Ancient Japan

Ancient Japan has made unique contributions to world culture which include the Shinto religion and its architecture, distinctive art objects such as haniwa figurines, the oldest pottery vessels in the world, the largest wooden buildings anywhere at their time of construction, and many literary classics including the world's first novel. Although Japan was significantly influenced by China and Korea, the islands were never subject to foreign political control and so were free to select those ideas which appealed to them, adapt them how they wished, and to continue with their indigenous cultural practices to create a unique approach to government, religion, and the arts.

Japan in Mythology

In Shinto mythology, the Japanese islands were created by the gods Izanami and Izanagi when they dipped a jewelled spear into the primordial sea. They also created over 800 kami or spirits, chief amongst which was the sun goddess Amaterasu, and so created the deities of Shinto, the indigenous religion of ancient Japan. Amaterasu's grandson Ninigi became the first ruler, and he was the great-grandfather of Japan's first emperor, the semi-legendary Emperor Jimmu (r. 660-585 BCE). Thus, a divine link was established between all subsequent emperors and the gods.

The Jomon Period

The first historical period of Japan is the Jomon Period which covers c. 14,500 to c. 300 BCE (although both the start and end dates for this period are disputed). The period's name derives from the distinctive pottery produced at that time, the oldest vessels in the world, which has simple rope-like decoration or jomon. It is the appearance of this pottery that marks the end of the previous period, the Palaeolithic Age (30,000 years ago) when people crossed now lost land bridges from mainland Asia to the northern and southern Japanese islands. They then spread to the four main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, and eventually to the several hundred smaller islands that make up Japan. The production of pottery does not necessarily signify communities lived in fixed settlements, and for the majority of this time period, people would have continued to live a hunter-gatherer existence using wood and stone tools.

The first signs of agriculture appear c. 5000 BCE & the earliest known settlement at Sannai-Maruyama dates to c. 3500 BCE.

The first signs of agriculture appear c. 5000 BCE and the earliest known settlement at Sannai-Maruyama dates to c. 3500 BCE and lasts until c. 2000 BCE. Populations seem to have concentrated in coastal areas and numbered somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 across the islands. There is evidence of rice c. 1250 BCE, but its cultivation was likely not until c. 800 BCE. The first evidence of growing rice in wet fields dates to c. 600 BCE. Skeletons from the period indicate people of muscular build with wide square faces and an average height of 1.52 m (5 ft) for females and 1.60 m (5 ft 3 inches) for males. Genetic and cranial studies suggest that Jomon people are the ancestors of the present-day minority group, the Ainu.

The most common burial type of the period is in pits, sometimes lined with stone slabs, which contain one or more individuals. Other types of burial include single individuals in jars and large pits containing up to 100 skeletons. Artefacts discovered relating to the Jomon Period include clay and stone human-shaped figurines, clay masks, stone rods, and clay, stone, and jade jewellery (beads and earrings). Archaeology has also revealed the Jomon built ritual structures of stone circles, lines of stones forming arrow shapes, and single tall standing stones surrounded by a cluster of smaller stones.

The Yayoi Period

The Yayoi Period covers c. 300 BCE to c. 250 CE, although, as mentioned above, the start date is being pushed back as more discoveries are made in archaeology. The name derives from the reddish pottery first found in the Yayoi district of Tokyo, which indicated a development from the pottery of the Jomon Period. From around 400 BCE (or even earlier) migrants began to arrive from continental Asia, especially the Korean peninsula, probably driven by the wars caused by Chinese expansion and between rival kingdoms.

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The new arrivals conquered or integrated with the indigenous peoples, as indicated by genetic evidence, and they brought with them new pottery, bronze, iron and improved metalworking techniques which produced more efficient farming tools and better weaponry and armour.

With improved agricultural management, society was able to develop with specialised trades and professions (and consequent markets for trade appeared), ritual practices using such distinctive items as dotaku bronze bells, social classes of varying prosperity, and an established ruling class who governed over alliances of clan groups which eventually formed small kingdoms. Chinese sources note the frequency of warfare in Japan between rival kingdoms, and archaeology has revealed the remains of fortified villages. The population of Japan by the end of the period may have been as high as 4.5 million.

Japan was beginning its first attempts at international relations by the end of the period. Envoys and tribute were sent to the Chinese commanderies in northern Korea by the Wa, as the confederation of small states in southern and western Japan were then known, the most important of which was Yamato. These missions are recorded in 57 and 107 CE. One Japanese ruler known to have sent embassies to Chinese territory (238, 243, and c. 248 CE) and the most famous figure of the period was Queen Himiko (r. c.189-248 CE). Ruling over 100 kingdoms (or perhaps just the monarch of the most powerful one), the queen never married and lived in a castle served by 1,000 women. Himiko was also a shamaness, embodying the dual role of ruler and high priest, which would have been common in the period. That a woman could perform either of both roles is an indicator of the more favourable attitude to women in ancient Japan before Chinese culture became more influential from the 7th century CE.

The Kofun Period

The Kofun Period covers c. 250 to 538 CE and is named after the large burial mounds which were constructed at that time. Sometimes the period is referred to as the Yamato Period (c. 250-710 CE) as that was then the dominant state or region, either incorporating rival regions into its own domain or, as in the case of chief rival Izumo, conquering through warfare. The exact location of Yamato is not known for certain, but most historians agree it was in the Nara region.

From the 4th century CE there was a significant influx of people from the Korean peninsula, especially the Baekje kingdom & Gaya Confederation.

From the 4th century CE there was a significant influx of people from the Korean peninsula, especially the Baekje (Paekche) kingdom and Gaya (Kaya) Confederation. These may have been the horse-riding warriors of the controversial 'horse-rider theory' which claims that Japan was conquered by Koreans and was no more than a vassal state. It seems unlikely a total conquest did actually occur (and some sources controversially suggest the reverse and that Japan had established a colony in southern Korea), but it is more certain that Koreans held high government positions and even mixed with the imperial bloodline. Whatever the political relationship between Korea and Japan at this time, there was certainly an influx of Korean manufactured goods, raw materials such as iron, and cultural ideas which came via Korean teachers, scholars, and artists travelling to Japan. They brought with them elements of Chinese culture such as writing, classic Confucian texts, Buddhism, weaving, and irrigation, as well as Korean ideas in architecture. There were also envoys to China in 425 CE, 478 CE, and then 11 more up to 502 CE. Yamato Japan was establishing an international diplomatic presence.

The large burial mounds known as kofun are another link with mainland Asia as they were built for the elite in various states of the Korean peninsula. There are over 20,000 mounds across Japan, and they usually have a keyhole shape when seen from above; the largest examples measure several hundred metres across and are surrounded by a moat. Many of the tombs contain horse trappings which are not seen in previous burials and which add weight to contact with the Asian continental mainland. Another feature of kofun was the placement of large terracotta figurines of humans, animals, and even buildings called haniwa around and on top them, probably to act as guardians.

