There are four main islands of Ancient Japan. They are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. These islands are
just really tops of undersea mountains and colcanoes, sticking up out of the ocean. They cover nearly all of Japan.
Eventhough only 20% of the land is flat, most Japanese prefer to live their. If it wern't for the sea, the people of
Japan wouldn't know what to do with themselves. They deeply rely on the sea for food, protection, and trade. Since
Korea and China were so close to Japan, these cultures influenced Japan's new culture. Besides from those two places,
Japan didn't really see much of the real world.
The traditional religion
of Japan is Shinto. Shinto teaches that everything nature, including the sun, the moon, trees, waterfalls, and animals,
has kami. Shintoists build dhrines and perform religious ceremonies to honor kami. They
believed that this helped them live and keep them from harm. That wasn't the only religion in Japan though. Prince
Shotoku brought a new religion of Confucianism from China by using scholars to go and collect new information. This
taught how families should behave and how fathers should rule their families. Wives should obey their husbands, children
should obey their parents and younger brothers should obey their older brothers were also some of the things that Confucius
believed. Though Shotoku brought Confucianism to China, he didn't believe in them. He believed in Buddihism.
This new religion became very popular dew to the Prince's determination. There were many different forms of Buddhism.
For example, there was Pure Land Buddhism, no rituals and chanted Buddha's name over again, and Zen Buddhism, neither faith
nor good behavior led to wisdom but you had to meditate or practice self-discipline.
Between the years of
794 and 1185 was the golden age of Japan. It was the golden age because nobles created beautiful pieces of art work.
These nobles wore superb wardrobes full of silk and gold stuff. These attires were very elaborate outfits usually worth
a good dime and nickle for people. To make them look better, nobles had a fan with them at all times. Looking
pretty wasn't the only thing important to nobles of the golden age period. Literature was also very important.
Women wrote diaries and journals about their lives as nobles. They wrote in Japanese, unlike men who wrote in Chinese.
One of the greatest novels written by a woman was The Tale of Gingi. Not only novels were written, peoms were
written too. The nobles also liked visual art like painting, archutecture, and caligraphy. These nobles liked
paintings of boldness and bright colors. Many of these paintings illustrated scenes from famous novels, like The
Tale of Gingi. Others exemplify nature or court life. They didn't paint on paper, they painted on doors or
furniture. Calligraphy was another form of art used by nobles. This is decoritive writting. They used it
to make poems more pretty, just like it sounds. Nobles also strived to make their towns more gorgeous by copying the
buildings of China. These buildings ewre special with wooden frames that curved slightly upward at the ends. The
wooden ends were left un-painted. The performing arts were also very popular at the time. Many people stopped
by the local theater and wacthed these performances by musicians, jugglers, and acrobats. These plays lead to Noh, a
more serious form of drama.
ancient japanese building
The first people
who lived in Japan was the Ainu culture. The Ainu people came from Siberia in eastern Russia. So they spoke
and looked different from the regulars of Japan. There civalization didn't last that long because they began to fight
other tribes but they lost. So they were driven back to Hokkaido. Over time, they began to dissapear and
kill their culture. But the Ainus weren't the only people living on the island at that time. The Japanese, people
who lived south of the Ainu, lived in small villages rulled by clans. Other people had to obey these laws that were
set by some clans. Each clan had a chief. He had political power and religious duties to fulfill. People
thought that their clan chiefs were spirits called kami. Clan chiefs lead their clan into religious cerimonies
that celebrated their kami ancestors. This was a part of the central religion on Japan, Shinto. But all
clans didn't always get along with others. Larger clans sent out armies to conquer their neighbors. One of these
clans was the Yamato. They took the western part of Honshu, Japan's largest island. Unhappy with Japan's government,
two clans went to war in 1150's. They destroyed land, familiesm and property for almost 30 years. The clan of
Minamoto won this dispute. The emperor was the most powerful emperor in all of Japan. He kept the emperor though
as a figurehead. But he took the tittle of shogun. These shoguns faced difficult challenges. One of the
greatest challenges was an invasion by the Mongols from China. In 1274 Kublai Khan sent an armie to conquer Japan's
islands. In his deffense, Japan's shogun sent troops to fight off the Mongols. With a grave storm, the warriors
of Japan won. Again the Mongols were sent over to destroy Japan in 1281. They were fighting for weeks until, again,
the Japanese were aided by a storm and were victorious. After these great accomplishments, internal rebellion arose
in Japan. It arose with the daimyo and nobles, the shogun and emperor, and everyone and everyone else. Because
of this, in the 1400's the daimyo ruled much of Japan. They divided them into their own territories, kind of like states.
Oda Nobunaga was the first leader to try and reunify Japan. With the help of guns, he deafeted opponents and reunified
Japan. After the death of Oda, Tokugawa Ieyasu succeded in taking control of Japan and becoming shogun. From his
capital, Edo, he ruled all of Japan. He traded and let missonaries go in and out of his country. In the 1630's
Japan started to become isolated in fear of becoming too much like Europe and shoguns loosing their power. Also, these
shoguns banned guns in fear of peasants destroying samurai armies. This helped extend the samurai period until the 1800's.
Japan kind of copied China and Korea's culture.
Language was one of the many things that Japan learned from China. They didn't have a writting system, so they
had to learn Chinese. But they still spoke Japanese though. About 200 years later, the Japanese developed a writting
system by using symbols to represent different sounds. Religion and philosophy were also brought from China to Japan.
Prince Shotoku brought ideas from China to Japan. For example, he brought Confucianism to Japan. Another thing
Shotoku brought to Japan was a change in the government. He wanted emperors to have a little more power. As a
result, clans rebelled and emperors gained a little more power.
Since the emperor was
distracted by life in his court, he didn't notice what was going on in his land. He didn't notice that Japan's largest
landowners were daimyo or that they hired a trained professional warrior, or a samurai, to protect his crops. These
samurais fought with light armorand swords and bows. Since all the samurai were required to serve his lord, then all
the samurai were supposed to be loyal to the emperor. These protectors were expensive to afford, so the daimyo gave
their samurai land or food. Some samurai had peasants work on their land to grow crops like corn or rice. The
samurais were very respected among the common people. But they were limited with dthe events one couild go to.
Bushido was a code of rules that the samurai had to follow. This required the samurai to be brave and honorable.
Men and woman learned these sets of rules, but only men went to war to fight. These warriors practiced self-discipline
because they believed that it would make them better warriors. Some warriors practiced Zen Buddhism which stresses on
meditation and self-discipline. The most important rule a samurai had to follow was the rule of obeying their lord.
It didn't matter if their family was dying on the floor, a samurai had to follow his lord. This represents honor which
was the most important thing in their life. If they didn't obey their lord or lose a fight or fail to protect his lord
then it would be a shameful thing and they would commit suicide.
the emperor was a figurehead for the powerful shogun
a powerful military leader, the shogun ruled in the emperor's name
Daimyo and Samurai
daimyo were powerful lords who often led armies of samurai; samurai warriors served the shogun and daimyo
most japanese were poor peasants who had no power