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About Buddhism for national protection in the 8th century

To revive of the family's political power, one of the members of the Fujiwara family brewed a big revolt in 740 in Kyusyu, which is a western island of the Japanese archipelago.
The revolt was subdued by the governmental forces, but the incident caused political unrest in the Court.
In addition, people were suffering from great earthquakes , outbreaks of smallpox and famine. Therefore, the social situation was very unstable.
In spite of the confusion, in 740, the Syomu-Emperor moved the capital of Japan from Heijo-kyo to Kuni-kyo, in southern Kyoto-fu, and then the Emperor moved the capital again from Kuni-kyo to Naniwa-no-miya, in today's Osaka-city, in 744. After that, the Emperor moved the capital from Naniwa-nomiya to Shigaraki-no-miya, in southern Shiga-prefecture in 745. Finally the Emperor returned the capital to Heijyo-kyo in 745.
Even now, nobody knows the exact reason why the Emperor moved the capital-city so often in such a short term, but it is said that the Emperor tried to change the social situation by capital relocation.
During those moves, the social situation went going from bad to worse, so the Syomu -Emperor decided it would also help to stabilize the nation by adapting a foreign religion, Buddhism. It was an unusual choice for the Japanese Emperor, because traditionally the Imperial family's belief is Shinto.
However, the Syomu Emperor profoundly devoted himself to Buddhism, because he was strongly affected by the Fujiwara family's belief. His mother and his wife were from the Fujiwara family, who had a strong relationship with foreign countries and earnestly believed in Buddhism.
In 741, the Emperor issued the decree to build provincial temples, and then Kokubunji-temples and Kokubun-niji-temples, which were convents, were built in each province, called Kuni.
In 743, the Emperor issued another decree for the construction of the Great Buddha statue in Todaiji-temple. Todaiji-temple was placed as the head temple of Kokubunji-temples and Kokubun-niji-temples all over Japan.
The purpose of building temples all over Japan was to protect the nation by the efficacy of monks' prayers, not propagation of Buddhism.
As a matter of fact, Buddhist monks were strictly managed by the government and they were not allowed to engage in missionary work in those days.
In 752, the Koken-Emperor, a daughter of the Syomu-Emperor, held the grand ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha statue. The ceremony was attended by Shomu-retired-Emperor, Komyo-retired-Empress, Chinese monks, Indian monks and ten-thousand Japanese monks.
Sep, 740 Hirotsugu Fujiwara’s revolt in Kyusyu.
Dec, 740 the capital-city was moved to Kuni-kyo.
Feb, 741 the decree to build provincial temples and convents.
Oct, 743 the decree to for the construction of the Great Buddha statue in Todaiji-temple.
Feb, 744 the capital-city was moved to Naniwa-no-miya.
Jan, 745 the capital-city was moved to Shigaraki-no-miya.
May, 745 the capital city was moved to Heijyo-kyo
May, 752 the grand ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha statue


About the Fujiwara family’s political power in the 8th century

In the 8th century, a wealthy family, Fujiwara, obtained strong political power. In particular, Fuhito Fujiwara was the most prominent politician in those days. He was a son of Kamatari Fujiwara, who was a supreme adviser of the Tenji Emperor.

Fuhito made his daughter, Miyako, marry the Monmu Emperor in 697. And then their son, Prince Obito married Fuhito's other daughter, Komyoshi, in 716. Prince Obito became the Shomu Emperor in 724. By these political marriages, the Fujiwara family built a close relationship with the Imperial family and became very influential in politics.

In 720, Fuhito Fujiwara died.

When the Shomu Emperor came to the throne in 724, he was 23 years old. Since the Emperor was young, Nagaya-o held the real political power in the Court. Nagaya-o was a cousin-uncle of the Shomu Emperor and a grandson of the Tenmu Emperor. Nagaya-o was not only a member of the royal family but also a good politician. Therefore Nagaya-o was the toughest obstacle for the Fujiwara family, who wanted to have a preponderant influence on the Court.

Fuhito Fujiwara's four sons wanted their sister Komyoshi, a wife of the Shomu Emperor, to be elevated to Empress, but Nagaya-o strongly opposed it because only a member of the royal family could become empress in those days.

In 727, a prince was born between the Shomu Emperor and Komyoshi, his name was Motoi-o. He became the crown prince soon, because the Fujiwara family intensely promoted it. However, the prince died before he became 1 year old. It was a hard blow for the Fujiwara family, but they used the incident to ruin Nagaya-o. In 729, the Fujiwara family circulated a rumor that Nagaya-o killed the prince by curse. As a result, Nagaya-o was forced to commit suicide.

By having eliminated their opponent, the Fujiwara family could elevate Komyoshi to Empress in 729.

In 737, however, the four Fujiwara sons died of smallpox and the family's political influence temporarily declined. People rumored that Nagaya-o had become a vengeful ghost and killed them all.

