Hanami

April 12, 2011

These days cherry blossoms are blooming – not only in Japan: today I went and see those in my city; this gave me the hint to write a post on the Japanese custom of Hanami.

Hanami at Himeji Castle

 

Hanami (花見) literally means “flower viewing” and usually refers to cherry blossom (sakura, 桜) viewing.

Sakura is a symbol of Japan; unlike other cherry trees it does not yield fruits and it’s grown only for its beautiful pink flowers.

Cherry blossoms flower at different times throughout Japan, according to the different climates. They start blooming in January in Okinawa, they are at their peak in late March to April in Honsh, and eventually they reach Hokkaido in May.

Evey year the weather bureau announces the blossom forecast (桜前線, sakurazensen ), so that people can plan their flower viewing.

Paper lanterns

In modern-day Japan, Hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the Sakura trees during daytime or at night. Hanami at night is called Yozakura (夜桜, literally “night sakura”). In many places paper lanterns are hung for that purpose.

In places which are especially popular for hanami,  such as Ueno park and Aoyama Cemetary in Tokyo, it’s common to reserve a picnic spot in advance, since they are going to be very crowded. Usually, groups spread their picnic sheet early in the morning and either mark it with their name or have one of them positioned there, other friends arriving after work. The new employees are traditionally given this job of sitting all day long to reserve space for the company celebration (those who have seen “Bengoshi no Kuzu” might remember such a scene).

The picnic consists of a wide variety of foods, snack foods and sake or other drinks. The activities often include dancing and karaoke in addition to the cherry blossom viewing.

Among elderly people and those who enjoy a more quiet style of Hanami, Ume (梅, plum blossom) viewing is another popular traditional celebration.

There are two theories on the origin of Hanami.

One of them says it orginates from the ancient court custom of Hana no En (花の宴, literally “flower banquet” ), a sort of elegant amusement among aristocats, who composed Tanka praising the blossoms of Ume tree. Such custom is said to have been practiced at Court from around Na

ra Period (710-784) to Heian Period (794-1185). During the reign of Emperor Saga, Sakura took the place of Ume as a typical flower for this celebration.

The word “Hanami” was first used as a term analogous to cherry blossom viewing in the Heian era novel “Genji monogatari”. Whilst a wisteria viewing party was also described, fro

"Under the Cherry Trees" by Kunisada, 1852

m this point on the terms “Hanami” was only used to describe cherry blossom viewing.

According to another theory, the origin of Hanami dates back to ancient Japanese rural culture, even before the Nara Period. Sakura trees were very important to the ancient Japanese farmers: they believed that Sagami, a deity who lived in the mountains during the cold winter season, would come down from to temporarily stay in Sakura trees and later move on to the rice fields.

Therefore,  the blooming of Sakura trees meant that the deity has arrived. Peasants made offerings of food and Sake, partaking them to share some time with the deity, praying for rich harvest in autumn. It is also said that the farmers divined that year’s harvest with Sakura, regarding when the blossoms fell all at once ephemerally in only a few days as a sign of bad luck.

According to Yoshida Kenko (1283? – 1350?), court Hanami and the Hanami in agricultural communities were different traditions, that later got together to develop into the present one.

During the Kamakura period (1185–1333), some of the court customs, including Hana no en, were handed down to the Samurai families from the court nobles, getting gradually merged with the rural worship of Sagami. The custom got more and more spread during the time and, during Edo period, was encouraged by the Shogunate: Tokugawa Yoshimune had a lot of Sakura trees planted in the suburbs in order to promote tourism and to improve the government’s economical situation in those days.

Traditionally, Hanami is seen as a meditation on life,  that such as Sakura is ephemeral even though beautiful. However, most of those who contemplate sakura nowadays are more interested in having fun rather than in thinking to the nature of human life. The teasing proverb “dumplings rather than flowers” (花より団子、 hana yori dango) hints at the real priorities for most cherry blossom viewers, meaning that they care mainly about the food and drinks accompanying a hanami party.

For those of you who are into pop culture, the title of the famous manga/anime “Hana yori dango” stems from this proverb, but it is written as “花より男子” (even though the usual reading of 男子 would be “danshi”), meaning “boys over flowers”.

Back to my project on Japanese capitals! The next big topic is going to be Heian-kyou, of course, but there is another city to mention before.

