By Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara
(Material Added January, 2001)
Unless otherwise noted, all Photographs by Steve Renshaw
The original Heian Kyo (Heian Capital) was built in 794 upon the capital's relocation to Kyoto. Following principles adapted from the Tan Dynasty, the palace complex (whose original location was somewhat north of the present Nijo Jo) was constructed in alignment with due celestial north. Building progressed in such a way as to insure the emperor's position in a northern Dai Dairi (Inner Enclosure), which included the Great Hall of State, so that ceremony and affairs of state could be conducted from the ruler's corollary position with the north star. Suzaku Oji (Vermillion Sparrow Street named after the god of the cardinal direction) ran due south from the Dai Dairi's Otemon Gate and split the city into its left and right parts. The 5 kilometer (north-south) by 4 kilometer (east-west) city ended at a position (the famed Rashomon gate) somewhat parallel with the southern border of the still preserved Toji temple complex (southwest of Kyoto Station).
Just off Senbon Dori, only a stone marker shows the location where the original Heian Kyo's Hall of State once stood.
Looking south from Funaoka Yama, modern Kyoto would make it difficult to believe that a Palace Complex (buildings in Vermillion lacquer) and broad avenues and streets once lay before the viewer's eyes. The southern Rashomon gate would have stood approximately where the yellow arrow points.
A visitor can get some sense of the grandeur of Heian splendor as well as the layout of early palaces by visiting the oft reconstructed "Old Imperial Palace" (Kyoto Gosho to which imperial estates were moved in the 13th century) and the "Heian Shrine" which was built in the late 19th century (Meiji Era) in commemoration of the first and last emperors to reside in Kyoto. These grounds abound in beauty, and every effort seems to have been made to provide a view of Kyoto's Heian past.
At the northern extremity of Heian Shrine, and immediately in front of the visitor as he or she enters the Otemon Gate, is the main building of the Reconstructed Heian Shrine, the Great Hall of State.
To the right (the emperor's left) as one enters through the Otemon Gate is the Palace of Spring which is cardinally aligned and on the Eastern border of the Shrine. In the foreground is a purification fountain with an image of Seiryuu, the Azure Dragon of the East and Spring. To the left (the emperor's right) is the Palace of Autumn which is also cardinally aligned and borders the West area of the Shrine. In the foreground is a purification fountain with an image of Byakko, the White Tiger of the West and Autumn. The juxtaposition of continentally derived icons with more indigenous materials for ritual purification is worth noting.
Palaces dedicated to Spring and Fall have lanterns hanging under the eaves of their roofs. In their own way, images formed in the metal construction of these lanterns pay homage to the significance of the heaven/earth relation embodied in the gods of cardinal directions.
It is sad, in many ways, that more relics of Kyoto's past as a center of astronomical observation have not been preserved. As a case in point, the traveler to Kyoto via train from Osaka will be greeted by a large JR switching yard just prior to entering Kyoto station. This area (located in the southwestern part of old Heian Kyo) was once a site of bustling astronomical activity. As early as the 10th century, the Abe family was entrusted with work for the Institute of Divination and established the official and later somewhat bureaucratic Tsuchi Mikado Observatory on family land in this area. For centuries, until the Meiji Restoration, this astronomical site served as an educational center as well as an observation base for some of Japan's most notable calendar scholars. It is here that Shibukawa and colleagues through careful observation of solar, lunar, and planetary movement, convinced the Tokugawa Shogunate to adopt a more empirically based calendar. Unfortunately, virtually nothing is left of the observation site. Only a couple of stone bases from instruments, having been transported to nearby temples upon dismantling of the observatory, remain. Perhaps only the truly enthusiastic "astro-historian" will want to seek these out.
Astronomy Among Ancient Tombs and Relics in Asuka
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Steven L. Renshaw
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