Kofun era kitchenware collection. Photo by Sabashio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Buddhism and the Move to Asuka
During the Kofun period, (250 to 538 AD) contacts with Chinese culture began to increase. Chopsticks arrived in Japan at this time. Initially they were deemed precious, and thus only used in religious ceremonies. Rather than the two cylindrical sticks we know today, they were split down the middle and still attached at the top.
In 538 AD the nation’s capital moved to Asuka, in today’s Nara prefecture, and the nation’s name changed from Wa to Nihon. The Asuka period (538 to 710 AD) saw key artistic, social, and political transformations as Japan directly imitated the habits and culture of Tang Dynasty China, including elements of its food culture.
A Kofun period des res.
Most importantly the period saw the arrival of Buddhism from China via Korea, as well as other important foreign concepts such as the practice of recording history, the use of coins, the standardization of weights and measures, and the use of the Chinese written language.
In 562 the Zenna-no-omi family, who had immigrated to Korea from China, came to Japan bringing wisdom and physical treasures, including Buddhist statues, medical texts and knowledge on how to make various milk products. They soon became advisors to the royal court.
The Emperor slays a wild boar, at Mount Katuragi in 461 AD.
The move to emulate China was good news for Japan’s wildlife, not least its monkeys. Up to this point the latter had been eaten in Japan for medicinal purposes, but in 675 AD Emperor Tenmu issued a decree forbidding their consumption, plus that of cows, dogs, and horses, during the 4th to 9th months of the year. Those who breached the Imperial edict were punishable by death. Unfortunately for them, inoshishi wild boar and shika deer were exempted from the preservation order.