Thursday, April 15, 2010

Japan - Silk Road

A collage made by me from different pictures: map of Northern tracks to Japan via Korea, below from left: part of the hilt, Silla period crown, glass bowls from Shosoin.

The period I'm focusing on is called Unified Silla in Korea (668 - 935), and Nara in Japan (710 - 794). Actually I'm more interested in Nara period especially the sculpture from it. Yes, Ashūra, my lovely, beloved Ashūra from 興福寺. So gracious, so beautiful... wait, where was I? Ah, yes. I don't want to write on Silk Road actually, but focus on the relations and influences between those two countries. Japan has just established herself as a country based on law (adopted from China, pity it didn't work out), Silla was in full bloom.
To read more on Silla or Nara periods, just go to:

I want to point out that there would be no such great and quick cultural achievements for Japan if the country didn't adopt some Korean techniques. First sculptors, painters were Koreans, firts Japanese artists learned from them. This is a fact, no need to argue, like on some websites people do.

   Silk Road it's a name for a long track from Rome and Western European countries to China. This is a common knowledge. Less people know that Silk Road didn't end in China, but stretched towards East and reached shimaguni - Japan. As Japan herself didn't participated so active in the trade, some gifts were sent to the continent and maybe even further. In Shōsoin (dated back to 756) there is a list of things that Emperor Shōmu dedicated over 600 items to the Great Buddha of Tōdaiji.

Imperial Household Agency - Shosoin Website: 
Shōsoin is a very interesting building. It reflects the traditional architecture, but not the Buddhist one. The example of an early Buddhist architecture we have on this picture above, Tōdaiji. The style in which Shōsoin was built is called azekura (left). The building is characterized by one fascinating thing: the walls. Made from logs, can shrink in winter (providing natural ventilation), and stretch in summer protecting the interiors from humidity. inside there are thousands of items now considered as National Treasures. In addition, every year Empress Michiko donates silk to the repository, as She runs Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery at Tokyo Imperial Palace.

Japanese society at that time was more open and cosmopolitan than later on. When in 894 AC, Japan stopped envoys to China, influences from the continent ceased. Contacts were cut off, but Japan started to modify everything that had been adopted since then.
Nara (Heijo-kyo) was a city where traders from different parts of Asia met. Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, merchants from South-East countries, they all conducted their interests there. That is why in Shōsoin we can see so many items from around the world, even from Rome and Persia (glass beads).
Nara, as a capital, lived for only 74 years (including sometimes 4-years breaks in presence of Emperor in it). Pressure from great Buddhist temples (sects) was so ominent, that Emperor sought the only one way out - moving the capital somewhere else.
The first years of Heian period - they are just a continuation, nothing changed. As I said, after 894, Japan closed from contacts.

 Copy of Gakkiron(End Part and Signature) written by Empress KOMYO
光明皇后臨 楽毅論  末尾と自署, ACE756, 高25.6cm 紙本墨書, 正倉院,

 Few items from Shōsoin:

glass bowl (one of the most famous items, proving how Japanese trade contacts were once wide and open

 laquered table


 other side of bronze mirror

 horse saddle