1:the 7th century


The Hakuho-culture in the Asuka period

The culture was formed from the late 7th century to the early 8th century. It was the era of the Tenmu Emperor and the Jito Emperor.
The base of the Hakuho-culture is Buddhism. It was strongly influenced by the culture in the early Tang China which was introduced from Shilla, now part of Korea.
The Tenmu Emperor started to build Daikan Dai Ji-temple and Yakushiji-temple in Nara prefecture. In addition, local lords also built temples. Therefore, Buddhism was rapidly developed in Japan in this period.
Due to the establishment of the centralized national government, not only officers of the centralized government, but also local lords accept Chinese-characters and  Confucianism.
Local lords learned Chinese culture and started to create classical Chinese poetry. On the other hand, Japanese Tanka poetry developed in those days. Later in the Nara period, the first book of Tanka poets known as Manyosyu was edited at the Emperor request.
※The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century.
The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period.


The period of the Tenmu Emperor and the Jito Emperor

In 671AD, the Tenji Emperor passed away.
In 672AD, a battle occurred over the Imperial throne between a son of the Tenji Emperor, Otomo-no-miko, and a younger brother of the Tenji Emperor, Oama-no-miko. As a result, the younger brother won the battle and the son of the Tenji Emperor committed suicide. The battle is called Jinshin-no-ran. Therefore, the younger brother of the Tenji Emperor, Oamano-miko ascended the throne and became the Tenmu Emperor in 673AD.
After the battle, powerful clans on the losing side fell and the Tenmu Emperor concentrated strong political power to establish a centralized national government.
In 684AD, the Tenmu Emperor created a political system called Yakusa-no-kabane, which organized  the Emperor-centric political order. Local clans' family names were unified into eight kinds of names. The names showed clans' political position in society.
In addition, the Tenmu Emperor tried to enact new laws and to edit a book of Japanese history. He also pushed forward the first coinage in Japan, and began building the new capital Fujiwara-kyo modeled on the Chinese capital, but he passed away in 686AD before these projects were completed.
After the Tenmu Emperor passed away, the Empress took over his projects and established the Asuka Kiyomihara Code in 689AD. The code prescribed the basic systems of the national policy except for the criminal laws. It is considered the first systematic code in Japan's history, but it is defunct, so the details are unknown.
In 690AD, she ascended the throne and became the Jito Emperor.
In 694AD, she transferred the capital to Fujiwara-kyo, which was the Japan's first full-scale capital city.
According to the recent studies, Fujiwara-kyo was bigger than the later capital at Heijyo-kyo in Nara and Heian-kyo in Kyoto. People say the reason why the scale was so great was that the Yamato Imperial Court had to show Japan's national power to foreign countries. In addition, the book of Japan's history was written to show Japan's independence and long history.
The Tenmu Emperor and his wife were married for political reasons, but they became a good partners later. There are several stories which show how they loved each other.
For example, when the Emperor's wife became critically ill, the Emperor built the Yakushi-ji-temple in Nara prefecture to pray for his wife's health. 
↓a pagoda in Yakushiji-temple
In addition, a recent study shows that the Holy-Kannon statue in Yakushiji-temple was also created to heal his wife. The statue is very beautiful and designated as a national treasure, but it was a mystery for a long time when the statue was made. Now we know that it was created for the wife of the Tenmu Emperor.
↓the holy-Kannon statue in Yakushiji-temple. This photo is from wikipedia
Another story is why Fujiwara-kyo was built facing the burial mound of the Tenmu Emperor. People believe that his wife, the Jito Emperor, wanted her heart to face him when she governed the country.
After the Jito Emperor passed away, she was buried in the same burial mound as her husband. This is very rare among Japanese Emperors. At her request, she was cremated. She was the first Japanese Emperor to be cremated. Among the 124 successive Japanese Emperors, about two third were buried in the ground and about one third were cremated.
※The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century.
The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period.


