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July 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.


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.


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

Classical Chinese poetry was created in Japan using the poetry style developed during the the Han dynasty.
In the 8th century, nobles and officers of the Japanese Court needed to learn classical Chinese poetry, because it was considered one of the requisites for well-educated people.
In 751 AD, a poetry anthology Kaifuso was compiled based on the writings of the Japanese Imperial Court. This is the oldest extant anthology of classical Chinese poetry compiled in Japan.
The anthology contains classical Chinese poetry created by Ootomono-miko prince, Otsuno-miko prince and Nagaya-o who was a grandson of the Tenmu Emperor in the late 7th century.
In the 8th century, Omi-no-Mifune who was a relative of the Emperor, and a nobleman, Isonokami-no-Yakatsugu, were known as excellent creators of classical Chinese poetry.


Regional geography books, Fudoki in the 8th century

In 713, regional geographies called Fudoki were created in each regions by order of the Genmei Emperor.
Fudoki contained information about regional products , origins of the names of mountains, rivers, fields and ancient legends.
Fudoki of five regions, Hitachi, Izumo, Harima, Bungo, Hizen still exist.
Izumo's Fudoki is almost complete.


About Japan's history books created in the 8th century

In the 8th century, the system of centralized government was established under the Ritsuryo-code, which  contained criminal laws and the regulations about governmental organization.
And then, the national government created several books about Japan's history to show the process of Japan's development.
One of the books, Kojiki, was created by the order of the Tenmu Emperor in 712. The Tenmu Emperor made Hieda-no-Are, an expert of memory,  remember stories from the oral tradition of the Yamato Imperial Court. And then Hieda told the stories to a scholar O-no-Yasumaro and Yasumaro wrote down them by Chinese characters. Kojiki contains stories from the origin of Japan to the early 7th century.
A second book, Nihonshoki was completed in 720. This book was compiled by a prince of the Tenmu Emperor, Toneri-Shinno. It contains historical stories from the origin of Japan to the late 7th century, but the book focused more on the consolidation of political power and the rights of succession to the throne. The book was organized in chronological order, written in classical Chinese style because it imitated to the style of Chinese history books

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  • Hi there! I'm Lala. I'm a Japanese living in Tokyo. I'm an English speaking licensed guide and authorized tour conductor. If you have questions, please leave comments on this blog or send me e-mails. lalalamumin☆yahoo.co.jp (please replace ☆ with @ when you send me e-mails)

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