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The Nara Period
Transcript of The Nara Period
A presentation by Merna Ayoub, Scott Horton, and Ty Vilchis
The Nara Period Begins
710 - 794
Overwhelmingly, the common people live in villages and lead a rural lifestyle.
Predominant religion: Shinto
in 710 AD
capital is established at Nara
Emperor Shōmu Embraces Buddhism
Let's Import China!
Buddhism Gets Big
Written Language Takes Off
Let's All Be Like China
Established a system of provincial temples
Commissioned the Great Eastern Temple and its enormous bronze Buddha
(the closest anyone ever came to officially making Japan a Buddhist state)
Ruled 724 - 749
The population soon grew to around 200,000 (7% of the country's total)
10,000 residents worked in government (5% of the city)
Coins were minted, but rarely used away from the capital
Site of the Great Eastern Temple, completed in 752
Nara: Japan's First Urban Center
Several historically significant works, both poetry and historical records, were produced in this period
One Million Pagodas and Dharani Prayers (Hyakumantou Darani)
Commissioned by Empress Kouhen, one million prayers were printed by woodblock, placed inside one million wooden pagodas, and given to Buddhist temples across Japan
They are the earliest known printed works from Japan; some still survive today
1) What city was the capital of Japan during (most of) the Nara Period?
2) Give an example of something Emperor Shōmu (who ruled from 724 until
749) did to promote Buddhism in Japan.
3) The two earliest works of Japanese literature were produced during the
Nara period. What was the subject of these works?
4) Man'yōgana is an early Japanese writing system named for a poetry
collection published in the Nara period, which used it. In a sentence,
what is the basic idea behind Man'yōgana?
5) Which foreign country had the greatest influence on Japanese law and
culture during the Nara period?
1) How might history be different if Emperor Shomu had not favored Buddhism?
2) In your opinion, how closely related was China's influence over Japan to the lack of any
convenient writing system for vernacular Japanese?
Chinese writing (kanji)
Chinese religion (Buddhism)
The Kojiki and Nihongi
Earliest works of Japanese literature
Kojiki, 712 AD; Nihongi, 720 AD
They begin with creation, and so are important texts in Shinto
Written in Classical Chinese (with some transliteration notes for the songs)
Oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry
Literally "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves" but the title is really "collection of countless words."
The Man'yōshū is important for using one of the earliest Japanese writing systems, the cumbersome man'yōgana.
A precursor to hiragana, this system uses Chinese characters purely for their sound
Published 759 AD
Chinese everything else!
Chinese law - the Yōrō code
(a revision of the Taihō code) was based on Tang dynasty law
A reconstructed mission ship like the ones sent to the Tang dynasty in the 8th century
Missions were sent to Tang China every twenty years - scholars would return having studied Chinese art, religion, medicine, etc.