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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Was the mother of the Emperor Mommu



What has been set down above constitutes only a petty fraction of the Daiho legislation, but it will suffice to furnish an idea of Japanese civilization in the eighth century of the Christian era a civilization which shared with that of China the credit of being the most advanced in the world at that time.

ENGRAVING: HATSUNE-NO-TANA (A Gold-lacquered Stand or Cabinet)





THE Empress Gemmyo, fourth daughter of the Emperor Tenchi and consort of Prince Kusakabe, was the mother of the Emperor Mommu, whose accession had been the occasion of the first formal declaration of the right of primogeniture (vide Chapter XV). Mommu, dying, willed that the throne should be occupied by his mother in trust for his infant son--afterwards Emperor Shomu.


In ancient times it was customary to change the locality of the Imperial capital with each change of sovereign. This custom, dictated by the Shinto conception of impurity attaching to sickness and death,

exercised a baleful influence on architectural development, and constituted a heavy burden upon the people, whose forced labour was largely requisitioned for the building of the new palace. Kotoku, when he promulgated his system of centralized administration, conceived the idea of a fixed capital and selected Naniwa. But the Emperor Tenchi moved to Omi, Temmu to Asuka (in Yamato) and the Empress Jito to Fujiwara (in Yamato). Mommu remained at the latter place until the closing year (707) of his reign, when, finding the site inconvenient, he gave orders for the selection of another. But his death interrupted the project, and it was not until the second year of the Empress Gemmyo's reign that the Court finally removed to Nara, where it remained for seventy-five years, throughout the reigns of seven sovereigns. Nara, in the province of Yamato, lies nearly due south of Kyoto at a distance of twenty-six miles from the latter. History does not say why it was selected, nor have any details of its plan been transmitted. To-day it is celebrated for scenic beauties--a spacious park with noble trees and softly contoured hills, sloping down to a fair expanse of lake, and enshrining in their dales ancient temples, wherein are preserved many fine specimens of Japanese art, glyptic and pictorial, of the seventh and eighth centuries. Nothing remains of the palace where the Court resided throughout a cycle and a half, nearly twelve hundred years ago, but one building, a storehouse called Shoso-in, survives in its primitive form and constitutes a landmark in the annals of Japanese civilization, for it contains specimens of all the articles that were in daily use by the sovereigns of the Nara epoch.


There is obscurity about the production of the precious metals in old Japan. That gold, silver, and copper were known and used is certain, for in the dolmens,--which ceased to be built from about the close of the sixth century (A.D.)--copper ear-rings plated with gold are found, and gold-copper images of Buddha were made in the reign of the Empress Suiko (605), while history says that silver was discovered in the island of Tsushima in the second year of the Emperor Temmu's reign (674). From the same island, gold also is recorded to have come in 701, but in the case of the yellow and the white metal alike, the supply obtained was insignificant, and indeed modern historians are disposed to doubt whether the alleged Tsushima gold was not in reality brought from Korea via that island. On the whole, the evidence tends to show that, during the first seven centuries of the Christian era, Japan relied on Korea mainly, and on China partially, for her supply of the precious metals. Yet neither gold, silver, nor copper coins seem to have been in anything like general use until the Wado era (708-715).

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