Saturday 8 July 2017

Nara Period of Japan

Nara period was a brief period in history of Japan extending from 710 AD to 794 AD. Major cultural development of the era include the permanent establishment of Buddhism along with the first authentically Japanese gardens built in the city Nara at the end of the eighth century. The period was preceded by the Asuka Period of Japan.

Yumedono, a hall in Horyuji temple

The start of Nara period was marked by Empress Genmei moving the capital to Heijō-kyō (present-day Nara). She was the 43rd monarch of Japan according to the traditional order of succession. In the history of Japan, Genmei was the fourth of eight women to take on the role of empress regnant. Empress Genmei, who was followed on the throne by her daughter.

Empress Genmei

Economic and administrative activity increased during the Nara period. Roads linked Nara to provincial capitals, and taxes were collected more efficiently and routinely. Coins were minted, if not widely used.  Factional fighting at the imperial court continued throughout the Nara period. Imperial family members, leading court families, such as the Fujiwara, and Buddhist priests all contended for influence. 

East Pagoda of Yakushiji Temple

Empress Genshō became the 44th monarch of Japan after the death of her mother Empress Genmei and reigned from 715 AD until 724 AD. Under Genshō's reign, the Nihon Shoki was finished in 720 which is the second oldest book of Japanese classical history. In 724, Genshō abdicated in favor of her nephew, who would be known as Emperor Shōmu. Genshō lived for 25 years after she stepped down from the throne. She never married and had no children. She died at age 65. 

Page from a copy of the Nihon Shoki

The Nara court aggressively imported Chinese civilization by sending diplomatic envoys known as kentōshi to the Tang court every twenty years. Many Japanese students, both lay and Buddhist priests, studied in Chang'an and Luoyang. Tang China never sent official envoys to Japan. Relations with the Korean kingdom of Silla were initially peaceful, with regular diplomatic exchanges.

The Great Buddha at Nara, 752 CE.

Emperor Shōmu became the 45th emperor of Japan in 724 AD and reigned till 749 AD and had four Empresses and six Imperial sons and daughters. Shōmu, a devout Buddhist, commissioned in 743, the sixteen-meter high statue of the Vairocana Buddha (above) in Tōdai-ji of Nara. Emperor Shōmu died at age 56. He is traditionally venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine at Nara.

Memorial Shinto shrine at Nara.

During Shōmu's reign, the Tōdai-ji (literally Eastern Great Temple) was built. Shōmu declared himself the "Servant of the Three Treasures" of Buddhism: the Buddha, the law or teachings of Buddhism, and the Buddhist community.

Todai-ji Temple

Empress Kōken was the 46th and 48th monarch of Japan first from 749 to 758 AD and then from 764 until her death in 770.  In the history of Japan, Kōken was the sixth of eight women to take on the role of empress regnant. Koken's reign was turbulent, and she survived several coup attempts. She is also known for sponsoring the Hyakumantō Darani, one of the largest productions of printed works in early Japan.

Empress Koken of Japan

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, a Buddhist temple in the Arashiyama neighborhood of Kyoto, was founded by Empress Kōken(the 48th monarch of Japan) in the middle of the eighth century.

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple

Emperor Kōnin became the 49th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession and reigned from 770 AD to 781 AD. Kōnin attempted to reconstruct the state finance and administrative organizations, which had been corrupted under the reign of Empress Kōken. He was succeeded by Emperor Kanmu who reigned as the 50th emperor of Japan from 781 to 806 AD. Kanmu had 16 empresses and consorts, and 32 imperial sons and daughters.

Emperor Kanmu, 50th period of Japan

During the reign of Emperor Kanmu, the capital of Japan was moved from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō in 784. Shortly thereafter, the capital was moved again in 794 to Heian-kyō. The emperor traveled by carriage from Nara to the new capital of Heian-kyō in a grand procession. This marks the beginning of the Heian period of Japan.

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