Capitals of Japan – 2 – Fujiwara-Kyou

February 26, 2011

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).

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