10 / 04 / 2013. Conference Art objects travel: 7 trade in art objects between Japan, China and Koreae the 16e century by Charlotte von Verschuer, director of studies, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.


From the 7th to the 9th centuries

During the Asuka (552-645), Nara (645-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods, Japan maintains official relations with its Chinese and Korean neighbors by sending embassies to the Sui and Tang courts, from the Three Kingdoms and then from the Kingdom of Silla. Buddhism is an important vector of official relations because it becomes a state religion in the seventh century and one sees the construction of great temples like the Tōdai-ji in Nara.

Japan sent a delegation of 500 to 600 people to Chang an (now Xian) where the Tang court resided. For example the embassies, in Japanese annals, are in the 12th century. 7 to China and 24 from China, 104 to Korea and 12 from Korea, in the 2th century. 15 to China and 22 from China, 2 to Korea and 5 from Korea, in the 4th century. XNUMX to China and none back, XNUMX to Korea and XNUMX from Korea.

The ships arrived in Yangzhou or Ningbo then went up the Grand Canal to the capital Chang an. Every year the Chinese court received tribute from 60 to 100 "barbarian" countries considered to be tributaries. But if in Japanese annals, Japan is treated as an equal with China, it considers Korea a tributary state. These embassies brought "gifts" but also returned loaded with gifts which made the court happy.

The Nara court adapts China's centralized administrative system and the city is built on the Chang-an plan.

In the middle of the 756th century, Empress Kōmyō donated to Tōdai-ji in XNUMX a large quantity of exotic objects of metal, ceramics, wood (musical instruments), crafts (glass, inlaid mirrors, lacquers inlaid with mother-of-pearl, painted objects) and also precious fabrics. All this treasure will be stored in the Shōsō-in which, from the attic, becomes a “safe”. There are also many objects from Korea such as felt rugs, metallic dishes, Chinese or Korean ink, cobalt glass or agate objects from Iran or Central Asia, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and China, as well as a wide variety of spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginseng, etc.), fragrant woods (white sandalwood, aloe also called agar), resins (incense, benzoin), rhinoceros horns, cochineal, etc. The location of Japan at the eastern end of the “Silk Road” explains the diversity of origins.

Japan first exports gold, silk taffeta.


From the 9th to the 12th centuries

At the time of Heian the capital moves from Nara to Kyoto. There is no embassy but trade is maintained through foreign merchants who settle north of Kyushu in the port of Hakata (now Fukuoka). This trade is limited, controlled and channeled by the imperial administration and it is the ministers and the court who are the first to be involved. If in China foreign trade is taxed, in Japan the merchants are the hosts of the government and are housed and fed. However, there is an illegal trade powered by Japanese merchants.

Monks from the two majority Buddhist currents (Tendai and Shingon) also travel on foreign merchant ships and go to China or Korea for texts and teachings.

The Fujiwara regents import precious silks from China, particularly silk brocades which are used for "furnishings" (borders of tatami mats, screens, tablecloths) because from the XNUMXth century. Japan produces the fabrics used for clothing.

The main imports at the time of Heian are ceramics (Chinese and Korean celadons, white porcelain of ding, sandstone temmoku), perfumes and resins, remedies, fragrant woods, spices (cinnamon, licorice, rhubarb, ginseng, star anise), musk, printed books, sappan (burgundy red vegetable dye), etc. At this time, perfume competitions are organized at the court.

In return, Japan exports gold, mercury widely used in Chinese and Korean alchemy, rock crystal, silk taffeta, oils, paper (Japanese paper gampi is stronger and softer than Chinese paper), folding paper fans, lacquered wood objects inlaid or not with mother-of-pearl (it is the Japanese who invent the maki-e, lacquer with gold or silver decoration), sabers whose blades are renamed. For example, in 1072, Japan sends to the kingdom of Koryo, mercury, a lacquered wooden saddle encrusted with mother-of-pearl, a writing desk, furniture, incense burners, screens and 1087, pearls, mercury, sabers, horses and oxen.


From the 12th to the 14th centuries

If until the twelfth century the trade is done through foreign merchants, after, it will be Japanese merchants who control the exchanges. Shogunate of Kamakura becomes sponsor of commercial expeditions. Zen Buddhism is an important vector of trade between China and Japan. The Chinese currency made its appearance in Japan from the thirteenth century and will be used until the sixteenth century. The wreckage of a ship discovered in South Korea has delivered 28 tons of coins, 700 bronze or silver objects and 21 000 ceramic items. This boat was sponsored in 1323 by a Kyoto temple.


15th to 16th centuries

The shogunate continues to send embassies accompanied by traders to China. No less than twenty trade missions traveled from Japan to China between 1401 and 1547 and at the head of each of these expeditions is a Zen monk.

Buddhist canons from Korea are the most requested by the court and the daimyos.

The tea ceremony is codified and requires imported items such as Chinese or Korean porcelain bowls, a Chinese lacquer saucer and a Chinese screen.

Imports include textiles, blue and white porcelain and paintings by renowned painters such as Wen Zhengming and Dong Qichang.

For its part, Japan exports raw materials, sabers, bronze objects, fans, screens for the Ming court, lacquered wood objects encrusted with mother-of-pearl or lacquered with gold.

Lacquered jug with iranizing decoration inlaid with silver. Tang. 8th century Shoso-in. Nara © TO-EI-SHU-KO, 1st edition, 1st vol. Tokyo, Japan

Bronze mirror inlaid with mother of pearl and amber on black lacquer. Tang. 8th century Shoso-in. Nara. © O-EI-SHU-KO, 2nd edition, 1st vol. Tokyo, Japan


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