Emergence of Japan & The Feudal Age

by: Sarah Lassiter

Geography Sets Japan Apart

  • Japan is located on an archipelago, or chain of islands
  • about 100 miles off the Asian coast
  • Four main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku.
  • Japan is about the size of Montana but 4/5 of its land is too mountainous to farm.
  • Most people settled in narrow river valleys and along the coastal plains.
  • The surrounding sea both protected and isolated Japan
  • Close enough to learn from Korea, but too far away for China to conquer.
  • Japanese sealed themselves off from foreign influences
  • The seas offered plentiful food resources and the Japanese developed a thriving fishing industry.
  • However, the forces of nature and the tsunamis affected them greatly

Early Traditions

  • The Japanese migrated from the Asian mainland more than 2,000 years ago.
  • They slowly pushed the earlier inhabitants onto Hokkaido.
  • Early Japanese society was divided into uji, or clans.
  • Some clan leaders were women, suggesting that women enjoyed a respected position in society.
  • about A.C.E 500, the Yamato clan came to dominate a corner of Honshu, the largest Japanese island.
  • the Yamato Plain was the heartland of the Japanese government.
  • Early Japanese honoured kami, or superior powers that were natural or divine.
  • the worship of nature became known as Shinto
  • Shinto traditions still survive in modern times and shrines dot all over the mountains.
  • The Japanese language is distantly related to the Korean, but it is very distinct from Chinese.
  • Korean artisans settled in Japan, bringing sophisticated skill and technology.
  • Some of the leading families at the Yamato court claimed Korean ancestors.

Japan Looks to China

  • In the early 600s, Prince Shotoku decided to learn about China directly instead of through Korean sources.
  • Over the next 200 years, many Japanese students, monks, traders, and officials visited the Tang court.
  • The Japanese visited China
  • They spent a lot of time studying
  • Japanese rulers claimed absolute power.
  • 710 Japanese built a new capital at Nara.
  • They spoke and dressed in a Chinese fashion.
  • The selective borrowing preserved the culture

The Heian Period

  • The blending of cultures took place from 794 to 1185
  • the imperial capital was in Heian, present-day Kyoto.
  • At the court, an elegant and sophisticated cultured blossomed
  • Nobles lived in fairy tale atmospheres.
  • Although men were allowed to study Chinese, women were forbidden to learn the language.
  • It was Heian women who produced the msot important works of Japanese literature of the period.
  • Lady Murasaki is one of the best known Heian novelist in this period of time
She wrote The Tale of Genji

Warriors Established Feudalism

  • Feudal warfare swept Japan in the 1400s.
  • a new Japanese culture arose.
  • Local warlords and even some Buddhists formed armed bands
  • As in the feudal world of Medieval Europe, warrior aristocracy dominated Japanese society.
  • Often the shogun controlled only a small part of Japan
  • They, in turn, granted to lesser warriors called samurai.
  • Samurai developed their own code of values called bushido.
  • Noblewoman lost ground during the time of the feudal age.
  • peasants, artisans and merchants served as the backbone of the society.
  • Japan hold off the Mongols from invading with the help of natural forces.

The Tokugawas Unite Japan

  • The Kamakura shogunate crumbled in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions.
  • To defend their castles, daimyp gave arms to peasants as well as samurai which led to even more ruthless fighting.
  • The central government was imposed and the Tokugawa shoguns were determined to end feudal warfare.
  • The economy boomed, while the shoguns tried to hold back social change, the Japanese economy grew leaps and bounds.
  • Trade flourished within Japan

Zen Buddhism Shapes Culture

  • During Japan's feudal age, a Buddhist sect from China won widespread acceptance among samurai.
  • Known in Japan as Zen, it emphasized self-reliance, meditation, and devotion to duty.
  • Zen monks were great scholars, yet they valued the uncluttered mind and stressed importance of reaching a monument of "non-knowing"
  • Zen Buddhists believed that people could seek enlightenment through meditation and through precise performance of everyday tasks.

Artistic Traditions Change

  • Cities such as Edo and Osaka were home to an explosion in the arts and theater.
  • Urban culture emphasized luxuries and pleasures and differed greatly from the feudal culture they had been in for centuries.
  • New drama developed in the 1300s, feudal culture had produced Noh plays performed on a square.
  • Painting and printmaking