Chinese influence on Japanese culture

Chinese influence on Japanese culture refers to the impact of continental Asian influences transmitted through or originating in China on Japanese institutions, culture, language and society. Japanese pop culture has become famous internationally through anime and manga, but older elements of its culture such as Taoism, Buddhism, astronomy and language have been profoundly influenced by China over the course of centuries.


The conflicts caused by Chinese expansion in the later stages of the Jōmon Period, circa 400 BCE, led to mass migration to Japan.[1] The migrants primarily came from Continental Asia, more specifically the Korean Peninsula and Southern China, which brought over "new pottery, bronze, iron and improved metalworking techniques", which helped to improve the pre-existing farming tools and weaponry.[1][2] Chinese influence came mostly by sea but also through Korea.

Kentoshi route, also known as the sea route from Japan to China.

The influence of Chinese culture was an indirect effect of communications by Korea, around the 1st to the 5th century AD Korea had already incorporated major elements of Chinese civilization into its own culture and from there mediated the interchanges between China and Japan.[3]

The Han Shu written in 82 AD (also known as The Book of Han or History of Han) states that the Wa sent envoys and tribute to the Jùn (Chinese commandery) in northern parts of Korea.[1] To expand further, the Wa was a confederation of minor southern and western states of Japan, with an emphasis on the state Yamato. According to the Han Shu, this was the first textual reference made to Japan in reference to Sino-Japanese interaction. Another Chinese source that documents Chinese influence on Japanese culture is Wei Chih, written in 297 AD (also known as History of Wei). it states that Chinese and Japanese interactions of tribute originates back to 57 and 107 AD. Prominent figures of authority, such as Queen Himiko, sent Japanese ambassadors to parts that belonged to the Chinese in around 189–248 D.[1] That continued in the Kofun period, as envoys continued to be transmitted from Japan into China. In 502 AD, eleven new envoys were sent to China. That was, according to Mark Cartwright, the emergence of Yamato Japan as an international diplomatic state.[1]

In comparison to Korea, Japan controlled its intake of cultural influence from China, also known as "cultural borrowing" This meant that it "acknowledged the cultural superiority of the Chinese Middle Kingdom" but always held onto its political independence.[3] In addition to controlling the process of cultural borrowing, Japan also remained selective in considering the ideas and institutions that it wanted to adopt.

Modern influenceEdit

China's continued influence on Japanese culture can be perceived in modern times perhaps most clearly in the field of gastronomy of which Japanese Chinese cuisine is an example. Influence from Taiwan was also felt with the popularity of bubble tea in the late 2010s.

Influence on religionEdit


Taoist Temple known as Seitenkyū, located in Sakado, Saitama.

Daoism/Taoism is a set of religious and philosophical beliefs that explores the ideas of rituals, scriptures all while the Dao/Tao is considered. It can be traced back to the 3rd century BCE.[4] As a product of Chinese philosophers, it has made its way to Japan and thus was significantly changed as it became in contact with Japanese Culture. Originally, as Daoism developed in China was complex, multifaceted and a continuous recreation of new and old ideas.[5] Its form as it became integrated into Japanese culture was introduced as a part of the ritsuryō state. As a result, through textual pieces, Daoism marketed its way gradually into Japanese culture but differently from its original influence, which was Chinese Daoism.

Debates regarding Daoism/TaoismEdit

There have been debates regarding which undefined elements of Daoism within "the Japanese religio-political landscape" belongs to history and traditions of China and which are merely an aspect of Daoism itself.[5] Author and research associate Gaynor Sekimori, argues that aspects such as cosmology, yin and yang, Wu Xing (the five phases), divination, astronomy/astrology and the Yijīng were originally a part of Chinese cultural heritage, which thus influenced Daoism.

There has also been a level of uncertainty regarding Daoism on whether it is mostly Chinese culture or was only influenced by Daoism. Jonathan Smith claimed to distinguish what is part of Chinese heritage and that of Daoism itself and that some elements are "Daoist" and "Taoist-flavoured".