The battle at the Hakusonko in the Korean Peninsula

In the 7th century, there were three kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula.  Silla allied with Tang-China and defeated Paekche in 660 AD. Japan had a close relationship with Paekche , therefore the Yamato Imperial Court dispatched troops to restore the kingdom. However, the Japanese army suffered a crushing defeat at Hakusonko against the allied Silla and Tang-China forces in 663 AD. 
After the defeat at the Hakusonko, the Yamato Imperial Court feared invasion and reinforced the defense of Japan. For example, defense facilities called Mizuki were constructed to protect Dazaifu in the northern part of Kyusyu, which is a western island of the Japanese archipelago. Dazaifu was an important branch of the Yamato Imperial Court, because it was located at the area nearest to other Asian nations. Each Mizuki was composed of moats and embankments surrounding the buildings at Dazaifu.
In addition, soldiers called Sakimori were deployed to the Kyusyu. Castles called Sanjyo were also constructed in western Japan.
In 667 AD, Prince Nakano-Oe moved the Imperial Palace to Otsu. Otsu is in a land-locked area, so it was a good location for defense. After he ascended the throne as the Tenji Emperor, he created the first census register called Kougo-nenjyaku in 670 AD.
Meanwhile on the Korean Peninsula, Silla and Tang defeated Goguryeo in 668 AD, Thus ensuring the unified rule of Silla over the entire Korean Peninsula in 676 AD.
※The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century.
The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period.

Centralization of Japan in the Asuka period

At the middle of the 7th century, Tang-China invaded the Goguryeo kingdom in the Korean peninsula. Therefore, to prepare for the Tang aggression, neighboring nations had to unify inside of the countries and establish centralized governments.
In those days, the Soga clan had huge power in the Yamato Imperial Court. They had killed the descendants of Shotoku Taishi. To stop the tyranny of the Soga clan, Prince Nakano Oe along with Kamatari-Nakatomi, who was an officer of the Court, rose against the Soga clan in 645AD. Hereby, the most powerful clan, Soga, since the Kofun era was destroyed.
After the fall of the Soga clan, the Imperial Court reformed the political system and pushed forward the centralization of Japan. In 646 AD, the Yamato Imperial Court announced “Kaishin-no-Mikotonori”, which showed the details of the reform. For example, the system of Kouchi-Koumin, means that the land and people were owned by the Emperor, and all people and land were registered. Then people were given rice fields, but people had to pay a heavy tax to the Court in exchange for the gift of land. Taxes were paid in rice and regional special products such as silk, cotton. In addition, men had to work for free on construction sites in the capital.
Furthermore, regional governments called “Kori” were established in every region. 
The central government system was improved and the government was operated at the Naniwa-no-Miya palace in today's Osaka.
※The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century.
The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period.


About the first political era

"Taika" the name of is the first political era in the Japanese history. The first year of Taika was 645 AD.
Since the Meiji era, an era name is not changed until the emperor died because of “the each emperor one era system”.
Before the Meiji era, era names were often changed. For example when big earthquakes or big fires occurred, the era names were changed, because it was believed that the changes helped break the bad fortune.


About the Asuka Culture

The Asuka culture was created by powerful local lords such as the Soga-clan and the Emperor's relatives in the early seventh century. The culture was strongly influenced by Buddhism and foreign cultures.
Horyuji-temple in Nara prefecture is one of the most important cultural assets in the period. The temple was established in 607 by the Suiko Emperor and Shotoku-taishi. It is said that the temple is the oldest wooden building in the world. Horyuji-temple is registered as a World Heritage.
The columns in the temple's main hall and the main gate have a bowed shape rather than a straight column. This style is called entasis. It is thought that the architecture was indirectly influenced by ancient Greece culture such as the Parthenon.
↓columns at the main gate
There are many important cultural assets in Horyuji-temple. One of them is Syaka-sanzon-zo. It is a set of statues of the Buddha, which was created by Kuratsukurinotori, who is considered the first serious sculptor of Buddhist statues in Japan. 
Syaka-sanzon-zo   This photo is from Wikipedia
Another important asset is Kudara-kannon. This statue used to be called Kokuzobosatsu, which means a bosatsu of happiness and wealth. 'Bosatsu' means those who are engaged in ascetic training in pursuit of enlightenment in Buddhism.
Kudara-kannnon  This photo is from Wikipedia
↓Tamamushi-zushi is a miniature shrine covered with wings of jewel beetles. This photo is from wikipedia
These are all national treasures of Japan.
※The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century.
The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period.


