Tenpyo Culture (天平文化)

Tenpyo Culture was an aristocratic and Buddhist culture that flourished in and around Heijo-kyo, the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara, from the end of the seventh century through the middle of the eighth century. The name comes from the Tenpyo era of Emperor Shomu's reign.


Following the realization of the ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) and establishment of a centralized state government, the country's treasures and wealth were brought to the capital, against which background the Imperial family and the nobility led a sumptuous life. The nobility of the time had a great appetite for the advanced culture of Tang Dynasty China, brought back by Japanese envoys. Accordingly, Tenpyo Culture was much influenced by the cultures of Empress Wu Zetian of the Zhou Dynasty and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang. Dazai-fu (local government office in Kyushu region) is considered to have played a major role in this transfer of culture from Tang.

At the same time, various products of the new culture were also distributed to local regions by provincial governors (nobles), government officials and monks, who were delegated to kokuga (provincial government offices) and kokubun-ji (provincial temples). In this way, the influence of the Chinese and Buddhist style cultures began to permeate down to regional communities throughout the Japanese archipelago. Some cultures were brought from West Asia along the Silk Road to Tang, and then to Japan by Japanese envoys.

Temples and Other Architecture

Heijo-kyo was laid out in a grid pattern based on what was called the jobo system. A lot of government offices were built, and nobles and common people were encouraged to build houses with tiled roofs and vermilion-colored pillars. Also, large temples that had stood in Asuka were relocated one by one in Heijo-kyo.
As a result, the completed Heijo-kyo was compared in poems to 'flourishing like fragrant flowers in bloom.'

Emperor Shomu decided to construct provincial monasteries (kokubun-ji) and provincial nunneries (kokubun-niji) in all provinces, each of which had a seven-story pagoda and one copy each of the Golden Light Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. The head temple of all the kokubun-ji was Todai-ji Temple and that of the kokubun-niji was Hokke-ji Temple. The statue of Birushana Buddha at Todai-ji Temple was constructed as a symbol of national pacification (chingo kokka). In order to garner the broad public support needed to promote this huge project, the government recruited the priest Gyoki, who was given the rank of Daisojo (the highest priestly rank).

Major Buddhist Architecture
The main hall and lecture hall of Toshodai-ji Temple
- The lecture hall was built by moving and remodeling Heijo-kyu Palace's "Higashi-choshuden"(Eastern Morning Audience Hall).

Yakushi-ji Temple's East Pagoda
Todai-ji Temple's Hokke-do Hall (also called "Sangastu-do Hall") and Tengai-mon Gate
Shoso-in Treasure Repository (Azekura-zukuri style of architecture)
Yumedono (Hall of Dreams) in Horyu-ji Temple's Toin (Eastern Precinct)


Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)
Main poets: OTOMO no Tabito, OTOMO no Yakamochi, YAMANOUE no Okura (famous for his poems "Bingu-mondoka"), and YAMABE no Akahito
Kaifuso (Fond Recollections of Poetry)
Compilers: OMI no Mifune and ISONOKAMI no Yakatsugu (though different opinions exist)


Many craftsmen were engaged, almost like an assembly line, in the production of Buddha statues at government workshops under the administration of the Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction, which controlled the Todai-ji Temple project. However, there also existed private workshops of Buddhist sculptors in the capital, as well as monks who produced Buddhist images. Names of leading sculptors of Buddhist statues recorded in history include KUNINAKA no Murajimaro, who was responsible for the construction of the Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple, and Manpuku SHOGUN, who produced Judaideshi and Hachibushu (Ten Great Disciples and Eight Guardian Devas) at Manpuku-ji Temple.

Parts of Todai-ji Temple's statue of Birushana Buddha, also called "Nara no Daibutsu" ("Great Buddha of Nara"), cast during the Tenpyo Period include its pedestal and legs. Beside such gilt bronze statues as the Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple, various methods of producing Buddhist images were used, including the most popular kanshitsuzo (dry lacquer wooden statues) and sozo (earthen images), as well as gold or silver images, stone statues and also molded or extruded clay forms.

Kanshitsuzo (dry lacquered wooden Buddha statues)
The standing statues of Hachibushu, including Asura (fighting demon), and the standing statues of Judaideshi, both at Kofuku-ji Temple
The standing statue of eleven-faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) at Shorin-ji Temple
The seated statues of Birushana Buddha and the priest Ganjin in the main hall of Toshodai-ji Temple
The standing statues of Fukukensaku Kannon, Bonten (Brahma) and Taishakuten (Sakra), Shitenno (the Four Heavenly Kings), and Kongorikishi and Misshakurikishi (Guardians), all in Todai-ji Temple's Hokke-do Hall (also called "Sangatsu-do Hall")

Sozo (earthen statues)
The standing statues of Juni-shinsho (Twelve Heavenly Generals) at Shin-Yakushi-ji Temple (Nara City), one of which was altered during the Showa Period (1926-1989)
The standing statues of Shitsukongoshin (Vajrapani), Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu (Suryaprabha and Candraprabha Bodhisattvas), Benzaiten (Saraswati) and Kisshoten, all at Hokke-do Hall of Todai-ji Temple
The standing statue of Shitenno in Todai-ji's Kaidan-in Hall


Treasures (musical instruments, furnishings, etc.) in Todai-ji's Shoso-in Treasure Repository