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Vityazeva Olga, Marriage Practices in the Heian Period Types and Forms Печать E-mail
17.11.2012 г.
Olga Vityazeva,
Postgraduate student Institute of Afro-Asian Studies, Moscow State University

Marriage-it is quite obvious-is a near universal human experience recognized in some form in all societies, though not all eligible members of society are able to enter into it. Despite any ‘convergence' deriving from modern economic development, and despite the march of the great world religions, it is still exists in a bewildering variety of forms. To describe the present is difficult enough; to describe and explain the past even more so.[1] Heian marriage would become a good example of this "bewildering variety" enclosed in a framework of one historical period.

The first serious researches on the history of marriage, as well as "women's history," appear in Japan in the late 20's of the 20th century. Among the pioneers in this field we can single out Nakayama Taro[2], Nakagawa Zennosuke[3], Inoue Kiyoshi[4], and Takamure Itsue[5]. The accumulated experience of Japanese historians to a large extent contributed to the emergence of diverse studies on "history of marriage" in medieval Japan, both in Japan and abroad.

Almost one hundred years ago a Finnish philosopher and sociologist Edward Westermarck provided the definition of the term "marriage" as "a relation of one or more men to one or more women which is recognized by custom or law and involves certain rights and duties both in the case of the parties entering the union and in the case of children born of it."[6] This definition seems the most useful in the sense of providing "the minimum and necessary conditions" for the existence of marriage as an institution in Heian society. This institution would include long-term physical relationship between a man and a woman, which might result in children[7]; the recognition of the relationship by the society as an accepted mode of behaviour; and the acknowledgement of family responsibilities by both members of the marriage.[8]

 From a social point of view, one of the most important aspects of a marriage-apart from its basic function of uniting a man and a woman for the production and rearing of children-is apt to be the location of couple's marital residence.[9] Western anthropologists and sociologists utilize types of marital residence to four principal modes, which include: virilocal (patrilocal), in which the man and wife take up residence near or at the house of the man's parents; uxorilocal (matrilocal), in which, they reside at the house of the woman's parents or near it; duolocal-less common in western tradition-in which spouses live separately, with the husband visiting his wife but not living with her; and neolocal, in which they occupy an independent house of their own.

Thorough study of different sources suggests that during most of the Heian period, and especially during its middle century and a half (950-1100), the prevailing modes of marital residence in noble society at the capital were uxorilocal, neolocal and duolocal.[10] There also existed a fourth pattern, virilocal, based around the husband's residence. However, one can find few equivocal instances of virilocal marriage in fictional texts, apart from royal marriages, where it was characteristic.

It appears that the first marriage was typically of the uxorilocal type. If a man took one or some more wives, such kind of marriages were usually either duolocal or neolocal. We can assume, that a relationship might develop in linear perspective-one marriage type was followed by another-from uxorilocal to neolocal, or (as is more often seen in the literary sources) one man in effect was involved simultaneously in several types of relationship, for instance, in a "living together" and a "wife-visiting" marriage.

Uxorilocal marriage seems to be the most common and the least sentimental in origin; it is also can be called the centre of gravity for duolocal relationship, as a man visited his wife at her residence. Perhaps, that is the reason why duolocal marriage usually precedes uxorilocal marriage or overlaps with it, but only very rarely develops as a separate type of relationship. Neolocal marriage seems to be the most romantic one, as it is based on man's affection for the woman, and, in a sense, the most private type of marriage, because the influence of bride and groom's parents on this marriage is minimal.

We can say with some confidence that the arranged marriage was the most orthodox form for the first marriage. Usually a father or both parents, or someone other than the couple getting married made the selection of the persons to be wed. The process of courtship as a rule was curtailed or avoided. One of the reasons for the prevalence of arranged marriages is the very young age at which initial marriages frequently occurred, often at about the age of puberty. In case of initial marriage the ages of the bride and groom were usually fairly close to each other, but the bride was often two or three years older than her husband, and in some cases as much as seven, ten and even twenty years older. The bride's family was most interested in acquiring a groom of a noble family, whose talents and family connections promised high rank and thus social advantage and wealth. The groom's family sought for a wife whose family could provide support and assistance in their son's career development, as career promotion depended on the good offices of high-rankers who could sponsor a candidate for office.[11]The position of both families seems to be mutually beneficial in case of marriage, and, perhaps, for that reason there is no evidence of dowry in Heian literature.

