Asuka period (飛鳥時代, Asuka jidai) was a period in the
Japan lasting from 538 to 710 (or 592 to 645), although its
beginning could be said to overlap with the preceding
The Yamato polity evolved greatly during the Asuka period, which is
named after the Asuka region, about 25 km south of the modern
city of Nara.
Asuka period is characterized by its significant artistic, social,
and political transformations, having their origins in the late Kofun
period but largely affected by the arrival of
Buddhism from China. The
Buddhism marked a change in Japanese society. The
Asuka period is also distinguished by the change in the name of the
country from Wa (倭) to
2 Yamato polity
Soga clan and Shōtoku Taishi
Taika Reform and the ritsuryō system
4.1 Taika Reform
5 Foreign relations
6 Introduction of Buddhism
7 Influence of Taoism
8 Art and architecture
8.1 Asuka culture
8.2 Hakuhō culture
10 See also
The term "Asuka period" was first used to describe a period in the
history of Japanese fine-arts and architecture. It was proposed by
fine-arts scholars Sekino Tadasu (関野貞) and Okakura Kakuzō
around 1900. Sekino dated the
Asuka period as ending with the Taika
Reform of 646. Okakura, however, saw it as ending with the transfer of
the capital to the
Heijō Palace of Nara. Although historians
generally use Okakura's dating, many historians of art and
architecture prefer Sekino's dating and use the term "Hakuhō period
(白鳳時代)" to refer to the successive period.
The Yamato polity was distinguished by powerful great clans or
extended families, including their dependents. Each clan was headed by
a patriarch who performed sacred rites for the clan's kami to ensure
the long-term welfare of the clan. Clan members were the High
Nobility, and the Imperial line that controlled the Yamato polity was
at its pinnacle. The Asuka period, as a sub-division of the Yamato
period (大和時代, Yamato-jidai), is the first time in Japanese
history when the
Emperor of Japan
Emperor of Japan ruled relatively uncontested from
modern-day Nara Prefecture, then known as Yamato Province.
The Yamato polity was concentrated in the Asuka region and exercised
power over clans in
Kyūshū and Honshū, bestowing titles, some
hereditary, on clan chieftains. The Yamato name became synonymous with
Japan as the Yamato rulers suppressed other clans and acquired
agricultural lands. Based on Chinese models (including the adoption of
the Chinese written language), they developed a central administration
and an imperial court attended by subordinate clan chieftains but with
no permanent capital. By the mid-seventh century, the agricultural
lands had grown to a substantial public domain, subject to central
policy. The basic administrative unit of the Gokishichidō
(五畿七道, "five cities, seven roads") system was the county, and
society was organized into occupation groups. Most people were
farmers; others were fishers, weavers, potters, artisans, armorers,
and ritual specialists.
Soga clan and Shōtoku Taishi
Daibutsu at the
Asuka-dera in Asuka, the oldest known statue of
Japan with an exact known date of manufacture, 609 AD; the
statue was made by Kuratsukuri-no-Tori, son of a Korean immigrant.
Soga clan intermarried with the imperial family, and by 587 Soga
no Umako, the Soga chieftain, was powerful enough to install his
nephew as emperor and later to assassinate him and replace him with
Empress Suiko (r. 593–628). Suiko, the first of eight sovereign
empresses, is sometimes considered a mere figurehead for Umako and
Prince Regent Shōtoku Taishi (574–622). However she wielded power
in her own right, and the role of Shōtoku Taishi is often exaggerated
to the point of legend.
Shōtoku, recognized as a great intellectual of this period of reform,
was a devout Buddhist and was well-read in Chinese literature. He was
influenced by Confucian principles, including the Mandate of Heaven,
which suggested that the sovereign ruled at the will of a supreme
force. Under Shōtoku's direction, Confucian models of rank and
etiquette were adopted, and his Seventeen-article constitution
prescribed ways to bring harmony to a chaotic society in Confucian
In addition, Shōtoku adopted the Chinese calendar, developed a system
of trade roads (the aforementioned Gokishichidō), built numerous
Buddhist temples, had court chronicles compiled, sent students to
China to study
Buddhism and Confucianism, and sent
Ono no Imoko to
China as an emissary (遣隋使, Kenzuishi).
Six official missions of envoys, priests, and students were sent to
China in the seventh century. Some remained twenty years or more; many
of those who returned became prominent reformers. The
sending of such scholars to learn Chinese political systems showed
significant change from envoys in the
Kofun period, in which the five
kings of Wa sent envoys for the approval of their domains.
