Ancient And Medieval Japan

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Ancient and Medieval Japan

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Ancient and Medieval Japan1

Heian Period (794-1185)1

Kamakura Period (1185-1333)4

Muromachi Period (1333-1573)6


Ancient and Medieval Japan

Ancient and Medieval Japan

Japan is known historically as the Land of the Rising Sun, as symbolized by its flag. Beginning with Emperor Jimmu in 600 BC (according to legend), Japan has had a line of emperors that continues to the present. From the 12th century until the late 19th century, however, feudal lords (or Shoguns) held political control.

Heian Period (794-1185)

The conclusion of the Nara period was marked by an imperial decision to abandon the capital at Nara in favor of constructing a new capital at Heian-kyo, modern-day Kyoto. A motivating factor for this move was probably the growing power and influence of the Buddhist clergy.

Ritual was never a matter of mere formality in the court society of Heian Japan (794-1185), in which one's sponsorship of ritual directly and effectively mediated his acquisition of bureaucratic positions and ranks, of friends and enemies, and of cultural knowledge and economic wealth. In the eighth century, the emperor inaugurated the Buddhist rite of the Misaie Assembly held at the palace, in order to adopt the image of the ideal Buddhist king depicted in the Golden Light Sutra and to establish his position as head of the centripetal government called the Ritsuryo state.

As the structure of governance shifted over the course of the Heian period from the Ritsuryo state to a system of shared rule, influential contenders for political power, such as the Fujiwara regent and the retired emperor, appropriated the imperial symbolism enacted in the Misaie Assembly by sponsoring structurally similar Buddhist rites to legitimate their claims to authority. Thus, even as the structure of rule was transformed, the Misaie Assembly and rites imitating it in effect reinvented and perpetuated imperial authority while presenting it as an unchanging tradition. The Misaie Assembly was also integrated into the court-sponsored clerical training program comprising Buddhist debate rituals. Thus the Misaie Assembly and similar rites both stimulated doctrinal learning and offered a major venue for clerical promotion.

The Misaie Assembly, instituted in the eighth century when the ancient state of Japan was in its nascent stage of development, was one of the first Buddhist rites to be incorporated into the program of annual court rituals (nenju gyoji). These included not only Buddhist rites but also those of the jingi tradition (worship of local deities called kami; known as Shinto today) and the way of yin-yang (onmyodo). The Misaie Assembly was also one of very few Buddhist rites to be held in the ceremonial hall of state, the Daigokuden Hall, located in the heart of the imperial palace (dairi). Despite its undeniable importance in the development of Buddhism in early Japan, the history of the Misaie Assembly has so far eluded adequate scrutiny from scholars in the field of Japanese religions.

The collapse of the Ritsuryo system (ritsuryo sei), the state structure modeled after the legal and bureaucratic structure of Tang China (618-907), allegedly precipitated this series of transformations in ...
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