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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

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  422 ratings  ·  37 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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I got interested in 10th and 11th century Japan after reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. The poetry! The mid-night romantic rendezvous! The snarky gossip! I had to learn more and Ivan Morris’ short social history was the perfect way to add to my knowledge.

It was compulsive reading. The royalty of the Heian imperial court were seriously weird—and not just because the women painted their faces chalk white and their teeth black.

“There were many occasions in daily life -- a visit to the countr
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
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
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!
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.
Merrill Mason
Feb 02, 2015 Merrill Mason rated it 5 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.
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
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
Juniper Shore
I first read this book in a history course, and I liked it so much I kept it in spite of the outrageous cost from the campus bookstore. It blends so many things I love: history, literature, and art. Plus, it has the exotic appeal of ancient Japan.

The World of the Shining Prince isn't a straightforward history book, in the sense that it narrates a series of events. It's more of a snapshot of a single lifetime. It describes the court of the Heian emperor at the height of classical Japan, with clos
Jan 17, 2015 Bob rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: asia
Useful and remarkably readable companion to The Tale of Genji:
"What does seem peculiar is the great concern of Japanese scholars with the question of why The Tale of Genji was written. Early commentators insisted on religious or moral motives. According to one theory, Murasaki undertook her great work as a penance for having written some poem that offended the Buddha. In the Kamakura period, by an interesting historical mutation to read the labyrinthine text of The Tale of Genji came to be rega
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.
Fascinating study of Heian Japan. What a world of contradictions that by our standards are beautiful (studies of aesthetics, cults of beauty, women as equals to men, appreciation of nature, impromptu poetry competitions and letters/responses) and terrible (women actually not as equal to men, people are promoted through ranks due to whom they know not how capable they are, impromptu poetry competitions and letters/responses). The Heian period sounds so decadent and yet restrained - how, though? H ...more
Oct 04, 2015 Squire rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers interested in Japanese history
A study of the world of Heian Japan--a time before haiku, samurai, sushi and everything else Japan is known for--using The Tale of Genji and other literary works of the period as source material.

Very accessible to the general reader and very informative. It sheds light on some of the more bizarre (to the modern reader) conventions of the period. Made me want to read Genji again (in a different translation), a mere five months after I completed my first reading; and to be fair, reading Genji firs
For a trip to a largely alien, sense-obsessed world, this book is to be recommended. The most memorable parts to me are the discussions of how central poetry was to daily life, how to be a gentleman meant one must regularly take part in cologne-crafting competitions, how elite women would be kept sedentary and quite literally in the dark for much of their lives, etc.

It was a shallow, selfish world, so this book is something of a guilty pleasure, but as an example of the variety of the human exp
As someone who had a very loose idea of what The Tale of Genji was, I found this to be informative and intriguing. I have not read The Tale of Genji and I don't plan on reading it anytime in the near future, but I can absolutely see the value in this book as a primer. Personally I read it for the cultural analysis and I am not disappointed in the slightest. It is written more as an academic book than popular reading, but for anyone with an interest in the Heian period it is accessible, if not a ...more
Morris' book on Heian period Japan lies somewhere between scholarly and broad interest, it's academic without getting overly dry, as can sometimes be the case. I don't think you can read it without reading the 'Tale of Genji' however. He makes an attempt to explain the passages and how they relate, but if you haven't read the Tales you will be lost in 'The world of The Shining Prince', and you should probably have read the "Pillow Book" as well, he references both casually, and it's assumed you ...more
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
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
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
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, 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
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
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
This was pretty good. Not sure it's going to help me slog through the 1029830219830298 million pages in The Tale of Genji, but it will certainly help me understand some of the stuff that's happening if I ever decide to pick it back up again.
James Eckman
Needed for understanding The Tale of Genji.
This was an enjoyable read which provided an interesting overview of the Heian period and The Tale of Genji.

Certain aspects might be slightly dated (e.g. some parts read a little condescendingly and the author doesn't have qualms about inserting his own value judgements on occasion) but overall I think it stands up pretty well compared to a lot of other non-fiction I've read from around the same time and is still well worth reading.
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
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.
Read this for research purposes - skim read some parts due to having not read The Tale of Genji yet.
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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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