Kofun, built on a grander scale as time went on, are indicators that the Yamato rulers could command tremendous resources - both human and material. Ruling with a mixture of force and alliances with important clans or uji consolidated by intermarriages, the Yamato elite were well on their way to creating a centralised state proper. What was needed now was a better model of government with a fully functioning bureaucratic apparatus, and it would come from China.

The Asuka Period

The Asuka Period covers 538 to 710 CE. The name derives from the capital at that time, Asuka, located in the northern Nara prefecture. In 645 CE the capital was moved to Naniwa, and between 694 and 710 CE it was at Fujiwarakyo. Now we see the first firmly established historical emperor (as opposed to legendary or mythical rulers), Emperor Kimmei, who was 29th in the imperial line (r. 531-539 CE to 571 CE). The most significant ruler was Prince Shotoku who was regent until his death in 622 CE. Shotoku is credited with reforming and centralising government on the Chinese model by, amongst other things, creating his Seventeen Article Constitution, rooting out corruption and encouraging greater ties with China.

The next major political event of the Asuka period occurred in 645 CE when the founder of the Fujiwara clan, Fujiwara no Kamatari, staged a coup which took over power from the then dominant Soga clan. The new government was remodelled, again along Chinese lines, in a series of lasting reforms, known as the Taika Reforms, in which land was nationalised, taxes were to be paid in kind instead of labour, social ranks were recategorised, civil service entrance examinations were introduced, law codes were written, and the absolute authority of the emperor was established. Kamatari was made the emperor's senior minister and given the surname Fujiwara. This was the beginning of one of Japan's most powerful clans who would monopolise government until the 12th century CE.

Emperor Temmu (r. 672-686 CE) pruned the extended royal family so that only direct descendants could claim any right to the imperial throne in a move which would create more rival clan groups. Temmu selected Fujiwarakyo as the first proper Japanese capital which had a palace in the Chinese style and streets laid out in a regular grid pattern.

Perhaps the most significant development of the Asuka Period was not political but religious, with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan sometime in the 6th century CE, traditionally in 552 CE. It was officially adopted by Emperor Yomei and further encouraged by Prince Shotoku who built several impressive temples such as Horyuji. Buddhism was generally welcomed by Japan's elite as it helped raise Japan's cultural status as a developed nation in the eyes of their powerful neighbours Korea and China.

Shotoku had sent official embassies to the Sui court in China from c. 607 CE and they continued throughout the 7th century CE. However, relations with Japan's neighbours were not always amicable. The Silla kingdom overran its neighbour Baekje in 660 CE with the help of a massive Chinese Tang naval force. A rebel Baekje force persuaded Japan to send 800 ships to aid their attempt to regain control of their kingdom, but the joint force was defeated at the Battle of Baekgang in 663 CE. The success of the Unified Silla Kingdom resulted in another wave of immigrants entering Japan from the collapsed Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms.

The arts, meanwhile, flourished and have given rise to an alternative name, the Suiko Period (552-645 CE) after Empress Suiko (r. 592-628 CE). Literature and music following Chinese models were actively promoted by the court and artists were given tax reliefs.

The Nara Period

The Nara Period covers 710 to 794 CE and is so called because the capital was at Nara (Heijokyo) during that time and then moved briefly to Nagaokakyo in 784 CE. The capital was built on the Chinese model of Chang-an, the Tang capital and so had a regular and well-defined grid layout, and public buildings familiar to Chinese architecture. A sprawling royal palace, the Heijo, was built and the state bureaucracy was expanded to some 7,000 civil servants. The total population of Nara may have been as high as 200,000 by the end of the period.

Control of the central government over the provinces was increased by a heightened military presence throughout the islands of Japan, and Buddhism was further spread by Emperor Shomu's (r. 724-749 CE) project of building a temple in every province, a plan that raised taxation to brutal levels. Major temples were built at Nara, too, such as the Todaiji (752 CE) with its Great Buddha Hall, the largest wooden building in the world containing the largest bronze sculpture of the Buddha in the world. Shinto was represented by, amongst others, the Kasuga Taisha shrine in the forests outside the capital (710 or 768 CE) and the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine (711 CE) near Kyoto.

Japan also became more ambitious abroad and forged a strong relationship with Balhae (Parhae), the state in northern Korea and Manchuria. Japan sent 13 diplomatic embassies and Balhae 35 in return over the decades. Trade flourished with Japan exporting textiles and Balhae furs, silk, and hemp cloth. The two states plotted to invade the Unified Silla Kingdom, which now controlled the Korean peninsula, with a joint army with an attack in 733 CE involving a large Japanese fleet, but it came to nothing. Then a planned invasion of 762 CE never got off the generals' map board.

The Nara Period produced arguably the two most famous and important works of Japanese literature ever written: the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki histories with their creation myths, Shinto gods, and royal genealogies. There was also the Manyoshu poetry anthology, Japan's first of many, which was compiled c. 760 CE.

In contrast to the arts, the ordinary populace did anything but flourish. Agriculture still depended on primitive tools, not enough land was prepared for crops, and irrigation techniques were insufficient to prevent frequent crop failures and outbreaks of famine. Thus, most peasants preferred the greater security of working for landed aristocrats. On top of these woes, there were smallpox epidemics in 735 and 737 CE, which historians calculate reduced the country's population by 25-35%.

The court, besides facing these natural disasters, was low on funds after too many landed aristocrats and temples were given exemption from tax. Nara, too, was beset by internal conflicts for favours and positions amongst the aristocracy and politics was being unduly influenced by the Buddhist temples dotted around the city. Consequently, Emperor Kammu (r. 781-806 CE) changed the capital yet again, a move which heralded the next Golden period of Japanese history.

The Heian Period

The Heian Period covers 794 to 1185 CE and is named after the capital during that time, Heiankyo, known today as Kyoto. The new capital was laid out on a regular grid plan. The city had a wide central avenue and, like Nara before it, architecture followed Chinese models, at least for public buildings. The city had palaces for the aristocracy, and a large pleasure park was built south of the royal palace (Daidairi). No Heian buildings survive today except the Shishin-den (Audience Hall), which was burnt down but faithfully reconstructed, and the Daigoku-den (Hall of State), which suffered a similar fate and was rebuilt on a smaller scale at the Heian Shrine. From the 11th century CE the city's longtime informal name meaning simply 'the capital city' was officially adopted: Kyoto. It would remain the capital of Japan for a thousand years.

Kyoto was the centre of a government which consisted of the emperor, his high ministers, a council of state, and eight ministries, which, with the help of an extensive bureaucracy, ruled over some 7,000,000 people spread over 68 provinces. The vast majority of Japan's population worked the land, either for themselves or the estates of others. Burdened by banditry and excessive taxation, rebellions were not uncommon. By the 12th century CE 50% of land was held in private estates (shoen), and many of these, given special dispensation through favours or due to religious reasons, were exempt from paying tax, causing a serious dent in the state's finances.

