This fujiwara family would later become the leading

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conspirators first met to plot the removal of the Soga. This Fujiwara family would later become the leading family in Japan. Traditional Japanese accounts probably paint a somewhat idealized portrait of the Taika reforms that were implemented after 645, but there is little doubt that a radical new centralization of power began to be rapidly asserted in the middle to late seventh century. As of the early 600s, it is likely that many local Japanese chieftains had still been really little more than “autonomous allies of the king,” and the reach of the Yamato court may not have extended very far beyond the palace itself, except for some direct royal estates and certain groups of workers. 29 After the Taika coup d’état, the process of centralized state development in Japan accelerated and intensified. Part of the urgency behind this drive may have been fear of invasion from Tang China. The Taika coup in Japan in 645 happened to coincide with the beginning of a new series of Tang Dynasty attacks on Koguryŏ, in Korea. When the Tang strategy shifted from direct frontal assault from the north to an alliance with Silla
and an attack on Koguryŏ from the south, through Paekche, Yamato sent an expeditionary force to assist Paekche. The Japanese expeditionary force was annihilated in 663, however, with the reported loss of four hundred boats and ten thousand men. Paekche ceased to exist, and in 668, Koguryŏ was obliterated also. For a few years after 668, it even appeared as though the entire Korean peninsula might be brought under Tang control, which would have put Japan within easy reach as the next potential target of Tang conquest. Efforts to strengthen the Japanese state in this moment of crisis took the form of an accelerated adoption of Chinese-style imperial institutions, which was simply the most impressive administrative model then available. This Chinese model was probably mostly introduced only indirectly, through the intermediary of Silla in Korea rather than directly from Tang, but even the Sillans and Japanese sometimes communicated with each other using the Chinese written language. 30 These late seventh-century innovations included a new name for Japan. In speech, the old name Yamato probably long continued to be used, but Yamato was not a written word. The oldest written name for Japan was Wa. But, although the origins of this name Wa are obscure and it did not become flagrantly offensive until much later, by the late 600s the Japanese court had already apparently become dissatisfied with Wa and favored a new written name, chosen for the meaning of its Chinese characters: Nihon (“Origin of the Sun,” sometimes also pronounced Nippon ). Nihon is still the standard Japanese name for Japan today. It was also about this time that the rulers of Japan definitely began using what has since become the standard Japanese title for “emperor,” tennō (literally, “Heavenly Sovereign”). This is a variant of the Chinese imperial title, and the complete set of standard Chinese imperial titles were also officially adopted in Japan.

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