During the Asuka period, Chinese cultural influences reached Japan only indirectly, passing first through the Korean peninsula. But with the establishment of T'ang rule in China, direct communication via diplomatic envoys and trade was established between China and Japan. Cultural transmission became a more immediate, intense, and vital process, and the new Japanese capital city, built at Nara in 710 on the Chinese model became a receptive outpost for the rich and expansive T'ang culture.
Buddhism continued to expand and develop on the foundations laid during the previous period. The enthusiastic program of temple construction carried out in and around Nara encouraged a remarkable development in the decorative arts and in the making of ritual objects for temple use. Inspired by the T'ang example, the numbers and variety of ornamental motifs multiplied rapidly.
There is no better introduction to the design motifs that flourished during the Nara period in Japan than an examination of the art treasures preserved in the Shōsōin. In 756, on the forty-ninth day after the death of the emperor Shōmu, his widow Empress Dowager Kōmyō dedicated to the Great Buddha of the Tōdai-ji temple, which her husband had built, over six hundred objects that had been among the late emperor's personal effects. These treasures of the Nara court were placed