At court the emperor, although still considered divine, became sidelined by powerful bureaucrats who all came from one family: the Fujiwara clan. Further weakening the royal position was the fact that many emperors took the throne as children and so were governed by a regent (Sessho), usually a representative of the Fujiwara family. When the emperor reached adulthood, he was still advised by a new position, the Kampaku, which ensured the Fujiwara still pulled the political strings of court. Emperor Shirakawa (r. 1073-1087 CE) attempted to assert his independence from the Fujiwara by abdicating in 1087 CE and allowing his son Horikawa to reign under his supervision. This strategy of 'retired' emperors still, in effect, governing, became known as 'cloistered government' (insei) as the emperor usually remained behind closed doors in a monastery. It added another wheel to the already complex machine of government.

Buddhism continued its dominance, helped by such noted scholar monks as Kukai (774-835 CE) and Saicho (767-822 CE), who both brought ideas and texts from China and founded the Shingon and Tendai Buddhist sects respectively. At the same time, Confucian and Taoist principles continued to be influential in government and the old Shinto and animist beliefs continued to hold sway over the general populace.

In foreign affairs, after 838 CE Japan became somewhat isolationist without any necessity to defend its borders or embark on territorial conquest. However, sporadic trade and cultural exchanges continued with China, as before. Goods imported from China included medicines, worked silk fabrics, books, ceramics, weapons, and musical instruments while Japan sent in return pearls, gold dust, amber, raw silk, and gilt lacquerware. Monks, scholars, students, musicians, and artists were sent to see what they could learn from the still more advanced culture of China.

The period is noted for its cultural achievements, which included the creation of a Japanese writing (kana) using Chinese characters, mostly phonetically, which permitted the production of the world's first novel, the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (c. 1020 CE), and several noted diaries (nikki) written by court ladies, including The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (c. 1002 CE). Another important work was the 905 CE Kokinshu poem anthology.

Visual arts were represented by screen paintings, hand scrolls of pictures and text (e-maki), and fine calligraphy. Painters and sculptors continued to use Buddhism as their inspiration, but gradually, a more wholly Japanese approach expanded the range of subject matter in art to ordinary people and places. A Japanese style, Yamato-e, developed in painting particularly, which distinguished it from Chinese works. It is characterised by more angular lines, the use of brighter colours and greater decorative details.

All of this artistic output at the capital was very fine, but in the provinces, new power-brokers were emerging. Left to their own devices and fuelled by blood from the minor nobility two important groups evolved: the Minamoto and Taira clans. With their own private armies of samurai they became important instruments in the hands of rival members of the Fujiwara clan's internal power struggle, which broke out in the 1156 CE Hogen Disturbance and the 1160 CE Heiji Disturbance.

The Taira eventually swept away the Fujiwara and all rivals, but in the Genpei War (1180-1185 CE), the Minamoto returned victorious, and at the war's finale, the Battle of Dannoura, the Taira leader, Tomamori, and the young emperor Antoku committed suicide. The Minamoto clan leader Yoritomo was shortly after given the title of shogun by the emperor, and his rule would usher in the medieval chapter of Japanese history with the Kamakura Period (1185-1333 CE), also known as the Kamakura Shogunate, when Japanese government became dominated by the military.

This content was made possible with generous support from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

History and Clothing in Ancient Japan

Japanese history includes alternating periods of isolation and revolutionary influences from the rest of the world. As early as the Jomon period from about 14000BC to 300 BC, Japan had a hunter-gatherer lifestyle wooden stilt houses, pit dwelling, and agriculture. Weaving was still unknown and the ancient Japanese clothing consisted of fur. However, some of the world’s oldest pottery is found in Japan, along with daggers, jade, combs made form shell and clay figures.

The period thereafter to 250 BC saw the influx of new practices like weaving, rice sowing, iron and bronze making influenced by china and Korea. Chinese travelers describe the men ‘with braided hair, tattooing and women with large, single-piece clothing.’ Initially ancient Japanese clothing consisted of single piece clothing. The ancient and classical Japan begins from the middle of the 3rd century to 710. An advanced agricultural and militaristic culture defines this period. By 645, Japan rapidly adopted Chinese practices and reorganized its penal code.

The peak period of ancient Japan and its imperial court is from 794 to 1185. Art, poetry, literature and trade expeditions continued with vigor. Warlords and powerful regional families ruled ancient Japan from 1185 to 1333 and the emperor was just a figure head. By the Japanese Middle Ages, Portugal had introduced firearms by a chance landing of their ship at Japanese coast samurai charging ranks were cut down trade with Netherlands, England and Spain had opened up new avenues. Several missionaries had entered Japan as well.

Distinct features of the lifestyle, ancient Japanese clothing and women is difficult to decipher for the simple reason that it is super-imposed by the Chinese culture. Ancient Japan readily adopted other cultures and practices and most of its own culture is lost among these adaptations.

Ancient Japanese clothing was mostly unisex, with differences being in colors, length and sleeves. A Kimono tied with an Obi or a sash around the waist was the general clothing and with the advent of western clothing are now mostly worn at home or special occasions. Women’s obi in ancient Japanese clothing would mostly be elaborate and decorative. Some would be as long as 4meters and tied as a flower or a butterfly. Though a Yukata means a ‘bath clothing’, these were often worn in the summers as morning and evening gowns. Ancient Japanese clothing consisted of mena and women wearing Haori or narrow paneled jacket for special occasions such as marriages and feasts. These are worn over a kimono and tied with strings at the breast level.

The most interesting piece of ancient Japanese clothing is the ju-ni-hitoe or the ‘twelve layers’ adorned by ladies at the imperial court. It is multi-layered and very heavy and worn on a daily basis for centuries! The only change would be the thickness of the fabric and the number of layers depending on the season. Princesses still wear these on weddings.

Since the Japanese people don’t wear footwear inside their homes, tabi is still worn. These are split -toe socks woven out of non-stretch materials with thick soles. Clogs have been worn for centuries in ancient Japan and were known as Geta. These were made of wood with two straps and were unisexual. Zori was footwear made of softer materials like straw and fabric with a flat sole.

Ancient Japanese clothes, culture and footwear are slowly regaining their popularity with the western world. There is an honest curiosity in knowing more, wearing kimonos or using silk fabrics with beautiful floral prints from the ‘land of the rising sun’.

1. Koreans Built Japan's First Temples (593)

The son of Emperor Yomei, Prince Shotoku (574-622) was a semi-legendary regent of the Asuka Period (592-710). He is credited with resuming contact with China and embracing Confucianism and Buddhism. Shotoku invited three carpenters from Baekje, a large kingdom encompassing the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula, to oversee the construction of Shitenno-ji (四天王寺), the first Buddhist temple in Japan, which began construction in 593 in what’s now south-central Osaka.

