SPECIAL FEATURE

Baekje:
In Search of Traces of the Lost Kingdom
SPECIAL FEATURE 5 Baekje Settlers in Japan

Baekje accepted the advanced culture and technology of China, and went on to adapt and assimilate the foreign cultural elements to develop a unique culture of its own that was then disseminated to neighboring states. It maintained amicable relations with Japan, transmitting continental civilization and technology in exchange for military assistance. Traces of close interaction between the two countries still remain in many parts of Japan.

Kudara Kannon, or the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva from Baekje, enshrined in the Treasure House of Horyu-ji, in Nara, is one of Japan’s most renowned cultural treasures. The graceful image, made of gilded camphor wood, stands 209cm tall. Baekje craftsmanship clearly shows in the unique mandorla, the openwork crown, the smooth curves of the shoulders and waist, and the tender expression on the face. It is dated to the early to mid-seventh century.

On the fourth day of the tenth month of A.D. 663, the final battle that would determine the fate of the seven-centuryold Baekje Kingdom was about to be waged in the lower reaches of the Geum River. The kingdom’s capital, Sabi (presentday Buyeo), had already fallen into enemy hands and King Uija surrendered in 660, but last-ditch skirmishes were ongoing in various parts of the country. Baekje restoration forces requested their ally Japan (called “Wa” at the time) to send reinforcements, to which Japan responded by dispatching a contingent of over 40,000 soldiers in two phases.
The Baekje-Wa troops and the allied forces of Silla and Tang China engaged in fierce naval and ground battles over two days in what was tantamount to a major regional conflict in ancient East Asia. Victory went to the Silla-Tang alliance. Although the most culturally advanced and diplomatically savvy among the three kingdoms of Korea, Baekje was unable to avert its tragic end. In some ways, the Japanese reinforcements were a testimony to its strong international character.
Even after Baekje’s fall, close relations with Japan continued. According to the “New Selection and Record of Hereditary Titles and Family Names” (Shinsen shojiroku), a genealogical record of aristocratic families of Japan commissioned by the emperor and completed in 815, one third of the nobility were found to be immigrants, mostly of Baekje ancestry. Ancient Japan developed its culture and laid its foundations as a nation largely through exchanges with Baekje. Even into the early ninth century, descendants of Baekje immigrants comprised a significant portion of Japan’s ruling class. Three Mass Migrations There were three major influxes of Baekje immigrants to Japan. The first came after the mid-fourth century when, amid frequent clashes with Goguryeo in the north, Baekje actively sought ties with Japan to strengthen its defenses. Around this time, Baekje dispatched two scholars to Japan. The first was Ajikgi (Achiki in Japanese), who took with him two horses. He initially taught horsemanship, but when it became known that he was well versed in the Confucian classics, he became tutor to the crown prince.

Kudarao-jinja, the clan shrine of the royal family of Baekje, still stands in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture. In the eighth century, the descendants of the last king of Baekje who settled in southern Osaka also built Kudara-ji, a large temple where spirit tablets of Baekje kings were enshrined, but the temple was destroyed in a fire. The current shrine was rebuilt in 2002.

The second scholar was Dr. Wangin (Wani in Japanese), who was called to Japan upon the recommendation of Ajikgi and is known to have introduced the “Thousand Character Classic” and the “Analects of Confucius” to Japan. His descendants served in the royal court for many generations in positions responsible for documentation, accounts, and finance.
After Wiryeseong, the first capital of Baekje later known as Hanseong, fell to Goguryeo in 475, Baekje moved its capital further south to Ungjin (present-day Gongju), which prompted the second mass migration to Japan. Under the threat of aggression from Goguryeo, Baekje sought to strengthen its alliance with Japan; in return for Japan’s military assistance, it dispatched large numbers of professionals with advanced cultural knowledge and technological expertise. Exchange with Japan flourished under the reign of the kings Muryeong (r. 501–523) and Seong (r. 523–554). During this period, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan, Baekje sent Buddhist architects and artisans as well as technicians and specialists equipped with new skills and knowledge. They played an active role in building the foundations of a centralized government from a confederation of powerful local clans, and the blossoming of Buddhist culture during the Asuka period (circa 538–710). The mother of Emperor Kanmu (r. 781–806), who relocated the capital to Heiankyo (present-day Kyoto) from Nara at the end of the eighth century, ushering in the Heian period (794–1185), was known to have been a descendant of King Muryeong of Baekje. This became widely known when Emperor Akihito mentioned it in public in 2001.
After the fall of Baekje, members of the royal family and ruling class crossed the sea to Japan en masse and settled there. According to an account dated 663 from the “Chronicles of Japan” (Nihon shoki), as they boarded the boat for Japan they cried out, “The name Baekje has perished today. Will we ever be able to visit our ancestors’ tombs again?” Based on historical records, their number was estimated to have exceeded 3,000, including some 60 highranking government officials. They took key government positions during Japan’s transition to a centralized power structure in the late seventh century.