About deploying emissaries to Sui China in the Asuka period

In those days, China was ruled by a great empire; Sui

Shotoku-Taishi dispatched envoys to Sui China. The envoys traveled to Sui by a fleet of ships. At that time, Sui never had equal diplomatic relations with other nations, because Sui considered other nations as just barbarians. Therefore, if the rulers in these barbarian areas paid tribute to Sui's Imperial Court, the Emperor approved them as countries.

However, Shotoku-Taishi sent a letter to the Emperor and in this letter, Shotoku-taishi said “I'm the son of the Emperor where the sun rises and sending this letter to the king of the country where the sun goes down.  How are you?”

Therefore, when Sui 's Emperor read the letter, he was very furious, but the messenger who brought the letter was able to return to Japan alive. It is said that Sui was fighting neighboring countries in those days, so Sui's Emperor avoided conflict with to Japan.

This anecdote shows that Shotoku-taishi tried to take a very bold strategy about diplomacy, despite the peace-oriented Buddhism-based domestic political policy.

Syotoku-taishi's portrait appeared  on Japanese paper currencies from 1930 to 1984.


↑This photo is from AC. https://www.photo-ac.com/

※The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century. The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period.


About the two systems established by Syotoku-Taishi in the Asuka period

In 593, Syotoku-Taishi became Sessyo of Empress Suiko.

Sessyo was a position to assist Emperor or Empress. When a woman or a very young boy came to the throne, one of close advisers became Sessyo

Umayado_miko ←Syotoku-Taishi This painting is from Wikipedia


Syotoku-Taishi established two important systems. One is the system of twelve courtly ranks established in 603.

Due to the system, talented personnel could obtain good positions in the Imperial Court. This system divided positions of the Imperial Court into twelve courtly ranks.

Another is the Seventeen-Article Constitution promulgated in 604. This constitution showed the rules which officers in the Imperial Court had to obey.

Article first said that the Imperial Court officers had to cooperate with other officers.

Article second said that the Imperial Court officers had to respect Buddhism.

Article third said that the Imperial Court officers had to be loyal to the Emperor.

From the Constitution, you can understand that Syotoku-Taishi respected Buddhism more than Shinto which was Japanese indigenous religion from ancient times.


Horyuji-temple in Nara prefecture. It is said that the temple was founded by Syotoku-Taishi in 607.The temple is considered the oldest wooden building in the world. It is registered as a World Heritage.

※The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century. The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period.


About powerful local ruling families in the Asuka period

The Asuka period ranged from the later 6th century to the mid 7th century. The Asuka period coincides with the later Kofun period. The period was named after the place where the capital was located, today's Asuka-village in Nara prefecture.

The Yamato Imperial Court governed Japan in the period. The Court was organized by local lords and led by Okimi; later Emperor. The top of the Court was Okimi, but two major local ruling families had immense power in those days. One of them was Soga and the other was Mononobe. Soga and Mononobe had seriously conflict, because Soga supported Buddhism and Mononobe supported Shinto.


Horyuji-Temple in Nara prefecture


Shimogamo-Shinto Shrine in Kyoto

In 587, Umako Soga destroyed Mononobe and obtained overwhelming power in the Court.  In 592, Umako Soga assassinated the Sushun Emperor  and made Suiko succeed to the throne as the first Empress. Umako Soga wielded very strong power in the Court.

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