In 578, one of the three carpenters, Shigemitsu Kongo, founded the company Kongo Gumi, which contributed to both Nara's Horyu-ji Temple (now one of the oldest wooden structures in the world), and, almost exactly 1,000 years later, Osaka Castle, the mightiest castle ever built in Japan. Nearly 1,500 years after its founding, Kongo Gumi still exists today, and though it has operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group since 2006, it is still largely recognized as the oldest company in the world.

Japan - Top Ten Historical Figures

There are some historical figures that everybody in Japan knows. Some are shoguns, some are writers, and some are princes. Here’s a rundown of the top ten people you should know if you want to show off your knowledge of Japanese history.

Everybody wants to be like Nobunaga. Ambitious, strong, risk-taking successful, Nobunaga actually embodied many characteristics that were not traditionally “samurai.” As daimyo of a small province, he expanded his territory to encompass one third of all of Japan. The western equivalent of Nobunaga might be Julius Caesar, a conqueror who made many gains in his life but who was ultimately betrayed and killed by one of his own.

Fun fact: Did you know that Nobunaga was an avid supporter of Christianity, which only had a small following in Japan at the time?

2. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616)

If Nobunaga is Caesar, then Tokugawa is Augustus. Tokugawa was the daimyo that ended up finally becoming shogun of all of Japan. As shogun he developed a strong bureaucratic system that would ensure opposition could not easily arise, and established a 265-year period of peace and stability in the country. In many ways modern Japan is a result of the policies he established.

Fun fact: Did you know that Ieyasu had his wife and son executed for conspiring against Nobunaga?

As regent, Shotoku helped create Japan’s first constitution, bring Chinese culture and ideas to Japan, and spread Buddhism across the country. He is still revered in Japan as the ideal enlightened ruler. Said to be able to listen to ten people all at once (and understand each of their requests) Shotoku has a bit of a superman image in Japan, which leaves some to wonder if he was really as amazing as his legacy implies.

Fun fact: Did you know that some people believe Shotoku named Japan? (as “The Land where the Sun Rises”)

4.Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

Born of the lower classes, Hideyoshi used his wily wit to rise up through the ranks in Nobunaga’s clan. With one success after another, he eventually ended up becoming its leader after Nobunaga died. Although Hideyoshi was the one who theoretically conquered all of Japan, his sudden death in 1598 meant that he was not destined to see his progeny become rulers of Japan.

Fun Fact: When Hideyoshi was a young vassal in Nobunaga’s retainer, his nickname was “The Monkey.”

5. Murasaki Shikibu (c.973 - c.1014)

Considered by some to be the first novelist there ever was, Murasaki Shikibu was a court lady related to the Fujiwara family. In her spare time, she wrote novels and diaries that were based on her life amongst the aristocrats of Japan. Her Tale of Genji relates the amorous adventures of a prince, whose greatest love turns out to be a ten-year-old girl that he raises to be the “perfect woman.”

Fun fact: At the time that Murasaki Shikibu lived, men were encouraged to write in only kanji, and women only in hiragana.

As master of tea under Nobunaga and later Hideyoshi, Sen no Rikyu mastered the art of the tea ceremony. Incorporating elements of wabi-sabi , Rikyu emphasized a rustic, humble atmosphere to his ceremonies that today is called very “Japanese.” Because of differences in opinion and for other unexplained reasons, Rikyu was ordered to commit suicide by Hideyoshi at the age of 70.

Fun fact: Some people say that what finally ticked Hideyoshi off was when he walked into Daitoku-ji (a temple he constructed) and saw a statue of Rikyu looking down at him.

7.Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901)

Considered one of the leaders in incorporating western ideas and culture into Japanese society, Fukuzawa helped establish the first university, (Keio University) in Japan. As a prolific writer about all things Western, Fukuzawa and his books encouraged Japanese to dive into the “modern world.” His contributions to modern Japan have earned him a place on the 10,000 yen bill.

Fun Fact: Fukuzawa studied Dutch before he learned English, only to discover it was not so useful for corresponding with most Westerners!

8. Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-1867)

Idealized by many Japanese (especially young men) Ryoma was a progressive thinker that felt that the way for Japan to move forward was to overthrow the Tokugawa bakufu government. At a time of change, Ryoma’s romanticism and charisma helped factions unite in order to be strong enough to take on the government. Ryoma was assassinated by pro-bakufu forces at the age of 33 in the city of Kyoto.

Fun fact: Did you know that Ryoma and his wife are said to have taken the first honeymoon by a Japanese couple?

9. Emperor Showa (Hirohito) (1926-1989)

The image of this very famous Japanese Emperor remains very complex. Was Hirohito one of the main engineers of Japanese aggression against Asian countries, or was he helpless to the whims of the military leaders that were in command? Somehow protecting the very existence of the Japanese monarchy itself (after WWII), Hirohito also managed to keep his image in tact and lived to see the later economic success of Japan.

Fun fact: Did you know that the emperor’s “hobby” was marine biology?

This queen of ancient Japan (when it was still called Wa) holds a mystical place in Japanese history. Though there are records of her in both Chinese and Korean documents, much of her life remains a mystery. What is known is that she was an influential ruler who was considered to have a strong “shamanistic” hold over the Yayoi people.

Fun fact: Did you know that it is not even known exactly where Himiko’s kingdom was located? (Although recent discoveries point to an area near Nara.)

Ancient Japanese Civilization

Early Japan bore witness to rural rice settlements, loyalty to a centralist court, as well as the expansion of Kyoto, its ancient capital.

The land that makes up the current Japanese archipelago has been inhabited for at least 30,000 years, and possibly even as many as 200,000 years. The relatively shallow seas that separate Japan from continental Asia were not even entirely formed when the first human beings settled in the area. However, after the arrival of man, sea levels rose and ended up covering the former land bridges that joined Japan with the continent. Whether modern day Japanese people are the descendants of these first settlers or not remains a controversial question. Up until the 1960s, the country’s archaeological sites had not been extensively studied, which is why knowing the origins of the first settlers has not yet been possible. Even so, the theory that they came from the northern region of the Asian continent is commonly accepted, with these migrations happening over a long period of time.

Jomon period (ca. 10,000 – 300 BC)

The first millennium of the Neolithic period coincided with a global climatic warming that reached its peak between the years 8000 and 4000 BC. In Japan, this led to the rise in sea levels that covered the last land bridges connecting the island with the Asian continent, as well as the enrichment of marine fauna and the growth of new forests. This was the setting in which the Jomon period flourished in its early stages. The earliest pieces of pottery known in Japan date back to 10,000 BC and some experts claim they could be the oldest in the world.

Jomod period ancient Japan

At the beginning of this period, the population was nomadic and hunter-gathering for the most part and located in coastal regions. The abundance of fish, bivalves and marine mammals in their diet led to huge mounds of seafood shells, which are the first source of archaeological information about these people. They also hunted deer and wild boar and had cutting tools made of stone, as well as pieces of corded pottery (in fact, jomon means “a straw-rope pattern”).

