Nara period


Nara period
(710–794)
   The Nara period is a relatively short period of Japanese history in which Chinese culture remained influential while, at the same time, Japan began to advance its own unique cultural identity. Empress Gemmei established the capital at Nara (Heijo kyo), a planned city laid out on a grid in imitation of the TANG capital of Changan.Modeling Chinese Confucian practice, the Japanese launched a highly centralized government explained in Prince Shotoku’s Seventeen-Article Constitution. Concentrated efforts by the imperial court to record and document itself produced the first works of Japanese history, the Kojiki (712) and the Nihon Shoki (720). Chinese Buddhism continued to be promoted, and Emperor Shomu (724–749) erected the Todai-ji, a huge wooden temple that houses an especially impressive Buddha. Because most of Japanese society was rural and practiced Shinto, it was at this time that the urban Buddhist ruling class became alienated from the common people.
   A number of distinctly Japanese achievements occurred during the Nara Period. MAN’YOSHU (Anthology of a Myriad Leaves) (759) is the first collection of native poetry in Japanese literature. It is written using a syllabary in which Chinese characters serve as phonetic symbols of syllables rather than of words. Chinese characters were used to express sounds of Japanese until the Kana script was invented in the later Nara Period.With the spread of written language, the distinctly Japanese poetic form, the waka, appeared. The traditional methods of hanging and horizontal Japanese scroll painting, which incorporated both image and word, were established as well.
   Bibliography
   ■ Keene, Donald. Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1993.
   ■ Sansom, George B. A History of Japan to 1334. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1958.
   Cynthia Ho

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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