Lesson 9: Japanese History 1
(Citation from Kenneth G. Henshall ”A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower” Macmillan Press 1999)
※Glimpses of unfamiliar Japan 1を先にする予定でしたが、先週言い間違えたのでJapanese Historyからやります。
When Queen Himiko was buried with her 100 slaves it was obvious that a large tomb was needed―100 paces in diameter, according to the Wei Chih. This was to set the fashion for some centuries. As society became more stratified, those at the top wanted to show their status beyond the span of their mere mortal life. As with the pyramids in ancient Egypt, huge tombs were erected. In Japan’s case they were usually raised mounds surrounded by hollow clay figurines known as ‘clay rings’.
The clay rings are rather mysterious, but seem to have been a combination of tomb markers and status objects. There were also objects inside the tomb, probably for the afterlife. Many of these, too, were status objects, but it was not all a case of mere ostentation. The tombs also contained large numbers of weapons, leaving no doubt as to the ability of the ruling elite to maintain their position by force if necessary.
The burial mounds are convenient physical symbols of this period. The most important feature of the period, however, is the emergence of the Yamato state, named after its power-base at Yamato in the Nara Basin.
The pre-eminence of Yamato forms the substance of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki accounts. We saw earlier that these do not reveal much about the actual process, other than a triumph over a rival power-base at Izumo by what appears to have been negotiation. Dates are also unreliable. Most experts now believe the first verifiable emperor was Suijin. The Nihon Shoki lists him as the tenth emperor and gives his death as equivalent to AD 30, whereas the Kojiki gives it as AD 258. In fact, 318 seems most likely.
Some believe that Suijin may have been the leader of a group of fourth-century invaders from Korea known as the horse-riders who established the Yamato state. This is not impossible, but it seems more likely that Suijin was of the Yamato clan, and that his clan increased their power and authority by a gradual process of degree. In this they relied heavily on negotiation and persuasion―and no doubt threat and coercion―rather than simple military confrontation. Their preferred method seems to have been to incorporate local chiefdoms already established in Yayoi times, and give the chieftains themselves places within the Yamato hierarchy. Ranks and titles were used by the Yamato court to give potentially troublesome members of formerly independent local regimes a personal stake in the emerging imperial system.
The tactics of where possible incorporating a powerful threat rather than directly confronting it, and of drawing on a potential opponent’s strengths rather than trying simply to destroy them, is still widely seen today as a basic Japanese preference. Its identification at such an early stage of Japanese history is testimony to the depth of such a tradition.
The ranks and titles given to those local kings and chiefs incorporate into the Yamato camp were important in a status-conscious age. The Yamato administrative system was strongly hierarchical. This, too, is a continuing characteristic of Japanese preferences.
Exact dates remain unclear. It is probable that during the fourth and fifth centuries Yamato authority was not absolute but rather ‘first among equals’ among a coalition of clans. By the early sixth century, however, the Yamato imperial family seems to have emerged as the single prevailing line. It was at this point that rulers of the Izumo region started to send tribute to the Yamato ruler.
The Yamato state needed a capital. Without this its centralized system of control would have no real core. In the final stages of the Yamato period there had been a few attempts to establish a permanent capital, but these had all failed for one reason or another.
Then, in 710, the capital was moved to Heij?, better known now as Nara. Nara was modeled on the T’ang Chinese capital, Ch’ang-an. It was a similar rectangular grid pattern, but at 20 square kilometer was only about a quarter of Ch’ang-an area.
In less than a hundred years the capital was to move again. Nara proved not to be the hoped-for permanent site. Nevertheless, it represents the high point of the Japanese effort to learn from China. Physically, China’s influence was seen not only in the design of the city but also grand buildings such as the Todaiji Temple―the largest wooden building in the world―and the huge bronze statue of Buddha it contained. In broader terms, the age of the Nara capital may have been brief, but it shows most clearly the workings of the ritsury? and other Chinese-inspired political and legal reforms.
And it was during the age of Nara that Chinese writing led to the appearance of the first real books produced in Japan, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki chronicles of 712 and 720. These were followed shortly afterwards by the first poetry anthologies, the Kaif?s? of 751 and the Many?sh? of 759. Some documents were even printed―another Chinese influence.
However, the respect for things Chinese did not lead to indiscriminate imitation. More often than not there were distinctive Japanese modifications to Chinese ‘imports’.
Emperor Kammu was particularly unhappy in Nara, and in 784 he decided it was time to move the capital again. No one quite knows why. He may have felt oppressed by the increasing number of powerful Buddhist temples in the city. Or, since there had been so many disasters in recent times, he may simply have felt it was ill-fated. In an event, he left in a hurry.
After a few years indecision a new capital was finally built in 794 a short distance to the north, in Heian―present-day Kyoto. Like Nara, it was built on Chinese grid-pattern lines. Unlike Nara, it was to remain the official capital for more than a thousand years.
At Heian the court was in many ways to reach its zenith. In its refinement, its artistic pursuits, and its etiquette, it rivaled courts of any time and place in the world. However, the more refined it became, the more it lost touch with reality, and that was to cost it dearly.
The Heian court gave the world some of its finest early literature. For example, around 1004 the court lady Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel, Tale of Genji. Many of its thousand pages reveal a life of exquisite refinement.
In 1185 Minamoto no Yoritomo was the most powerful figure in the land. However, he did not seek the throne for himself or his descendants, nor seek to destroy it. Instead, he sought from the court legitimacy of his power through the title ‘barbarian-subduing great general’, generally abbreviated to shogun. This was granted to him in 1192.
The particular nature of the relationship between legitimacy (formal authority) and actual power in Japan is an ongoing feature of the nation’s history and society. Typically, a high authority does not wield a similarly high degree of actual power, but instead confers legitimacy―often in the form of some title, and often under pressure―on those who hold actual power and claim to use it in the name of that higher authority. The fact that the higher authority is the guarantor of the power-holder’s legitimacy gives the higher authority a certain guarantee of protection from the power-holder. The recipient of legitimacy may in turn confer legitimacy on those below them, and so on. It is in one sense a diffusion of responsibility, and in another a hierarchical ordering of authority. Yoritomo provides an especially clear example of the process.
What was also new was that the core of the government was now a single lord-vassal group, spread rather thinly throughout the nation. Yoritomo rewarded his loyal vassals with estates and offices such as ‘steward’ and ‘protector’. They administered the provinces under their charge on the basis of local custom and military house laws, rather than the centrally imposed legal codes of the previous ritury? system. They also collected dues for the bakufu, and were entitled to retain a portion of the product of the land for themselves. Through this system Yoritomo exercised a relatively direct control over much of Japan, and also further eroded the revenue of the noble court families and central government.