In late VIII Century, Buddhism was not just safely extablished, but had even gained a strong political influence, so much to be perceived as a threat for the imperial power. The scandal of the priest Doukyou, who managed to had Empress Shoutoku under his influence, threatened even the Imperial succession.

The danger of Buddhist interference in government was a factor in Emperor Kanmu’s decision to move the capital away from Heijou-kyou (Nara), even though the formal reason was that the new location had better water transportation routes. Actually, the fact he prevented Nara sects from establishing their temples in the new capitals suggests that the wish to escape the power of Buddhist clergy was a crucial reason.

So in the summer of 784, Kanmu directed that a site for a new capital be surveyed at Nagaoka (長岡), an area near the Katsura River about twenty miles northwest of Nara. At the end of the same year, he moved into his
new palace there.

The area where Nagaoka was built was also associated with Kanmu’s family line, being the home of his matriline (for those of my readers who are interested in the Korean heritage of the Imperial family: Kanmu mother was a Yamato, and her mother was a Korean-descended Haji, or Hanishi).

Emperor Kanmu

But the founding of the new city was accompained by a variety of misfortunes, both natural and political, that were interpreted as bad omens.

First of all, while the new seat was conveniently located for land and water communication, it was also flood-prone and located near a large marsh.

Moreover, political scandals were entagled with the founding of the city itself. The leading advocate for the transfer of the capital was Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, Kanmu’s chief adviser, whose maternal family, the Hata, was, like Kanmu’s, also of Korean lineage and also based in the Nagaoka area. On a night in the autumn of 785, while Emperor Kammu was temporarily absent from the city, Tanetsugu was killed at Nagaoka.

Kanmu’s younger brother, Prince Sawara, who appears to have clashed with Tanetsugu earlier, was soon implicated in the assassination, deposed, and condemned to exile to Awaji province – which he avoided, the chronicle alleges, by starving himself to death.

These tragic episodes were soon followed by famine, devastating floods, epidemic disease, and a series of deaths and illnesses in Kanmu’s family, which diviners had no difficulty in interpreting as the revenge of Sawara’s angry spirit. All those circumstances, together with a lively fear of what the prince’s spirit might do in the future, led Kanmu to decide in the early
spring of 793 to accept the advice of his confidant Wake no Kiyomaro, who had urged the emperor to seek a new location for the capital.

 

While I am not so much into the history of Buddhism generally speaking, I am intrigued by the facts surrounding its introduction in Japan.

There are two theories on how it was introduced. The first one is based on the famous Nihon Shoki (720), the other on an early history of Yamato’s first great temple entitled “Gangouji Garan Engi Narabi ni Ruki Shizaichou” (元興寺伽藍縁起并流記資財帳?, “Origins of the Gangouji Monastery and Its Assets”), also known as Gangouji Garan Engi, compiled by an unnamed Buddhist monk in 747.

– According to the Nihon Shoki accounts, Buddhism was introduced in Japan in 552, the thirteenth year of the Kinmei reign, when King Songmyong of Paekche sent to the Japanese Emperor an envoy bearing (together with a plea for military aid against Silla) a Sakyamuni idol,  two Buddhist scriptures and and a message in which Songmyong recommended the adoption of Buddhism on the grounds that this religion had greatly benefited the rulers of other lands. Emperor Kimmei, says the Nihon Shoki, “leaped for joy”, but his ministers were less jubilant: while Soga no Iname was enthousiastic, Mononobe no Okoshi was reluctant, being concered to offend the native kami, on whose benevolence depended the abundance of the harvest and the health of the state

Since the ministers were divided on the issue of the adoption, Kinmei had Soga no Iname perform Buddhist rituals experimentally. Iname turned his house into a temple and started to worship the new god. But the experiment was followed by an epidemic that Soga opponents attributed to the displeasure of the kami. Accordingly, Kinmei had the statues cast into the Naniwa Canal and the temple was burnt to the ground. The chronicle item concludes with the report that, on that day, winds blew and rain fell under a clear sky.

– The Gango-ji engi agrees that a presentation of Buddhist scrtiptures and statues was made by King Songmyong and that this episode was followed by a conflict between powerful families, among those the Soga clan supported the adoption; but says that it happened in 538, rather than in 552.

