” of the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo. In general, authors writing in English translate Japanese offices either literally, like “Ministry of Rites” for Shikibushô (McCullough and McCullough), or semantically, like “Ministry of Personnel” for the same Shikibushô (Joan Piggott, The Emergence of Japanese Kingship, Stanford University Press, 1997). Those who, like me, prefer the latter approach will find clues for possible choices in Hérail’s book. For instance, the Council on Shrine Affairs (Jingikan) does not manage any shrines but organizes court rites and offerings. It thus might be better termed the Council on Divinities’ Affairs, or as Hérail puts it, “ministère des Affaires des dieux.” To Hérail, the Nakatsukasashô is the Ministry of Court Affairs, not Central Affairs, as it is often put in English, and the Jibushô is the Ministry of Affairs of the Nobility, not Civil Affairs. In a similar way, the Hyôbushô, or “département des Affaires militaires” as Hérail puts it, should be the Ministry of Military...