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The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan
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The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  355 ratings  ·  27 reviews
A detailed study of the Japanese Heian period (c. AD 950-1050), and court life in Ancient Japan, where the elite were highly cultured and acutely aware of the aesthetic.
Paperback, 348 pages
Published December 20th 1979 by Penguin Books (first published 1964)
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Jimmy
Like many other cultural stereotypes, I associate so many negative characteristics with the Gaijin. The younger version - one that I've become all too familiar with living in Portland - is the manga-crazed-sorta-goth-teen, who just adores Japanese popular culture. I have so many issues with this type, that I just wouldn't even know where to begin. There is the overzealous foodie, who, so enamored with asian cuisine, will immerse themselves deeply in the culture just for a chance to eat more exot ...more
umberto
Reading “The World of the Shining Prince” by Ivan Morris was definitely illuminating since its readers would better understand the world of Prince Genji, the prince in question, as portrayed by Murasaki Shikubu in her classic “The Tale of Genji” set in Japan’s Heian Period in the tenth century. Indeed, this “standard in cultural studies for nearly thirty years” (back cover) should be a must to those going to read, reading or having read the classic; one of the reasons is that this formidable boo ...more
Laura
This is the most beautifully written work of non-fiction that I have ever read. The perfect companion to "The Tale Of Genji". This work explains much of the Heian period that Genji was created from and puts into context this and other writings of the time in Japan. I learned a great deal about the era and the culture of ancient Japan. Love this book!
Caroline
When I was giving up on Genji I read a review that said this was essential co-reading. Now that I’ve read it I feel ready to tackle Lady Murasaki again, with more understanding.

This is about a 3.75, so perhaps I should give it a 4. Morris devotes a chapter to each of several cultural topics that illuminate the daily life of the Japanese upper crust of the tenth century: religion, superstition, the cult of beauty and the poignant, politics, class, relations between women and men. Well written.
Emily
Just to tell people up front this is an academic writing so it does have a lot of footnotes (which is cool) and if you haven't read or are not planning on reading The Tale of Genji then it will be hard to get into. With that said, I have to to say that it is a very informative book about the society and culture that influenced the writing of Genji. It is a little dated ( I believe fro the 60's) but only in the rare case could you really ever tell. Much of whats in here I had learned from Japanes ...more
an.
This is probably one of the most beautifully written history books I've ever read. An excellent explanation of the world of Heian Japan which I would really recommend to anyone who wants to read The Tale of Genji. This book certainly makes it easier to imagine Genji's world and explains many aspects and customs of the 10th century Japan that Western readers find so difficult to understand. And, surprisingly, Morris manages to do it in an intelligible and friendly manner without adhering himself ...more
Loren Dushku
Sono stata contentissima di avere avuto finalmente questo libro tra le mie mani e, nonostante sia un po' datato, credo che sia un ottimo strumento per avvicinarsi non solo al Genji monogatari, ma anche al periodo Heian in generale.

Il libro è diviso in capitoli che vanno da un'introduzione generale del periodo, agli aspetti peculiari della vita dell'epoca, fino ad argomenti più ricercati, come la condizione della donna.

Devo dire che ha aggiunto alle mie conoscenze delle minuzie e delle precisazio
...more
Jen
I found this book fascinating. It describes Japan of the era portrayed in the Tale of Genji, long before samurai, geisha, sushi, and ninja made their appearance. This book provided me with a window into a completely alien and mysterious world.
Merrill Mason
Feb 18, 2008 Merrill Mason rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travelers to Japan
Shelves: favorites
I read this before a trip to Japan to work on an art exhibition in Nara, the 8th century capital. It was the perfect preparation.
Ariane
This book is just as good as everyone says it is. The Heian Japanese were a fascinating bunch (I fell in love with them in college) and Morris' book does a wonderful job of describing their unique little world. Using The Tale of Genji as a sort of cultural tour guide, along with other classics like The Pillow Book and As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in 11th-Century Japan (all highly recommended), he discusses the political, cultural, and religious life of the court in a ...more
Mary Catelli
The "Shining Prince" of the title is in fact a fictional character -- Prince Genji of the Tale of Genji -- because this might also be subtitled the setting of that novel, written by a court lady in Heian Japan, about the court of Heian Japan. Indeed, the last two chapters concentrate on that momementual work. Before then, however, it provides the court life it was set in -- mining both it and the contemporary Pillow Book, also by a court lady, for information.

