|[a] Heartland RF|
|[b] Background RF|
The chief reason for the distinctive role of Japan in early East Asian history is its location—an island complex distant from Korea by over one hundred miles, and with even exploration of adjoining islands and ethnic groups occurring late recently in Japanese history. Unlike its East Asian neighbors, Korea and Vietnam, Japan was never invaded by Chinese armies. Chinese influences penetrated Japan more conspicuously than they did in Korea. They did not seep across a shared border but came rather came by ship. Political thinkers, writers, and religious figures consciously drew on Chinese tradition in a way that would have been impossible were the influence less obvious. As a major scholar, Edwin Reischauer, has noted:
Early in their history the Japanese developed the habit of cataloguing foreign
influences and contrasting them with native characteristics. One result has
been a frequent emphasis in Japanese history on supposedly "native"
It is important to consider these matters from several perspectives that have ebbed and flowed throughout Japanese history. They are intertwined to the point of contradiction, but they go far toward understanding Japanese ethnic identity throughout history and even today.
 A tendency in Japan to see its history only in terms of native traits,
 The opposite tendency, mostly by outsiders, to characterize Japan
|[c] Groupings RF|
The Japan that emerged slowly into the Common Era was essentially a tribal society, very much like that of early Korea. It was divided into a great number of family groups called uji, each under a hereditary chief and worshipping an uji god, commonly thought of as its ancestor. Subordinate to these aristocratic uji were occupational groupings known as be, organized as agricultural communities or performing other services such as fishing, weaving, pottery making, and divining.
The Yamato state was probably in origin an uji with connections to the Sun Goddess, which would become a pivotal figure in Japanese history and identity over the next fifteen centuries. By the fifth century the Yamato had won a vague supremacy over the other uji groupings—classifying them as either "country vassals" or "attendant vassals," but preserving the idea that all were meant to serve the "main" line linked to the Sun Goddess.
By the sixth century the "Sun line" as many have called it, was expanding its own wealth and power at the expense of the local uji and subordinate be units. The growth of this ethnic group and the consolidation of a Japanese state were interwoven in large and small ways.
|[d] Pattern RF|
Among the many elements of continental civilization that came to Japan by way of Korea was Buddhism. Although its was assimilated gradually, its official introduction is dated to 552, when the Korean state of Paekche presented an image and scriptures to the Yamato court. The new religion was opposed by conservative groups, but was embraced by the Soga uji, which was to emerge victorious over its rivals in a great succession war in 587. Following this, the Soga firmly established Buddhism at court.
Yamato influence was cemented in the late-sixth and early-seventh centuries with several state-building measures meant to solidify their control. The victory of the Soga clan in 587 made them supreme at the Yamato court. Their chief put his niece on the throne and appointed her nephew, Prince Shotoku (574–622), regent. Shotoku and the Soga elders proceeded to carry out a series of innovations that were to shape Japanese society and government quite consciously on the pattern of China.
In 604 Shotoku issued a set of precepts known as the "Seventeen Article Constitution,” which advocated—in heavily Confucian rhetoric mixed with Buddhist strains—such ideas as the complete supremacy of the ruler, the centralization of government, and a bureaucracy staffed by a merit-selected group of officials. That same year Shotoku adopted the Chinese calendar. A few decades later the fascination with the Chinese calendar sparked an interest in a process of counting in cycles of sixty years, which Yamato thinkers used to solidify their argument for rule. They traced the cycle back twenty-one times for a total of 1,260 years, and selected the date of 660 BCE for the founding of the Japanese state and the first emperor, Jimmu.
|[e] Transition RF|
After Shotoku's death, the Soga alienated the other court families by their despotic rule and were eventually crushed in 645 in a coup engineered by a prince, the future Emperor Tenchi (r. 668-671) and a supporter, who was rewarded with a new family name that was to resound in later ages—Fujiwara. As Fujiwara no Kamatari (614–669), he became the leader of a family that was to dominate the Japanese court for nearly five hundred years. Tenchi and Kamatari embarked on a second great wave of reforms based on the Chinese model of centralized government. Taika, meaning "Great Change," was borrowed from the Chinese predilection for reign titles, and the reforms that commenced in 645 and were carried out over the next several years.
A capital with Chinese–style buildings was erected at Naniwa (near present–day Osaka) at the eastern end of the Inland Sea; central government ministries were set up and efforts were made to establish uniform rule over the provinces and to institute the centralized Chinese system of taxation. A census was carried out toward this end in 670, and law codes of a Chinese type were drawn up. The reforms that took shape represented a set of pragmatic compromises between the new court, existing institutions, and the various uji that retained some power. Slowly the Japanese state—and the descendants of Yamato—began to be reshaped in the image of Tang China.
This adaptation is the key point in Yamato dominance in the Chinese state. They mastered the transition from small uji and be groups until—with one clan or another in the ascendant until modern times, and an unbroken line of “Sun-Goddess” emperors—the transition was made to a Chinese-style centralized state.
|[f] Sun Godliness RF|