In a move greatly resented by the Chinese, Shōtoku sought equality
with the Chinese emperor by sending official correspondence that was
addressed, "From the
Son of Heaven
Son of Heaven in the Land of the Rising Sun to
Son of Heaven
Son of Heaven of the Land of the Setting Sun."
Some would argue that Shōtoku's bold step set a precedent: Japan
never again accepted a "subordinate" status in its relations with
China, except for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who accepted such a
China in the 15th century. As a result,
this period received no title from Chinese dynasties, while they did
send tribute (有貢無封, yūkō mufū). From the Chinese point of
view, the class or position of
Japan was demoted from previous
centuries in which the kings received titles. On the other hand, Japan
loosened its political relationships with
China and consequently
established extraordinary cultural and intellectual
Taika Reform and the ritsuryō system
Main article: Taika Reform
Left image: Copper epitaph of Funashi Ōgo (銅製船氏王後墓誌,
ｄōsei funashi ōgo no boshi), who died in 641 AD and was reburied
with his wife in 668 AD. The inscription of 162 characters tells on
one side about his birthplace and career and on the opposite about his
age at death and the burial details.
Right image: Copper coinage from the 7th century, Asuka period
About twenty years after the deaths of Shōtoku Taishi (in 622), Soga
no Umako (in 626), and
Empress Suiko (in 628), court intrigues over
succession led to a palace coup in 645 against the Soga clan's
monopolized control of the government. The revolt was led by Prince
Naka no Ōe and Nakatomi no Kamatari, who seized control of the court
from the Soga family and introduced the Taika Reform. The Japanese
era corresponding to the years 645–649 was thus named Taika,
referring to the Reform, and meaning "great change". The revolt
leading to the
Taika Reform is commonly called the Isshi Incident,
referring to the Chinese zodiac year in which the coup took place,
Although it did not constitute a legal code, the
Taika Reform mandated
a series of reforms that established the ritsuryō system of social,
fiscal, and administrative mechanisms of the seventh to tenth
centuries. Ritsu (律) was a code of penal laws, while ryō (令) was
an administrative code. Combined, the two terms came to describe a
system of patrimonial rule based on an elaborate legal code that
emerged from the Taika Reform.
The Taika Reform, influenced by Chinese practices, started with land
redistribution aimed at ending the existing landholding system of the
great clans and their control over domains and occupational groups.
What were once called "private lands and private people"
(私地私民, shichi shimin) became "public lands and public people"
(公地公民, kōchi kōmin), as the court now sought to assert its
control over all of
Japan and to make the people direct subjects of
the throne. Land was no longer hereditary but reverted to the state at
the death of the owner. Taxes were levied on harvests and on silk,
cotton, cloth, thread, and other products. A corvée (labor) tax was
established for military conscription and building public works. The
hereditary titles of clan chieftains were abolished, and three
ministries were established to advise the throne:
the Minister of the Left
the Minister of the Right
the Chancellor of the Realm
The country was divided into provinces headed by governors appointed
by the court, and the provinces were further divided into districts
Naka no Ōe assumed the title of Crown Prince, and Kamatari was
granted a new family name—Fujiwara—in recognition of his great
service to the imperial family.
Fujiwara no Kamatari
Fujiwara no Kamatari became the first
in a long line of court aristocrats. Another, long-lasting change was
the use of the name
Nihon (日本), or sometimes Dai Nippon
(大日本, "Great Japan") in diplomatic documents and chronicles. In
662, following the reigns of Naka no Ōe's uncle and mother, Naka no
Ōe assumed the throne as Emperor Tenji, taking the additional title
Emperor of Japan. This new title was intended to improve the Yamato
clan's image and to emphasize the divine origins of the imperial
family in the hope of keeping it above political frays, such as those
precipitated by the Soga clan. Within the imperial family, however,
power struggles continued as the emperor's brother and son vied for
the throne in the Jinshin War. The brother, who later reigned as
Emperor Tenmu, consolidated Tenji's reforms and state power in the
Left image: The three-story pagoda of
Hokki-ji temple, built in 706 at
the end of the Asuka period
Right image:The five-storied
Japanese pagoda of
built in the early 7th century (temple was founded in 607; carbon
dating of the pagoda's wooden components proves that they were felled
as far back as 594)
The ritsuryō system was codified in several stages. The Ōmi Code,
named after the provincial site of Emperor Tenji's court, was
completed in about 668. Further codification took place with the
Empress Jitō in 689 of the Asuka Kiyomihara Code,
named for the location of the late Emperor Temmu's court. The
ritsuryō system was further consolidated and codified in 701 under
the Taihō Code, which, except for a few modifications and being
relegated to primarily ceremonial functions, remained in force until
Though the ritsu of the code was adopted from the Chinese system, the
ryō was arranged in a local style. Some scholars argue that it was to
a certain extent based on Chinese models.