The scholars are more likely to follow this second theory, since the Gango-ji engi is considered a more objective source (while the Nihon Shoki is strongly influenced by the aim to glorify the Emperor) and because the other accounts display some inconsistencies (e.g. the envoyee from Paekche is not mentioned otherwise; and more remarkably the texts presented to Kinmei appeared to be inspired from a later translation).

The debate on the introduction of Buddhism was inspired not so much by spiritual concerns, but rather by power and personal interests. The main supporters of the new religion were the members of the Soga clan; they considered Buddhism a way to increase their influence since they had Korean heritage – Soga no Iname’s ancestors names Soga no Koma (蘇我 高麗) and Soga no Karako (蘇我 韓子) are references in Chinese characters to Koguryou and Gaya region respectively; moreover we can notice how, during Soga no Umako’s time of influence, the capital was temporarily transferred to Kudara Palace in Nara.

The opposition to Buddhism came from families such as the Mononobe, who unlike the Soga had ancient Japanese origins and were motivated by conservatorism and some kind of xenophobia, and the Nakatomi, who had a personal interest as well since they claimed descent from divine clan ancestors “only a degree less sublime than the imperial ancestors” and were High Priests of Shinto purification rites.

The conflict deveoped into a war between the mentioned clans.

In 584, a statue of Maitreya and other Buddhist images were sent from Korea to Soga no Umako, who restored the worship and built a new temple and had a girl ordained as a Buddhist nun. Again, an epidemic swept through Japan and the images were destroyed by Mononobe no Moriya.

The conflict ended only in 587, when Soga no Umako won military over his opponent at the battle of Kisuri.

The reason why he didn’t install himself as a new Emperor is speculated and the most accepted answer is that he was 1. part of an immigrant although powerful clan 2. the main sponsor of Buddhims, while the Emperor was strongly related to worship of native agricultural kami.
In Paekche, foreign kings had troubles governing the native Han population; Umako might have known this and preferred another policy.

I’ve just realized how late I am! Actually, this year’s Shunbun no Hi occurred on March 21, that is to say last Monday. 遅くなって、申し訳ありません。

Shunbun no Hi (春分の日) is a public holiday, that occurs on the date of the vernal equinox, which can be on March 20 or 21. Since astronomical measurements are needed, the date is not declared until February of the previous year.

The original celebration of Spring Equinox dates back to the eighth century and was known as Shunki Korei-sai (春季皇霊祭), a tradition related to Shinto: from 1878  to 1948, this was a day in which the Japanese worshipped the past Emperors.

After 1948, like other Japanese holidays, this holiday was repackaged as a non-religious public holiday for the sake of separation of religion and state in Japanese Constitution.

Nowadays it is a national holiday in Japan; it is considered a day to spend with nature and to express our affection for all living things. In the seven-day period surrounding the Vernal Equinox Day (彼岸 Higan), Japanese people pay respect to their ancestors, just like on New Year’s Day and Obon: they visit their family graves to clean them and offer flowers and incense. They also offer Higan dumplings called Ohagi and Botamochi (springtime treat made with sweet rice and sweet azuki) on thier household altars. These kinds of food have oval or round shapes since, according to the tradition, ancestors’ spirits prefer round food.

They say that after Vernal Equinox Day “the chill of winter finally disappears” and temperatures start to rise. Cherry blossoms, marking the beginning of spring in Japan, often begin to bloom around this time, starting from the southern parts of the country and gradually moving up north as temperatures increase. 

 

 

With the beauty of green and vermilion,
The imperial city of  Heijou is now in its glory,
Like the brilliance of flowers in full bloom.

— By Ono-no-Oyu, Man’yô-shû No. 328.

Fujiwara-kyou soon appeared being still too small for the needs of the capital, so Empress Genmei, in 708, ordered the construction of a new city, indicating Heijō-kyō (平城京, present-day Nara) as a propitious location since it had been shown be sacred signs.

She was probably influenced by other considerations, such as the ancient custom of moving the capital at the beginning of a new reign. Moreover, an important role was given by the support of Fujiwara no Fuhito: more concerned with strategic and economic questions than with geomancy and divination, he probably understood quite well that  Heijou was close to rivers by which goods could be transported easily, such as Kizu River (navigable all the way to Naniwa), that was six kilometers north of the new capital, and Saho River, flowing into the Yamato River that led to Inland Sea at Naniwa. Moreover, just as Fujiwara-kyou, Heijou-kyou had mountains on three sides, so that it was a strategically safe area.