Settlements moved inland in the middle of the Jomon period (ca. 3500 BC – 2000 BC). In this era, a decline in sea levels may have decimated marine fauna or increased confidence in agriculture as a source of food this seems to be implied by the abundance of grindstones, lidded earthenware jars, and other objects related to cultivation. This intermediate stage came to an end when the interior regions’ harvests failed to provide enough food.

The late Jomon period, which began at around 2000 BC, is marked by the resurgence of fishing in the Pacific coastal region.

Yayoi period (ca. 300 BC – 300 AD)

This period, which is named after an archaeological site near the University of Tokyo, is characterized by a marked cultural transition driven by migrations from the rice-cultivating regions of Asia.

Coming from Korea and, with all possibility, from Okinawa, immigration took place across northern Kyushu from around 300 BC, and in under 600 years, the hunter-gatherer communities of Japan drifted towards a sedentary society based on the cultivation of rice. The growth of these autonomous but closely related settlements was so rapid in Kyushu, the archipelago’s southernmost island, and western Honshu that by about 100 AD, only northern Honshu and the island of Hokkaido were left out of this new development.

Kofun period (ca. 300 – 710)

The construction of large funerary tombs made from earth and stone in some coastal areas of Kyushu and along the whole coast of the Inner Sea marked the end of the Yayoi culture. These tombs were decorated with human figures and animals made of hollow clay, called haniwa, as well as scale models of houses that possibly represented the belongings of deceased leaders.

There was a rapid development of political and social institutions. The various population centers called themselves “countries” or “kingdoms” and had a characteristic social hierarchy, subject to the growing political influence of the Yamato plain region, in which Osaka and Nara are located today. The imperial dynasty, also called the Yamato dynasty, was almost certainly established by the most powerful family clans (uji) that had already formed at the end of the Yayoi period. Buddhism entered Japan in the 6th century through Korea, and although it is claimed that writing came with religion, Chinese writing is likely to have preceded Buddhism by around 100 or 150 years. In any case, writing gave the nobility access to religion, as well as Chinese classics and the doctrines of sages like Confucius. Literacy prompted notable political and social changes.

The power of one of the clans, the Soga, was accentuated by its exclusive control over the imperial treasury and grain reserves, as well as its monopolistic role as the patron of new knowledge from the continent.

Its consolidation as a political power was consummated with a new monopoly: only the daughters of the Soga clan were eligible as imperial consorts. This allowed family members to seize key positions in court. The reforms promoted with the aim of strengthening central power covered aspects such as social structure, economic and legal systems, territorial distribution of provinces, general administration, and taxation.

Nara period (710 – 794)

Ancient Japanese Civilization

In the place where Nara is today, an empress from the early 8th century built a new capital, located in the northwest of the Yamato plain, which she called Heijo-kyo. The one hundred years or so following this milestone (the Nara period) saw the complete consolidation of the centralist imperial system, based on Chinese concepts (the Ritsuryo system), as well as the blossoming of art and culture.

With the application of the Ritsuryo system, the imperial government held strict administrative control through a powerful office that claimed all land dedicated to rice cultivation as imperial property. This led to a heavy tax burden on farmers.

Heian period (794 – 1185)

The capital was relocated again in the last decade of the 8th century. The new city was built according to Chinese urban patterns, as was typical, and was given the name Heian-kyo. It was the nucleus around which the city of Kyoto developed, and its completion in 795 marked the beginning of the Heian period’s four magnificent centuries. Kyoto was the imperial capital until 1868 when the court moved to the city Edo, which was later called Tokyo.

The power of the centralist regime lasted for several decades, but by the end of the 9th century, the Ritsuryo system began to collapse. The bureaucratic system allowed aristocrats and lords of the most important temples to accumulate great estates (shoen), while the farmers, burdened by the heavy taxes, fled to these favorable areas in great waves.

The court neglected the provinces as regional administrators were more concerned with personal enrichment than restoring order, which led to banditry. Landowners continued to accumulate power and ended up engaging in political struggles that put a drastic end to the Heian period.

Kamakura period (1185 – 1333)

The victor in these fights, Minamoto Yoritomo, received the title of shogun and established his court in Kamakura, far from Kyoto and a little to the south of the area where Edo would develop. There he built his headquarters and a new administrative structure that he hoped would bring the samurai under his rule. He established his dominion over the country through control over justice, the succession of the imperial throne, and the army.

Ancient Japanese Civilization

Yorimoto persuaded the emperor to allow him to appoint provincial military posts, such as the shugo (military governors) and the jito (stewards), who were responsible for collecting taxes and managing the land. Both classes answered directly to the shogun, which is why a governmental system was created far from the capital based on the superiority of the military class, as well as on vassalage and dependence. It was not a very different regime from those of medieval Europe and one can consider the shogunate, or bakufu, to be completely feudal.

Consequently, the imperial court was left marginalized and neglected it remained active but very weak. Until the emperor regained power in 1868, he played a ritual and symbolic role.
Although the Kamakura period was rather brief, the events that took place within it profoundly affected the development of the country revolutionary advances in agricultural techniques allowed for an increase in food production, with subsequent economic and population growth. Sedentism and trade led to the emergence of local markets and a monetary system that encouraged new contact with China in the private sector. Some great leaders embraced Buddhism and asked for both the samurai class and the common people to follow their example, meaning that this religion ceased to be an aristocratic faith and it gained new followers.

However, the complexity of the civilian government system caused the system of governors and stewards to collapse. The fatigue caused by the country’s defense against two Mongolian invasions in 1274 and 1281, which were partly unsuccessful due to the fortuitous appearance of typhoons that destroyed the invading fleets, should also be noted.

Muromachi period (1333 -1568)

Shogun Ashikaga Takauji made Kyoto the capital once again and caused the shogunate to eclipse all remnants of political or economic power that the imperial court had preserved. In turn, Ashikaga, in the manner of the ancient nobility, devoted himself to cultural patronage and social relations. The Muromachi period is named after the area in Kyoto where a later shogun of the Ashikaga dynasty (Yoshimitsu) built his residence, which was when the power of the Ashikaga shogunate reached its zenith. Yoshimitsu played an active role in palace politics, while his military merits shone.

In short, the Muromachi period introduced the basic changes that would ensure the stability and economic growth of the following era: the Edo period. Agriculture improved, irrigation and new crops were introduced, commercial agriculture increased, skilled artisans emerged, the monetary economy expanded, while more importantly, most towns and cities grew, and with them, new mercantile and servile social classes developed.

After the assassination of one of the Ashikaga shoguns in 1441, the decline of the shogunate began. The breakup of the provinces’ military governors caused a decade of wars and widespread unrest that eroded central authority and cracked social structure it was the prelude to the Warring States period (a century of struggles that spanned from 1467 to 1568).

The decentralization that occurred during this period led to the daimyo, fully feudal figures and lords who acquired their rank by right of conquest and military supremacy. It is not surprising that during this century of war, dominated by an ethic of military expansion, the most skilled and ambitious leaders dreamed of unifying the country.

