Fujiwara-kyo

Fujiwara-kyō (藤原京, in Japanese also Fujiwara no miyako), or Aramashi-kyo in Kashihara, Nara (nearby Asuka) – was the Imperial capital of Japan for sixteen years between 694 and 710. It was located in Yamato Province, specifically, present-day Kashihara in Nara prefecture, having been moved from nearby Asuka.

Fujiwara was Japan’s first capital to have its streets laid out in a grid pattern on the model of Chinese capital system (条坊制 jōbō-sei); recent diggings and studies have revealed that the city covered an area of roughly 5km x 5km, a much bigger size than it was believed to be previously. The palace occupied a plot measuring about 1km square, and was surrounded by walls roughly 5m high. Each of the four walls had three gates; Suzakumon (朱雀門, Suzaku-mon), the main gate, stood at the center of the south wall. The Daigokuden (大極殿) and other palace buildings were the first palace structures in Japan to have a tile roof in the Chinese style.

Ongoing excavations on the site has, as of 2006, revealed the city was already being prepared from as early as 682, close to the end of Emperor Temmu era. With an interim halt on Emperor Temmu’s death, the construction has resumed under the reign of Empress Jitō, who has officially moved the capital in 694. Fujiwara-kyō further served as capital for the reigns of Emperor Mommu, and Empress Gemmei, and the subsequent capital move in 710, to the Heijō Palace in Nara, marked the beginning of the Nara period.

The town had previously been the domain of the Nakatomi clan, who oversaw on behalf of the imperial court the observation of Shintō rituals and ceremonies. The city burnt down in 711, one year after the move to Nara, and was not rebuilt.

Archeological excavations began in 1934, and some portions of the palace were reconstructed. Close to 10,000 wooden tablets, known as mokkan (木簡), were found, inscribed with Chinese characters.

This waka, written by the Empress Jitō, and describing Fujiwara in the summer, is quite famous:  

「春過ぎて夏来るらし白栲の衣乾したり天の香久山」 haru-sugite natsu-kitarurashi shirotae-no koromo-hoshitaru amanokaguyama

However, in the Nihonshiki, the name Fujiwara-kyo had never been used. During those times it was recorded as Aramashi-kyo (新益京).

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