Taihō Code provided for Confucian-model penal provisions (light
rather than harsh punishments) and Chinese-style central
administration through the
Jingi-kan (神祇官), which was devoted to
Shinto and court rituals, and the
Daijō-kan (太政官), with its
eight ministries (for central administration, ceremonies, civil
affairs, the imperial household, justice, military affairs, people's
affairs, and the treasury). Although the Chinese-style civil service
examination system was not adopted, the college office (大学寮,
Daigaku Ryō) was founded for training future bureaucrats based on the
Confucian classics. Tradition circumvented the system, however, as
aristocratic birth continued to be the main qualification for higher
position, and titles were soon hereditary again. The
Taihō Code did
not address the selection of the sovereign. Several empresses reigned
from the fifth to the eighth centuries, but after 770 succession was
restricted to males, usually from father to son, although sometimes
from ruler to brother or uncle.
Fujiwara no Fuhito, son of Nakatomi no Kamatari, was among those who
produced the Taihō Ritsuryō. According to history book Shoku Nihongi
(続日本紀), two of the 19 members of the committee drafting the
Taihō Code were Chinese priests (Shoku Shugen and Satsu
Koukaku). Chinese priests also took an active part as linguistic
specialists, and received rewards two times from Empress Jitō.
A stone foundation section of the Mount Shioji Ōnojō Castle Ruins,
where construction began in 665
A wall mural depicting ladies, from the west wall of the Takamatsuzuka
Tomb, late 7th century, Asuka period
Chinese culture had been introduced to
Japan by the Three Kingdoms of
Korea before the imperial Japanese embassies to
established. Although the missions continued, the transformation of
Japan through Chinese influences declined, despite the close
connections that had existed during the early
Meanwhile, the kingdoms of the Korean peninsula, often at odds with
each other, frequently sent diplomatic missions with gifts to Japan,
probably with the aim of securing Japanese neutrality or
diplomatic/military support in their rivalries; ultimately, this
proved to be of the greatest benefit to Baekje, as Japanese military
support for that kingdom increased. People, many of them artisans
and skilled workers, also emigrated to
Japan from the Korean
peninsula, including two high priests who arrived in
Japan in 595: Eji
Goguryeo and Esō from Baekje.
Kanroku also came from Baekje,
and was a tutor to Prince Shōtoku, counseling him politically. When
Japan allied with Baekje, the
Goguryeo priests left Japan. The Yamato
court, concentrated in the Asuka region, exercised power over clans in
Kyushu and Honshu, bestowing titles, some hereditary, on clan
chieftains. The Yamato name became synonymous with all of
Japan as the
Yamato rulers suppressed the clans and acquired agricultural lands.
Based on Chinese models (including the adoption of the Chinese written
language), they developed a central administration and an imperial
court attended by subordinate clan chieftains but with no permanent
capital. By the mid-seventh century, the agricultural lands had grown
to a substantial public domain, subject to central policy. The basic
administrative unit was the county, and society was organized into
occupation groups. Most people were farmers; other were fishers,
weavers, potters, artisans, armorers, and ritual specialists.
From 600 to 659,
Japan sent seven emissaries to Tang China. But for
the next 32 years, during a period when
Japan was formulating its laws
based on Chinese texts, none were sent. Though
Japan cut off
diplomatic relations with China,
Japan sent 11 emissaries to Silla,
Silla is also recorded in
Nihon Shoki as sending embassies to
Japan 17 times during the reigns of
Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jitō.
The ruling classes of Yamato and
Baekje were on amicable terms, and
Yamato deployed its navy to aid Baekje, in 660–663, against an
Silla and Tang
China (see battle of Baekgang).
Numerous official missions of envoys, priests, and students were sent
China in the seventh century. Some remained twenty years or more;
many of those who returned became prominent reformers. In a move
greatly resented by the Chinese, Shotoku sought equality with the
Chinese emperor by sending official correspondence addressed "From the
Son of Heaven
Son of Heaven in the Land of the Rising Sun to the
Son of Heaven
Son of Heaven of
the Land of the Setting Sun." Shotoku's bold step set a precedent:
Japan never again accepted a subordinate status in its relations with
China. Although the missions continued the transformation of Japan
through Chinese influences, the Korean influence on
despite the close connections that had existed during the early Kofun
Introduction of Buddhism
Yakushi Nyorai (National Treasure), Kondo, Horyuji, Nara
Prefecture, Japan, 7th century, Asuka period
Amitabha Buddha and two assistants, gilded bronze, 7th
The introduction of
Japan is attributed to the
Seong in 538, exposing
Japan to a new body of religious doctrine. The
Soga clan, a Japanese court family that rose to prominence with the
ascension of the
Emperor Kinmei about 531, favored the adoption of
Buddhism and of governmental and cultural models based on Chinese
Confucianism. But some at the Yamato court—such as the Nakatomi
family, which was responsible for performing
Shinto rituals at court,
and the Mononobe, a military clan—were set on maintaining their
prerogatives and resisted the alien religious influence of Buddhism.
