5. Buddhism blossoms in Asuka

Lasting just a little over a hundred years, the Asuka Era stretches from 593 A.D. from Empress Suiko’s accession to the throne of Toyura no miya Shrine at the end of the 6th Century until Empress Genmei relocated the capital to Heijokyo (Nara) in A.D. 710.

The Asuka Period marked an era when Buddhism blossomed in Japan. Tumulus-building activities of the earlier age were replaced by temple and capital building efforts.

It was a time for the development of new politics, economy, society, and reforms. Japan evolved from the old Yamato administration and the allied clans to an Imperial system (based on the legal codes of the Nara and Heian era) — so the era is considered to be one of the formation of an ancient autocratic state. 

During this period,  the governments and cultural centers were all located within Asuka, which is why these days of this political period are collectively referred to as “the Asuka Era”.

Although the capital was moved frequently, the beginning of the Asuka era is associated with the Suiko Dynasty’s Toyura no miya Shrine and Oharita no miya Shrine, with most of the succeeding Shrines staying within the Asuka region (with only three capitals moving outside of Asuka).

The three eras – Naniwa no miya Shrine’s Emperor Koutoku and Tenchi, and Oumiootsu no miya Shrine’s Emperor Koubun’s eras -lasted less than 15 years, all the while maintaining the Rusu no Tsukasa Shrine in Asuka (Shrine of Absence). Therefore Asuka was never abandonned completely.

A time of internal conflict, a time of change

The Asuka Era followed on from the important events of the spread of Buddhism to Japan from China and Korea. The Tumulus Period was politically a relatively unstable period where the Royal or Imperial authority was concerned, owing to the constant disputes between clans which had conflicts of interest and power struggles.

The introduction of Buddhism set off a protracted series of clan wars between the great Soga and Mononobe clans. The political battles eventually ended with the Soga clan’s success and domination.

The feverish Buddhism-driven construction activities transformed Asuka, transformed Japan. They built temples and Buddhist cloisters, Chinese-style compounds.  They built tall imposing pagodas and palaces. The buildings with their white walls and vermillion-painted columns, and white walls and green windows, and grand roof tiles made a striking sight for all who lived or visited the capital. Central government offices sprang all over the Asuka. Immigrants flooded the city, coveted for their skills. Many were from Paekche kingdom from the Korean peninsula and the direct influence of Paekche could be found everywhere one turned. 

The Chinese system of writing was known to have been in use in Japan in the 6th century, but the earliest existing inscriptions were from the 7th century found on the halos of Buddhist images, and on mokkan (wooden tallies used for recording the receipt of goods excavated from the Asuka no Itabuki Palace which was occupied by Empress Kogyoku /Saimei). Because written materials became more numerous during this time, Asuka period has been traditionally regarded as the beginning of the historic period in Japan.

2 responses to “5. Buddhism blossoms in Asuka

  1. Why did they easily accept Buddhism and abandon their Shinto religion? Was it politics?

    • Buddhism wasn’t so “easily” accepted … as mentioned in the text there was a period of ” protracted series of clan wars between the great Soga and Mononobe clans”. The political battles eventually ended with the Soga clan’s success and domination” so you could say the Soga clan’s political manoeuvres paved the way to Buddhism. It has also been suggested by some academics that imperial clans such as the Soga that had foreign connections and lineages from the continent needed a grander religion with a more universally appealing deity figure than the usual local and regional clan deities to give them a higher mandate to rule … hence what followed was the introduction of the grander temples of Buddhism (introducing new architecture and associated material technologies). These seem to have given the imperial clans their higher mandate to rule. Note the first temples in Japan were built by the Soga clan, later they came under broader imperial patronage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s