meditation. Following the path leads to enlightenment, or seeing the world as it really is. Those who achieve enlightenment can enter nirvana, a state of perfect peace. They will never be born again into a life of suffering.
By finding the path to enlightenment, Siddhartha became the Buddha, or “enlightened one.” As Buddhism spread through India, a new form arose, called Mahayana, or “Greater Vehicle.” This name symbolizes a core teaching of Mahayana: that all people can reach nirvana. Its followers believe in bodhisattvas, buddhas who can enter nirvana but choose instead to help others reach enlightenment. These godlike spirits live in different paradises. Worshipers pray to them in hopes of being reborn into one of these paradises themselves. It is this form of Buddhism that spread along trade routes to China. The influence of Chinese culture brought Buddhism to Korea.
Mahayana 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. The emperor was not quite sure what to make of it. “The countenance [expression] of this Buddha,” he said, “is of a severe dignity such as we have never at all seen before. Ought it to be worshiped or not?”
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 magical protector of families and the nation. Later rulers, such as Prince Shotoku, learned more about Buddhism through contact with China.
Buddhism did not replace Shinto. Instead, both religions thrived and even blended together. Buddhists built shrines to kami, and Shintoists enshrined bodhisattvas. Even today, ceremonies to celebrate birth and marriage often come from Shinto, the joyful religion. Funeral ceremonies are Buddhist, the religion that acknowledges suffering and pain. (Caption)
In this painted scroll from Nara, people sit in meditation or prayer near a Buddhist temple. (Vocabulary)
meditation a spiritual discipline that involves deep relaxation and an emptying of distracting thoughts from the mind Page 224
20.6 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 (symbols) to write their own language.
First, Japanese scholars began using kanji, or “Chinese writing,” to write Japanese words. Kanji enabled 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 (“borrowed letters”). This way of writing used simplified Chinese characters to stand for syllables in Japanese words. 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 today. 20.7 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 poetic form was modeled after Chinese poetry.
Tanka is based on having a set number of syllables in each line of a poem. Each short poem had 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
Kana was used by many women writers. This scroll is called “Questions of a Virtuous Woman.” (Vocabulary)
syllable a unit of sound in a word; for example, unit has two syllables, “u” and “nit” Page 225
20.8 Sculpture: Carving Techniques Travel to Japan from China and Korea
Like Buddhism, new techniques and subjects of sculpture came to Japan from Korea and China. And like Buddhism, these sculptural ideas began their journey in India.
Archeologists have found examples of early Japanese sculpture around burial mounds that date to the fourth and fifth centuries. The sculptures are clay figures of armored warriors, saddled horses, robed ladies, and objects like houses and boats. They were probably meant to accompany or protect the dead.
Meanwhile, Buddhism was inspiring new subjects for sculpture on the Asian mainland. As these ideas moved east, sculptors’ techniques and materials gradually changed. You can see this in the work of three different artists—one Chinese, one Korean, and one Japanese—shown here.
At the top, from China, is a stone image of the Buddha. The Chinese began carving images like these on cave walls near the end of the fifth century. Notice the faint smile, the way the hand touches the face, and the waterfall pattern of the folds in the clothing. The figure’s position and gestures identify him as the Buddha of the future, whose arrival will begin a golden age.
The second statue was fashioned by a Korean artist. This time the Buddha has been cast in bronze. How is this statue similar to the stone carving from China? In what ways is it different?
From the middle of the sixth century to the middle of the seventh century, Chinese and Korean immigrants created most of Japan’s religious art. Japanese artists learned new techniques from them.
The third statue is located near Horyuji Temple in Nara. It was carved by a Japanese artist in the seventh century. Although the Japanese understood bronze working, sculptors in Japan preferred to work in wood. In this case, the artist has covered the wooden statue with gold leaf. As in the other statues, the Buddha’s clothing falls into a waterfall pattern. But the Japanese artist has added original touches, like the sweetness of the Buddha’s smile and the gentle, graceful way he touches his chin. (Caption)
These three statues of the Buddha were created by Chinese (top), Korean (center), and Japanese artists. What similarities and differences can you see in the statues? Page 226
20.9 Architecture: Adapting Temple Designs with Roots in India and China
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 upside-down 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 were soon built all over the capital. They were intended to contain relics of the Buddha and bodhisattvas.
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, they had raised floors and thatched roofs. Unpainted and undecorated, they blended in with their natural surroundings. 20.10 Music: Adopting New Music and Instruments from China
Japan’s native music consisted of chanted poems, war songs, folk songs, and Shinto prayers. All were recited, using just a few notes. Sculpted clay figures from early Japan show musicians playing the cither (a stringed instrument), flutes, and percussion instruments.
As contacts with the Asian mainland increased, the Japanese imported music from the rest of Asia, especially China. Gagaku, a form of Chinese court music, arrived in Japan in the sixth century. Gagaku is still sometimes played in Japan, much as it was in China 1,500 years ago.