The capital was moved to Heijou-kyou in 710. It was modeled after Chang’an, the capital of Tang Dynasty China, although Heijou-kyou lacked walls. Like Fujiwara-kyou, it was built in a grid pattern; its surface was a rectangle of 4,3 x 4,8 km.

The main street, Suzaku, that led to the Palace and ended with the Suzaku-mon on the other side, had a width of 70m. The city was divided in two areas, separated by the street, and in nine lots in the north-south direction and in eight lots in the east-west one. A further group of 3×4 lots was added in the eastern part of the city. The overall form of the city was an irregular rectangle, and the area of city is more than 25 km2.

Suzakumon of Heijo Palace, Nara (reconstruction)

Recent archaeological investigations have noticed special geographical ties between Heijou and Fujiwara. Moving north from the avenue that ran along the western side of the old capital, one entered the Great Suzaku Avenue in the new one. And proceeding north from the street that ran along the eastern side of Fujiwara, one entered Heijou-kyou’s East Capital Avenue. The new city was therefore not only laid out in the square fashion of a Chinese capital but also had avenues that ran in preciselythe same direction as those of Fujiwara. The reasons of this geographical relationship are speculated and probably heve to do with the desire of the sovreign to be honored as a direct lineal descendant of predecessors who had reigned at Fujiwara.

Heijou-kyou flourished as Japan’s first international and political capital,  with a population of around 200,000, where merchants of China, Korea, India were coming for their trades.

The Palace, located in the north end of the capital city, was built as usual according to Chinese criteria and covered an area of more than 1km2. It included the Daigoku-den, where governmental affairs were conducted, the Choudou-in where formal ceremonies were held, the Dairi, the Emperor’s residence, and offices of the administrative agencies.

The spiritual authority of the Emperor was enhanced also by the erection of beautiful Buddhist temples: soon after Empress Genmei moved her palace to Heijou-kyou, temples originally built in the Asuka area (especially the Asuka-dera, Yakushi-ji, Daian-ji, and Kofuku-ji) were rebuilt at the new city.

Heijou-kyou was the capital city of Japan during most of the Nara period, from 710-740 and again from 745-784.

It was abandoned from 740 to 745 by Emperor Shoumu, who restored the habit of changing location in order to fight the misfortune that appeared to be dogging the Country: after the drought and the following smallpox epidemic in 737, then the death at the age of 2 of the Imperial prince and the rebellion of Fujiwara Hirotsugu in the Kyushu, he moved the capital to Kuni-kyou, where he stayed from 740 to 744; but the city was not completed, as the capital was moved again to Naniwa and then to Shiragaki Palace in the Shiga prefecture. But eventually the practical needs of the central organization prevailed and Emperor Shoumu moved back to Heijou-kyou.

I was writing another post but after what happened today I just though I had to wish good luck to all our Japanese friends and condolences for the victims of the earthquake.

Wow, I notorioulsy suck at saying this kind of things but the intention was good.

Hinamatsuri

March 3, 2011

Since March 3rd is Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day) in Japan, I am dedicating today’s post to this ceremony. Pretty obvious, I know, but anyway a good chance to learn something more on this tradition.

Hinamatsuri (雛祭, also known as hina-no-sekku, 雛の節句, or momo-no-sekku, 桃の節句, joshi-no-sekku,  上巳の節句) has its origin in an ancient Chinese custom in which people transferred thier misfortune to a doll and then floated it on a river in order to ward off evil spirits. In the middle of Heian period (794 – 1191) this custom was brought in Japan, 上司の節句, where it took the name of  Hina-nagashi (雛流し, “floating dolls”). A fortune teller called onmyouji (陰陽師) used to pray and offer seasonal food to the Gods, then paper dolls were floated on a river or the see.

This is a Nagashibina set with a pair of paper dolls, a male and a female; however I've read that in Kitagi dolls are floated in groups of 13: 12 women and one man, the "sendo-san," to row the boat.

Hina-nagashi (or Nagashibina)   is still celebrated in some sanctuaries, such as the Meiji Shrine and  the Shimogamo Shrine near Kyouto, as a part of Girl’s Day; anyway, since fishermen complained about catching the dolls in their nets, they are now sent out on boats, and when the spectators are gone boats are taken back out of the water and burnt into a temple. Then habits are a little different in every area, for instance at Meiji Shrine dolls are rather made by fish-food so to be environmentally safe.

