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15 attendant bodhisattva detail of fresco in the

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Unformatted text preview: h and east-west avenues. Unlike the Chinese, the Japanese never constructed walled cities; and although the population of Nara probably reached two hundred thousand in the eighth century, making it Japan’s first truly urban center, contemporar y accounts describe it as a city of open spaces with many fields interspersed among the buildings. The orderliness of the original plan for Nara paralleled the balanced arrangement of the governmental offices and boards elaborated in the Taihò Code, and reflected the fundamental Chinese taste for symmetry in such matters. Some have speculated that the Japanese, on the other hand, inherently prefer asymmetry. In any case, just as they ultimately The Introduction of Buddhism 35 Fig. 15 Attendant bodhisattva: detail of fresco in the Golden Hall of the Hòryûji Temple (Asuka-en) deviated from China’s form of a balanced bureaucracy, the Japanese also failed to develop Nara as planned. The present city lies almost entirely in the northeastern suburbs of the eighth-century plan, and only recently placed markers enable us to see where the palace enclosure and other important sites of the original Nara were located. Kyoto, which became the seat of the court in 794 after its move from Nara, was also laid out symmetrically like Ch’ang-an; and it too spread erratically, primarily into the northeastern suburbs. But, whereas Kyoto was often devastated by warfare and other disasters during the medieval period and has few buildings within its city limits that predate the sixteenth century, Nara has retained substantially intact a number of splendid edifices and their contents dating from the eighth century. Even today, the visitor to Nara can recapture much of the splendor of the brilliant youth of Japanese civilization. Nevertheless, it is difficult, in view of the later introversion of Japanese society, to envision how extraordinarily cosmopolitan Nara must have been in the eighth century. The Japanese of the Nara period were the eager pupils of Chinese civiliza- 36 The Introduction of Buddhism tion, and T’ang C...
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