Instead of the Fujiwara family, one of the members of royalty, Moroe Tachibana held the real political power and Kibi-no-makibi and Genbo, who used to be envoys to Tang China, obtained strong influence in the Court.


About expanding the territory in the 8th century

As the national governmental system was established, the Imperial Court gained stable political power. Therefore, they started to make an effort to expand the territory.
In the 8th century, the Court began to subdue the northern part of the main island of Japan’s archipelago where native people called Emishi lived.
Along the Japan sea side, Dewa-no-Kuni was established and Akita castle was built, while on the Pacific Ocean side, Mutsu-no-Kuni was established and Taga castle was built. Each castle was used as a political center and a military base against the Emishi.   


About economy in the 8th century

The Court prompted expansion farmland by ordering the creation of iron farming tools and improving the irrigation system.
In addition, mining gold and copper was started. Moreover, the technology of sericulture, raising silkwarms, and weaving luxury cloth was spread by the government experts.
These were useful for increasing productivity and government's tax revenue.


About administrative districts "Koku-fu" in the 8th century

In those days, the whole country was divided into about 60 Koku.
The central city in each Koku was called the Koku-fu, where many buildings for politics, ceremonies, offices and officer’s houses were built.
Each Koku-fu became a political and economic center in the region.
In addition, in the middle of the 8th century, Kokubunji-temple which was a branch of Todaiji-temple was built near each Koku-fu, and then it became a cultural center as well.


About roads in the 8th century

In those days, the whole country was divided into the 8 administrative districts. One of these was called Kinai which was around Kyoto.

The other 7 districts were called Do, such as Tokai-do, Sanyo-do. Government roads from the capital to the 7 districts were maintained and station offices were built every 16 kilometers on these roads.

The offices kept horses for use by government messengers, who could also use these offices as hotels. In each district, roads connecting to local stations were built. These roads created transportation network.


About new coins in the 8th century

In 708 AD, Musashi province, today's Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa area, sent copper as a tribute to the Court.

Then the Court minted copper coins and silver coins called WadoKaichin.
It was the second time to mint coins in Japan's history.
The Court encouraged people to use coins, but only people around the capital used the coins and most people in other areas traded by bartering crops and cloth.
The coins were mainly used as payment for building the capital.


About Heijo-kyo

In 710 AD, the Genmei Emperor moved the capital from Fujiwara in Kyoto prefecture to the northern Nara basin.  The new capital was called Heijyo-kyo. And the period from 710 AD to 793 AD is called the Nara period.
The capital’s structure is called the jobo-system. Roads in the city run from east to west and north to south created a grid pattern.
The city was divided into two parts by a main road running through north to south in the center of the city. The road was called Suzaku-Oji.
The east area of the road was named Sa-kyo which meant left side of the capital and the west area was named U-kyo which meant right side of the capital.
The system was learned from the structure of Changan which was the capital of Tang China.
The palace called Heijyo-kyu was located in the north central area of the city. In the palace, there were several buildings. One of them was a building called Dairi which was the Emperor's living place and another buildings called Chodo-in and Daikyoku-den were used as political offices and ceremonial places.
About 100,000 people lived in the city. There were houses for nobles, officers and commoners in the city. In addition, the city contained several major temples such as Gangoji-temple Kofukuji-temple and Todaiji-temple.
Government-run markets were established in the city and these markets were managed by public officers called Ichi-no-sukasa. People exchanged local products such as crops, vegetables and ceramics in the markets. Public officers sold their wage in-kind, such as threads and cloth and bought things they needed in the markets.


About the envoy to the Tang Dynasty

In 618 AD, China became unified under "the Tang Dynasty" which replaced "the Sui Dynasty".
"Tang Dynasty" established a big Empire and governed a vast portion of Asia, so it influenced neighboring areas.
The communication between "the Tang Dynasty" and western Asia progressed, therefore the capital of "theTang Dynasty", Changan present day Xian, developed an international culture.
In the 8th century, a delegation of Japanese envoys to the Tang Dynasty was dispatched about once every 20 years.
The envoys included ambassadors, students and scholar monks.
At the peak, one delegation had about 500 members and they sailed to China in 4 ships.  
However, ships frequently failed to reach their destination, because the technology of ship-building and sailing had not yet matured.
The envoys introduced advanced political systems and international culture into Japan.   
Some envoys such as Kibi-no-Makibi, and Genbo were given important posts by the Shomu Emperor and obtained strong influence in the Imperial Court.
On the other hand, another envoy Abe-no-Nakamaro became trusted by Tang's Emperor that he became a high ranking officer in the Tang Dynasty.
He was eager to return to Japan, but his wish was never realized. He passed away in Tang China.
In the late 9th century, the envoy was cancelled because Michizane Sugawara who was a high ranking officer and a great scholar suggested canceling it.
He judged that the dangerous trips to the Dynasty no longer yielded enough value, because the Tang Dynasty was already declining by the time.

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