Government: Imitating the Chinese System



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Mr. Trzepinska

World Cultures




Government: Imitating the Chinese System

Describe the new ideas about government that Japan adopted and any changes the Japanese made to these ides




Religion: Buddhism Comes to Japan

Describe the new religion that Japan adopted and any changes the Japanese made to this religion




Writing: Applying Chinese Characters to the Japanese Language

Describe the new writing that Japan adopted and any changes they made to this writing.




Literature: Adapting Chinese Poetic Form

Describe the new form of poetry the Japanese developed




Architecture: Adapting Temple Designs

Describe the new style of architecture the Japanese developed




Yamato Japan

Describe the structure of society under the Yamato




Code of Samurai

Describe the qualities that were needed in a samurai warrior, which was most important to you?




Mongol Invasions

Describe why the Mongol invasions failed. Why impact did it have on the people of Japan?




Government: Imitating the Chinese System

Starting with Prince Shotoku, Japanese rulers adopted new ideas about government from China. China’s form of government was both like and unlike Japan’s. For example, the emperors in China and Japan had quite different powers. The emperor in China was the sole ruler. In Japan, the emperor had only loose control over the semi-independent uji.

During the 7th and 8th centuries, Japanese rulers adopted a Chinese style of government. Japanese tradition credits Prince Shotoku with starting this development. Borrowing Confucian ideas, the prince created ranks for government officials. In 604, he issued a set of guidelines called the Seventeen Article Constitution. The guidelines stated that the emperor was the supreme ruler: “In a country there are not two lords; the people have not two masters. The sovereign is the master of the people of the whole country.”

Later rulers went much further in bringing Chinese-style changes to Japan. In the late 7th century, Emperor Tenmu and his wife and successor Empress Jitō reformed and strengthened the central government. Control of the land was taken away from clan leaders and given to the emperor. The emperor then redistributed the land to all free men and women. In return, people paid heavy taxes to support the imperial government.

By the 700s, Japan’s imperial government looked much as China’s did. It was strongly centralized and supported by a large bureaucracy. Over time, however, one key difference emerged. Prince Shotoku had called for government officials to be chosen on the basis of their ability, as in China. But during the 9th century, a powerful aristocracy developed in Japan. As a result, members of noble families held all the high positions in the government.

Religion: Buddhism Comes to Japan

Buddhism began in India in the 500s B.C.E. About one thousand years later, it came to Japan from China by way of Korea.

Japan’s original religion was Shinto. This religion expresses the love and respect of the Japanese for nature. Its followers worship spirits called kami. Kami are impressive natural objects, such as wind, lightning, rivers, mountains, waterfalls, large trees, and unusual stones. So are the emperor and other special people.

Instead of emphasizing a code of morality, Shinto stresses purifying whatever is unclean, such as dirt, wounds, and disease. Touching the dead also makes one unclean. Most of all, however, Shintoists celebrate life and the beauty of nature.

Mahayana Buddhism arrived in Japan in 552 when a Korean king sent the Japanese emperor a statue of the Buddha and a recommendation for the new religion. The statue arrived at the emperor’s court surrounded by chanting monks, books of prayer, gongs, and banners.

After a fierce controversy, the emperor and his court adopted the new religion. They admired its wisdom and rituals, and they considered the Buddha a protector of families and the nation. Later rulers, such as Prince Shotoku, learned more about Buddhism through Korean monks and teachers.

Buddhism did not replace Shinto. Instead, both religions thrived and even blended.

Writing: Applying Chinese Characters to the Japanese Language

Ancient Japanese was only a spoken language. The Japanese had no writing system of their own. Written documents were in Chinese, a language the Japanese had learned from Korean scholars. Over time, however, the Japanese adapted Chinese characters, or written symbols, to write their own language.

First, Japanese scholars began using kanji, or “Chinese writing,” to write Japanese words. Kanji allowed the Japanese to keep records, record legends, and develop their own literature. But using Chinese characters to read and write Japanese was difficult. The two languages have different grammar, sounds, and pronunciations.

