On Japanese Government up to 1160 CE
Insofar that the Japanese’ relatively late adoption of writing systems limited their ability to document their history, by the time the Japanese state had begun to develop and form under a central emperorship, this was no longer the case. From the Taika Reform in 645 to the final years of the Heian period and the rise of Taira Kiyomori in 1160, the Japanese state experienced several major changes and shifts in power structures, shifting the role of Emperor to a largely ceremonial position.
Following the period of violence precipitated by the overthrow of the Soga clan, Temmu’s wide-reaching reforms of the Japanese state firmly positioned itself as a central authority modeled after Chinese rule (Huffman, 19). These reforms included a new conscription-based national military, ranking of clans based on their relation to the Chrysanthemum Throne, a new regulatory code for governance, the Omi-ryo, a large legal code, and the use of the title Tenno, or Heavenly Sovereign, derived from the Chinese title in reference to the Emperor (though this was done by Temmu’s wife succeeding him, Jito). In further accordance with Chinese style, the first “permanent” capital of Japan (though it lasted a scant fourteen years), Fujiwarakyo, was established, with a planned architecture and layout (Huffman, 20). The city’s successor, Nara, was also a permanent capital (though it was again abandoned in less than a century), and was the capital in which the large Yoro legal code and Nihon Shoki (successor to the Kojiki) were formed. The Yoro’s details provide the basis for a governmental structure both modeled after and independent from China’s Tang dynasty, with power descending from the Emperor to his councilors, and a bureaucratic system with officials overseeing 66 provinces and over 500 local districts (Huffman, 21). Taxes and land were distributed based on a system similar to that of China’s equal-field system, and the Emperors’ right to rule could never be lost (evidently effective, as the Japanese emperorship is the longest-lasting royal line in history).
Despite the extensive contributions of the Nara government, political turmoil again took to the forefront of the Japanese state, causing a few decades with little advancement – the near-ascendancy of the monk Dokyo and his quick fall, the growing power of the Buddhist clergy, and the bloody Emishi war – but by the end of it, the Emperor Kammu had moved the capital to nearby Heian (present-day Kyoto), which proved to be much more permanent than the previous two. Thus begins the Heian period in 794 CE, wherein the ritsuryo system continued, accompanied by a continuous power-struggle between aristocrats and emperors using loopholes to gain an advantage in the state (Huffman, 25). Despite this, the period was markedly peaceful, without direct military conflicts within ...