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Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
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    Book Description:

    Kyoto was Japan’s political and cultural capital for more than a millennium before the dawn of the modern era. Until about the fifteenth century, it was also among the world’s largest cities and, as the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, it was a place where the political, artistic, and religious currents of Asia coalesced and flourished. Despite these and many other traits that make Kyoto a place of both Japanese and world historical significance, the physical appearance of the premodern city remains largely unknown. Through a synthesis of textual, pictorial, and archeological sources, this work attempts to shed light on Kyoto’s premodern urban landscape with the aim of opening up new ways of thinking about key aspects of premodern Japanese history. The book begins with an examination of Kyoto’s highly idealized urban plan (adapted from Chinese models in the eighth century) and the reasons behind its eventual failure. The formation of the suburbs of Kamigyō and Shimogyō is compared to the creation of large exurban temple-palace complexes by retired emperors from the late eleventh century. Each, it is argued, was a material manifestation of the advancement of privatized power that inspired a medieval discourse aimed at excluding “outsiders.” By examining this discourse, a case is made that medieval power holders, despite growing autonomy, continued to see the emperor and classical state system as the ultimate sources of political legitimacy. This sentiment was shared by the leaders of the Ashikaga shogunate, who established their headquarters in Kyoto in 1336. The narrative examines how these warrior leaders interacted with the capital’s urban landscape, revealing a surprising degree of deference to classical building protocols and urban codes. Remaining chapters look at the dramatic changes that took place during the Age of Warring States (1467–1580s) and Kyoto’s postwar revitalization under the leadership of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nobunaga’s construction of Nijō Castle in 1569 transformed Kyoto’s fundamental character and, as Japan’s first castle town, it set an example soon replicated throughout the archipelago. In closing, the book explores how Hideyoshi—like so many before him, yet with much greater zeal—used monumentalism to co-opt and leverage the authority of Kyoto’s traditional institutions. Richly illustrated with original maps and diagrams, Kyoto is a panoramic examination of space and architecture spanning eight centuries. It narrates a history of Japan’s premodern capital relevant to the fields of institutional history, material culture, art and architectural history, religion, and urban planning. Students and scholars of Japan will be introduced to new ways of thinking about old historical problems while readers interested in the cities and architecture of East Asia and beyond will benefit from a novel approach that synthesizes a wide variety of sources.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-4784-5
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XIV)
    Matthew Stavros
  5. Conventions and Abbreviations
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. XVII-XXVI)

    Kyoto was Japan’s political and cultural capital for more than a millennium before the dawn of the modern era. Throughout most of that period, it was home and ritual center to the emperor and the civil aristocracy, the focal point of both sectarian and warrior politics, and the seat of the country’s most successful industries. Until about the fifteenth century, it was also among the world’s largest cities and, as the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, it was a place where the political, artistic, and religious currents of Asia coalesced and flourished. Despite these and many other traits that...

  7. 1 Heian-kyō: The Ideal
    (pp. 1-28)

    When Emperor Kanmu (737–806) founded Heian-kyo in 794, the new capital was meant to be the permanent bureaucratic and ritual seat of a strong, centralized, Chinese-style state. The scale and opulence of the plan was grand and ambitious, in fact probably too much so. Some of the key traits meant to define Heian-kyo’s appearance were never entirely realized, while many of those that were rapidly disintegrated. Not only did the Japanese polity function very differently from its Chinese prototype, real power, even from the outset, rested more with private political actors than the state. Before examining how these factors...

  8. 2 Heian-kyō: The Real
    (pp. 29-42)

    As time passed, an increasing number of entirely new urban phenomena emerged that together altered Heian-kyō’s appearance as well as its social, political, and economic conditions. These new phenomena are the topic of chapter 3. Here the focus is on several key ways the classical urban ideal either failed to be realized or, even in cases where it was realized, how the material results were frequently short-lived. It is possible to argue that Heian-kyō’s decay was synonymous with the medieval city’s rise. Nevertheless, focusing initially and specifically on how the classical city declined, rather than on the emergence of medieval...

