Nara, Japan’s first imperial capital and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road – a cultural corridor to 1400 years of spiritual tradition
A Miro Ito Film/Produced & conceived by Media Art League
Presented by Ikasu-Nara Regional Council
Online presentation on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjSWEDzltIU
Support by Hōryū-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji Temple, Tōdai-ji Temple, Tōshōdai-ij Temple, Saidai-ji Temple, Kōfuku-ji Temple, Kasuga-Taisha Shrine
Editorial Consultant: Kosei Morimoto, PhD, Abbot Emeritus of Tōdai-ji Temple
Ancient Nara once was the eastern terminus of the Silk Roads.
The trade routes from Alexandria (Egypt) in the south, from Constantinople (Today: Istanbul, Turkey) to Feodosia (Today: Theodosia, Ukraine) on the Black Sea coast in the north, from Athens and Rome in the west, all the way to Chang'an and Luoyang in the east are often collectively known as the "Silk Road(s)”
A branch of this “road” extended further east across the seas to Naniwa-tsu (Osaka) and from there continued to Asuka (Nara) via a waterway.
Nara retains vestiges of Hellenistic culture that reached Japan after crossing the Eurasian Continent. Around the mid 6th century, Buddhism arrived and sank deep roots in Nara where Shintoism and Buddhism coexist even today. This “Silk Road” served as a magnificent cultural corridor to 14 centuries of spiritual tradition.
In Nara, the memories of the birth of Japan as a nation from the 7th to 8th centuries —establishing the 1st known centrally governed state on Japanese soil— are still alive, both as tangible and intangible cultural heritage --with the wisdom and great ideals of its predecessors.
The film piece Nara, Japan’s first imperial capital and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road (33 min) at first sheds light on Prince Shōtoku's pioneering achievements, commemorated in 2021 on the 1400th anniversary of Prince Shōtoku's death.
At the core of the film’s first half is the mammoth historical project by Emperor Shōmu (who inherited Prince Shōtoku's legacy a century later) to overcome a national crisis in the early 8th century by constructing the Great Buddha.
The origins of the six great temples of Nara, including the Tōshōdai-ji, (built by Jiàn zhēn from Tang China) as well as the Kasuga-Taisha Shrine are introduced in this film that spans the Asuka, Fujiwara and Heijō-kyō eras of Japan’s oldest imperial capital.
The final stage of the film focuses on evidence in Nara of tangible and intangible East-West exchange along the Silk Roads.
What can be seen from Nara's 14 centuries of spiritual tradition, where the history of East-West exchange along the Silk Road is illuminated by this message to our increasingly fragmented world, as cinepoetry that embodies the axiom "we all are one”.
In the words of Yasushi Akashi (former U.N. Undersecretary): “it is a magnificent global story that ends in Nara, and cultural heritage such as Hōryū-ji Temple and Tōdai-ji Temple emerge as part of the flow of (human) history.”
Two UNESCO world cultural heritage sites are introduced in this film: Buddhist Monuments in the Hōryū-ji district (UNESCO-designated in 1993) and Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara (UNESCO-designated in 1998).
It also sheds light on the drama of the formation of an ancient nation in Asuka-Fujiwara: Archaeological sites of Japan’s Ancient Capitals and Related Properties which was included in the provisional list of World Heritage Sites in 2007.
It is a film work that conveys to the world the "universal heart" that wishes for the prosperity and well-being of all living things, reflecting Ito’s deep empathy for Nara.