Places, Images, Times & Transformations

Shōmu, Emperor

(r. 724-749, b. 701-756). The 45th emperor in the traditional account (which includes several non-historical emperors). Shōmu was an ardent Buddhist and in 741 ordered the establishment of state-maintained temples in each province. He sponsored the construction of Tōdaiji temple in Nara and the casting of its great image of the Buddha. His reign was marked by a flourishing of the arts under strong Chinese influence. This period probably witnessed a greater increase in government expenditure and consumption that any other of comparable length in early Japan. In 749 Shōmu abdicated in favor of his daughter Empress Kōken, took holy orders, and spent the rest of his life in religious devotions. His personal possessions were donated to Tōdaiji, where they remain today. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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