Building on the concept, the Japanese philosopher Miura Kunio distinguishes specific elements of Daoism as either belonging to the Chinese culture or as aspects transferred into the Japanese culture after the introduction of Daoism.[5] Kunio further claims that elements that were presented to Japan in the seventh century, such as "calendar-making, astronomy/astrology and divination", belonged to the Chinese culture. Elements such as beliefs of immortality, Daoist scriptures and the Kōshin cult were transferred into Japan as part of Daoism.


Now one of the largest world religions, Buddhism first emerged from India around 6th century BC. Buddhism has three major branches, which include Theravada (are Buddhism), Mahayana (or 'Greater Vehicle' Buddhism) and Vajrayana (Esoteric Buddhism or 'Diamond Vehicle'). Buddhism was brought over to Japan through China and Korea in 552 BC.[6]

Furthermore, Buddhism was encouraged by those in power, such as Prince Shōtoku. He argued that Buddhism was essential in "promoting Chinese ideas". Out of the three branches of Buddhism, it was the Mahayana that first became rooted in the Japanese culture.

Introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism and establishment of Mahayana sectsEdit

Visual painting of Saichō.

Another example of Chinese influence on Japanese religion is the introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism. In the early the Heian period, several Japanese monks who had studied religion in China returned and established Vajrayana Buddhism by the creation of Buddhist sects.[7] Specifically, two scholar monks, known as Saichō and Kūkai, helped to create the Tendai sect and Shingon sect. The Tendai sect was created in 805 by Saichō following his return from the Tang dynasty of China, and he helped to establish Vajrayana firmly.

Saichō then traveled to China for eleven months in 804 on the quest for the T'ien-t'ai (or Tiantai), the Chinese Buddhist School.[7] Saichō wanted to transfer the idea of the T'ien-t'ai Dharma heritage into Japan but to keep the authenticity of the original Chinese-based Buddhist school. In his final month in Ming-chou, Saichō went to Yüeh-chou to gather further religious texts concerning esoteric Buddhism (Vajrayana). There, he essentially met the priest Shun-hsiao, who informed and instructed himon Vajrayana Buddhism. After his visit to Yüeh-chou, Saichō retrieved Buddhist instruments related to rituals, paintings of the goddesses of Vajrayana, and 38 religious texts related to Mikkyō. In accordance to several pieces historical research, "both inside and outside the Tendai school demonstrates that Saichō encounter with Mikkyō in China was rather accidental".[7] Furthermore, according to thr Japanese historian Kōyū Sonoda, Saichō's original plan was sending two disciples to do his research on the T'ien-t'ai, but it was changed last minute since Emperor Kanmu was able to persuade Saichō to pursue and lead the journey personally.

From there, Saichō helped to "pave the way" for the Shingon sect to be introduced in 806 by Kūkai. For both founders to benefit from the introduction of Buddhism, Saichō stood behind Kūkai and helped him get the mountain temple of Takaosan-ji, northwest of Kyoto, and make it into the original Shingon School. In return, Kūkai helped educate and train Saichō and his followers Vajrayana rituals. Furthermore, Kūkai also shared his Mikkyō texts, which he had gotten during his final trip to Yüeh-chou, China.

Influence of Chinese astronomyEdit

A professor at Doshisha University, Kazuhiko Miyajima, argues that Japan was heavily influenced by Chinese astronomy and astrology.[8] The Japanese learned about Chinese astronomy first from the Koreans, who had learned it directly from the Chinese. The influence of astronomy took roots in government offices as a direct influence of the Chinese model, which became known as "Onmyo no tsukasa". That office was in charge of specific information related to both astronomy and astrology, the same fields beingbe part of Daoism. The four departments of the office were "divination by celestial omens, calendar-making time-keeping and yin-yan divination".[8] The responsibility of the departments was similar to the Chinese equivalents: T'ai shih chu and T'ai-pu shu.

In terms of cardinal direction, the orientation of the main streets in cities like Naniwa no miya and Heijo Kyo was achieved by "learning the Chinese way of surveying".[8]

In addition, Japanese star maps were influenced by Chinese astronomy, as several star maps in Japan held the same Chinese star names. They were created as direct copies from the Chinese, but only a few still remain popular. Shibukawa Harumi, known as the "first official astronomer of the Edo period", published two kinds of star maps, which were adapted from the traditional Chinese model, which came from Korea.[8] Some star maps were created by Takahashi Kageyasu and Ishizaka Joken and are still inspired by western astronomy, which essentially landed in Japan through China by the book "T'ienching huomen". The book's popularity in China was short-lived bevause of its simplification, excessive mistakes and inaccuracy, but it was immensely popular in Japan.


