Power to the Nakatomi Family | Japan's Failed Reforms in the 700s | Japan's Emperors become Figureheads: the 800s CE | The Fujiwara Era, 858 to 1160 – wars among Nobles and Their Samurai | Arrival of the Kamakura Shogunate, 1156-1185 | Rule of Law and Class Privileges in Kamakura Japan | Mongol Invasions and the End of Kamakura Rule in 1333
Medieval Japan and Korea
READER COMMENT: My father told me that the Japanese expression, kudaranai, means "not Kudara" (meaning no good, worthless, not made in Baekche) originated from that period. [Baekche is the Korean kingdom also spelled Paekche] Many Korean craftsmen migrated (willingly or unwillingly) to Japan during the period and affected Japanese culture.
Two indigenous Emishi paying homage to Prince Shotoku (From Wikipedia. A sketch made in 1069)
Buddhism may have arrived in Japan earlier, but the commonly estimated time of its arrival in Japan was around the mid-500s, when the Korean king of Paekche (Baekche) was fighting the king of neighboring Silla and wished to ally himself with Japan. The king of Paekche presented Japan's emperor with an image of the Buddha and some sacred Buddhist writings, and he described Buddhism as the religion of the civilized world. The leader of the aristocratic clan called the Mononobe, who led the emperor's military, opposed joining Paekche against Silla. So too did the clan whose leader was in charge of religious ritual – the Nakatomi. Both of them were opposed to the importation of Buddhism, believing that Buddhism would be an affront to the traditional gods of the emperor. It was the duty of the Nakatomi to perform religious rituals, known as Shintoism, at court. And if Buddha had powers superior to all other deities as the head of the Nakatomi family believed that Buddhists claimed, then Buddhism contradicted his authority.
Japan's emperor sent no troops to Korea, and in 562 Japan was forced from its possession in Korea that it called Mimana. The emperor had his doubts about the wisdom of adopting Buddhism, but he allowed the leader of the Soga clan to worship the Buddha privately as a trial. The Soga clan had been rising in influence, including marrying their daughters into the ruling Yamato family, and the Soga clan leader believed what the king of Paekche had said: that Buddhism was the religion of the most civilized. And he believed that Japan, therefore, should have it.
The Mononobe and Nakatomi succeeded in spreading hostility against Buddhism when, following the arrival of a Buddhist statue, disease spread among the Japanese. The epidemic was spoken of as a sign of the anger of the Shinto gods. The Soga temple at the palace was burned down. But this was followed by the epidemic becoming worse, which was taken as a sign of the anger and power of the Buddha. The Soga were allowed to maintain their adherence to Buddhism, and a few Buddhist monks arrrived from Korea, adding to a small Buddhist community at the capital.
The new emperor, Yomei, who had taken power during the conflict and pestilence, was impressed by Buddhism and accepted it, but he died in 587, after only a year on the throne. That year, the Soga clan fought a civil war against the Mononobe and Nakatomi over who should succeed Yomei. The Soga won, and the head of the Soga family, Umako, made his nephew, Sujun, emperor.
Eventually Sujun wanted to be rid of his benefactor, Umako, but Umako struck first and, in 592, he had Sujun murdered. Then he placed his thirty-nine year-old daughter, Suiko, on the throne and made her twenty-nine year-old nephew, Shotoku, her regent. Shotoku became Crown Prince. He converted Suiko to Buddhism. Buddhist monks acquired high positions in government. Buddhism became the state religion, and its powers were called upon to protect the Japanese nation. Impressed with things Chinese, Shotoku imported Confucianist learning. Also more Buddhist monasteries were built – while Buddhism remained limited to a few aristocrats around the capital.
The Nakatomi family continued to serve as the state's Shinto high priest. The Nakatomi were forced to tolerate Buddhism, and Shinto continued to be a part of official state functions. Buddhist doctrine and Shinto began influencing each other. The Buddha, represented by the statue at Nara, became identified with the Sun Goddess of Shinto worship, and Buddhist ceremonies were woven into traditional court ritual.
The Soga family protected itself well with an army of bodyguards. They inspired rebellion against themselves by failing to maintain good relations or accommodating others around the palace, and by their arrogance and posturing. Leading the rebellion was the head of the Nakatomi family, Nakatomi Kamatari. In 645 the Soga were put to the sword, as fearful Soga guards abandoned their post. Nakatomi Kamatari demanded an oath of loyalty from other officials, and outside of the palace the Nakatomi wiped away all those who showed opposition to their rule.
Having become the most influential family, the Nakatomi began selecting who among the Yamato family would be emperor – still adhering to their belief that the Yamato family was directly descended from the original king, Jimmu and Jimmu's ancestor, the Sun Goddess. The Nakatomi family continued to run daily court ceremonies. They served as the power behind the throne and occasionally as regent. They ran government ministries and married their daughters into the Yamato family. And under Nakatomi influence the actual power of the Yamato emperor declined generally, with emperors occasionally trying to re-assert Yamato control.
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.