Even though the Kamakura shogunate followed directly after the Heian period, it was remarkably different. The Heian period is often called Japan's Golden Age because it was a time of flourishing arts and culture. The aristocratic class ruled society and set strict rules of decorum. During this time, political power shifted away from the emperor and towards aristocratic families. However, the emperor remained an important symbol of Japanese nationality. Social rank was very important during this period. A person's status was inherited and there was very little opportunity for social mobility. The art of the Heian period focused on formality and stylized elegance. This was expressed in painting, sculpture, literature, and poetry. For instance, The Tale of Genji was written during this period. It is full of detailed descriptions of life in the Heian court and follows a fictional prince in his quest for love.
Once the Kamakura shogunate began, political power shifted away from the former aristocratic families and into the hands of the samurai class. The emperor still remained the nominal ruler of Japan, but his actual power became symbolic at best. Power could still be inherited, and influential families ruled much of Japan. However, this period witnessed more social mobility. It created avenues for shrewd and skillful samurai to gain influence. Power centers also moved from cities to the provinces and became less centralized. Not surprisingly, shogunate culture became increasingly militaristic. Strength and fortitude were prized over the elegance and emotion of the previous period. This was represented in the period's art, which often praised the accomplishments and sacrifices of warriors in battle. Kamakura art took on a more realistic style that prized strength and virility.