Nara (710-794)

Japan's first permanent capital, Nara, was self-consciously and intentionally modeled after the great Tang metropolis, Chang-an. Although the capital was grandiose in its conception, it was never completed. Court rituals and ceremonials reflected Tang influences. Gagaku, a distinctive, form of Japanese music and dance based upon Chinese music, developed in Nara, and enjoyed popularity, especially at court, into modern times. Gagaku--"elegant music"--constitutes "the oldest fully authenticated musical and dance traditions in the world" (Fairbank 339). A mask such as this one might have been used in Gagaku performances.

(Smith 48)

Little now remains of the original Todaiji built to house the gigantic Giant Buddha (Daibutsu in the background image)

The beautiful Hall of Dreams has been rebuilt

(Batterberry 105)

And a reconstructed and rededicated Hall of the Great Buddha of Todaiji


Buddhism dominated Nara Japan and spread from the elites into the countryside. Emperor Shomu decreed that every province should build both a pagoda and a temple. One of the oldest extant buddhas in the world, from the Nara period.

Another Nara temple

For more information on Asuka and Nara arts, visit

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Batterberry, Michael. Chinese and Oriental Art. New York, et. al.: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1968.

Bayrd, Edwin. Kyoto. New York: Newsweek, 1974.

Smith, Bradley. Japan: A History in Art. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1964.

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