Though arranged form of marriage prevailed, in fictional literature one can find some interesting exceptions, for example, marriage under the emperor's order, "marriage for the service" or "marriage by capture." The most well known story of "marriage by capture" is, perhaps, that of Genji and Murasaki. Similar stories can be found in The Tale of Ise, The Tale of Yamato, in The Tale of the Hollow Tree, and Sarashina nikki. However, we cannot call this kind of relationship totally fictional, as there were some historical examples, such as Ono no Miya Sanesuke, Minamoto no Toshifusa, and Taira no Koremoto, whose relationship with a woman started with her capture.[12]

In second and subsequent marriages, men often married women of their own choice: young, beautiful, talented, and such a marriage usually was the first for the bride. Though a woman in such a relationship was inferior in status to her husband, and it was no doubt as often the promise of an improved economic and social situation as of love that induced her to accept the position of a secondary wife. For a man, most likely, the chief motive for the marriage would be affection, seldom the death of the previous wife or a final breaking off their relations, although family politics or the desire for children also sometimes played a role.

As we can see the practice of polygamy was rather widespread. Men were permitted to have more than one wife (although by no means all of them did, even among the wealthiest and most powerful), and were not limited in the choice of lovers either. Women, on the other hand, were not permitted to engage in polyandrous marriage. They could, through divorce or by the death of a spouse, have more than one husband, but not two or more at the same time.[13]

The large number of intermarriages in the Heian period (when cousin marriages were probably the most orthodox example) suggests that there also existed a strong system of class endogamy, at least among the high-ranking nobility. For Heian aristocrat this meant he virtually never married outside the relatively small circle of families that were permitted to hold court rank and office.[14] There is no evidence that there was any kind of penalties for those who violated the rules of class endogamy, and if indeed they did exist they were, not legal, but customary. Most probably, mésalliances occurred between the classes within the court circle, and were a characteristic feature of the second or subsequent marriages, as the most private ones.

[1] Marriage and Society: Studies in the Social History of Marriage, edited by R.B. Outhwaite (London: Europa Publications, 1981), p. 1-16.

[2] Nakayama Taro, Nihon hon'inshi (History of marriage), Tokyo, 1928.

[3] Nakagawa Zennosuke, Kon'inshi gaisetsu (A survey on history of marriage), Tokyo, 1937.

[4] Inoue Kiyoshi, Nihon joseishi (History of women in Japan), Tokyo, 1948.

[5] Takamure Itsue, Bokeisei no kenkyu (Study of matrilineal systems), Tokyo, 1948; Shoseikon no kenkyu (Study in uxorilocal marriage), Tokyo, 1953.

[6] Edward Westermarck, quoted in William H. McCullough, "Japanese Marriage Institutions in The Heian Period," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 27 (1967), p. 104.

[7] The investigated sources provide enough evidence of the fact that procreation was not an indispensable condition for long-term marriage. For instance, Murasaki did not present Genji with a child, nevertheless their relationship continued for a long time, was publicly recognized as marriage and ended only with the death of Murasaki. In the tale Torikaebaya monogatari (The Changelings) Princess of Yoshino also had no children, still Wakagimi made her his principal wife. Quite the reverse, in Kagerō nikki (The Gossamer Years), for instance, Kaneie stopped visiting a lady when she gave birth to his child.

[8] McCullough, "Japanese Marriage Institutions," pp. 104-105.

[9] The Cambridge History of Japan, ed. by Donald H. Shively and William H. McCullough, Vol. 2, Heian Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 136.

[10] The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 2, Heian Japan, p. 137.

[11] Piggott, Joan R. "A Comedy of Marriage and Family in Eleventh-century Kyoto: Fujiwara no Akihira's Shinsarugakuki." Meiji University Ancient Studies of Japan, Vol. 1, March 2009. p. 64.

[12] Tateishi Kazuhiro, Otoko ga onna wo nusumu hanashi (Chuokoron-shinsha, 2008). Introduction, p. ii.

[13] The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 2, Heian Japan, p. 135.

[14] McCullough, "Japanese Marriage Institutions," pp. 136-137.
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