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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Prince Shotoku painted banners as offerings


oldest ideographic inscription extant in Japan is carved on a stone in Iyo province dating from A.D. 596. Next in point of antiquity is an inscription on the back of an image of Yakushi which stands in the temple Horyu-ji. It is ascribed to the year A.D. 607.


None of the religious edifices then constructed has survived in its integrity to the present day. One, however,--the Horyu-ji, at Nara--since all its restorations have been in strict accord with their originals, is believed to be a true representative of the most ancient type. It was founded by Shotoku Taishi and completed in 607. At the time of its construction, this Horyu-ji was the chief academy of Buddhist teaching, and it therefore received the name of Gakumon-ji (Temple of Learning). Among its treasures is an image of copper and gold which was cast by the Korean artist, Tori--commonly called Tori Busshi, or Tori the image-maker--to order of Shotoku; and there is mural decoration from the brush of a Korean priest, Doncho. This building shows that already in the seventh century an imposing type of wooden edifice had been elaborated--an edifice differing from those of later epochs in only a few features; as, slight inequality in the scantling of its massive pillars; comparatively gentle pitch of roof; abnormally overhanging eaves, and shortness of distance between each storey of the

pagoda. These sacred buildings were roofed with tiles, and were therefore called kawara-ya (tiled house) by way of distinction, for all private dwellings, the Imperial palace not excepted, continued to have thatched roofs in the period now under consideration,* or at best roofs covered with boards. The annals show that when the Empress Kogyoku built the Asuka palace, timber was obtained from several provinces; labour was requisitioned throughout a district extending from Omi in the east to Aki in the west; the floor of the "great hall"** was paved with tiles; there were twelve gates, three on each of the four sides, and the whole was in the architectural style of the Tang dynasty. Yet for the roofs, boards alone were used.

*Down to A.D. 645.1

**It was here that the assassination of Soga no Iruka took place.


Little is recorded about the progress of painting in this epoch. It has been shown above that during Yuryaku's reign pictorial experts crossed to Japan from Korea and from China. The Chronicles add that, in A.D. 604, when the Empress Suiko occupied the throne, two schools of painters were established, namely, the Kibumi and the Yamashiro. It is elsewhere explained that the business of those artists was to paint Buddhist pictures, the special task of the Kibumi men being to illuminate scrolls of the Sutras. We read also that, in 603, on the occasion of the dedication of the temple of Hachioka, Prince Shotoku painted banners as offerings. These had probably the same designs as those spoken of a century later (710) when, at a ceremony in the great hall of the palace, there were set up flags emblazoned with a crow,* the sun, an azure dragon, a red bird, and the moon, all which designs were of Chinese origin. Shotoku Taishi himself is traditionally reported to have been a skilled painter and sculptor, and several of his alleged masterpieces are preserved to this day, but their authenticity is disputed.

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