Episode 507 – The Culture of Classical Japan, Part 1

This week, we take a step away from politics to talk about two crucial subjects. First, we have the evolution of the Japanese language and its incorporation of Chinese influence. Second, we have the evolution of Buddhism and the arrival of two important sects in the evolution of a distinctly Japanese form of the religion: Tendai and Shingon.


Adolphson, Mikael S. “Aristocratic Buddhism” in Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850, ed Karl Friday

Cranston, Edwin A. “Asuka and Nara Culture: Literacy, Literature, and Music.” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 1: Ancient Japan

Weinstein, Stanley. “Aristocratic Buddhism” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 2: Heian Japan


The oldest known copy of the Kokinshu, from the 12th century.
This chart shows the evolution from Manyo’gana to Hiragana.
Manyoshu poem number 8, written in Manyogana.
A portrait of Saicho. Date unknown.
A portrait of Kukai, from a collection of Shingon paintings dating to the 13th century.



2 thoughts on “Episode 507 – The Culture of Classical Japan, Part 1”

  1. The Altaic hypothesis has long since been discredited by its own proponents. Altaic isn’t even a language family anymore. All of the Altaic “members” just share areal features but no genetic lineage. Japanese and Korean form a sprachbund but aren’t related, like Aztec and Maya. Japonic probably came from the peninsula or it could have come from Taiwan with the Austronesian languages. There’s no clear consensus. Unfortunately, there’s still outdated articles floating around about how Japanese is Altaic.

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