Momoyama period (1568 – 1600)

In a certain way, this brief historical period is something of a historiographic artifice, as it is really the natural culmination of the Muromachi period. However, the so-called Momoyama period typically starts it in 1573 with the end of the Ashikaga shogunate, as well as the invasion of Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga (1534 – 1582), the first of the three great leaders who attempted to reunify the country. The other two were Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616).

Nobunaga conquered the provinces near his homeland in a methodical way, eliminated his rivals with his typical military efficacy and, despite being famous for razing the temples of the most belligerent sects around Kyoto, showed a certain “weakness” for culture. He managed to subdue a third of the country, although he was treasonously murdered by a general in 1582.

Hideyoshi, the head of Nobunaga’s Chief of Staff, executed his lord’s assassin and proclaimed himself to be his successor. With his great military talent and political gifts, as well as his rather large wealth, he boldly set out to reunify the country.

By 1590, almost all of Japan’s territories were directly or indirectly under his authority, but his government suffered from a lack of centralization, and was dispersed over a complex network of feudal relations, meaning his control of the country, which based on short-lived oaths of fealty, was shaky at best. Even so, he managed to impose major reforms, such as possibly the most impactful reform in Japanese history: the “sword hunt”, a law that stated that only samurai could possess swords. Even today, Japanese legislation on the possession of weapons, whether they’re melee weapons, firearms or otherwise, is very strict. A hierarchy of social classes was also introduced, meaning that in some regions many landowners had to face a hard decision: declare themselves as samurai and thus be subjected to the rigors of warrior life, or to remain in the civil classes and be in servitude of the samurai.

Hideyoshi tried to invade Korea twice, in 1592 and 1597, with the aim of attacking China later, but his death in 1598 put an end to his megalomania.

Remarkable cultural achievements were achieved during these three decades, and although the country was at a great boiling point politically, they produced magnificent fabrics, paintings and pottery.

4. Kamegaoka

The Kamegaoka Site in Aomori Prefecture’s rural town of Tsugaru is another hub of Jomon discovery. Experts believe this village came into fruition around the end of the Jomon Period about 3000 years ago. Discovered in the 1600s when clay and other types of Jomon-era pottery were unearthed, the site has undergone extensive excavation since then, and with that came some of the most iconic works of ancient Japanese art, including a bug-eyed earthenware figure of a man, unofficially awarded the title of Japan’s Jomon culture representative, known colloquially as the goggle-eyed clay figurine.

If you visit the site, you’ll find a large recreated goggle-eyed clay figure, and some unearthed archaeological displays. Near the town office is where you’ll find the exhibits held in the Archeological and Jomon Residence Museums.

Before you head out of Tokyo, have you had a chance to visit these 4 Old Tokyo Neighborhoods?

Women in Ancient Japan: From Matriarchal Antiquity to Acquiescent Confinement

The role of women in ancient Japan elicits inconsistencies due to different influences that were integrated at various time periods. The primary influence that contributed to these inconsistencies was religion. Integration of the two major religions of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism, created a paradox for the female identity altering women&rsquos place in Japan&rsquos matriarchal antiquity to a state of acquiescent confinement by the dawn of the Meiji Restoration.

Different conjectures of ancient Japanese women were formed in direct correlation to the spiritual beliefs of the time. Evaluating the feminine identities educed by these beliefs illustrates the drastic changes that occurred for women. Through literature and written records a window to the past is created, allowing modern day analysis on the status of women in antiquated Japan. Historian Dr. Joyce Lebra along with colleague Joy Paulson provides the primary historiography pertaining to the role of women in Japanese society, setting the foundation for this argument.

Painting depicting women of ancient Japan.

The Kojiki and Nihongi are the two original Japanese written records that illuminate the first documented Japanese attitude towards women. i These documents facilitated the discovery of a feminine presence that is renowned and worshipped.

The Nihongi holds insight into the birth of Shinto though the story of Amaterasu, which was previously preserved by oral tradition. ii Amaterasu is portrayed as the epitome of perfection in the Shinto religion exemplifying intelligence, beauty, fertility, and purity. iii As the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu is the primary kami of worship and her feminine qualities are embraced and admired.

This mythology based on femininity, created a &ldquomatriarchal antiquity&rdquo in Japan. iv The mythology surrounding Amaterasu was not only the birth of the Yamato line, but of a feminine allure that would dictate a reputable attitude towards women until the sixth century.

Chinese records dating back to the first century reveal that women were not only allowed to rule, but also encouraged to rule due to a confidence in women to bring peace and regulation to the country. v In these documents it is determined that a female ruler Pimiko ruled Japan in the third century. She was described as having &ldquomature eyes.&rdquo In the same document the opinion of women is established, &ldquoWomen are chaste and not given to jealousy.&rdquo vi When Pimiko&rsquos female descendant, Iyo, became queen she was greeted with much support from the people. vii

This instance of historical record illustrates themes that parallel in the Shinto mythology during a time when Shinto was the primary religion. A women&rsquos sense of order and perfection is reflected in both documents. What Amaterasu represents is personified in Pimiko and Iyo. Dr. Lebra confirms,&ldquo From the depictions of female deities in the myths and the numerous women rulers&hellipit can be assumed that the status of women was similar to that of men.&rdquo viii

In 552 A.D the introduction of Buddhism from China would interfere with the Shinto dominated perception of women. ix According to Dr. Lebra and Joy Paulson, &ldquoThe aspects of Buddhism which define its character had begun to make inroads on society&rsquos attitude towards women.&rdquo x This particular form of Buddhism that assimilated in Japan was immensely anti-feminine. xi Japan&rsquos newfound Buddhism had fundamental convictions that women were of evil nature, which eventually led women into a submissive role of in Japanese society.

The concept of obtaining enlightenment was limited to men, &ldquo&hellipman is the personification of the Buddha.&rdquo xii In certain sects of Buddhism it is diplomatically implied that the only way for a woman to reach salvation is if she were reincarnated as a man. xiii Teachings even went as far as to associate woman as &ldquoagents of the devil&rdquo to seduce men away from obtaining Buddahood. xiv These spiritually based judgments produced a chauvinistic society.

These spiritual attitudes can be found in the literary works of the time. The thirteenth century Buddhist morality tale The Captain of Naruto emphasizes the concept of female submission and male dominance. In the tale a wife of a captain is the object of the emperor&rsquos desire. xv The captain orders his wife to go to the emperor and she agrees, illustrating an act of submission. The Tale of Genji also provides examples of Buddhist values. Genji imitates the Buddhist credence of the time, Heian Japan, by stating, &ldquoIf they were not fundamentally evil they would not be born a woman at all.&rdquo xvi

Lady Murasaki, the author, illustrates the use of women for political advancement through marriage throughout the plot line. xvii This mirrors the common use of woman during the Fujiwara dominance to form political alliances obtained through arranged marriages made by fathers. xviii Once again the Buddhist perception of women was fueling the deterioration of their status in society. The negative Buddhist depiction of women infiltrates the story of Genji as well as reflects the common marriage practices of the time. Again historical record and literature are sharing common themes.