Anyway, the mos typical tradiction of Girl’s day is the display of a set of dolls, which comes from a combination of the practice described above and the Hina-asobi ( 雛遊び, “playing with dolls”) that was common among women and children in the Heian court, of which we find descriptions in Murasaki Shikibu’s “Genji monogatar” and Sei Shounagon’s “Makura no Soushi”.

From the combinations of these two customs stems the still practiced Hinamasturi, that was legally established as a national festival in 1687. The ceremony consists in the display of a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形, hina-ningyou) on a platform (雛壇, hinadan) covered with a red carpet.  Few days before the festival, girls and their mothers take out the hina and arrange them on the red cloth. Peach blossoms are a typical decoration of the festival since they represent fertlity and positive feminine qualities such as grace and tranquillity.

Families offer to the altar also shirosake (white sake)
and mochi, either flavored with a wild herb or colored
and cut into festive diamond shapes. after the festival
they are immediately taken down, since according to
the superstition leaving them there would result in a late
marriage of the daughter.
The hina ningyou set represents a royal wedding on a spring day at the imperial court of Heian and dolls have luxury clother that reproduce the style of that time. Dolls are not ordinary ones, nor old style paper dolls, but are made of a base material (generally wood), covered by gofun, a substance made principally of oyster shells and responsible for the dolls’ luster. Traditionally, the hair was either human hair, horsehair, or silk, although now there are many fibers used.
The altar is typically made of seven steps.

– On the top one, there is the Dairi-bina (内裏雛) or Dairi-sama, that is to say the Imperial couple. The two dolls are usually placed in front of a folding screen (屏風, byoubu), that is the most important decoration of the altar and may be plain, golden, or elaborately decorated. Optional are the two lampstands, called bonbori (雪洞), and the paper or silk lanterns that are known as hibukuro (火袋), are usually decorated with cherry or ume blossom patterns. The doll representing the Emperor has the richest clothing and a tall hat; the Empress has the traditional juunihitoe (十二単), that is to say a twelve-layered kimono. The traditional arrangement had the male on the right, while modern arrangements had him on the left (from the viewer’s perspective).

– The second tier displays three court ladies san-nin kanjo (三人官女), wearing scarlet pantaloons, each of them holding a sake equipment. Serving the dairi bina sake is part of the Shinto wedding ceremony, so they may be priestesses or miko.

– The third tier holds five male musicians gonin bayashi (五人囃子).

– The fourth displays two Ministers: the Minister of the Right  (右大臣, udaijin), depicted as a young person, and the Minister of the Left (左大臣, sadaijin), represented as much older.  They are both armed, usually with bows and arrows, and occupy the far ends of their step. Between them there are covered bowl tables (掛盤膳, kakebanzen), and diamond-shaped stands (菱台, hishidai) bearing diamond-shaped ricecakes. Hishidai with feline-shaped legs are known as nekoashigata hishidai (猫足形菱台).

– The fifth tier, between the plants, holds three helpers or samurai as the protectors of the Emperor and Empress. They are the Maudlin drinker or nakijjougo (泣き上戸), the Cantankerous drinker or okorijougo (怒り上戸) and the Merry drinker or waraijougo (笑い上戸).

– On the sixth  step there are items used within the palatial residence: a tansu (箪笥) a chest of drawers; a nagamochi (長持),  a long chest for storing of kimono; two hasamibako (挟箱), small clothing boxes that together are a little shorter than the nagamochi and therefore are placed on top of it; a kyōdai (鏡台) a chest of drawers with a mirror on top; a haribako (針箱), that is to say a sewing box; two hibachi (火鉢), or braziers; and a daisu (台子, which is a set of  utensils for the Japanese tea ceremony.

– On the seventh tire there are other items, that have to be outside the palace: a jubako (重箱), a set of nested laquered boxes for carrying food; a gokago (御駕籠 or 御駕篭), a palanquin; and a goshoguruma (御所車), an ox-drawn carriage favored by Heian nobility; less common is a hanaguruma (花車), an ox drawing a cart of flowers.

Then decorations are different in the various areas of Japan, according to local traditions: for instance, Kyouto-made altars have miniature kitchens and hearths for cooking, which you’ll never find in Toukyou ones.

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 :).