The Soga introduced Chinese-modeled fiscal policies, established the
first national treasury, and considered the kingdoms of Korea as trade
partners rather than as objects of territorial expansion. Acrimony
continued between the Soga and the Nakatomi and Mononobe clans for
more than a century, during which the Soga temporarily emerged
In the Taika Reform, the Funeral Simplification Edict was proclaimed,
and the building of large kofun (tumuli) was banned. The edict also
regulated size and shape of kofun by classes. As a result, later
kofun, though much smaller, were distinguished by elaborate frescoes.
Paintings and decorations in those kofun indicate the spread of Taoism
Buddhism in this period; the
Takamatsuzuka Kofun and Kitora Kofun
are notable for their wall paintings.
The use of elaborate kofun tombs by the imperial family and other
elite thus fell out of use amidst the rise of prevailing new Buddhist
beliefs, which put greater emphasis on the transience of human life.
Commoners and the elite in outlying regions, however, continued to use
kofun until the late seventh century, and simpler but distinctive
tombs continued in use throughout the following period.
In 675 the use of livestock and the consumption of some wild animals
(horse, cattle, dogs, monkeys, birds) was banned by
Emperor Tenmu due
to the influence of Buddhism. This ban was renewed throughout the
Asuka period, but ended with the Heian period. The pest animals, deer
and wild boar, were not affected by this ban.
Influence of Taoism
A dragon-head pitcher with
Pegasus pattern incised, gilded
bronze with silver, Asuka period, 7th century, former Horyu-ji
Temple treasures, Tokyo National Museum
Bronze plaque depicting Shaka delivering a sermon, dated 698 AD,
Hase-dera Temple, Sakurai, Nara
Taoism was also introduced during the Asuka period. In the mid-7th
Empress Saimei built
Danzan Shrine (談山神社, Danzan
Jinja), a Taoist temple, at Mt. Tōnomine (多武峰,
Tōnomine, "Tō Ridge, Tō Peak"). The octagonal shape of monarchs'
tombs of this age and the celestial maps drawn in the Kitora and
Takamatsuzuka kofun also reflect the Taoist cosmology. Tennō (天皇,
"Emperor"), the new title of the Japanese monarch in this period,
could also be argued to derive from the name of the supreme God of
Taoism, the God of
Polaris (天皇大帝, Tenkō Taitei).[citation
Taoist belief was eventually amalgamated with Shintō and
establish new styles of rituals.
Onmyōdō (陰陽道), a sort of
Japanese geomancy and cosmology, is one of the fruits of these
religious mixtures. While the
Asuka period started with conflicts
between clans over religious beliefs, later in the period, the
imported religions became syncretized with Japan's native folk
Art and architecture
Some architectural structures built in the period still remain today.
Wooden buildings at Hōryū-ji, built in the seventh century, show
some influence from Chinese and west Asian countries. For instance,
the pillars at
Hōryū-ji are similar to the pillars of the Parthenon
of ancient Greece, as seen in their entasis. The five-storied pagoda
(五重の塔, go-jū no tō) is a transformation from the Indian
mound-like reliquary structure called a stupa. In addition, mural
paintings in the Takamatsuzuka and Kitora kofun dating from the fifth
century show strong influence from
Tang dynasty and
The Japanese Buddhist sculpture art of this period is believed to have
followed the style of the Six Dynasties of China. The characteristics
of the sculptures of this age are also referred to as Tori Style,
taken from the name of prominent sculptor Kuratsukuri Tori, grandson
of Chinese immigrant Shiba Tatto. Some of the characteristics of
the style include marked, almond-shaped eyes, and symmetrically
arranged folds in the clothing. The most striking and distinguishing
feature of these sculptures is an expression of the smile that is
called the "archaic smile". Kudara Kannon at
Hōryū-ji is the most
prominent Buddhist sculpture from this period.
The second stage of Buddhist art, coming after the Asuka (cultural)
period, is known as the Hakuhō culture (白鳳文化, Hakuhō Bunka),
and is generally dated from the
Taika Reform (646) until the moving of
the capital to Nara in 710. During the latter half of the 8th century,
a large number of songs and poems were composed and performed by
various ranked people from warriors to the Emperor. The earliest
collection of these poems is known as the
"collection of 10,000 leaves"). This includes works by several
remarkable poets such as
Princess Nukata and Kakinomoto no Hitomaro.
