History of Arts and Religion in Japan

B.C. – Archaic
  • Wet method of rice culture, cloth weaving, and smelting and forging of iron are introduced from mainland Asia during second and first centuries B.C.
  • Early Japanese religion grows probably as a form of nature-worship

C. 500 – Early Historic
  • Chinese script is adopted for official purposes around the beginning of fifth century; written records are kept for the first time
  • King of Paikche in Korea sends a bronze Buddha and Buddhist scriptures to Japanese Court, spurring great interest in Buddhism, which becomes principal carrier of Chinese culture                   
  • Ministers of the Soga family encourage building of Buddhist monasteries and temples and the assimilation o£ Chinese cultural ideas
  •  The Horyuji monastery is founded by the Imperial Family in A.D. 607; its Golden Hall is believed to be the world’s oldest existing wooden building

710 – Nara 
            • Buddhism and Shinto are reconciled around A.D. 740 and Buddhism becomes the Court religion; in A.D. 749 a colossal image of the Buddha is consecrated in Nara

794 – Heian 

  • Although direct contacts with China are broken off, Japanese art, architecture and literature continue to follow Chinese patterns, with Japanese innovations
  • The aristocracy places great emphasis on elaborate manners and on such arts as calligraphy, poetry and perfume-blending
  •  Kana, or syllabic writing, comes into wide use by women in writing poems, letters, diaries and novels
  • The Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel, is written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu around 1020
  • Honen, a Buddhist monk, forms the Jodo, or Pure Land, sect in 1175 and begins to spread the worship of the Buddha Amida

1185 – Kamakura

  •  The rise of the warrior caste stimulates improvements in sword-making; Japanese swords become the world’s finest
  • The Tales of the Heike, and other Kamakura war tales glorifying the deeds of warriors, gain wide popularity
  • Around 1200 the monk Eisai founds a Zen school of Buddhism in Japan; the Zen school headed by Dogen gains wide appeal among the samurai and feudal lords
  • Nichircn founds the militant and intolerant Hokke, or Lotus, sect around 1250; he predicts national disasters if his teachings are not followed
1338 – Ashikaga

  • Kyoto revives as a great cultural centre, now under strong Zen influence; Ashikaga shoguns build palaces in the Muromachi quarter and patronize the arts
  • The No theatre develops from popular entertainments into a sophisticated form of drama
  • In 1394 Ashikaga Yoshimitsu builds the Golden Pavilion and lays out its garden
  • The Silver Pavilion is built by Ashikaga Yoshlmasa in 1479; in its tea-room Yoshi-masa and his guests elaborate the ritual of the tea ceremony
  • Sesshu perfects the Japanese technique of ink painting, reflecting in his work Zen principles of simplicity and restraint

1500 – Country at War

  • A Jesuit mission headed by St. Francis Xavier lands in Japan in 1549 and is given permission to preach Christianity and make converts
  • Nagasaki becomes the Jesuits’ headquarters, as well as a terminal for Portuguese trading ships
  • During the rule of Hideyoshi, the flowering of flamboyant Momoyama art and architecture reflects a diminishing interest in Zen’s austere aesthetic principles
  • Hideyoshi orders the Jesuit missionaries expelled from Japan in  1587,  but the expulsion order is not enforced
  • Franciscan missionaries arrive in Japan from the Spanish-occupied Philippines
  • In 1597 Hideyoshi executes six Franciscans and some of their followers and destroys a number of churches