The Heian period is known for its developments in literature, attributed to the woman authors such as Murasaki. xix During this time women faced severe isolation with limited education. xx Women in the Heian period were defined by restrictions of what was not permitted. xxi Custom influenced by Buddhism, enforced strict physical limitations on women, not to be seen by men and sometimes even other women. xxii In a diary entry of an aristocratic woman, Izumi Shikibu, a poem is entered:

Thinking of the world
Sleeves wet with tears are my bed-fellows.
Calmly to dream sweet dreams&ndash
here is no night for that. xxiii

This entry illustrates the frustrations of her confinement. These women were locked away from the world, with nothing else to do but think and imagine a world outside the walls of their detainment.

Nevertheless, in their time of internment these aristocratic women had a literary revolution brewing. Although they did not openly acknowledge their education many aristocratic Heian women learned to write eloquently. Lady Muraskai is a prime example of women writers whom were self taught, and she composed the first novel in Japan, The Tale of Genji. In a dairy entry Lady Muraskai acknowledges learning the Chinese classics from listening to her brother&rsquos lessons. xxiv She cautiously expresses the necessity for discretion in regards to her knowledge, since this education was restricted for women, again a product of preconceived prejudices against women due to the Buddhist convictions.

The development of feudal Japan during the Kamakura period distinctly outlined the expectations of women. xxv Dr. Lebra declares, &ldquoIn this less structured society the freedom and strength of women grew, and the Kamakura period became a high point in the status of Japanese women.&rdquo xxvi Women were playing a more active role in society, reconnecting from behind the Heian barriers. Women even trained in the ways of the samurai, although there were still property and financial restrictions to their status. xxvii Buddhism was flourishing due to the introduction of new sects of Buddhism, like Amidism, which were far more harmonious and less restrictive to women. xxviii In this case Buddhism is contradicting itself, creating inconsistencies in the expectations of women.

As the feudal era progressed, and relations became more hostile, women&rsquos rights began to revert again. The husband and wife relationship began to reflect that of the lord and subject feudal ideal. xxix During the Tokugawa era the definition of women was clear, &ldquomarriage was the only acceptable condition for women. Thus the sole purpose should be learning to please her future husband&hellip&rdquo xxx Households were again based on patriarchy, and women once again detained from other women and considered &ldquoshallow&rdquo in intelligence xxxi . Ieyasu Tokugawa wished to freeze social classes and human relations for control and unity purposes, thus resorted to old restrictive customs of women, originally instated due to the Buddhist chauvinism. xxxii This restrictive lifestyle defined the status of women leading up to modern day Japan. xxxiii

Counterarguments claim it is difficult to define ancient Japanese women&rsquos status due to the lack of resources regarding the lower class. Unfortunately a disadvantage when exploring this topic is the limited resources from men and women of the lower class. xxxiv Most diary entries and literary works, especially during the Heian period, were the products of Aristocratic women. However, these two central religions in Japan bridge the gap between classes sharing common beliefs and ritual, which are the focal influences under examination. Another criticism is that Shinto is hard to define due to its hybrid tendencies. xxxv The vindication, Amaterasu&rsquos role in Shintoism as the premier deity is indisputable, and is supported by Chinese historical record as well as Japanese mythology.

The anti-feminine tendencies of Buddhism redefined the role of women and continually progressed and regressed over a period of thirteen hundred years. There is an evident change of femininity and matriarchy at the dawn of Japanese civilization to the restricted and submissive women of the Tokugawa era that was &ldquodevoid of legal rights,&rdquo by the birth of modern Japan xxxvi . This change can be attributed to the arrival of Buddhism in 552, creating a paradox with the native Shintoism. The two religions were harmonious in practice yet created a contradictory and confusing role for the women of ancient Japan. The Heian women themselves were a contradiction in their confinement they found liberation in writing which would be a dynamic contribution to Japanese culture, and their legacy. The status of women in ancient Japan was interrupted, due to the chauvinistic foundation that Buddhism conveyed. Joy Paulson confirms, &ldquo&helliptheir status was defined by custom.&rdquo xxxvii


Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. 2 nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Lebra, Joyce, Joy Paulson, and Elizabeth Powers,ed. Women in Changing Japan. Boulder: Westview Press, 1976.

Lu, David J. Japan: A Documentary History. New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1997.

Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Genji. Translated by Arthur Waley. The Modern Library Edition. New York: Random House, 1960.

Hooker, Richard. &ldquo Women and Women&rsquos Communities in Ancient Japan.&rdquo Washington State University.

Moua, J.C, and Seth Tabor. &ldquoAmaterasu Omikami: Great Goddess Shining in Heaven.&rdquo University of Wisconsin. html.

Omori, Annie and Kochi Doi. &ldquoCourt Ladies of Old Japan.&rdquo Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920. University of Pennsylvania. women/omori/court/court.html.


i.) David J. Lu, Japan: A Documentary History, New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1997, 3-4.

ii.) . J.C Moua and Seth Tabor, &ldquoAmaterasu Omikami: Great Goddess Shining in Heaven,&rdquo University of Wisconsin,

iii.) Joyce, Lebra, Joy Paulson, and Elizabeth Powers, ed., Women in Changing Japan, Boulder: Westview Press, 1976, 2.

ix.) Richard Hooker, &ldquo Women and Women&rsquos Communities in Ancient Japan,&rdquo Washington State University,

xvi.) Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, Trans, Arthur Waley, The Modern Library Edition, New York: Random House,1960, 666.

xviii.) Kenneth Henshall, A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower, 2 nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 29.

xxiii.) Annie Omori and Kochi Doi, &ldquoCourt Ladies of Old Japan,&rdquo Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1920, University of Pennsylvania,., 152.

Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. 2 nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Lebra, Joyce, Joy Paulson, and Elizabeth Powers,ed. Women in Changing Japan. Boulder: Westview Press, 1976.

Lu, David J. Japan: A Documentary History. New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1997.

Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Genji. Translated by Arthur Waley. The Modern Library Edition. New York: Random House, 1960.

Hooker, Richard. &ldquo Women and Women&rsquos Communities in Ancient Japan.&rdquo Washington State University.

Moua, J.C, and Seth Tabor. &ldquoAmaterasu Omikami: Great Goddess Shining in Heaven.&rdquo University of Wisconsin. html.