  9. 3 Making Kyoto Medieval: A Fractured, Privatized, and Pluralistic City
    (pp. 43-74)

    The Emperor and the state never ceased being the ultimate sources of legitimacy. Moving toward the medieval era, however, power—real power—shifted from the Imperial Palace to the homes of court aristocrats, religious institutions, and, in time, the palace-headquarters of retired emperors and warriors. Appearing in documents askenmon, a word literally meaning “great gate,” each of these entities of private influence drew to itself substantial human and material resources. Many of them became the nuclei of dense nodes of development located in and around the capital. The formation of thesekenmoncentered nodes constituted a profound spatial transformation...

  10. 4 Rakuchū-Rakugai: Inside/Outside, Public/Private
    (pp. 75-102)

    The Hōgen and Heiji disturbances of the mid-twelfth century, followed by the Genpei Wars (1180–1185) a few decades later, were only the most violent and well documented of numerous upheavals that wreaked havoc on Kyoto’s urban landscape at the dawn of the medieval era. Together, they accelerated the urban disintegration described in the previous chapter and aggravated a general sense of crisis among capital dwellers. The underlying cause of upheaval was the progressive weakening of the state and the inversely proportional rise of private power.

    Despite profound political and physical changes, the capital elite throughout the medieval era continued...

  11. 5 Warriors in the Capital: The Ashikaga and the Classical Ideal
    (pp. 103-132)

    The Kamakura shogunate, which had been economically and politically weakened by the Mongol invasions of the late thirteenth century, was toppled in 1333 by a coalition of warriors fighting at the behest of Emperor Godaigo. Flushed with victory and determined to rule in the manner of a classical, Chinese-style sovereign, Godaigo sought to become the sole arbiter of formal rewards and commendations.¹ Provincial warriors seeking recognition and recompense for services rendered in the recent conflict were compelled to make the journey to Kyoto personally. Large-scale migration forced the greater capital basin to accommodate a sudden and dramatic influx of fighting...

  12. 6 Warring States Kyoto: Erasing the Classical City
    (pp. 133-150)

    The Shōkokuji Pagoda was destroyed by a lightning strike in the summer of 1403 and was never rebuilt at the original site.¹ Yoshimitsu died suddenly and suspiciously in 1408, and his successor, Yoshimochi, choreographed a triumphant return to Sanjo-bomon followed by a dramatic and public demolition of Muromachi. In sum, within a few short years of Yoshimitsu’s death, the neat alignment of disparate complexes that the former shogun had engineered over a lifetime had almost completely disappeared.

    The physical breakdown reflected a parallel political disintegration caused in part by Yoshimochi’s preoccupation with repudiating his father’s legacy, not least of which...

  13. 7 Castle-Town Kyoto
    (pp. 151-172)

    Cities are remarkably resilient social phenomena. In the wake of fires, wars, and natural disasters, they tend not merely to rise again; they do so in strikingly conservative ways. Even when authorities draw up plans to rebuild devastated city-scapes with ambitious aims to improve transportation or commercial infrastructure, these plans are often compromised by people reluctant to give up their land and livelihoods, even in the name of progress.¹ To them, restoring the status quo is the first priority. It is for this reason that postwar Kyoto, despite being utterly devastated by Onin and the century of strife that followed,...

  14. Epilogue: Bridge to the Modern
    (pp. 173-184)

    The dawn of the seventeenth century is a good place to end a book on Kyoto’s premodern history. By 1600, Hideyoshi’s great urban reconstruction had laid the foundations of the modern city, and political centralization under the succeeding Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1868) would soon bring in sweeping material, social, and political changes that moved Japan decisively into its early modern era. Just as important, with the military regime choosing Edo as its headquarters, Kyoto lost its status as the political center of the country, and by about 1630 ceased being Japan’s largest city. To stop the narrative here, therefore, makes...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 185-206)
  16. Character Glossary
    (pp. 207-214)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-222)
  18. Index
    (pp. 223-229)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-231)