With the development of Imperial bureuacracy, that was an outcome of the Taika reforms, moving the court every time an Emperor dies was becoming too complicated and the need of a stable capital became evident. In Nagara Toyosaki, several buildings and offices were included within the walls of the palace. In Kiyomihara, residence of Emperor Tenmu, there was a hall made on purpose for Imperial audiences (大極殿, daigokuden) and several offices, so that Empress Jitou decided to stay in that palace, while waiting for a new city to be ready.

Empress Jitou ordered the construction of a new capital in Fujiwara  (藤原), a site that was located north of  Asuka no Kiyomihara. Fujiwara was to face south being surrounded by mountains on the other three sides – Kagu to the east, Miminashi to the north and Unebi to the west.

The capital was officially moved only in 694, even though recent ecavations have revealed constructions in the site as early as 682.

The plan of the new city was based on Chinese models. References to Chinese culture were the common use in Japan at that time: also in the imperial palace built at Naniwa the audience hall (daigokuden) was Chinese-style, and also buildings erected at Otsu and Asuka no Kiyomihara were Chinese in appearance.

The the city, organized in the Chinese-style grin pattern called joubousei l (条坊制) covered an area of roughly 5 km2, bounded on the east, west and north, respectively, by the Nakatsumichi, Shimotsumichi, and Yoko-oji, all three of which were important trunk roads of the time.

The custom of calling the eastern half of the capital the “left capital” (sakyou 左京) and the western half the “right capital” (ukyou 右京) was in Japan first practiced at Fujiwara-kyou. City blocks, delineated by streets, seem,in contrast to Nara-kyou and Heian-kyou, not to have been designated by numerical combinations of jou (north-south subdivisions) and bou (east-west subdivisions), but rather by proper names such as Ohari-machi or Hayashi-machi.

The palace occupied a plot measuring about 1 km2, and was surrounded by walls roughly 5m high. Each of the four walls had three gates. The main gate, Suzakumon (朱雀門) was in the middle of the southern wall. In the middle there were the Palace and a main street that was large 30m. The main buildings were all built in the Chinese style: the pillars of its principal buildings were placed on stone foundations in the Chinese manner; their roofs were covered with Chinese tiles; and the palace zone was a square located on the north side of the capital, as in China.

In the famous anthology called Hyakunin Isshu, we have this waka written by Empress Jitō, that describes the new city: 春すぎて夏来にけらし白妙の衣ほすてふ天の香具山 (haru sugite natsu ki ni kerashi shirotae no komoro hosu chō ama no kaguyama – Spring has passed, it seems, and now summer has arrived; For this, they say, is when robes of pure white are aired on heavenly Mount Kagu).

Capitals of Japan – 1

February 22, 2011

It’s 2:44 a.m. here and I am restlessly thinking to ancient Japanese capitals. I’ll take the chance to start this blog, since I have decided to try.

Some of you already know that the first stable capital of Japan was Fujiwara-kyou; but where were the Emperors ruling from before that?

We know that in the 4th century Emperor Nintoku was living in the Takatsu Palace in Naniwa-kyou, but that was far from being a capital as we mean the concept nowadays.

Actually, at that time, various palaces were constructed for each monarch. The reason why there was no stable residence in linked to the Shinto concept of kegare (穢れ or 汚れ), which translates into English as “impurity”. Kegare is not a moral judgement, rather a spontaneous reaction of amoral natural forces, that cause misfortune as an outcome of such a pollution. It is caused by contact with things that are considered impure, such as blood, childbirth and, above everything, death.

Therefore, living in a place where the previous Emperor had died was not considered safe; sometimes, after severe bad luck, the court was moved even during the life of a single Emperor.

The period that goes from 538 to 710 is called Asuka period (飛鳥時代 Asuka jidai), because the court was usually located in the Asuka region, about 25 km south of the modern city of Nara.

Actually, the choice of 538 as a starting point of the Asuka period is mainly a conventional reference to the introduction of Buddhism as to the beginning of a new era. In a narrow sense, we should call “Asuka period” just the time span between 593, when the Imperial court was actually installed in Asuka, and 694, when Empress Jitou moved to Fujiwara-kyou.

Emperor Kinmei (who is the first monarch about whom we have somehow verifiable data) was in charge from 539 to 571 and his residence was not in Asuka, but Kanazashi Palace in Shikishima, in the Shiki district.

His successor, Emperor Bidatsu, reigned from 572 to 585; his first residence was Oi Palace in Kudara (Kawachi province), then in the 4th year of his reign he moved to the Yamato area, where had the Sakitama Palace built in Osata, because this land had been indicated as favourable by a geomancer.

Also Emperor Youmei, during his short reign (585-587), stayed in the Yamato region, more exactly in Palace of Ikenobe no Namitsuki in Iware.

The court was established in Yamato also under Emperor Sushun (587-592), whose residence was Kurahashi no Shibagaki Palace.

Then in 593 Empress Suiko came to the throne, with the crucial support of her uncle Soga no Umako, and had her residence in Toyura Palace, with a shift from the Yamato area to Asuka. Since after the death of Emperor Sushun there had been few time to build a new palace (Suiko’s ascent to the throne was just one month later) it is believed that the Toyura was actually a palace of the Soga family.

Toyura no Miya

In 603, after Suiko taking the vows and Toyura Palace being turned in a nunnery with the name of Toyura-dera, Oharida Palace became the new court.

Then from 630 to 636, Okamoto Palace was the residence of Emperor Jomei, but then, when it was destroyed by the fire in 636.6, the Emperor moved to Tanaka Palace; but this was just a temporary residence: in 639.12.14 he went to a palace at the hotspring of Iyo and then in 640 he moved again,  to Umayasaka Palace.

Eventualy he left Asuka for Kouryou (Nara) to the Kudara Great Palace, after his vowing to the Kudara Odera.

From 643 to 645, under the reign of Emprsee Kougyoku, the court was at Itabuki Palace, back in Asuka.

In 645, Emperor Koutoku planned to create a new capital in Naniwa (Osaka) where he had the Naniwa Nagara-Toyosaki Palace built. But after his death in 654 and the re-ascent of Empress Saimei (previously Kougyoku), the Imperial court was moved back to Asuka, temporarily to Itabuki Palace, then in 655 to Kawara Palace, and eventually to Later Okamoto Palace (656-661).

During the reign of Emperor Tenji (661-672) we have further shifts: The court moved to the Tachibana no Hironiwa Palace (661–667) in Asakura, Fukukoa. Then it moved again to the Oomi Palace or Ootsu  Palace(667–672) in Oomi-kyou in Shiga. Then back in Asuka: Shima Palace and Okamoto Palace, both within 672.

From 672 to 686, Emperor Temmu reigned ruling from Kiyomihara Palace, that was also the residence of Empress Jitou when she succeeded.

But under her reign, with the increasing role of bureacracy after the reforms of Asuka period, the need of a new stable capital was stronger and stronger, so that the Empress took the resolution to build a new city in Fujiwara-kyou.

…But now it’s 5:42 am, that means time for me to go. I also think I’ve given enough information for today :).