2:the Nara period


About the conquest of the Emishi by the Imperial Court from the 7th century to the early 9th century

Since the 7th century, the Imperial Court had been trying to conquer the Emishi, who lived in northern Japan and had not assimilated to the Court’s rule.
Therefore, official defense-sites called Josaku were constructed along the Mogami river and along the Japan sea coasts in north-east Japan. Some Josaku were actual castles and others were smaller structures. These facilities had governmental buildings for administrative offices and warehouses.
Many farmers in Kanto region were moved to areas around Josaku for the development. On the other hand, captured Emishi were forced to move to the areas west of Kanto-region.
In 780, an Emishi lord Azamaro Koremori who had previously submitted to the Konin Emperor raised an army against the Court, because Emishi were being severely discriminated against.
Azamaro burnt down Taga-castle which was an important military base in today's Miyagi prefecture. After this battle, many wars broke out between the Court and Emishi.
In 789, the Court dispatched a large army commanded by a high ranking-general, Kino-Kosami, to conquer Emishi living in the Izawa region, which is located around the middle basin of the Kitakami river.
Nevertheless, the Imperial army suffered a crashing defeat by Emishi's resistance which was led by an Emishi great lord, Aterui.
In 802, the Court dispatched troops commanded by Shogun Tamuramaro Sakanoue. He built Izawa castle in the region where Aterui was headquartered.
Aterui had many soldiers but he surrendered to Sakanoue without fighting. Although the reason why Aterui surrendered is not exactly known, it is said that Sakanoue was a great strategist who could persuade Aterui to surrender peacefully.
Sakanoe also respected Aterui as an outstanding leader, and therefore, petitioned the Court to spare the Aterui's life. But the petition was refused and Aterui was executed.
Thereafter, Sakanoue used Izawa castle as the main military base to conquer northern Japan.
In 803, Sakanoue built Shiwa-castle in the upper basin of the Kitakami river, consequently, rule of the Court was extended to today's Akita prefecture.
As a matter of fact, two big projects by the Court, conquering Emishi and building the capital in Kyoto became heavy burden on people and the Court's finance.
Therefore, the Kanmu Emperor broke off these two projects in 805.
※Some details about Sakanoue
Shogun Tamuramaro Sakanoue was the founder of Kiyomizudera-temple in Kyoto.
This temple is a very popular sightseeing spot and registered as a World Heritage site.
This temple was originally built in 780.
According to a book written about the origin of this temple, a monk, Kenshin, had a dream in 778.
In the dream, an old man told Kenshin that he should go to northern Kyoto and find clean water.
Following the message in the dream, Kenshin visited northern Kyoto and found a waterfall at Otowa mountain where Kenshin met the man he had seen in his dream.
This man said he lived on the mountain and trained as a Buddhist monk.
He asked Kenshin to create a wooden Kannon statue and protect this holy waterfall, and then, the old man disappeared.
Kenshin believed the man was the embodiment of Kannon.
Thus, Kenshin created a wooden Kannon statue and protected the waterfall.
Two years later, in 780, Tamuramaro Sakanoue visited the area to hunt deer.
He met Kenshin at the waterfall. Kenshin admonished Sakanoue against hunting in this holy area and told him about the Kannon's virtue, Kannon is believed to save and protect people.
Since Sakanoue deeply impressed with Kenshin's preaching, Sakanoue built a temple on Otowa mountain and enshrined the Kannon statue there.
He named the temple Kiyomizudera, which means a temple of clean water.
Kiyomizudera-temple was burnt by fires many times.
Today's Kannon statue in this temple is believed to have been created in the 13th century.
This statue is enshrined in a closed room in the main building of the temple, so visitors cannot see it, but they can see a replica placed in front of the closed room.
In Kiyomizudera-temple, visitors can also see that waterfall which Kenshin found. This waterfall is called Otowa-no-taki, and it is believed that the water has special power.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


About Tenpyo-culture in the 8th century

In the 8th century, which is called the Nara period, the political system of the centralized government was developed and the wealth was concentrated to the Court.
In those days, the sophisticated culture created by nobles was bloomed around the capital. The culture was named Tenpyo-culture coming from the Tenpyo-era of the Shomu Emperor's reign.
Around the 8th century, envoys to the Tang Dynasty introduced culture of Tang to Japan and Japanese nobles learned it.
Therefore, Tenpyo-culture was strongly influenced from the culture of Tang and Tenpyo-culture had a highly cosmopolitan character.
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