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Ancient Times (3rd. century - 10th century)

The Tomb of the Emperor Nintoku

■The Tumulus Period

 The period from the 4th through the 6th centuries is called the Tumulus Period, and in Kansai many large and small burial mounds were constructed as tombs for the powerful figures of the times. Tombs constructed in Osaka Prefecture, respectively for the Emperor Nintoku (the longest tumulus in the world, located in Sakai City, 486 m long), the Emperor Ojin (Habikino City, 415 m long), and the Emperor Richu (Sakai City, 365 m long), are representative of these burial mounds, but there are also many burial mounds longer than 200 meters in Nara Prefecture. All of these tombs contain coffins in the central, circular part of the tumulus, which were constructed as square-front, rounded-rear, keyhole-shaped mounds. The vast variety of tomb furnishings revealed in these burial mounds have shown that there were close connections between Kansai and the Chinese continent and the Korean peninsula during that time period.
 National integration began with the formation of the Yamato Imperial Court (presently Nara Prefecture) as far back as the 3rd. century, when small states were the norm, as noted in Chinese history books as the "Yamatai States." As the Yamato Imperial Court began to play a central role in the integration of the Japanese state, people versed in the production of pottery, silkworm culture, and textiles began to travel to Japan from China and Korea, bringing an introduction of new technology, which had a powerful influence on the country. However, technology was not the only thing transferred, as the concepts of Buddhism were also introduced to Japan, leading to the creation of a characteristic Japanese Buddhist culture.

Naniwa-no-miya Site

■From the Yamato to the Naniwa-no-miya and Omi Capitals

 Once the integration of Japan began, the political center of the country was mainly located in the Yamato district (present Nara and Asuka districts) until the beginning of the 8th century. In time, the capital was also located in Osaka and Shiga for a period of time, at the Naniwa-no-miya and Omi Capitals, etc.
 Located in present-day Osaka just south of Osaka Castle, there is a place called Naniwa-no-miya. The Naniwa-no-miya Capital was constructed in step with the Taika-no-kaishin (645 AD), a political reformation that created the foundation of the government in the ancient state of Japan. Reminders of the prosperity and splendor of those ancient times, the remains of the Daigokuden Hall, where the Emperor conducted affairs of state, the Hakkakuden Hall, and the Suzakumon Gate, the central gate to the capital complex, are maintained as part of the historical site.
 Even in those days, there was an international port located in Naniwa, known as Naniwazu, which played an important role as the window for cultural exchange with China and Korean Peninsula. In 607 AD, Ono-no-Imoko, a Japanese envoy, left Naniwazu bearing an official letter to the Sui Dynasty in China, and thereafter, until the end of the 9th century, Japanese envoys dispatched to the Sui and Tang Dynasty in China.
 The Omi Capital (667 AD) was located near Otsu village along the banks of Lake Biwa. Prompted by military defeats in warfare with Silla, backed by the Tang Dynasty, on the Korean Peninsula, it is thought that the plans for the Omi Capital were designed to take advantage of the geographical features of the land and water in the region in order to defend the Lake Country (the area around Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture).

Todai-ji Temple

■Heijyokyo - The Nara Capital

 The curtain closed on the Omi Capital after a bare five years, and the capital was returned to Asuka in Nara (672 AD). Then, the capital was transferred to the Fujiwara Capital in Unebi (the ancient name for the southern part of the Nara basin), and later, the Nara Capital, was born with the ascent of the Empress Gemmei in 710 AD.
 The Nara Capital was constructed based on the layout of Chang-an, the capital of the ancient Tang Dynasty in China, and it was a genuine city. Located on the northern edge of the Nara Capital, the Nara Palace Site is inscribed as a World Heritage Property at UNESCO. The Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has conducted excavations and investigations at the Nara Palace Site, which revealed that the architecture of the Chodoin Hall, one of the central sites for the administration of state affairs at the capital, was very similar to that employed in Mainland China in the same time period. The studies revealed that the main gate of the Nara Capital on the south, Suzaku Gate, was constructed on a platform 32 meters wide by 17 meters from front to back. Restoration works were completed in 1998 and the gate is now open to the public. Daigokuden Hall, also one of the major sites for the administration of state affairs at the ancient capital, was restored for the anniversary of 1300th of Nara-Heijyokyo Capital.
 Prince Shotoku sparked the spread of Buddhism throughout the Nara Capital, making the capital a city where the teachings of Buddhism were the ideal. Several large temples were in the capital, such as Saidai-ji Temple, Toshodai-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji Temple, and Daian-ji and several others were in the adjacent area, called the Outer Capital, such as Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, and Gango-ji Temple.
 Thereafter, the capital was transferred temporarily to Kuni-no-miya (740 AD), Shigaraki-no-miya (742 AD), and Naniwa-no-miya (744 AD), but the Nara Capital continued until 784 AD, when the Emperor Kanmu ordered the capital to be moved to the Nagaoka Capital (presently Nagaoka City and Muko City in Kyoto Prefecture).
 The legal codes of the Nara Period, known as the Ritsuryo codes, brought a stable political environment to Japan, and, with a considerable cultural influence from the Tang Dynasty in China, led to the rise of a rich, characteristic Japanese culture, known as the Tenpyo Culture. There are several structures and superb works of art remaining today that have served to transmit the Tenpyo Culture down the generations to the present, such as the main hall of Toshodai-ji Temple, the main hall of Horyu-ji Temple, known as the "Dream Hall," and the Buddhist statues of Nikko and Gakko Bodhisattvas (Buddhist Saints) at Todai-ji Temple, etc.

Houo-do Hall at Byodoin Temple

■Heiankyo - The Heian Capital in Kyoto

 The Nagaoka Capital was destroyed while it was still under construction and the capital was transferred to Kyoto in 794, giving birth to the Heian Capital. Since that event, until the Meiji Restoration (1867) when the capital was moved to Tokyo, Kyoto was the capital for over 1,000 years. Like the Nara Capital, the Heian Capital in Kyoto was laid out systematically in blocks with streets and avenues at right angles. On the north side of the city, there was an official complex, the Daidairi, which contained the Emperor's residence, and the seat of government, including the Daigokuden Hall, etc. The city was divided into two sections, Sakyo on the east and Ukyo on the west by Suzakuoji Street, which ran from the Suzaku Gate on the south side of the complex to the Rajo Gate at the southern end of the city. The scale of the Heian Capital was almost the same as that of the Nara Capital, measuring 4.6 km from east to west and 5.3 km from north to south.
 The approximately 400 years of the Heian Period were extremely prosperous for the nobility, and during that time the Fujiwara clan became very powerful, rising to the regency and later kanpaku (senior regent or chief advisor to the Emperor) class, conducting the actual affairs of state. The figure at the summit of that political power was Fujiwara-no-Michinaga.
 Included in the Japanese envoys to the Tang Dynasty, were such notable historical figures as Saicho and Kukai. When these envoys to bring China’s culture back to Japan ended in 894, the influence of the Tang culture began to weaken, and with the development of kana (the Japanese syllabary, a written form of Japanese expressing the pronunciation of foreign words), a characteristic Japanese culture was established during the Fujiwara period. Some good examples of that culture were the literary works written by women during that period, such as The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, and The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon, and other works of art of the period associated with the Fujiwara family, some of which can be seen in the Houo-do Hall at Byodoin Temple, a Jodo Sect Buddhist temple located on the banks of the Uji River, south of Kyoto.

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