Japanese History – Part 2, 710AD to 794

Japanese History – Part 2, 710AD to 794

Between 710 to 794 – Nara Period

In 710AD Heijo (now Nara) became the first permanent capital city of Japan as prescribed by Empress Gemmei. It was built in the image of the Tang Dynasty’s capital.  Up until this point the capital moved with almost each new leader.

Now, 1300 years later, Nara is holding a yearlong celebration with the Heijo Palace being the center of focus of the celebration. While the palace site had been completely lost to rice fields, research, since the 1950s, has been illuminating the original palace site.

Researchers located the original positions of structures and marked them for all to see. These include the positions for the Former Audience Hall, the Latter Audience Hall, Suzaku Gate, East Palace Garden, offices of the Imperial Household Agency and Imperial Living quarters. Of these the Former Audience Hall, Suzaku Gate and East Palace Garden have been reconstructed. The $200M cost of the reconstruction for the Former Audience Hall in the 1990s gives us a good idea of the significance of the original construction in 710. These lavish structures and accommodations represented only one way the nobles drew a line between themselves and the commoners.

As a result of establishment of a department of brewing in 689, sake became a reserve of the imperial court. Restrictions keeping commoners from having sake tightened over time all the way through the Nara period and beyond. The gap between the nobles and the commoners increased with an ever increasing standard of living for the nobles and heavier restrictions for commoners.

Two important texts were published in Nara period: The first three volumes of the KojiKi were published in 711 and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) in 720. While earlier royals had discontinued their support for the Kojiki, Empress Gemmei reestablished and continued to support the ongoing development of the Kojiki.

Buddhist monasteries were built in the new capital and gained much power. This addition to the power struggle between the royal leaders and central government and the Fujiwara clan made holding power much more difficult especially as the monasteries continued to gain power. Having hosted 8 royal leaders of Japan the capital was moved from Nara in 784 to Nagaoka for a brief time before moving again in 794 to Heian (now Kyoto). The moves were an attempt to improve the situation by decreasing the power the Buddhist sects held against the central government. With the successful transition from Nara to Kyoto the Nara period came to an end, beginning the Heian period.

Between 794 to 1185 – Heian Period

To be continued…

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