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The ancient civilization of Japan. Culture and history.

The formation of Japanese civilization

The ancient Japanese civilization did not have a significant impact on the ancient and medieval culture of other regions. Its significance for world culture is different. Having developed a unique art, literature, and worldview on the basis of the most diverse and diverse elements, Japan was able to prove that its cultural values have sufficient potentials both in time and in space, even if they remained unknown to contemporaries in other countries due to the island position of the country. The task of the historian of Japanese antiquity is, in particular, to understand how the foundations of what we now call Japanese culture were laid, which, after a long period of accumulation of the cultural heritage of other countries, is now making an ever-increasing contribution to the development of universal culture.

The main periods of the history of Ancient Japanese civilization

  1. Paleolithic (40000-13000 years ago). There are few Paleolithic monuments, most of which were discovered after the war.
  2. Neolithic-Dzemon culture (13,000 BC-III century BC). Most of the population lives in the north-eastern part of the island of Honshu. The jemon culture (named after a type of pottery with rope ornaments) spread from Hokkaido to Ryukyu.
  3. Eneolite-Yayoi culture (III century BC-III century AD). Named after the type of pottery found in Yayoi. There is a large migration from the Korean Peninsula of groups of the Altai language group, which brought with them the experience of land rice planting, sericulture, and the technology of bronze and iron production. There is an assimilation of the local Austronesian population, which led to the emergence of Proto-Japanese.
  4. Kurgan period-kofun jidai (III-VI centuries). The name was given to a large number of burial structures of the kurgan type. There is a formation of a homogeneous state-Yamato.
  5. Asuka period (552-646). The name was given to the location of the residence of the Yamato kings in the Asuka region (Central Japan). This period is characterized by the formation of Buddhism and the strengthening of the state.
  6. Early Nara (646-710). At this stage, there is a massive borrowing from China — writing, official structures, management theories and practices. A period of great reforms is beginning to transform Yamato into a” civilized ” state on the Chinese model: the creation of the first legislative codes, the system of state ownership of land and the allotment system of land use.
  7. Nara (710-794). The name was given to the location of the first permanent capital of Japan-the city of Nara. The name of the country changes to “Nihon” (“where the sun rises”). The first written monuments of their own appear — the chronicle mythological vaults “Kojiki” and “Nihongi”. The internal struggle between the service nobility, natives of China and Korea, and the local aristocracy is escalating, which leads to the weakening of Buddhism and the strengthening of Shintoism.

Settlement of the Japanese islands

Clay figurines. The Zen period. 8-1 thousand BC Japan

Clay figurines. The Zen period. VIII-I thousand BC.

Japanese civilization is young. The people who created it are also young. It was formed as a result of complex and multi-time ethnic mergers of immigrants who overcame the water barrier that separates the Japanese islands from the mainland. The earliest inhabitants of Japan were probably Proto-Jain tribes, as well as tribes of Malay-Polynesian origin. In the middle of the first millennium BC. From the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, there is an intensive migration of Proto-Japanese Wa tribes, who managed to assimilate the population of southern Japan to a large extent (the Japanese language, according to the latest research by S. A. Starostin, shows the greatest kinship with Korean).

And although at that time all the tribes that inhabited the territory of Japan were at the level of the primitive communal system, even then, probably, one of the leading stereotypes of the Japanese worldview, which is visible throughout the history of this country, was laid — this is the ability to assimilate skills and knowledge that comes from contacts with other peoples. It was after assimilation with local tribes at the turn of the IV-III centuries BC that the cultivation of irrigated rice and metal processing began.

The “Yayoi” Era

The period of six centuries (until the third century AD) is called “yayoi” in Japanese historiography (after the quarter in Tokyo where the remains of this culture were first discovered). The Yayoi culture is characterized by the creation of sustainable communities based on irrigation agriculture. Since bronze and iron enter Japan almost simultaneously, bronze was used mainly for the manufacture of cult objects: ritual mirrors, swords, bells, and iron — for the production of tools.