The alleged tomb of Dr. Wangin, or Wani as he is known in Japan, in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture. An eminent scholar assumed to have arrived from Baekje in the mid-fourth century, Wangin is attributed with the introduction of the Chinese writing system to Japan. His descendants are said to have served in various areas of civil administration in Japan.

Baekje Buddhism and Asuka Culture
Buddhism was introduced to the Three Kingdoms of Korea much earlier than to Japan through scriptures translated into Chinese characters. In all of the three ancient states, Buddhism served as an impetus for political unity, consolidation of royal authority, and cultural advancement. The same was true for Japan. History books from China’s Sui Dynasty (581–618) state that writing was introduced to Japan through Buddhist scriptures from Baekje. In the mid-sixth century, King Seong sent a Buddhist statue and sutras to Japan for the first time, and thereafter continued to supply the necessary human resources until Buddhism took root there. Buddhist monks as well as architects and artists were dispatched to participate in the construction of Asuka-dera, also known as Hoko-ji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan.

It is said that when the temple was completed, some 100 courtiers rejoiced wearing Baekje attire. Early Buddhism in Japan built a strong foothold around Asuka through close interaction with Baekje.
Baekje used the Chinese written language and Buddhism in its diplomacy with Japan. It also acted as a cultural conduit between China and Japan. One example is a U-shaped metal ornamental hair pin. It is believed that this type of hair pin, which has been found in tombs in China from the third century onwards, was brought into Japan by way of Baekje. This is supported by the fact that such hair pins have been frequently discovered among burial goods in Baekje-style tombs located in the Kansai region (or the Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe region). It is interesting that Baekje immigrants even introduced to Japan the latest fashion items in vogue at that time in East Asia.

The Kudara Bridge in Higashisumiyoshi-ku, southern Osaka, speaks for historic relations between the region and the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje, which date back to the seventh century. The name Kudara, or Baekje, can be easily found in the names of stations, bridges, and schools around the area that continues to have a large Korean-Japanese population today.

Twin Buddhist Statues
The Baekje Kingdom vanished when the restoration campaigns were crushed. But its cultural legacy was revived in Japan. The temple complex of Todai-ji in Nara, which bears traces of Baekje influence, is a treasure trove of Buddhist culture which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The statue of the Great Buddha, a national treasure housed in the temple, is known to have been built by the grandson of a Baekje immigrant who fled to Japan after the kingdom’s fall. The descendants of Baekje’s royal family developed a gold mine and donated gold for the statue. The essence of the Buddhist culture that Baekje had fostered continued to live on in Japan.
Among the Baekje immigrant settlers, there were two powerful clans. One was the Aya clan, who settled in Kinai (the capital region) near the Osaka and Nara prefectures. Most of them were craftsmen, such as blacksmiths, or involved in production of horse gear, silk fabrics, and earthenware.

The other prominent immigrant clan was the Hata clan. They settled in the Kyoto prefecture and surrounding areas, and were engaged in such fields as sericulture, textiles, and water control. Descendants of the Hata divided into various clans with different surnames. Tsutomu Hata, who became the 80th prime minister of Japan in 1994, is a descendant of the clan.
Koryu-ji, constructed in 603 in northern Kyoto, originally belonged to the Hata family. It houses six Buddhist statues designated as national treasures. The most outstanding among them is the wooden statue of the Pensive Bodhisattva, or Maitreya in Meditation. The image of the bodhisattva in deep contemplation of the suffering of humans has captivated numerous people over the centuries. German philosopher Karl Jaspers praised it as “a full representation of the highest expression of human nature.” An almost identical twin statue, the Gilt-bronze Pensive Bodhisattva (Korea’s National Treasure No. 83), is housed in the National Museum of Korea in Seoul. The two statues bear a striking resemblance, especially their smiles. Neither of the sculptors has been identified, and controversy is ongoing as to whether they were from Baekje or Silla. But whatever the place of origin, what the enigmatic smile of the two bodhisattvas is conveying is a message of salvation of all human beings — beyond Baekje, Silla, or Japan.