By 900, the Japanese invented kana. In Japanese, kana means “borrowed letters.” In kana, simplified Chinese characters represent Japanese syllables. Kana allowed the Japanese to spell out the sounds of their own language. As a result, they were able to write freely in Japanese. Both kanji and kana are still part of written Japanese.



Literature: Adapting Chinese Poetic Form

The earliest literary works in Japan are poems that date from the seventh and eighth centuries. Using Chinese characters, Japanese poets developed a form of poetry called tanka. This form developed out of songs from Japan’s oral tradition.

Tanka is based on the number of syllables in each line. Each short poem has 31 syllables, divided into five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables. The poems are often devoted to love and to the beauty of nature.

Try to count the syllables in this Japanese tanka. On the right is an English translation. Has the translator kept to the tanka form?



Haru tateba
When spring comes

Kiyuru koori no
The melting ice


Nokori naku
Leaves no trace;


Kimi ga kokoro mo
Would that your heart too


Ware ni tokenan
Melted thus toward me.

Architecture: Adapting Temple Designs

New forms of temple design came to Japan from India by way of China. Like sculpture, temple architecture evolved as it moved east. In India, Buddhist monasteries featured shrines called stupas with roofs shaped like bells or inverted bowls. The Chinese replaced the bell shape with a series of stories and curved roofs, creating structures called pagodas. These towerlike buildings always had three, five, seven, or nine roofs.

When Buddhism arrived in Japan, the Japanese adopted the pagoda design. For Buddhist worship, Prince Shotoku founded the Horyuji, a magnificent temple in Nara. Its wooden buildings included a hall for worship and a pagoda. Lofty pagodas soon appeared all around the capital city. They were intended to contain relics of the Buddha and of bodhisattvas, as well.

Buddhist pagodas may have inspired Shinto priests to build their own permanent shrines. Shinto shrines reflected Japan’s agricultural society and the Japanese love of nature. Based on the idea of the raised storehouse, a symbol of plenty, these shrines had raised floors and thatched roofs. Unpainted and undecorated, they blended in with their natural surroundings.



Yamato Japan

The kingdom of Yamato, centered in western Honshu in Japan, developed from the late Yayoi culture in the third century CE The Yamato state, over a period of four centuries, saw the development of an increasingly powerful civilization that grew in tandem with the Three Kingdoms of Korea and, finally, with Tang China.

In cementing control over their kingdom, Yamato kings of the fifth century relied on two major social groupings, the uji, or clan, and the be, or specialist group. Both were under the control of the kabane, a title given to their hereditary head by the king. There were several ranks of kabane, ranging from village headmen to high officials of state. Uji formed the backbone of the agricultural system that sustained the central court; the be were specialists, living in specific locations, and provided goods or performed tasks needed by the central authority.

Mongol Invasions

The Mongols, made two attempts to invade and conquer Japan. Kublai Khan demanded in a letter sent to the "King of Japan" in 1268 that the Japanese pay tribute to the Yuan dynasty. This and subsequent missives were ignored by the Japanese government. As a result, Kublai Khan made his first attempt to invade Japan in 1274. Soon after a successful landing, much of the Mongol army and its fleet of ships were destroyed by a typhoon

In 1281, the second invasion occurred. This time, two large armies were dispatched. After a brief occupation, a typhoon once again destroyed much of the invading army and navy. And once again, the Mongols were forced to retreat to the continent. The typhoons that destroyed the Mongols on these two occasions came to be known as "divine winds" (kamikaze). The Japanese believed that the Shinto gods (kami) had furnished divine protection.

Code of the Samurai

I. Rectitude or Justice

Justice is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand.

II. Courage

Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness and Rectitude.

III. Benevolence or Mercy

A man invested with the power to command and the power to kill was expected to demonstrate equally extraordinary powers of benevolence and mercy.



IV. Politeness

Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist as distinctive Japanese traits. But Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others

V. Honesty and Sincerity

Bushido encouraged thrift, not for economical reasons so much as for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severe simplicity was required of the warrior class … the counting machine and abacus were abhorred.



VI. Honor

The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. Fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every samurai

VII. Loyalty

Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era.

VIII. Character and Self-Control

Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference. Finally, it is a man’s obligation to teach his children moral standards through the model of his own behavior:


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