Field trip: Dazaifu city – the “distant capital” & military center for the Yamato government

Ruins of the Dazaifu government buildings

Ruins of the Dazaifu government buildings

Dazaifu (大宰府) was the Government headquarters in northern Kyushu from the late Kofun period but became a particularly important administrative center in the later Nara period. During the 8th and 9th centuries this flourishing city was known as the “distant capital”.

From possibly the 3rd century special officials (later known as dazai) were stationed there to regulate diplomatic exchanges and contacts between Korea and Japan.

An important branch of the imperial court was established in Dazaifu from 663 (after having moved from present-day Fukuoka). The city served an important function for conducting trade and diplomatic contacts with China and other Asian countries. Dazaifu hosted foreign embassies from China and Korea. Korokan, a guesthouse for foreign embassies, was established. Under the Taiho code of 701, Dazaifu was charged with the administration of the Kyushu provinces, in addition to the diplomatic and defense responsibilities.

Thus Dazaifu had a uniquely important place in early Japanese system of government — an exception to the rule that the court directly administered the provinces.

The “Mizuki“: Water Fortress

From the excavated ruins, we know that there was extensive urban development and engineering works at Dazaifu. There was a huge defensive embankment, 1.2 km long and 13 m high and a fortress called the Mizuki or the “Water Fortress” surrounded by an earth and stone embankment that measured 6.5 km around the circumference.  The city was about a third the size of the Heijo-kyo in Nara. Today, visitors can visit the Dazaifu ruins that include the embankment built in the 7th century and pillars from foundation stone that measure 1 m across.

To read more about the engineering marvels and construction works of Dazaifu, go to the  Defense projects of Dazaifu: the Water Tower

Dazaifu was also a very important military center during the Yamato years from the Kofun age. Armies sent to defend Japan’s Korean kingdom of Mimana were launched from here against troops from the rival Silla Kingdom and Tang dynasty China.

To see Dazaifu to ruins and remains of the ancient city, visit the Dazaifu Exhibition Hall to view some of the historical artifacts excavated from this site.

Dazaifu Exhibition Hall Phone: 092-922-7811
Access:  Fifteen-minute walk from Nishitetsu Tofuromae Station

Also visit the Dazaifu City website and Travel: Dazaifu for more information.

2 responses to “Field trip: Dazaifu city – the “distant capital” & military center for the Yamato government

  1. Hello, Enjoy your site very much. This article suggests that the imperial court was in Kyoto in 663. Surely there is some error here. Would not the court have been in Omi/ present day Otsu, Shiga at that point in time? Did not Tenji move the capital out of fear of invasion? Thanks,

    paul c.

    • You are absolutely right. There was no Kyoto imperial court in 663, a gross error on my part due to the flow of thought from the mention of the 8th and 9th centuries use of Dazaifu post-Nara period. Thanks for pointing it out.

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