Waka (和歌, "Japanese song") also emerged as a new form of poetry at
this time. This term was coined to distinguish native styles from
those imported from China; within the umbrella of waka poetry, one of
the more popular forms is known as tanka (短歌, "short song"). It
consists of a total of 31 Japanese syllables (morae) divided over five
lines, in the syllabic pattern 5/7/5/7/7.
538: The Korean kingdom of
Baekje dispatches a delegation to introduce
Buddhism to the Japanese Emperor.
Prince Shōtoku is assigned as regent of
Empress Suiko and
Buddhism with the Soga clan.
600: Yamato state sends the first official Japanese mission to China
Prince Shōtoku issues a Chinese-style constitution
(Seventeen-article constitution), based on Confucian principles, which
de facto inaugurated the Japanese Empire.
Prince Shōtoku builds the Buddhist temple Hōryūji in Ikaruga.
645: Soga no Iruka and his father Emishi are killed in the Isshi
Emperor Kōtoku ascends to the throne and strengthens
imperial power over the aristocratic clans (see Taika Reform), turning
their states into provinces.
663: The Japanese navy was defeated by the Silla-Tang alliance in
Battle of Baekgang, failing to restore Baekje.
670: The first family registry (庚午年籍, Kōgo Nenjaku) was
672: Prince Ōama, later
Emperor Tenmu usurped the throne by winning
the Jinshin no Ran (壬申の乱) civil war against Emperor Kōbun.
Asuka Kiyomihara Code was proclaimed.
Taihō Code was proclaimed.
Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan
Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is founded. It survives to become
the oldest known hotel business still in operation, as of 2012.
708: The first Japanese coin (和同開珎, Wadōkaichin) was minted.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l L. Worden, Robert (1994). "
Kofun and Asuka
Periods, ca. A.D. 250-710". A Country Study: Japan. Federal Research
Division, Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 6 April
2007. Retrieved 2007-04-06.
^ L. Worden, Robert (1994). "Kamakura and Muromachi Periods,
1185–1573, Economic and Cultural Developments". A Country Study:
Japan. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Archived from
the original on 6 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-06. Yoshimitsu,
in 1404, accepted the "King of Japan" title in his willingness to
improve relations with
China and to rid
Japan of the wako threat, thus
establishing trade with China. This was considered as tribute by the
Chinese but the Japanese saw it as profitable trade. This relationship
lasted for about 50 years. (see also Sinocentrism).
^ general editors, John W. Hall... [; et al. (1988). The Cambridge
history of Japan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
pp. 182–183. ISBN 0-521-22352-0.
台湾大学歴史学系 高明士 Archived September 19, 2006, at
the Wayback Machine., japanology.cn
^ Web Japan, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan. "One
hundred years older than supposed?: World Heritage Pagoda". Retrieved
^ William Wayne Farris, Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures: Issues on
the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan, University of Hawaii
Press, 1998. Books.Google.com.
^ 續日本紀 卷第一 文武紀一 Archived January 11, 2007,
at the Wayback Machine., applepig.idv.tw
^ 『続日本紀』国史大系版, j-texts.com
^ Early Samurai: 200–1500 AD by Anthony J. Bryant,
Angus McBride "At
about this time Paekche began feeling renewed pressure from
Koguryo and pleaded with the Yamato court to send help ... During
the Mimana struggles against Silla, Paekche sent many presents to
^ Sansom, George (1958). A
History of Japan
History of Japan to 1334. Stanford,
California: Stanford University Press. 47–49.
^ Encyclopedia of World Biography on Shotoku Taishi "Two Korean high
priests arrived in
Japan in 595—Eji from the kingdom of Koryo (Koma)
and Eso from the kingdom of Paekche (Kudara)."
^ Hisao Nagayama. 「たべもの江戸史」 新人物往来社,
1976. ISBN 4309473105 p. 66.
^ Kiichi Koyanagi. 「日本人の食生活 :
飢餓と豊饒の変遷史」 Tōkyō : Shibata shoten, 1971.
^ Farris, William Wayne (1998). Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures:
Issues on the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan. University of
Hawaii Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-8248-2030-5.
^ "Complex of Koguryo Tombs". UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
^ "Tori style". Britannica Concise. Encyclopædia Britannica.
^ Kurashige, Taku; Rie Yamada (2003). "Asuka Period". Archived from
the original on 2006-02-06.
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Library of Congress
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