Some time ago I realized that the politics of Japan’s Imperial Court in the tenth and eleventh centuries – the apex of the Classical period – were very much like what would happen if Jane Austen were to attempt to write George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
Imagine Game of Thrones without the fantastic levels of gore, explicit sex, or profanity, but with even more political machination, power grabbing, and intrigue. Now imagine that all the historical records were written by people who were incredibly uptight about propriety, and who would never betray a hint of indiscretion.
Martin’s characters murder one another in incredibly inventive fashions, while Jane Austen’s protagonists dispose of unwanted suitors with manners. In Heian Japan, the aristocrats didn’t send assassins, or have their enemies executed. That would be so very unseemly! Instead, they did as Jane Austen did. They killed their opponents socially. After all, the worst fate that could befall one at the Imperial Court was never a charge of treason. It was falling far enough out of favor to have such a charge levied against one in the first place.
You see, in the Japanese Game of Thrones, you either win, or you….spend the rest of your life in quiet obscurity as a monk. While the politics of the Heian Court were as brutal as Martin’s Westeros, the fate of those who lost its Game of Thrones would have been more suited for a Jane Austin novel.