New kinds of music required new musical instruments. One of the most interesting was a wind instrument the Chinese called a sheng. The Japanese pronounced the name sho. The sho was a type of mouth organ. It was designed to look like a phoenix, a mythical bird. Its sound was said to imitate the call of the phoenix. (Caption)
This five-storied pagoda, part of Horyuji Temple, is over 100 feet tall. (Caption)
This modern-day quartet is playing some of the traditional musical instruments of gagaku. (Vocabulary)
pagoda a tower-shaped structure with several stories and roofs Page 227
20.11 Chapter Summary
From the sixth to the ninth centuries, the Japanese acquired and adapted elements of other Asian cultures. Objects, ideas, and customs came to Japan from India, China, and Korea.
From China, the Japanese borrowed the idea of a strong central government supported by a bureaucracy. To house the imperial government, they built a new capital modeled after China’s capital city.
Buddhism, which began in India, came to Japan from China by way of Korea. Buddhism strongly influenced Japanese religion, art, and architecture.
Koreans introduced the Japanese to Chinese writing. The Japanese invented kanji and kana to write Japanese words and sounds with Chinese characters. Poets used Chinese characters to write tanka, a type of poetry based on Chinese models.
Like Buddhism, ideas about sculpture traveled from India to Korea and China, and then to Japan. Similarly, India’s stupas inspired Chinese pagodas. Japan then adapted this architectural style. Finally, new kinds of music and instruments came to Japan from China.
All of these cultural elements blended into Japan’s unique civilization. In the next chapter, you will learn about the Golden Age of Japanese culture. (Caption)
This scroll from the 12th century illustrates a Japanese minister’s trip to China. Page 229
Heian-kyo: The Heart of Japan’s Golden Age (Caption)
This scene from The Tale of Genji illustrates the luxurious lifestyle of the Heian period. 21.1 Introduction
In Chapter 20, you learned that other Asian cultures influenced Japan. Now you’ll see how a uniquely Japanese culture flowered from the 9th to the 12th centuries.
As you have learned, Japan is close enough to the mainland of Asia to be affected by cultural ideas from the continent. At the same time, the waters separating Japan from the mainland helped protect the Japanese from conquest by other Asian peoples. As a result, Japan remained politically independent and had the chance to develop its own civilization.
For most of the 8th century, the city of Nara was Japan’s imperial capital. During this time, contacts with China brought many new cultural ideas to Japan. Then, in 794, the emperor Kammu moved the capital to Heian-kyo. (Kyo means city in Japanese.) This event marks the start of the Heian period, which lasted until 1185.
The Heian period is often called Japan’s Golden Age. During this time, aristocrats led a great flourishing of Japanese culture. The aristocrats prized beauty, elegance, and correct manners. Over time, they developed new forms of literature and art. Poets wrote delicately about feelings and the fragile beauties of nature. Court women composed diaries and other types of nonfiction. Painters and sculptors invented new styles of art. Performers entertained the court with new kinds of music, dance, and drama.
The brilliant culture of the Heian period still influences Japanese art and life today. In this chapter, you will learn more about Japan’s Golden Age. You’ll look at how Heian aristocrats lived and how they created new kinds of Japanese art and literature. (Caption)
Use this illustration as a graphic organizer to help remember what life was like for a Japanese noble during Japan’s Golden Age. Page 230
21.2 A New Capital
During the 8th century, the Buddhist priests of Nara gained a great deal of influence over the Japanese court. In 784, the emperor Kammu decided to move his capital away from Nara, in part because he thought the priests’ power was damaging to the government. The emperor also wanted a larger, grander city for his capital.
The first site Kammu chose was Nagaoka, about 30 miles from Nara. But the move was troubled from early on. As money poured in to build the new city, rumors of corruption flew. People said the land had been acquired through a deal with a rich Chinese family. The site also seemed to be unlucky, because the emperor’s family suffered illnesses at this time. In 794, the emperor stopped work on the city. Once again he ordered that the capital be moved.
This time Kammu chose a village on the Yodo River. The site was both lovelier than Nagaoka and easier to protect from attacks. Kammu began building a new city he called Heian-kyo, “The Capital of Peace and Tranquility.”
Heian-kyo became the first truly Japanese city. Today it is called Kyoto. Like Nara, Heian-kyo was laid out in a checkerboard pattern like the Chinese city of Chang’an. Built on a grand scale, the walled city was lovely and elegant. It was set in forested hills, amid streams, waterfalls, and lakes. It had wide, tree-lined streets. Shrines and temples blended with the area’s natural beauty.
Heian-kyo’s crisscrossing streets were modeled after those of Chang’an, but the city’s architecture was Japanese. In the center of the city were palaces and government offices. Wealthy Heian families lived in mansions surrounded by beautiful gardens with artificial lakes. The grounds of each home covered three to four acres and were enclosed by a white stone wall.
Inside the mansions, large rooms were divided by screens or curtains and connected with open-air covered hallways. Simplicity was considered beautiful, so there were few objects on the wood floors other than straw mats and cushions. The Japanese did not use chairs.
