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 :).

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3 Responses to “Capitals of Japan – 1”

  1. Best of luck with the new blog.

  2. First Emperor Palace was named ” Kudara Palace”. Very interesting. It shows Korean Backje Kingdom and Kansai, Japan had very deep relationship.

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