The Baekje Kingdom vanished when the restoration campaigns were crushed. But its cultural legacy was revived in Japan. The essence of the Buddhist culture that Baekje had fostered continued to live on in Japan.

The Legacy of the Ancient Kingdom
The vestiges of Baekje in Japan are scattered throughout the Kansai region. The tour exploring the remains of the ancient Korean kingdom begins as we exit Kansai International Airport, the gateway to western Japan.
The first stop is Osaka, Japan’s second largest city. Prince Seongwang, the son of Baekje’s last king, spent the rest of his life in Japan after the kingdom’s collapse. He was given the family name of Kudara no Konikishi (meaning “king of Baekje”) by the emperor. Together with other descendants of the royal family, he settled in Baekje County in southern Osaka where immigrant clans were living. This area corresponds to today’s Ikuno-ku and still has a large Korean-Japanese population. One can easily spot stations, bridges, and elementary schools with Baekje in their names.
It was during the great-grandson Keifuku’s generation that the Kudara clan moved to Hirakata in the northern Osaka Prefecture. Keifuku, or Gyeongbok in Korean, donated gold for the construction of the Great Buddha statue housed in Todai-ji in Nara. He also built Kudara-ji, a large temple for the clan, but it was destroyed in a fire and a park now stands in its place. Still standing is the clan shrine Kudarao-jinja, which was built around the same time near the temple and has since been reconstructed.
The next place on the itinerary is Nara. Asuka, a village located further south, is home to the temple Asuka-dera, but it is hard to find traces of the Baekje people there as their temples were also moved to Nara after the relocation of the capital. Our first stop is the temple Gango-ji. It was once one of the powerful seven great temples of Nara together with Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji, but declined after the Middle Ages. However, the roof tiles of the main hall, a national treasure, are worth a close look as tiles from the Asuka period made by Baekje artisans still remain.
After Gango-ji comes Todai-ji, which is not far off, and then Horyu-ji. The large temple grounds of Horyu-ji are filled with numerous national treasures, but the one that exudes the aura of Baekje is the Kudara Kannon (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva from Baekje). Standing over two meters tall, the wooden statue is a sculptural masterpiece exemplifying the beauty of the human body, which has long been a source of artistic inspiration. In 1997, the statue was displayed at the Louvre Museum as part of an exchange of representative national treasures between France and Japan.

The main hall (right) and the zen room of Gango-ji, in Nara. Many of the roof tiles of these buildings, distinguished by brownish tones, were made by Baekje artisans during the Asuka period. The temple was originally founded in Asuka in 593 and was known as Asuka-dera or Hoko-ji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. It was moved to Nara in 718, when the capital was relocated there, and renamed Gangoji.

The five-story pagoda at Horyu-ji, in Nara, is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. It was built when the temple was reconstructed in the early eighth century after the first Horyu-ji, completed in 607, was burned down in 670. The pagoda reflects the seventh-century Baekje style. It is 32.5 meters tall.

Next, we board the train for Kyoto and head north. They say you can’t visit Kyoto without seeing Kiyomizu-dera, another temple connected with Baekje. Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, a general and shogun who conquered the Tohoku region during the reign of Emperor Kanmu, is the one who initiated the construction of the temple. The main hall, a national treasure, was originally his house that was rebuilt. The Sakanoue clan is known to have diverged from the Aya clan. During the era when the emperor’s maternal relatives were descendants of the Baekje royal family, members of the clan held key positions in the military and played an important role in opening the Heian period, pioneering a new future for Japan.
Last is a walk around Kyoto city in a counterclockwise direction, headed for the temple Koryu-ji. Here, many ancient Buddhist statutes, including the wooden statue of the Pensive Bodhisattva, await us. We admire the acme of Buddhist culture and take a moment to ruminate on the anguish of the displaced Baekje immigrants who had lost their country. Clues for Future Relations With the end of the alliance between Baekje and Japan, all ties connecting the ancient Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago were severed, casting a dark shadow over Korea-Japan relations ever since. At the end of the 16th century, Japan invaded Joseon, causing mass casualties and extensive material damage; in 1910, Japan annexed the Korean Empire. The deep wounds inflicted during the 35 years of occupation have never completely healed. How might relations between Korea and Japan pan out in the future? The answer may be more easily found if the two nations recall the open and friendly relations and cosmopolitan outlook of their ancestors of 1,500 years ago.

Ha Jong-moon Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, Hanshin University
Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

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