Omori, Annie and Kochi Doi. &ldquoCourt Ladies of Old Japan.&rdquo Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920. University of Pennsylvania. women/omori/court/court.html.


i.) David J. Lu, Japan: A Documentary History, New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1997, 3-4.

ii.) . J.C Moua and Seth Tabor, &ldquoAmaterasu Omikami: Great Goddess Shining in Heaven,&rdquo University of Wisconsin,

iii.) Joyce, Lebra, Joy Paulson, and Elizabeth Powers, ed., Women in Changing Japan, Boulder: Westview Press, 1976, 2.

ix.) Richard Hooker, &ldquo Women and Women&rsquos Communities in Ancient Japan,&rdquo Washington State University,

xvi.) Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, Trans, Arthur Waley, The Modern Library Edition, New York: Random House,1960, 666.

xviii.) Kenneth Henshall, A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower, 2 nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 29.

xxiii.) Annie Omori and Kochi Doi, &ldquoCourt Ladies of Old Japan,&rdquo Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1920, University of Pennsylvania,., 152.

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The World's Oldest Extant Style of Traditional Music played in a Large-scale Ensemble
Gagaku is one of the traditional forms of music in Japan. The Japanese Gagaku (an important intangible cultural heritage) passed down in the Gakubu Section, Shikibu-shoku Department, of the Imperial Household Agency. The Gakubu Section, Shikibu-shoku Department of the Imperial Household Agency, defines it as the numbers played by the Gakubu Section, Shikibu-shoku Department of the Imperial Household Agency (except for Western music). Most consist of instrumental music that has been inherited as court music. It is the world's oldest extant style of traditional music played in a large-scale ensemble. The features of pronunciation of the Japanese language before the sixteenth century are passed on without change: the line of Ha is pronounced as fa, fi, fu, fe, fo, when singing the musical score of the Hichiriki instrument written in katakana as Shoga, for example by chanting the letters of the musical note to recite the melody, which implies that the whole style can be quite faithfully recreated. The musical score written in Chinese characters, such as that of the Gakubiwa instrument, has many similarities to a biwa musical score discovered in Dun Huang, China, and several older forms introduced from the Asian continent have been inherited. As the most important historical data, "Taigen-sho," written by TOYOHARA no Muneaki (1450-1512), which expresses concern about the dissipation of the records of Gagaku and others due to the turmoil of the Onin War, can be cited. This is a valuable record of Gagaku in the old days, in which Muneaki from a Raku family of Sho flute compiled the records of Gagaku, mainly about the Sho flute and Bugaku (gagaku piece with dance).

History of Gagaku
It is based on the ceremonial music introduced from China and South Asia prior to the tenth century. In China, Gagaku meant the music played in ceremonies. Togaku music, however, which is said to have been introduced from China and is presently played as Japanese Gagaku, is believed to be based on the music played in the Tang period at a party called the Engaku. Its relationship to the Vietnamese Gagaku (nhã nhạc), which assimilated Chinese traditional music as Japan did, as well as the national traditional music in South Korea, is equivalent to a brotherly relationship. As for the categories of numbers, international names including Togaku, Komagaku and Rinyugaku (music of Champa) have been brought over, and the elements of Japanese ancient music before the introduction of the music from the continent were included. Before the modern age, the Tennoji gakuso Theater in Shitenno-ji Temple (Osaka City) with the oldest style, the Ouchi gakuso Theater in the Imperial Court (Kyoto) and the Nanto gakuso Theater in Kasugataisha Shrine (Nara City) were called Sanpo gakuso theaters. These gakuso theater companies were called to Tokyo during the modern age and became the basis for the current Gakubu section of the Imperial Household Agency, but the tradition of each gakuso theater company has continued in each place. Moreover, it has mutually affected Minyo and Shomyo, and the Japanese original style has been created. Presently, about 100 numbers are inherited in the Gakubu section, Shikibu-shoku Department, of the Imperial Household Agency.

Main shrine of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine

The main shrine of the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine was called Unta in the 10th century, and it is said to have been the tallest shrine in Japan, boasting 48 meters. Shin-no-mibashira, the central pillar, had a diameter of around 3. 6 meters, and it is believed that the length of the staircase leading to the main

  • FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy
  • CAPITAL: Tokyo
  • POPULATION: 126,168,156
  • MONEY: Japanese yen
  • AREA: 145,883 square miles (377,835 square kilometers)
  • MAJOR RIVERS: Biwa, Inawashiro, Kasumigaura


Japan is an archipelago, or string of islands, on the eastern edge of Asia. There are four main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. There are also nearly 4,000 smaller islands! Japan's nearest mainland neighbors are the Siberian region of Russia in the north and Korea and China farther south.

Almost four-fifths of Japan is covered with mountains. The Japanese Alps run down the center of the largest island, Honshu. The highest peak is Mount Fuji, a cone-shaped volcano considered sacred by many Japanese.

Japan can be a dangerous place. Three of the tectonic plates that form Earth's crust meet nearby and often move against each other, causing earthquakes. More than a thousand earthquakes hit Japan every year. Japan also has about 200 volcanoes, 60 of which are active.

Map created by National Geographic Maps


The Japanese are famous for their willingness to work very hard. Children are taught to show respect for others, especially parents and bosses. They learn to do what's best for their family or company and worry less about their own needs.

Japanese food is very different from food in Western countries. There is lots of rice, fish, and vegetables, but little meat. With little fat or dairy, this diet is very healthy, which helps Japanese people live, on average, longer than any other people in the world.


The Japanese people have a deep affection for the beauty of the landscape. The ancient Shinto religion says natural features like mountains, waterfalls, and forests have their own spirits, like souls.

Most of Japan is covered by countryside. But with more than 100 million people living in such a small place, wildlife has suffered.

Pollution is now tightly controlled, but road building and other human activities have harmed natural habitats. About 136 species in Japan are listed as endangered.

The warm Tsushima Current flows from the south into the Sea of Japan, where it meets a colder current from the north. The mixing of waters makes the seas around Japan very rich in fish and other sea life.


Japan is the only country in the world with a reigning emperor. Emperors have no real power, but they are still revered as a symbol of the country's traditions and unity.

World War II devastated Japan's economy. But the Japanese people's hard work and clever innovation turned it around, making it the second largest economy in the world. Japan's high-tech industry makes some of the most popular electronic products in the world.


People first came to Japan about 30,000 years ago. At the time, the main islands were connected to Siberia and Korea by bridges of dry land, so people crossed on foot. The first society, called the Jomon culture, arose about 12,000 years ago. Around the same time, the Ainu people arrived by boat from Siberia.

The Jomon and Ainu survived for thousands of years, hunting, fishing, and gathering plants. In 300 B.C., the Yayoi people came to Honshu Island from Korea and China. They were skilled weavers, tool makers, and farmers who began cultivating rice in flooded paddy fields.

In 660 B.C., Japan's first emperor, Jimmu Tenno, came to power. Emperors controlled Japan until the 12th century A.D., when military rulers, called shoguns, took control and ruled by might.

Europeans first arrived in Japan in 1543, bringing guns and Christianity. In 1635, the ruling shogun closed Japan to foreigners and forbade Japanese to travel abroad. This isolation lasted more than 200 years. In 1868, the shoguns were overthrown and emperors returned. This was a time of great change and modernization for Japan.

Watch the video: Β Λυκείου Αρχαία Άγνωστο κείμενο 1 μάθημα 1 (December 2021).