Daily life was very formal, and correct manners were extremely important. For example, a Heian lady sat behind a portable screen. The screen hid her from view while she talked and took part in life around the house. An unmarried lady would permit her suitor to see past the screen only after a romance had become serious. (Caption)
Phoenix Hall was once part of a grand temple near Heian-kyo. (Vocabulary)
corruption dishonest or illegal practices, especially involving money Page 231
21.3 The Rise of the Fujiwara Family
During much of the Heian period, aristocrats were the political and cultural leaders of Japan. By the mid-9th century, the real power in the imperial court shifted from the emperor to aristocratic families. The most important of these noble families were the Fujiwara, who controlled Japan for nearly 300 years.
The Fujiwara were never actually rulers. The Japanese believed that the emperor’s family was descended from Japan’s sun goddess. This gave the royal family a special right to govern. But the Fujiwara had other ways of exercising power.
First, beginning in 858, the Fujiwara married many of their young daughters into the royal family. They also made sure that sons of Fujiwara royal wives were chosen to be emperors. Second, the Fujiwara acted as advisors to the emperor. In reality they had more power than the rulers they guided. They often coaxed older emperors to retire so that a child or youth could take the throne. Then the Fujiwara ruled as regents in the young emperor’s name.
The most successful Fujiwara leader was Fujiwara Michinaga, who led Japan from 995 to 1028. He never had an official role in the government. However, this smart, ambitious man had the respect of all around him. He was the father-in-law of four emperors and the grandfather of three more. He lived in great wealth and luxury. Michinaga rightly said, “This world, I think, is indeed my world.”
Michinaga is one of the best-known people in Japan’s history. During his time in power, the Fujiwara family became even richer. They built palaces, mansions, and temples. After Michinaga’s death, his son built a famous temple that came to be called Phoenix Hall. It likely earned this name because it was shaped like a bird in flight. Part of the temple still stands today as a beautiful reminder of Japan’s Golden Age.
The Fujiwara family used their power to better their own lives. However, they also kept peace in Japan for nearly three centuries. This peace helped Japanese culture blossom during the Heian period. (Caption)
Fujiwara Michinaga, one of the most powerful leaders during Japan’s Golden Age, was very wealthy. In this page from the diary of Lady Murasaki, Michinaga is entertained by boats on a large pond at his home. Page 232
21.4 Social Position in the Heian Court
Rank was highly important during the Heian period. A person’s rank was determined almost completely by what family he or she came from. Being born into a high-ranking family mattered more than personal qualities or skills.
There were nine main ranks in the Heian court hierarchy. High court nobles filled the top three ranks. These nobles were appointed by the emperor, and they dealt directly with him. Less important officials filled the fourth and fifth ranks. Nobles in all these ranks received profits from rice farms throughout the countryside. They also received money from taxes paid by peasant farmers. The sixth through the ninth ranks were filled by minor officials, clerks, and experts in such fields as law and medicine.
The nine main ranks were divided into classes such as senior and junior, upper and lower. In all, there were some 30 subranks. Each rank brought with it specific privileges and detailed rules about conduct. Members of different ranks had different types of houses and carriages. Rank determined the number of servants people had and even the number of folds in the fans they carried. Men of the first, second, and third ranks carried fans with 25 folds. Men of the fourth and fifth ranks used fans with 23 folds. The fans of those in lower ranks had 12 folds.
This precise ranking system also determined such matters as what color clothing a noble could wear and the height of the gatepost in front of his family’s home. In addition, if a person was found guilty of a crime, rank determined how harsh the sentence would be. (Caption)
Noble women in higher ranks had servants to help them with their personal needs from morning to night. Page 233
21.5 Beauty and Fashion During the Heian Period
Heian society prized beauty, elegance, and fashion. To be described as yoki (good), people had to come from an important family. They also had to look nice and be sensitive to beauty in nature, poetry, and art. Individuals were judged by how good their taste was. The ability to recognize beauty was valued over qualities like generosity and honesty.
Both men and women groomed themselves with great care. Small, pointed beards were considered attractive on male courtiers. For women, long hair was an important beauty feature. Ideally, a woman’s hair would grow longer than she was tall.
The Japanese of this time considered white teeth unattractive, so both men and women carefully blackened their teeth. They used a dye made from iron and other ingredients soaked in tea or vinegar. How one smelled was also very significant, so both men and women wore scents. Perfume competitions were frequent and popular. People guarded their scent recipes carefully.
For women, makeup was also important. Women used white face powder to make themselves look very pale. Over the chalky powder, a Heian woman put touches of red on her cheeks. Then she painted on a small red mouth. She also plucked out her eyebrows and painted on a set in just the right spot on her forehead.
A woman’s clothing needed to be beautiful. An aristocratic woman might wear as many as 12 silk under-robes at a time. When she rode in a carriage, she might dangle a wrist so that people could see the lovely layers of colored silk.
The love of beauty also showed in Heian architecture, calligraph, poetry, and artwork. Concern with form and beauty was so great that courtiers sometimes performed stylized dances as part of their official duties. (Caption)