Kyoto Imperial Palace
- Original Built: 794
- Relocated: 12th century
- Japanese :京都御所 (Kyouto gosho)
Kyoto was the site of the Imperial Palace of Japan from the Heian period until 1869. The palace originally constructed in the Heian period drew upon Chinese Tang Dynasty models, and is believed to have been quite similar in architectural style and layout to the Nara Imperial Palace which preceded it. This palace was destroyed in the 12th century, and a new palace was constructed a short distance to the northeast. This new palace has undergone numerous renovations and repairs over the centuries, and came to have a form much more representative of Edo period architectural styles, rather than Nara/Heian or Tang Dynasty architectural styles.
Though no longer the chief seat of Imperial power (since 1868 or 1869), the Kyoto Imperial Palace grounds continue today to be controlled by the Imperial Household Agency, and remain, more or less, the geographic center of the city of Kyoto.
Heian Imperial Palace
Structures & Layout
The complex as a whole was surrounded by packed-mud walls, punctuated by fourteen gates. The complex was roughly 1.4 km from north to south, and 1.2 km from east to west.
The main gate, as was the case traditionally in Tang Dynasty China and Nara period Japan, was the Suzakumon, at the center of the south side of the outermost wall. Suzaku-ôji, a major avenue running directly south from this gate, was the most major north-south avenue in Heian-kyô, dividing the city in half, east and west. Entering through the Suzakumon and proceeding directly north, one entered the chôdôin via the Ôtenmon (応天門); two towers known as the seihô (楢鳳) and shôran (翔鸞) towers stood to the sides of this gate. Once one entered the Ôtenmon, two galleries known as the chôshûdô (朝集堂) were located to the left and right. These were overflow areas for courtiers in attendance to the Emperor.
The chôdôin (朝堂院, loosely translated, "The Court"), also known as the hasshôin (八省院, Hall of the Eight Ministries), was the center of the Imperial administration, and the location where enthronement ceremonies, the formal reception of foreign ambassadors, and a great many other rituals, events, and business of state took place. It stood at the figurative administrative center of the palace grounds (大内裏, daidairi), attached to the chûwa-in (中和院) to the south and the daigokuden (大極殿) to the north, though the dairi (内裏, Imperial Residence) was further north, and though overall the chôdôin was close to the south side of the complex, not in the geographic center. To the south was the suzakumon. To the west, the buraku-in banquet hall (豊楽院), and to the east a number of buildings including the minbushô (民部省, Ministry of Popular Affairs) and the dajôkan (太政官; Department of State).
Continuing north, one passed through the kaishômon (会昌門). During particular grand ceremonies, this is where twelve structures of the courtiers would be built and lined up. Atop the ryûodan (龍尾壇) platform, which was one dan high, another two towers, the sôryû (蒼龍) and byakko (白虎) towers, stood.
The Daigokuden (main audience hall), four bays from north to south (3.6m), and 11 bays (16.3m) from east to west, lay to the north of the chôdôin. It was surrounded by a hisashi, or covered exterior walkway. The Daigokuden was a showy and impressive structure, with green roof tiles and vermillion pillars, and was the largest structure in the palace complex. The interior was floored with bricks, and housed the emperor's throne, elevated on a pedestal.
The Heian Imperial Palace was first built in 795, the year after the establishment of Heian-kyô (Kyoto) as the Imperial capital. It was repaired, and burned, and repaired numerous times, but after a great fire in 1177, it was not rebuilt. The rituals and ceremonies that had been performed in the Daigokuden were transferred to the Shishinden (紫宸殿), the "Hall for State Ceremonies" within the dairi.
The entire Imperial Palace complex was re-established afterwards, a short distance to the northeast of the previous compound.
The Heian Museum undertook an excavation survey of the original site in 1975, and the later disturbances, revolts, etc. were obvious. Precise details as to the construction of the structure could not be confirmed, but a great many pieces of green roof tile and other such materials believed to be related to the Daigokuden were excavated. Stelae marking the original locations of the Suzakumon, Daigokuden, and certain other palace structures, stand in Kyoto today. Archaeological research has indicated that the stone marking the former site of the Daigokuden in fact stands where the western corridor of the Shôkeimon (a gate to the north of the Daigokuden) had been.
Current Kyoto Imperial Palace
The palace compound in its current location dates back to XX. Though many of the aspects of its layout draw upon the layout standards of the Heian Imperial Palace (and its Nara and Tang predecessors), the layout of the city no longer interacts with the palace complex as it originally did. The Suzakumon no longer faces a major north-south avenue, and there is no longer a street called Suzaku-ôji.
The palace compound, including the main palace (Kindairi-gosho), the Sento-gosho formerly inhabited by retired emperors, and the Ômiya-gosho which formerly housed secondary imperial consorts, dowager empresses, and retired emperors, was used in the early years of the Meiji period as the site for a number of grand exhibitions and expos (hakurankai). Between 1869, when the Meiji Emperor departed Kyoto for Tokyo, and 1880 or so, little effort was made by the Meiji government to maintain, preserve, or otherwise employ these Imperial sites for national purposes of any sort, and some in fact began to fall into serious disrepair. In the 1880s, however, the government began to take a much more active position on these Imperial sites, and the city of Kyoto as a whole, as sites and symbols of the Imperial past, and thus important tools for constructing and conveying a modern Emperor-centered nationalism. The entire 220-acre palace compound (gyoen) was converted into what it remains today: a public park with the Kindairi-gosho, Sento-gosho, Ômiya-gosho, and a number of gardens, ponds, shrines, and so forth maintained inside, but with many of the other buildings which once stood there removed, leaving large open graveled areas. Historian Takashi Fujitani describes it as "not unlike a public museum in its display of objects that were to be appreciated as the true representations of history," and figures it within a broader "museumification of Kyoto" effected at this time.
- Plaques on-site at current palace, and at site of original Daigokuden.
- Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, UC Press (1998), 68.
- Fujitani, 60-61.