Heian Period (794-1185)
As the intensity of Japanese cultural borrowing from T'ang China diminished, partly as a result of the cessation of official embassies to the T'ang court, the all-pervading Chinese influence upon the arts gradually gave way to an increasingly original and unmistakably Japanese style. Heralding this new era was the transfer of the capital in 794 from Nara to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto), specifically for the purpose of renewing the vitality of the country. The winds of change blew gently through the world of design as well, although some time was to pass before distinctly innovative motifs appeared. Thus, the early Heian period should be seen as a time of transition, during which design formats were still steeped in the Chinese inheritance from the Nara period but were beginning to evolve toward independent and more authentically Japanese forms of expression.
The design characteristics of the transitional period are clearly to be seen in the patterns that adorn the miniature shrine in the Mandala Hall of the Taimadera temple in Nara Prefecture. The shrine was made in 763 to house a tapestry representing the Paradise of Amida which is the chief object of worship in the temple. The surfaces of the shrine are decorated in gold and silver tempera with Nara-type motifs including kōsōge, butterflies, phoenixes, long-tailed birds, pheasants, ducks, sun and moon, and landscapes (Plate 34).