Yamato Era

A clay figurine. End of the zen period. 2nd century BC Japan

A clay figurine. End of the zen period. 2nd century BC Japan

The ability to assimilate foreign samples becomes especially noticeable with the emergence of statehood, dating back to the III-IV centuries AD. At this time, the union of Southern Kyushu tribes invaded Central Japan. As a result, the so-called Yamato state begins to form, the culture of which is characterized by unprecedented homogeneity.

The period from the IV to the beginning of the VII century is called kurgan (“kofun jidai”) according to the type of burials, the structure and inventory of which differ in features of strong Korean and Chinese influences. Nevertheless, such a large-scale construction — and currently more than 10 thousand mounds have been discovered — could not have been successful if the very idea of mounds was alien to the population of Japan. The Yamato mounds are probably genetically related to the Kyushu dolmens. Among the objects of funerary worship, the clay plastic haniva is of particular importance. Among these brilliant examples of ancient ritual art are images of dwellings, temples, umbrellas, vessels, weapons, armor, boats, animals, birds, priests, warriors, etc. According to these images, many features of the material and spiritual life of the ancient Japanese are restored. The construction of mound-type structures was obviously associated with the cult of the ancestors and the cult of the Sun, which is reflected in the extant monuments of early Japanese writing (the mythological and chronicle vaults “Kojiki”, “Nihon seki”).

Ancestor worship in Shinto

The ancestral cult has a special significance for the native Japanese religion-Shintoism, and therefore for the entire culture of Japan. Along with the above-mentioned openness to foreign influences, the ancestor cult represents another powerful driving force in the development of Japanese civilization, a force that ensured continuity in the course of historical evolution.

At the state level, the cult of the ancestors was embodied in the cult of the Sun goddess Amaterasu, who is considered the progenitor of the ruling family. Among the cycle of myths devoted to Amaterasu, the central place is occupied by the story of her hiding in a heavenly cave, when the world was plunged into darkness and remained in it until the gods, using magical techniques, managed to lure the goddess out of her refuge.

Detail of a clay figurine. III-II thousand BC.

Detail of a clay figurine. III-II thousand BC.

The pantheon of early Shintoism included the ancestral deities of the clans that occupied a leading place in the social structure of Japanese society during the period of the formation of the myth as a category of state ideology. The ancestral deities were considered polyfunctional protectors of the clans that derived their origin from them. In addition to the ancestral deities, the Japanese also worshipped numerous landscape deities, which were usually of local significance.

The emergence of Buddhism

By the middle of the sixth century, a certain political stability had been achieved in the Yamato state, although the mitigation of centrifugal tendencies was still one of the main concerns of the ruling family. To overcome the ideological fragmentation sanctified by tribal and regional Shinto cults, the Japanese rulers turned to the religion of a developed class society — Buddhism.

It is difficult to overestimate the role that Buddhism has played in the history of Japan. In addition to his contribution to the formation of a national ideology, the Buddhist faith formed a new type of personality, devoid of ancestral attachment and therefore more suitable for functioning in the system of state relations. The process of Buddhist socialization was never fully completed, but nevertheless, at this stage of historical development, Buddhism served as the cementing force that ensured the ideological homogeneity of the Japanese state. The humanizing role of Buddhism was also great, bringing positive ethical norms of the community, which replaced the taboos of Shinto.

A clay vessel. The Zen period. VIII-I thousand BC.

A clay vessel. The Zen period. VIII-I thousand BC.

Construction of Buddhist temples

Along with Buddhism, the material complex that serves the needs of this religion also penetrates into Japan. The construction of temples, the production of sculptural images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and other objects of worship begins. Shintoism at that time did not have a developed tradition of building indoor places of worship for worship.

The layout of the first Japanese Buddhist temple complexes with their orientation from south to north generally corresponds to the Korean and Chinese prototypes. However, many design features of the construction, such as antiseismic structures, indicate that the temples and monasteries were built with the direct participation of local craftsmen. An important feature of many of the first Buddhist temples in Japan was also the absence of a room for prayers in them—a feature inherited from the compositional construction of Shinto temples. The interior was not intended for prayers, but for the preservation of temple shrines.

