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09/02/2018

About moving the capital in the late 8th century

The Konin Emperor, who ascended the throne in 770, tried to improve the Imperial government system, by simplifying the procedures for administration and finance, and by decreasing the burden on common people.
 
In 781, the Kanmu Emperor ascended the throne, his father was the Konin Emperor.
 
The Kanmu Emperor took over the Konin Emperor's political reformation and also tried to decrease the power of Buddhist monks, because they often interfered with politics.
 
In order to promote the reformation and concentrate power to the Emperor, he moved the capital to Nagaoka in Yamashiro, suburb of today’s Kyoto, in 784.
 
However, the Kanmu Emperor's right-hand man, Tanetsugu Fujiwara, who was a leader of establishing the capital in Nagaoka, was assassinated in 785.
 
Prince Sawara, who was a younger brother of the Kanmu Emperor, was forced to take responsibility for the assassination.
 
The prince was stripped of his claim to the throne and expelled from the Imperial Court. He committed suicide on the way to Awaji-island where he was banished.
 
In addition, old families such as Otomo and Saeki were also forced to take responsibility for the assassination.
 
People believe that the prince and these old families were victims of a political conspiracy by the Fujiwara family, because the assassination occurred when the Fujiwara family was trying to reinforce their power.
 
After the incident, many bad things happened, for example, the Kanmu Emperor's mother passed-away , the Kanmu Emperor's son got a disease and an epidemic of disease broke out.
 
People said that those tragedies were caused by the angry ghost of Prince Sawara. Due to the social instability, the construction of the capital in Nagaoka was very slow.
 
In 794, the Kanmu Emperor moved the capital to Kyoto.

08/22/2018

Artifacts in the 8th century

Shosoin is a treasure house of Todaiji-temple and it is famous for owning treasures created in the 8th century.
 
Main art treasures in Shosoin were the Shomu Emperor’s collection.
 
Those items were donated to Todaiji-temple by his wife, Komyoshi-Empress Dowager, after the Shomu Emperor passed away.
 
There are various items in Shosoin, such as clothes, furniture, musical instruments and weapons.
 
Those items are very well preserved, in particular a five-string biwa decorated with turtle shell and seashell or precious metal inlay.
 
These treasures show that the Imperial Court communicated to not only Tang-China but also countries in West Asia and South Asia.
 
These indicate that the Court's cultural level was very high and the Court took part in the international community in those days.
 
In addition, one million small wooden pagodas and printed scriptures were created by the Shotoku Emperor’s order.
 
These scriptural passages are considered the world oldest printed items, although it is still unclear whether these were printed with wooden block or sheet copper.
 
These scriptural passages were put inside the wooden pagodas and show both the excellent artistic skills in those days.
 
It is said that these wooden pagodas were donated to the ten great temples such as Todaiji-temple and Horyuji-temple, but only Horyuji-temple has continued to preserve these items until today. 

08/12/2018

Paintings in the 8th century

Japanese paintings in the 8th century were strongly influenced by Tang-China's art, which had a voluptuous and elegant expression.
 
Representative works are "Portrait of Beautiful lady under the tree” owned by Syosoin, which was a treasure house of Todaiji-temple, and a painting of "Kissyoten”, Goddess of Beauty, owned by Yakushiji-temple.
 
In addition, E Ingakyo, "Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect" owned by Jobonrendaiji-temple is said to be the origin of picture scrolls, which were often created from the 9th century to the early 14th century.

08/05/2018

Statues created in the 8th century

Many statues created in the 8th century have expressive faces and well-balanced bodies.
 
Statues created in that century were not only made of gilt bronze or wood, but also made of clay or dry lacquer.
 
Compared to earlier times, these last two techniques were improved to a high level in the 8th century.
 
Clay statues were created by putting clay on a wooden core.
 
Dry lacquer statues were created by putting linen on a model with lacquer, and removing the model from the lacquered linen later.
 
Todayji-temple has a dry-lacquer statue, Fukukensakukannon, clay statues, Nikko-bosatsu statue,  Gakko-bosatsu statue, and Shitsukongo statue in Hokkedo.
 
Kofukuji-temple has dry lacquer statues, such as the ten great disciples of Buddha and the eight legions including Asyura-statue.

08/01/2018

Art in the 8th century

In the 8th century, the Imperial Court, nobles and big temples spent so much money on art related to Buddhism.
 
