How Did Changing Systems Of Government & Religion Affect The Early Art & Architecture Of Japan?

Generally all aspects of social life and formation of government are directly related to development of art and architecture in any country. Japan is one of the countries with long history of state development and rich cultural inheritance. There are numerous styles, which are known from the examples of ancient sculpture, paintings, woodblock prints, origami, ancient pottery and so on.

The history of Japan consisted of the periods of sudden invasions, which were substituted by the periods of alienation from the rest of the world; this certainly had impact upon the development of art and architecture of this country. A lot of elements of the foreign arts were absorbed and introduced into the culture of Japan. The earliest forms of art in Japan were certainly related to its religion – Buddhism in the 7th and 8th centuries. Starting from the 9th century Japan started to alienate from China and develop its own religious and arts directions.

Painting has always been one of the most preferred artistic expressions in the country, there were a lot of amateurs and professional painters, working with brush, using unique techniques. The style of woodblocks prints received the name ukiyo-e, it was used for schoolbooks and daily news. Talking about sculpture in Japan, it is necessary to mention that mostly it was related to religion in the first line. Based on the artifacts, found by archeologists, it is possible to state that Japanese ceramics were among the best in the whole world.

The historical periods of Asuka and Nara, which were named so because the government of the country was moved to Asuka Valley and to the city of Nara, were characterized by the introduction of the continental Asian culture to the country. Later on the connections between Japan and China developed further and “The Japanese recognized the facets of Chinese culture that could profitably be incorporated into their own: a system for converting ideas and sounds into writing; historiography; complex theories of government, such as an effective bureaucracy; and, most important for the arts, new technologies, new building techniques, more advanced methods of casting in bronze, and new techniques and media for painting.” (Boardman 1994). The years between 794 and 1185 received the name Heian period. During this period the role and power of Buddhism was growing. There were a lot of new temples, which however, were build in the mountains, far from the political centers of the country. This fact made the architects pay a lot of attention to inventing new structures of the buildings, taking into consideration the topography peculiarities. “Cypress-bark roofs replaced those of ceramic tile, wood planks were used instead of earthen floors, and a separate worship area for the laity was added in front of the main sanctuary.” (Boardman 1994).

The period of Fujiwara art received its name after the Fujiwara family, they were the rulers of the country, known as civil dictators. At the same time nobility of Kyoto developed aesthetic pursuits in the society, which were still related to religious matters mostly. In the year 1180 the war between the Taira and the Minamoto started. The last were the winners and occupied the ruling position till 1333, being located in Kamakura. Taking into consideration that the nobility was shifted to the warrior class, the art needed to be correspondingly transformed. This resulted in the spread of realism, the artistic centers still remained in Kyoto and Nara. The realistic images became dominant in the sculpture of that period – the most famous were the two Nio guardian images in Nara. The consequent periods of political development of the country brought further changes into the artistic expressions.

Overall, using the example of early Japanese art, it is possible to prove, that art and culture of any country are directly related to the actual political situation of the country and the positions of the government and ruling elites.


Works cited:

Boardman, J. “The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity”. Princeton University Press, 1994

Kaempfer, H. M., Sickinghe, W. O.  The Fascinating World of the Japanese Artist. A Collection of Essays on Japanese Art by Members of the Society for Japanese Arts and Crafts, The Hague, Society for Japanese Arts and Crafts, 1971

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