The most grandiose Buddhist religious building was the Todaiji Temple, whose complex occupied more than 90 hectares (built in the middle of the VIII century). The temple symbolized the power of the state. In addition to purely religious needs, it was also used for secular ceremonies of national significance, for example, for the assignment of official ranks. “Golden Pavilion” (“kondo») Todaiji has been rebuilt several times after devastating fires. It is currently the largest wooden structure in the world. Its height is 49, width — 57, length — 50 m. It houses a giant 18 m high statue of the cosmic Buddha Vairochana. However, the “gigantomania syndrome” was overcome quite quickly, and in the future nothing like the Todaiji temple complex was built. The desire for miniaturization becomes characteristic.

A dancer. Haniva. Kofun period. Mid-III-mid-VI centuries AD.

A dancer. Haniva. Kofun period. Mid-III-mid-VI centuries AD.

Buddhist sculpture

In the seventh and eighth centuries, continental Buddhist sculpture almost completely suppresses the local iconographic tradition. Bronze Buddhist statues were either imported from Korea and China, or made by visiting craftsmen. Along with a bronze sculpture from the second half of the eighth century. The production of lacquer, clay and wooden Buddhist images is becoming more and more common, in the appearance of which the influence of the local iconographic canon is noticeable. In comparison with sculpture, monumental temple painting occupied a much smaller place in the visual canon.

The sculpture depicted not only Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Since Buddhism brought with it the concept of personality, which is more individualized than the one that Shintoism had developed by this time, it is no coincidence that since the middle of the eighth century there has been an interest in portraiture of prominent figures of Japanese Buddhism (Gyosin, Gyeon, Gandzin, etc.). However, these portraits are still devoid of personal traits of a person and tend to typify.

Construction of the capital-Nara

By 710, the construction of the permanent capital of Nara was completed, which was a typical bureaucratic city with a certain layout, similar to the capital of Tang China — Chang’an. The city was divided from south to north by nine streets, and from west to east by eight. Intersecting at right angles, they formed a rectangle measuring 4.8 by 4.3 km, in 72 blocks of which, together with the nearest suburbs, could, according to modern estimates, live up to 200 thousand people. Nara was then the only city: the level of development of agriculture, crafts and social relations had not yet reached the stage when the emergence of cities would become a universal necessity. Nevertheless, the colossal concentration of the population in the capital at that time contributed to the development of product exchange and commodity-money relations. In the eighth century, Japan already minted its own coin.

Mural painting of the tomb. V-VI centuries.

Mural painting of the tomb. V-VI centuries.

Creating a code of laws

The construction of the capital on the continental model was one of the important measures to transform Japan from a semi-barbaric kingdom into an “empire”, which was to be facilitated by numerous reforms that began to be actively carried out from the middle of the seventh century.In 646, a decree consisting of four articles was published.

  1. According to article 1, the old hereditary system of owning slaves and land was abolished; instead, State ownership of land was proclaimed and fixed feedings were allocated according to official ranks.
  2. Article 2 prescribed a new territorial division of the country into provinces and counties; the status of the capital was determined.
  3. Article 3 announced the census of households and the compilation of registers for the redistribution of land.
  4. Article 4 abolished the previous arbitrary labor service and established the size of the natural household taxation of agricultural products and handicrafts.

The entire second half of the seventh century was marked by increased activity of the state in the field of legislation. Subsequently, individual decrees were brought together, and on their basis, in 701, the first universal legislation “Taihore” was completed, which served with additions and modifications as the basis of feudal legislation throughout the Middle Ages. According to the Taihora and Yorora (757), the administrative and official apparatus of the Japanese state was a complex and extensive hierarchical system with strict subordination from top to bottom. The economic basis of the country was the state monopoly on land.

Mural of the Tokamatsu-zuka tomb. VI century AD.

Mural of the Tokamatsu-zuka tomb. VI century AD.

