What was the Asuka Period?

An old tomb from the Asuka Period.
An old tomb from the Asuka Period.

The Asuka period refers to an era in ancient Japan between 538 to 719 whee several cultural, political, and social transformations occurred within Japanese society. The Asuka period took over from the Kofun period (250 to 538 AD) and is said to have commenced with the introduction of Buddhism. The country’s name changed to Nihon from Wa during this period.

Political Development

The Yamato State transformed significantly during this period, and it was characterized by powerful clans individually headed by a patriarch. The clan members were recognized as the High Nobility. The Yamato polity reinforced its strength by acquiring agricultural lands and suppressing other clans. The Yamato rulers borrowed administrative systems from the Chinese and created an imperial court as well as a central administration. The society was made up of occupation groups such as farmers and armorers. The Soga clan benefited from intermarrying with the imperial family, enabling Soga no Umako to make his nephew Emperor and subsequently replace him with Empress Suiko. Shōtoku Taishi, who served as Prince Regent under Empress Suiko, is credited with a number of reforms. Confucian models of rank and etiquette became popular under his guidance. He also popularized his seventeen article constitution which promoted harmony. Many students, priests, and scholars went to China to learn political and spiritual systems. The Soga family was overthrown by a coup organized by Nakatomi no Kamatari and Prince Naka no Ōe who introduced the Taika Reform. A ritsuryō system of administrative, social, and fiscal administration was instituted under the Taika Reform.

Introduction of Buddhism

The Baekje King Seong is credited with the introduction of Buddhism to the Japanese society. The Soga clan warmed up to governmental and cultural principles adopted from Chinese Confucianism as well as Buddhism. The religion influenced several aspects such as the use of simpler tombs where previously elaborate and extensive kofuns had been popular. Emperor Temu, having been influenced by Buddhism, instituted a ban on the consumption of certain wild animals and the use of livestock in 675. Buddhist temples were built with Chinese architectural styles as an influence. Taoism was also adopted in the Asuka Period, and was integrated with Buddhism and Shintō to establish new styles of rituals.

Foreign Relations

Chinese culture was introduced to the Japanese society via the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The development of Japanese Buddhism had a huge impact on Korean priests. Such priests included Ekan, Eso, and Eji. Japanese missions were sent to China, but Chinese influence on Japanese society declined. The kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula were eager to have Japanese military support and often sent diplomatic missions to Japan. In return, Japan gave a lot of military support to Baekje.

Asuka Culture

Many of the architectural structures from the Asuka period still stand today. They reflect influence from Chinese and West Asian countries and the Silk Road culture. The pillars in Hōryū-ji, for example, stand similar to those of the Parthenon in medieval Greece. Wall paintings from the Tang dynasty and Goguryeo also influenced the decorations observed in tombs dating from the 5th century. The Japanese Buddhist sculpture art adopted during the Asuka period is known as Tori Style, and it was fashioned in the Chinese style of the Six Dynasties. The Hakuhō culture thrived from 646 until 710, and during the latter part of the 8th century, a vast collection of poems and songs were composed.


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