Japan
Japanese art : Heian Art
Japan

In 794 the capital of Japan was officially transferred to Heian-kyo (present-day Ky?to), where it remained until 1868. The term Heian period refers to the years between 794 and 1185, the end of the Gempei civil war. The period is further divided into the early Heian and the late Heian, or Fujiwara, eras, the pivotal date being 894, the year imperial embassies to China were officially discontinued. The next period is named after the Fujiwara family, then the most powerful in the country, who ruled as regents for the emperor, becoming, in fact, civil dictators.

In reaction to the growing wealth and power of organized Buddhism in Nara, the priest K?kai (posthumous name K?b? Daishi, 774-835) journeyed to China to study Shingon, a more rigorous form of Buddhism, which he introduced into Japan in 806. At the core of Shingon worship are the mandala, diagrams of the spiritual universe; the Kong?kai, a chart of the myriad worlds of Buddhism; and the Taiz?kai, a pictorial representation of the realms of the Buddhist universe.

The temples erected for this new sect were built in the mountains, far away from the court and the laity in the capital. The irregular topography of these sites forced Japanese architects to rethink the problems of temple construction, and in so doing to choose more indigenous elements of design. 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. The temple that best reflects the spirit of early Heian Shingon temples is the Mur?-ji (early 9th century), set deep in a stand of cypress trees on a mountain southeast of Nara. The wooden image of Shaka, the “historic” Buddha (early 9th century), enshrined in a secondary building at the Mur?-ji, is typical of the early Heian sculpture, with its ponderous body, covered by thick drapery folds carved in the hompa-shiki (rolling-wave) style, and its austere, withdrawn facial expression. Encarta

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