Kanji: Usage of Chinese characters in JapanEdit

Kanji is the term for adopted Chinese characters used in written Japanese. The Chinese writing system influenced spoken Japanese language first and thus "provided key vehicles for intellectual creativity".[3] Its origin in Japan dates back to the Kofun period, and its introduction is believed to be between 300 and 710 AD.[9]

It is believed that the Japanese writing system came under influence by the Chinese through its written language. In the beginning, most writing in Japan was done by immigrant clerks who wrote in Chinese.[10] One individual in particular, known as Wani, helped to introduce the Chinese characters into Japan. Wani was a scholar that had arrived sometime during the late 4th century from one of the Korean kingdoms, Paekche (also known as [Baekje]]).[9] He supposedly brought 11 volumes of Chinese writings with him to Japan. Wani remained in Japan and helped to inspire groups of scribes that later became known as the Fumi-no-obito. Literacy was rare and was limited to immigrant groups and their families during the 5th and the 6th centuries. The act of writing and learning Chinese was instigated in Japan in the early 5th century.

Within the 7th century, Japanese scholars-aristocrats began to learn Chinese reading and writing with the purpose of doing business.[10]

The adaption of Chinese characters was said to be challenging, but its outcome allowed Yamato Japan to establish a bureaucracy. It also helped Japanese authority figures gain control of clans and peasants. Moreover, the introduction of Chinese into Japanese broadened Japan's access to educational texts on ranging subjects, such as science, religion, art, and philosophy. Consequently, as Japanese students began to master Chinese, they could travel to China and thus continue to learn about the language and culture.[3]

It has been said that the introduction of Chinese characters and learning in the 4th century AD. highlighted a grand "turning point in Japanese cultural development".[3]


Nakatomi no Kamatari created the clan known as Fujiwara in 645. It stayed in power until the 11th century, when the military class (or the samurai) assumed its position. After the Fujiwara clan, the Taika reforms were created in 646 and helped to create a new system of government, which was influenced by the Chinese model.[11] Land became purchased by the state and thus was to be redistributed fairly to all. The land reform was a gateway for "introducing the new tax system that was also adopted from China".


Many cultural items are part of Sino-Japanese heritage: here are a few examples:


  1. ^ a b c d e "Ancient Japanese & Chinese Relations". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  2. ^ "Yayoi linked to Yangtze area". Retrieved 2019-04-27.
  3. ^ a b c d e Stearns, Peter N. (2000). The Spread Of Chinese Civilization To Japan. Pearson. p. 394.
  4. ^ Liu, King Shu (1917). "The Origin of Taoism". The Monist. 27 (3): 376–389. doi:10.5840/monist191727311. JSTOR 27900647.
  5. ^ a b c Sekimori, Gaynor (2018). "Daoism in Japan: Chinese Traditions and Their Influence on Japanese Religious Culture Ed. by Jeffrey L. Richey". The Journal of Japanese Studies. 44: 181–186. doi:10.1353/jjs.2018.0018. S2CID 148685937 – via JSTOR.
  6. ^ Hammer, Elizabeth. "Buddhism in Japan". Asia Society.
  7. ^ a b c Abé, Ryūichi (1995). "Saichō and Kūkai: A Conflict of Interpretations". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 22 (1/2): 103–137. doi:10.18874/jjrs.22.1-2.1995.103-137. JSTOR 30233539.
  8. ^ a b c d Miyajima, Kazuhiko (1988). "Influence of Chinese Astronomy on Japanese Culture". Vistas in Astronomy. 31 (1): 805–808. Bibcode:1988VA.....31..805M. doi:10.1016/0083-6656(88)90310-8.
  9. ^ a b "Birth of the Chinese script and its adoption in Japan". Heritage of Japan. 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  10. ^ a b Grigg, Hugh (30 June 2013). "Hanzi and Kanji: Differences in the Chinese and Japanese Character Sets Today". East Asia Student.
  11. ^ Irving, Richard (25 March 2014). "Taika Reforms". Nakasendo Way.