Japan: Nara period (AD 710-794)

In 710, the Japanese capital was moved from Fujiwarakyo to Heijokyo (modern Nara). The period until 794, including ten years in Nagaokakyo, is known as the Nara period.

Buddhism was established as the state religion under the devout patronage of Emperor Shōmu (reigned 724-749). His reign, known as the Tempyō era, was a period of high intellectual and cultural achievement. Temple architecture, Buddhist painting and sculpture were strongly influenced by Tang dynasty China through official missions and the exchange of monks and students. Shōmu established provincial temples (kokubunji) throughout the country. The head temple was Tōdaiji Temple in Nara, with its great bronze statue of Buddha Vairocana, completed in AD 752. Visitors came also from India and other Asian countries and many diverse objects from this period are preserved in the imperial treasure-house, the Shōsōin at Todaiji. Using the Chinese character (kanji) writing system as a base, the Japanese experimented with elegant calligraphic styles. Outstanding literary works are the first imperial poetry anthology, Manyōshū ('Book of a Thousand Leaves'), and two chronicles Kojiki and Nihonshoki (the latter in Chinese).

The Nara period marked the height and also the decline of the Chinese-inspired ritsuryō system of government. The emperor was the undisputed head of the country. A Grand Council of State presided over eight ministries and the country was divided into provinces each with a governor. There was strict allocation of land, and taxation based on rice and produce. This foreign system was not entirely suited to Japan and there were times of great poverty and unrest. After Shōmu's death, the political and social situation grew more unstable. This led to the move of the capital to Nagaokakyo, and finally to Heiankyo, where a new beginning could be made.

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