Kokufu-bunka (国風文化)

Kokufu-bunka is one of the Japanese historical cultures. It was a culture developed during the Sekkan seiji (regency government) period from the early 10th century to the 11th century and has much influenced the culture during the Insei (cloister government) period in the 12th century.


This culture is called Kokufu (or wafu)-bunka or Japanese-style culture, in contrast with the tofu-bunka, a culture in Nara period which was largely influenced by the Chinese culture. Among the existing cultures, many are descended from this kokufu-bunka.

Demise of Japanese missions to Tang China

In general, people used to think that the stop of Japanese missions to Tang China in 894 allowed Japan to get out of direct influence of the China and to develop its own cultures. But, in reality, even after the demise of its missions to Tang China, Japan had active relations with other countries and many aspects of Chinese learning and culture were introduced. Therefore, an argument that the demise of Japanese missions to Tang China gave birth to Kokufu-bunka is wrong. Already in Nara period, there were many considerations on Kuniburi, the Japan's own morals and feelings although respecting Chinese cultures. Therefore, it is convenient to conclude that the demise of Japanese missions to Tang China was a factor that accelerated making Japanese cultures more kokufu-styled.

Flowering of Jodo sect (Pure Land Buddhism)

Jodo sect (faith in Pure Land) was developed on the background of the Latter Day of the Law. In the first part of the ninth century, Ennin introduced the Nenbutsu Zanmai Ho (method of mental absorption in the Buddhist invocation) of Wutai Shan (in China) to Mt. Hiei and Genshin (priest) perfected Tendai Jodo sect by writing "Ojoyoshu" (The Essentials of Salvation). Also, Kuya popularized Jodo sect to ordinary people, therefore he was called "Ichi no hijiri" (Saint of the People). Jodo sect became widespread in the nobles living in Kyoto and influenced Buddhist architecture, statues and painting inspired by Kokufu-bunka.

Flowering of literature by women writers

The regime of regent by the Fujiwara clan (Northern House of the Fujiwara clan) was based on the consort clan policy (a policy consisting in making a daughter enter the Imperial Family and making her child an emperor in order to take power as a maternal grandfather). Once their daughters entered the Imperial Family, the Fujiwara clan selected capable women and put them beside the emperor as female personal assistants to gain the emperor's favor. Female personal assistants were often the girls of middle-classed nobles such as local officers and these middle-classed nobles spared no effort in educating their girls to win the FUJIWARA clan's favor. This is the reason why a number of women writers such as Seisho Nagon and Murasaki Shikibu appeared.

Use of kana characters

From the Nara period, manyo gana, making use of Chinese manners of reading to read Japanese, had been used; from this period, however, kana (hiragana and katakana --- both Japanese syllabary characters) began to be used. Katakana has been designed from a parts of Kanji characters (example: イ from 伊) and was used as a sub character for reading a text written in China in a Japanese manner. Hiragana was designed from the sosho (cursive) style writing of kanji characters (for example あ from 安) and it was mainly women who started to use Hiragana.

Kokin Wakashu Kanajo (Preface of Kokin Wakashu written in kana) of the "Kokin Wakashu" (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) written by KI no Tsurayuki was an early work written in Hiragana while keeping the usage of a text in Chinese.
(See Hiragana.)


Kokin Wakashu: Japan's first chokusen wakashu (anthology of Japanese poetry compiled by Imperial command) in 905 which was ordered by the Emperor Daigo and compiled by KI no Tsurayuki, KI no Tomonori, OSHIKOCHI no Mitsune, MIBU no Tadamine, etc.

Wakan roei shu (Collection of Japanese and Chinese poems to sing) :A collection of Chinese poems edited by FUJIWARA no Kinto around 1018.

Tales and narratives

Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter): The oldest existing Japanese narrative written in kana. All the medieval characters of this period (the 10th century) such as grandfather, grandmother, princess, lords, nobles, craftsmen, merchants, emperors and samurai were already present in this tale.

The Tales of Ise: Poem-style story in which the main character is supposed to be ARIWAWA no Narihira.

Utsubo Monogatari (The Tale of the Hollow Tree): Story in which the main characters were Toshikage KIYOHARA, the sub-leader of the envoys to the Tang China, and his descendants

Ochikubo Monogatari (The Tale of Ochikubo): The tales in which the Princess, after suffering from harassment from her stepmother, got married with a Prince and lived happily with him.

The Tale of Genji: The masterpiece of Japanese imperial tales.

Diaries and essays

Tosa Nikki (The Tosa Diary): A diary written in Hiragana detailing his trip after completing his mission as Tosa no kami (the Governor of Tosa Province), in which he impersonated a woman.

Kagero Diary (The Gossamer Years): A diary in which the mother of FUJIWARA no Michitsuna detailed her complaints about the life with her husband FUJIWARA no Kaneie.

The Izumi Shikibu Diary: A diary in which she spoke of her own love affairs.

The Murasaki Shikibu Diary: A diary in which Murasaki Shikibu described her daily life in the court.

Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book): An essay by Seisho Nagon. "Hojoki" (An Account of My Hut) by KAMO no Chomei, "Tsurezure gusa" (Essays in Idleness) by Kenko YOSHIDA and this book are called Japan's three most famous books on history and caricature.

Sarashina Nikki (Sarashina Diary): A memory in which the wife of SUGAWARA no Takasue spoke of her own life in the style of an autobiography.

Shoyuki: A diary of FUJIWARA no Sanesuke.
(in Chinese characters)

Mido Kanpakuki A diary of FUJIWARA no Michinaga.


Wamyo-ruijusho: Japan's first encyclopedia edited by MINAMOTO no Shitago.


Clothes became such that breathed well with opened-cuffs and loose-fitting to fit to a highly-humid climate.

For men
Ikan (traditional formal court dress)
Sokutai (traditional ceremonial court dress)
Noshi (everyday clothes for nobles)
Kariginu (informal clothes worn court nobles)
For women
Junihitoe (twelve-layered ceremonial kimono)
Hosonaga (everyday dress of young noblewoman)

Music instruments

Japanese harp


Goryo-shinko (a folk religious belief of avenging spirits)
Onmyodo (way of Yin and Yang; occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements)
Honji-suijaku setsu (theory of original reality and manifested traces)


The houses for nobles were constructed in the Shinden-zukuri style (architecture representative of a nobleman's residence in the Heian period). The Byodo-in Temple preserves its influence.

In Buddhist architecture, a lot of Amidanyorai Halls (Amitabha Tathagata Halls) influenced by Jodo sect were constructed.

Muryoju-in Hall of Hojo-ji Temple: Constructed by FUJIWARA no Michinaga in 1020. It does not exit any more.

Hoo-do Hall (the Phoenix Pavilion) of Byodo-in Temple: Constructed by FUJIWARA no Yorimichi in 1053.

Amida Hall of Hokai-ji Temple: Originally a second house owned by Sukenari HINO, transformed into a temple by him around 1050. It burned down in the Jokyu War, but was rebuilt afterwards.

Famous buildings other than Amida Hall include the five-story pagoda in Daigo-ji Temple constructed in 951.


Parquet technique, which consists of making geometric mosaic patters of wood pieces, is utilized in order to produce statues of Amida Nyorai in large numbers. It is said that Jocho achieved these technique. The characteristics of his technique include: shallow and parallel pleats and folding, and a mild and meditative expression with a round face and half-opened eyes, and this style of statue is called Jocho style.

The statue of Amida Nyorai in the Hoo-do Hall of Byodo-in Temple: The one and only existing work of Jocho

Statue of Amida Nyorai in Hokai-ji Temple
Statue of Unchu Kuyo Bosatsu in the Hoo-do Hall of Byodo-in Temple


The Japanese style of painting called Yamato-e was developed and this produced Buddhist painting, painting of natural features on walls and folding screens called "Tsukinami-no-e" and "Shiki-e" (such as Senzui Byobu [folding screen with landscape picture]) and painting on walls (such as tobira-e [the frontispiece] of the Hoo-do Hall of Byodo-in Temple) but except Buddhist paintings, few paintings remain. It is estimated that many narrative paintings were created (either in books or scrolls), but no such paintings from before the end of the 11th century remain.

Raigo-zu (image of the descent of Amida Buddha) was a theme often chosen in Buddhist painting.

Nehan-zu (Nirvana's portrait) of Mt. Koya (in 1086)
Shoju Raigo-zu (image of the descent of saint with Amida Buddha) of Mt. Koya
Juniten (twelve gods) of the To-ji Temple (in 1127)
Fugen bosatsu zo (statue of Fugen bosatsu [Samantabhadra Bodhisattva]) in the Tokyo National Museum
Tobira-e of the Hoo-do Hall of Byodo-in Temple (around 1053)
Senzui Byobu in the Kyoto National Museum
Genji Monogatari Emaki (Illustrated Handscroll of the Tale of Genji) (in the period of the Taira clan's administration or the Insei period)
Shigisan Engi (legends of Mt. Shigi) (in the Insei period)
Ban Dainagon Emaki (illustrated scroll of the story of a courtier Ban Dainagon) (in the Insei period)
Choju-Jinbutsu-giga kootsu no maki (the scrolls of frolicking animals and humans; volumes one and two) (in the Insei period)


ONO no Tofu, FUJIWARA no Sukemasa and FUJIWARA no Yukinari were called "Sanseki" (three most famous calligraphers). In the 11th century, Koya-gire, a classic of kana calligraphy, was produced and this allowed a variety of kana calligraphy styles to be developed by the 12th century.


The styles of Japanese swords (shinogi-zukuri [ridge style], wanto [curved sword]) were established.

Munechika SANJO (Mikazuki Munechika)
Kogarasumaru (Amakuni [human figure])
Bizen no kuni Tomonari
Dojigiri Yasutsuna (Yasutsuna)

Makie (Japanese lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver powder)

Makie was created in the Nara period and its techniques were remarkably developed.

[Original Japanese]