Many magnificent buildings were built, such as big temples and palaces, which used stone foundations and roofing tiles.
 
Some representative examples are Denpodo in Horyuji-temple, which was originally a noble's residence, a lecture hall in Tosyodaiji-temple, which was originally a part of the palace in Heijyo-kyu, Hokkedo in Todaiji-temple, a main hall in Tosyodaiji-temple and a treasure house in Syosoin
 
All these buildings are well-balanced and majestic.

07/29/2018

the politicalization of Buddhism in the 8th century

The Syomu Emperor pushed forward big projects such as building Kokubunji-temples in regions across Japan and building the great Buddha statue in Nara.
 
On the other hand, under the policy of Buddhism protection, the cost of building temples and the decrease of tax revenue caused by the increasing number of monks, who were tax exempt, became a heavy burden on the national finances.
 
In the process of Buddhism taking root in Japan, Buddhism became known as a way to gain material benefits. In addition, Buddhism assimilated the indigenous religion of ancestor worship.
 
Therefore, Buddhist statues and transcribed scriptures were made for healing the souls of ancestors.
 
In addition, a thought to merge Shinto with Buddhism was born.
 
Meanwhile, monks who didn’t like the politicalization of Buddhism left the big temples and started Buddhist training in the mountains.
 
They became the bases of a new Buddhism in the 9th century.

07/28/2018

Buddhism in Japan in the 8th century

In the 8th century, Buddhism prospered in Japan because of the great support from the Imperial Court.
 
In those days, many natural disasters occurred , such as big earthquakes, famine and plagues.
 
In addition, there were many problems and conflicts in the Court.
 
Therefore, the successive Emperors tried to sustain Japanese social order by prompting Buddhism.
 
At great temples in Nara such as Kofukuji-temple, Gangoji-temple, Yakushiji-temple, monks studied Buddhist doctrine from India and China.
 
Since Buddhism was still considered more academic than religious, the monks created six divisions called Nanto-Rokusyu.
 
In one of the six divisions, a monk named Roben studied under monks who came from Shill and Tang China, and then he greatly contributed to build Todaiji-temple.
 
In another divisions, a monk called Gien educated many great monks, such as Gyoki.
 
Gyoki was a very unique monk. He was not only a missionary, but also organized donations to construct socially necessary infrastructure, such as bridges, irrigation systems and building rescue facilities for poor people.
 
Therefore, he was very popular among common people.
 
Unfortunately, in those days, monks had to work only for the government, not for common people.
 
Accordingly, Gyoki was often arrested by officers.
 
Later, however, when Gyoki's popularity became overwhelming, the government changed its tack and used Gyoki to encourage common people to work for free building a great Buddha statue in Nara.

07/23/2018

Educational institutions in the 8th century

In the 8th century, educational institutions were established for educating officers.
 
Daigaku was established in the capital and Kokugaku were established in regions.
 
Students of Daigaku were children of nobles and children of the Court officers who worked as clerks.
 
On the other hand, many students of Kokugaku were children of Gunji, officers of local governments.
 
Graduates from Daigaku needed to pass exams to become officers of the Court.
 
Students of Daigaku learned scriptures of Confucianism such as the Analects of Confucius and the Book of Filial Piety.
 
This subject was called Myogyo-do. In addition, students learned laws and it was called Myobo-do.
 
They also learned how to pronounce scriptures of Confucianism in Chinese, calligraphy and mathematics.

Tanka poetry, Japanese five line poem

Tanka is a Japanese five line poem.
 
The poems were created by various people from the Emperor to farmers in the 8th century.
 
Manyo-syu is a anthology of Tanka composed of 4500 poems created until 759 AD.
 
The anthology contains not only Tanka created by nobles but also created by common people in Eastern Japan.
 
Tanka created by people from Eastern Japan is called Azuma-uta, which means poems of eastern Japan, and Sakimori-uta, which means poem of Sakimori, who were soldiers of garrisons in Kyusyu dispatched from eastern Japan.
 
In those days, commoners in Eastern Japan often suffered from severe poverty.
 
They expressed their suffering very clearly in their poem. Hence, these poems reach people's hearts. 
 
However, in those days, many common people couldn’t read and write, so most Tanka poetry created by common people were written down by officers of the Court.
 
Therefore it is considered many of these were readjusted by officers.

«Classical Chinese poetry

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