Tuesday, 10 April 2012

JAPAN - 9th - 12th Century

Japan's history

Japan was a unified and powerful ruler by the 8th century AD. China had a great influence on Japan's polital system in those days. During the 6th century Korea introduced Buddhism and also from China. There began the history of the Japanese religion.
During the Nara Period (710-794) and the Heian Period (795-1185) the foundation of the unique Japanese culture were laid.
The custom of each Japanese emperor or empress was to build a new capital from the start of their coronation.


Empress Gemmei was the first ruler of the Nara Period and held with the tradition. She started her new capital in 707 and it was finished three years later. It was called Heijokyo. It was built with straight roads running from north to south and from east to west. Later the modern Nara City was built on the same site.


The Nara period brought great developments in Japanese culture. During the 8th century, Manyo-shu, a collection of poetry from ancient times to the Nara Period, was put together. The first two history books of Japan were written at around the same time. Kojiki in 712 and Nihon Shoki in 720. If this wouldn't happened a great knowledge of ancient history would have been lost.
In the 8th century Buddhism began to be introduced. Before, there was the traditional Japanese belief Shinto which was not cast aside. The spreading of Buddhism was mainly due to Emperor Shomu. He reign from 724 to 749 and it is called the Tempyo era. He requested each province to build a monastery and a convent for Buddhist monks and nuns. Emperor Shomu also had the magnificent Todai-ji temple in his capital built. Inside there is the shining bronze bulk of the Great Buddha of Nara.
One remarkable achievements of the Nara Period was to set up a strong, centralized government. The base was the ritsu-ryo code which was introduced in 701 AD. The ideas came from the Tang, China (619-907AD) era but changed to some extent to meet the needs of the Japanese. The complex body of laws had two parts: ritsu, the criminal code, and ryo, the administration code.
The major function was how Japan should be run. There were two ruling bodies. The Dajokan (Grand Council of State) and the Jingikan (Office of Deities). The Dajokan controlled eight ministries. Their officials were pointed by the emperor/empress. These officials were over the local government officials of each country's administrative regions.
The law and order of ordinary people, slave and free, were detailed in ritsu-ryo. Especially the code of taxation and land ownership. To begin with, all land belongs to the emperor/empress and therefore taxes had to be paid. In 743 it was decided if land was turned into paddy fields would be given to farmers. This was done to encourage growing rice.

                                                           GREAT  BUDDHA  IN  752 AD

Japanese religion
Emperor Shomu idea was to spread peace in Japan through Buddhism. However, monks became slowly involved in politics, wealthy and powerful. Disregarding many rules and regulations of the ritsu-ryo which provoked the aristocratic family Fujiwara to put a stop to it.
At the end of the 8th century a new emperor, Kionin, came to the throne. His son moved the capital in 795 from Nara to Heiankyo, today's Kyoto. After that the Heian Period began.
When Kammu came on the throne he changed the ritsu-ryo and after that Buddhist monks were forbidden to take part in the government. To begin with it was an improvement but in the 9th century the Fujiwara family started to abuse the rules and regulations. Through clever moves they took over most of the important offices which left other aristocratic families out. They also insisted that emperors marry only Fujiwara women.
During the Heian Period there was great pressure on the ownership of land. Since land was given to the farmers, if they build rice, the ownerships grew larger and the imperial land became less. Many large estates, called shoens, were built. To balance the books they taxed farmers more who still worked on imperial land. This resulted in an exodus to the new private estates.
The powerful Fujiwara family resulted into another important development. Since wealthy men were not allowed taking position at court they took position in local government instead.

They acquired land and armies to protect it. At that time the warrior class started and they were called samurai and became powerful and respected in the 11th century.
Japan started to move away from China's influence during the Heian Period.

The religion of Buddhism also became more shaped by Japanese style. The Tendai, Shingon and later on the Jodo sects emerged. These changes also encouraged the art and people were creating statues and painting showing a more Japanese style.
During the 10th century a new script for writing in Japanese language developed. Till such time Chinese characters were used for the Japanese language. However, it wasn't very easy because the two languages were completely different. The new way of writing Kana, has two separate, phonetic systems based on abbreviated Chinese characters: hiragana for Japanese words and katakana for foreign words.
Kana was much easier to express themselves in Japanese. The development encourages people to write more freely and therefore many literatures were produced. Most of the aristocracy still spoke and wrote in Chinese to show their higher status. Women of the imperial court wrote mostly in Kana. One of the most well known novels was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu called "The Tale of Genj”.
When the 11th century began, a move from the powerful Fujiwaras shifted to the so called cloistered emperors.
The emperor in Heiankyo was no longer under the control of the court official. The so-called cloister emperor emerged from previous abdicated aristocratacs under the Fujiwaras family. They became Buddhist priest. Most other aristocrats who also took the vows became powerful. These cloister emperors changed the political system and not for the best. They also took over in the monasteries and occupied all the powerful position which did not please the monks.
At that time the power from the court weakened and the control over the provinces encouraged the landowners and samurais to take the control. Also the Minamoto and Taira families derived from previous emperors started to fight for the power.
Mid-12th century the court formed with the two feuding families. During the Heiji War in 1159 the Minamot were defeated and Taira Kiyomori became chief minister under Emperor Takakura.
In 1185 with Minamoto Yoritomo leading the Minamotos defeated the Tairas at the battle of Dan-no-Ura and that brought the Heian era to an end.
Minomot Yoritomo a powerful warrior was the first shogun (military dictator) in Japan and the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) began.

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