A Chronology of Japanese History

Yamato Period (300-550) & Asuka Period (550-710)
Nara Period (710-794)
710 The capital city is moved to Nara (Heijōkyō). The administration begins trying to enforce the land tax system as implemented in the Taika reforms (which eventually proves unsuccessful because of, in part, exemptions granted to monasteries and noble families).
712 The Kojiki is completed. It is divided into three scrolls: scroll 1 deals with heavenly myths, scroll 2 deals with earthly myths related to the first 15 (legendary) monarchs, and scroll three contains genealogical and anecdotal accounts of the Yamato monarchs from Nintoku through Suiko.
715 The daughter of Gemmyō becomes Empress.
717 Continued concern about the increasing power and popularity of wandering, unordained, and, therefore, unofficial Buddhist priests and nuns, the government issues another edict admonishing them to adhere to the Sōniryō (Regulations for Priests and Nuns).
718 A review of the Taihō Code is completed. This adjusted the laws and legislation by taking into account conditions which were prevalent in Japan but not in China and adjusting the Code accordingly.
720 The Nihonshoki is completed. It is divided into thirty scrolls, the first two dealing with the heavenly myths and the remaining providing chronological accounts of the monarchs from Jimmu through Empress Jitō.
720 An army is raised from nine provinces to subdue the Ainu in the North and East who are making it difficult to open new land. After much fighting a frontier post and garrison is set up in Taga (later called Sendai).
722 Because of the increasing number of largely autonomous Shōen and the subsequent loss of rice tax for the residents in the city, the central government issues an order calling for three million new acres of land to be reclaimed and converted to rice paddies. In return those who do the work are granted large concessions. The stronger families thus start to accumulate land and power.
725 Shōmu becomes Emperor. (In order to reduce the threat to the throne caused by factionalism among the more powerful court families, during his reign he begins the practice of degrading excess members of the imperial family and giving them surnames as "sujects" of the emperor. From this practice come the lineages Tachibana, Taira, and Minamoto, among others.)
729 Continued concern about the increasing power and popularity of wandering, unordained, and, therefore, unofficial Buddhist priests and nuns, the government issues another edict admonishing them to adhere to the Sōniryō (Regulations for Priests and Nuns).
736 The Kegon sect of Buddhism is introduced from China. (This sect is systematically called on to read protective sutras for the state when problems arise.)
738 Tōdaiji is founded and serves as the family temple for the imperial family.
741 The national government provides funds to build one temple (kokubunji) and one nunnery (kokubun-niji) in each province throughout Japan in which protective sutras can be read in times of national emergency. Tōdaiji is the temple of the capital province and, hence, becomes the national temple. Hokkeji becomes the national nunnery.
743 Newly reclaimed land is exempted from the system whereby all land belongs to the imperial family. Reclaimed land is allowed to remain with the person who reclaims it in perpetuity. The granting of private estates (Shōen) begins to appear around this time.
749 The 53 foot seated bronze statue of Vairocana Buddha is completed and installed at Tōdaiji. Shōmu holds a ceremony where he humbles himself to the Buddha, thus in effect adopting Buddhism as the court, and therefore state, religion. (This doesn't imply that the Japanese had converted to Buddhism, just that they had converted it to fill state needs.)
February 749 Shōmu becomes a monk.
May 749 Shōmu moves his residence to Yakushiji in Nara, but retains the title of Emperor and continues to rule from the monastery. He was probably forced by Confucianists to move his residence as they opposed his taking the tonsure.
July 749 Shōmu abdicates the throne and his unmarried daughter becmes Empress Kōken. He was probaly forced by Confucianists to abdicate, but he still conducted the affairs of state through his daughter from behind the scenes.
756 Shōmu dies leaving Empress Kōken in control of the state.
757 Yōrō Codes (Yōrō Ritsuryō) are enacted. These replace the Taihō Ritsuryō and are also based on Tang China laws.
758 Kōken abdicates in favor of Emperor Junnin.
760 The Manyōsh is completed. It is a compilation of 4000 poems from the earliest of times until the time it was completed.
762 Kōken takes the tonsure and becomes a nun at Hokkeji in Nara but continues to run state affairs from the monestary.
764 Continued concern about the increasing power and popularity of wandering, unordained, and, therefore, unofficial Buddhist priests and nuns, the government issues another edict admonishing them to adhere to the Sōniryō (Regulations for Priests and Nuns).
764 Kōken disposes and exiles Emperor Junnin (and later has him strangled). She resumes rule as Empress Shōtoku, all the while maintaining her status as a nun.
765 Shōtoku appoints Dōkyō, a monk, to the post of Grand Minister, the highest post in the bureaucracy. He is her most trusted advisor and is all powerful until her death.
766 Shōtoku creates the new, and special, bureaucratic post of Hōō (King of Dharma) for Dōkyō. In general, Shōtoku creates numerous laws during her reign that raise the power of the clergy and disrupt the ritsuryō system and the Confucian foundations of the state.
770 Shōtoku dies. Dōkyō makes an attempt to become the emperor, but this is resisted by court leaders and confucianists. He is exciled. Kōnin (grandson of Tenchi, but elderly at this point) is chosen by the Fujiwaras and becomes Emperor.
774 This is a year of natural calamities as famine and a pox epidemic spread throughout the country.
776 The garrison at Taga is destroyed during an Ainu uprising (which continued until 790).
770-781 The system of forced military labor is not working as planned and is slowly replaced with a system of regular armed forces trained in military matters. Thus starts the division between peasants and a warrior class.
781 Kōnin dies. On his death, the council of ministers refuses to allow a woman to take the throne (because of the power Dōkyō had been able to usurp when Shōtoku had been on the throne) thus starting the all male policy that still stands today - with two very short exceptions after 1600. Kōnin's eldest son becomes Emperor Kammu. (The Taira family are descendants of Emperor Kammu's grandson, Takamochi.)
782 Kammu decides to move the court and capital to a new location, in large part to escape the ever increasing power of the Buddhist monasteries in Nara.
784 The capital city moved to Nagaoka, about 30 miles from Nara in the province of Yamashiro.
791 Sakanouye Tamuramarō is appointed as deputy commander of forces in the northeast. He is charged with subduing the rebellious Ainu and pushing the frontier further to the north.
792 The system of universal military conscription is officially abolished. Each province is left to recruit their own armies within their province. These new forces are not chosen from the farming households, though, but from the noble land-holding families.
793 Due to a death, several major calamities, and the subsequent superstitious beliefs that these ware caused by the choice of this location for the capital, work is halted in Nagaoka and it is decided to move the capital again. Construction of a new capital is now begun in Heiankyō (Kyōto), about 10 miles away.
Heian Period (794-1185)
Kamakura Period (1185-1333)
Muromachi Period (1338-1573)
Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600)
Edo Period (1603-1868)
Meiji Period (1868-1912)
Taishō Period (1912-1926)
Shōwa Period (1926-1989)
Heisei Period (1989-Present)

Return to main page