Building the ideological foundation of the state

During the VII-VIII centuries. The Japanese state is trying to ideologically justify the existing and newly created institutions of government. First of all, this should have been served by the mythological and chronicle codes ” Kojiki “(712) and” Nihon seki ” (720). Myths, records of historical and semi-legendary events were subjected to significant processing in both monuments. The main goal of the compilers was to create a state ideology, in other words, to connect “myth” and “history”: the narrative of “Kojiki” and ” Nihon seki “is divided into” the era of the gods “and”the era of the emperors”. Consequently, the then position of the royal family, as well as other most powerful families from among the tribal aristocracy, found justification in the role played by the original deities during the “era of the gods”.

The compilation of “Kojiki” and “Nihon seki” marks an important stage in the creation of a national ideology based on the Shinto myth. This attempt should be considered very successful. The myth was brought into line with the realities of history, and the system of sacred genealogies played a prominent role in the events of Japanese history until the twentieth century.

Ritual Buddhist objects. Kyoto Old Palace. VII-VIII centuries AD.

Ritual Buddhist objects. Kyoto Old Palace. VII-VIII centuries AD.

Reducing the role of Buddhism
Simultaneously with the active involvement of Shintoism in state-building, Buddhism is losing its position in this area. This becomes especially noticeable after the failed coup undertaken by the Buddhist monk Doke in 771 To avoid the pressure of the Buddhist clergy, who settled in the temples and monasteries of Nara, in 784 the capital was moved to Nagaoka, and in 794 — to Heian. Having lost much of the state support, Buddhism nevertheless greatly contributed to the formation of a personality that stood out from the collective and constantly participated in the process of its socialization. This is its enduring significance in the history of Japan.

Chinese influence on Japanese culture

Despite the fact that the compilation of “Kojiki ” and” Nihon seki “pursued the same goals, only” Nihon seki “was recognized as a”real” dynasty chronicle. Although both monuments were composed in Chinese (“Kojiki “-with great use of the phonetic writing of the” manyegana “characters),” Kojiki ” was written by Ono Yasumaro with the voice of the narrator Hieda no Are. Thus, the “oral channel” of sacred information transmission, familiar to Shintoism, was used. Only then, according to the beliefs of the adherents of traditionalism, the text became the true text.

The text “Nihon seki” from the very beginning appears as a written text. In view of the active spread of Chinese writing, which created new opportunities for the recording and storage of important cultural values, the Japanese society faced the question of which speech — written or oral — should be recognized as more authoritative. At first, the choice was made in favor of the first one. The language of culture for some time became the Chinese literary language. It served primarily the needs of the state. In Chinese, chronicles were kept, laws were drawn up. Chinese philosophical, sociological, and literary works were used as textbooks in public schools established in the eighth century.

Wooden Taoist ritual figurines. Kyoto. IX century AD.

Wooden Taoist ritual figurines. Kyoto. IX century AD.

Medieval Japanese poetry is now known all over the world. But the first extant poem anthology, Kaifuso (751), is a collection of poems in Chinese. After some time, an anthology of Japanese poetry is compiled— “Manyoshu”, the poems of which were recorded by “manyegana”. This anthology summed up the centuries-old development of Japanese poetry. The “Manyoshu” includes poems of various time layers: samples of folklore and cult poetry, author’s compositions that have not yet lost their connection with folk song creativity. The latter came very close to individual creativity. However, the great prestige of the Chinese language has led to the fact that after the compilation of the “Manyoshu”, Japanese poems disappear from the sphere of written culture for a long time. The next anthology in Japanese, Kokinshu, did not appear until the beginning of the tenth century. The verses of “Kokinshu” reveal both continuity in relation to “Manyoshu”, and many qualitative differences. This indicates the continuous improvement of the poetic tradition, despite the long-term displacement of Japanese poetry from the category of official culture.

Of course, the main achievements were waiting for Japanese culture ahead. The period immediately preceding the brilliant and completely independent medieval culture of Heian was largely a time of persistent and fruitful apprenticeship. Nevertheless, even with the most diverse borrowings, the Japanese managed to maintain continuity in relation to the past achievements of their own culture. By the middle of the IX century. Japanese culture, enriched by foreign borrowings, already had sufficient internal energy for independent development.

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