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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

In the very same year the Emperor Shomu


This picture of a nobleman's dwelling in the eighth century is not imposing. In the very same year the Emperor Shomu, responding to an appeal from the council of State, issued an edict that officials of the fifth rank and upwards and wealthy commoners should build residences with tiled roofs and walls plastered in red. This injunction was only partly obeyed: tiles came into more general use, but red walls offended the artistic instinct of the Japanese. Nearly fifty years later, when (767-769) the shrine of Kasuga was erected at Nara in memory of Kamatari, founder of the Fujiwara family, its pillars were painted in vermilion, and the fashion inaugurated found frequent imitation in later years.

Of furniture the houses had very little as compared with Western customs. Neither chairs nor bedsteads existed; people sat and slept on the floor, separated from it only by mats made of rice-straw, by cushions or by woollen carpets, and in aristocratic houses there was a kind of stool to support the arm of the sitter, a lectern, and a dais for sitting on. Viands were served on tables a few inches high, and people sat while eating. From the middle of the seventh century a clepsydra of Chinese origin was used to mark the hours.

The first of these instruments is recorded to have been made in A.D. 660, and tradition does not tell what device had previously served the purpose. When temple bells came into existence, the hours were struck on them for public information, and there is collateral evidence that some similar system of marking time had been resorted to from early eras. But the whole story is vague. It seems, however, that the method of counting the hours was influenced by the manner of striking them. Whether bronze bell or wooden clapper was used, three preliminary strokes were given by way of warning, and it therefore became inexpedient to designate any of the hours "one," "two," or "three." Accordingly the initial number was four, and the day being divided into six hours, instead of twelve, the highest number became nine, which corresponded to the Occidental twelve.*

*There were no subdivisions into minutes and seconds in old Japan. The only fraction of an hour was one-half.

BELLS

Concerning the bells here mentioned, they are one of the unexplained achievements of Japanese casters. In Europe the method of producing a really fine-toned bell was evolved by "ages of empirical trials," but in Japan bells of huge size and exquisite note were cast in apparent defiance of all the rules elaborated with so much difficulty in the West. One of the most remarkable hangs in the belfry of Todai-ji at Nara. It was cast in the year 732 when Shomu occupied the throne; it is 12 feet 9 inches high; 8 feet 10 inches in diameter; 10 inches thick, and weighs 49 tons. There are great bells also in the temples at Osaka and Kyoto, and it is to be noted that early Japanese bronze work was largely tributary and subsidiary to temple worship. Temple bells, vases, gongs, mirrors and lanterns are the principal items in this class of metal-working, until a much later period with its smaller ornaments.

Very few references to road making are found in the ancient annals, but the reign of the Empress Gensho (715-723) is distinguished as the time when the Nakasen-do, or Central Mountain road, was constructed. It runs from Nara to Kyoto and thence to the modern Tokyo, traversing six provinces en route. Neither history nor tradition tells whether it was wholly made in the days of Gensho or whether, as seems more probable, it was only commenced then and carried to completion in the reign of Shomu (724-748), when a large force of troops had to be sent northward against the rebellious Yemishi. Doubtless the custom of changing the capital on the accession of each sovereign had the effect of calling many roads into existence, but these were of insignificant length compared with a great trunk highway like the Nakasen-do.


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