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Package Tour to Japan
Nara and Heian Periods (710 - 1185)
In the year 710, the first permanent Japanese capital was
established in Nara, a city modelled after the Chinese capital.
Large Buddhist monasteries were built in the new capital. The
monasteries quickly gained such strong political influence that, in
order to protect the position of the emperor and central
government, the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784, and finally
to Heian (Kyoto) in 794 where it should remain for over one
One characteristic of the Nara and Heian periods is a gradual
decline of Chinese influence which, nevertheless, remained strong.
Many of the imported ideas were gradually "Japanized". In order
to meet particular Japanese needs, several governmental offices
were established in addition to the government system which was
copied after the Chinese model, for example. In the arts too,
native Japanese movements became increasingly popular. The
development of the Kana syllables made the creation of actual
Japanese literature possible. Several new Buddhist sects that were
imported from China during the Heian period, were also
Among the worst failures of the Taika reforms were the land and
taxation reforms: High taxes resulted in the impoverishment of
many farmers who then had to sell their properties and became
tenants of larger land owners. Furthermore, many aristocrats and
the Buddhist monasteries succeeded in achieving tax immunity.
As a result, the state income decreased, and over the centuries, the
political power steadily shifted from the central government to
the large independent land owners.
The Fujiwara family controlled the political scene of the Heian
period over several centuries through strategic intermarriages with
the imperial family and by occupying all the important political
offices in Kyoto and the major provinces. The power of the clan
reached its peak with Fujiwara Michinaga in the year 1016. After
Michinaga, however, the ability of the Fujiwara leaders began to
decline, and public order could not be maintained. Many land
owners hired samurai for the protection of their properties. That
is how the military class became more and more influential,
especially in Eastern Japan.
The Fujiwara supremacy came to an end in 1068 when the new
emperor Go-Sanjo was determined to rule the country by himself,
and the Fujiwara failed to control him. In the year 1086 Go-Sanjo
abdicated but continued to rule from behind the political stage.
This new form of government was called Insei government. Insei
emperors exerted political power from 1086 until 1156 when
Taira Kiyomori became the new leader of Japan.
Early Japan (until 710)
During the Jomon Period (13000 BC to 300
BC), the inhabitants of the Japanese islands
were gatherers, fishers and hunters. Jomon is
the name of the era's pottery.
During the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD),
the rice culture was imported into Japan
around 100 BC. With the introduction of
agriculture, social classes started to evolve, and
parts of the country began to unite under
powerful land owners. Chinese travellers
during the Han and Wei dynasties reported
that a queen called Himiko (or Pimiku) reigned
over Japan at that time. The Yayoi period
brought also the introduction of iron and other
modern ideas from Korea into Japan. Again,
its pottery gave the period its name.
By the beginning of the Kofun Period (300 -
538), a center of power had developed in the
fertile Kinai plain, and by about 400 AD the
country was united as Yamato Japan with its
political center in and around the province of
Yamato (about today's Nara prefecture). The
period's name comes from the large tombs
(kofun) that were built for the political leaders
of that era. Yamato Japan extended from
Kyushu to the Kinai plain, but did not yet
include the Kanto, Tohoku and Hokkaido.
The emperor was ruler of Yamato Japan and
resided in a capital that was moved frequently
from one city to another. However, the Soga
clan soon took over the actual political power,
resulting in the fact that most of the emperors
only acted as the symbol of the state and
performed Shinto rituals.