Starting with how the misfortunes, b
...more
Caracalla
Very nicely laid out thematic account of Heian civilization. Could have acquianted me a bit better with the narratives of the diaries and the Tale of Genji and the general sequence of events 950-1050 but this is just an issue with the thematic approach taken. An excellent introduction to Classical Japanese Civilization and Japanese religion
Nancy
Fascinating and really well written book about court life in 10th century Japan, when there was no Noh or Kabuki theater yet, no haiku, no ukiyo-e, no tea ceremony, no samurai, no geisha, no tatami mats, no sushi, not even soy sauce. None of the things which we think of as quintessentially Japanese existed in the "world of the shining prince." It doesn't mean it was a cultural vacuum. Far from it. It was a world of refined, even effete, sensibilities and elaborate etiquette, where one's handwrit ...more
Wendy
Fascinating topic but really not a very enjoyable read.

Maybe I'm accustomed to a different and more modern kind of social historical writing. The author's language is terribly condescending about the culture he is writing about. For example, in the section on Heiian standards of.beauty, he uses the word ' bizarre' three times in a page and a half. The fashion of tooth-blackening by high court ladies may seem odd to Western sensibilities, but describing it as a 'bizarre custom' lends a disparagin
...more
Maura
I read this for my Japanese History class and from what I understand it is supposed to act as a supplement, to further your understanding of the world surrounding the writing of (and the actual story) The Tale of Genji. It was very enlightening, giving a very thorough picture of court life in Heian Japan. It referenced the Tale of Genji and its characters A LOT, so it would probably behoove you to either read the Tale of Genji first, have some background in its characters or plot or be about to ...more
Richard
I've dipped into this book a time or two before for research, but this is the first time I'd read it cover to cover. For anyone interested in the "Golden Age" of Japanese culture, it makes a decent introduction and overview, pulling multiple examples of the mindset and customs of the time from The Tale of Genji and other contemporary texts. While I enjoyed the book and found it very useful, I'm left with the realization that, no matter how surprisingly well-documented this period of history is, ...more
James Eckman
Needed for understanding The Tale of Genji.
Rebecca
A very good basic introduction to Japanese society before No, Kabuki, sushi, samurai and geisha. There's a lot of effort on describing women's place which seems a bit of a paradox: seclusion to rival the strictest purdah in the Islamic world, but sexual freedoms some of us even today would find deviant.

The book, I think, is intended to be companion to the Tale of Genji, and there are long passages from the novel quoted throughout. I haven't read Genji yet and I don't like to be spoiled, so I ski
...more
tash
This was an excellent book explaining the world of Heian Japan, providing excellent information pertaining to the noble elite of that very aesthetically inclined society. However, at some points, Morris tends to pass judgment on the society, especially when discussing polygamy and superstition. These are hints at Orientalism, which is not surprising considering the time it was written. Nonetheless, it was an easy read with fascinating facts; by the end of the book, I was sad to put it down.
InfinitexLibrary
Read this for research purposes - skim read some parts due to having not read The Tale of Genji yet.
Smoothw
A wonderful, if slightly dated,exploration of ancient Japanese court life. Having waded through anthropological texts that have ton of jargon, I appreciated the simple and straightforward style,and clear love of subject.
Tad Crawford
I really enjoyed this book. It gives background and context to the remarkable authorship--often by women--in the Japanese aristocracy of the 10th and 11th centuries. It's excellent preparation for The Tale of Genji.
Nick
Almost more interesting than Genji itself...
Renee
Japanese medieval life is fun to learn about.
Carrie
One of my most favorite books, a great (long) summary of the Heian period. I have almost memorized it. It has left me thirsting for more and I have to dig around looking for answers to questions I have. But for most people wanting to get a little information on the period and for those who want a lot, this is almost a necessary read for English readers.

Hesper
This one first.
Jimmy
Jimmy marked it as to-read
Dec 28, 2014
Kirsten de Mare
Kirsten de Mare marked it as to-read
Dec 26, 2014
Emily
Emily added it
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Ivan Ira Esme Morris (29 November 1925 – 19 July 1976) was a British author and teacher in the field of Japanese Studies.

Ivan Morris was born in London, of mixed American and Swedish parentage, to Ira Victor Morris and Edita Morris. He studied at Gordonstoun, before graduating from Phillips Academy. He began his study of Japanese language and culture at Harvard University, where he received a BA.
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