By Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara
Revised September, 2002
The old and beautiful pagodas and buildings of Todaiji, Koufukuji, Horyuji, Kasuga Shrine, and other historical sites in the Nara area are certainly the highlight of the city's historical past. However, an archaeoastronomer may find a visit to Heijou Palace rewarding for a somewhat phenomenological experience of ancient Chinese Geomancy and Divination at work in early Japan. Such an experience will, of course, also present the visitor with a good sense of the weather of the historic Yamato plain. It is quite hot in summer, and the palace's large environs are devoid of many air conditioned stops or amenities. A visit in the winter will no doubt be tinged with the legendary strong and cold Yamato north wind, and one can quickly feel a sense of barrenness and void amidst remains of what was once the center of one of Japan's first international cities.
One significant aspect of a visit to Heijou Kyo is the fact that one can sense the precise layout and once grandeur of the city. For example, in the western palace grounds, one can discern the wide north/south "Suzaku" street which originated at the imperial palace in the north (the emperor's earthly manifestation of celestial grandeur, the imperial palace mirroring the emperor's celestial ties). This street once traversed the city all the way to the southern Rajoumon (gate of outer environs) some 4.8 kilometers to the south. A similar sense is difficult to achieve in Kyoto due to its somewhat violent past and modern urban development. The Suzaku street of Nara's Heijou Palace can be seen to divide the imperial city into a district of the "right" (western side) and a district of the "left" (eastern side, right and left being seen from the emperor's perspective in the north).
Close up of Restored Suzaku Gate of Heijou Palace (Photo by Saori Ihara)
Somewhat following Chinese precedence, the emperor would sit at the south entry of the Great Hall and greet visitors or stand at moments of ceremony facing south from his position in the north. Within the grounds south of the Great Hall, markers with seven dou ban were placed. These drapings were indicative of the splendor of the emperor's domain, and they were also manifestations of celestial icons of yin-yang relationships including the sun, moon, and cardinal directions.
Astronomy Among Ancient Tombs and Relics in Asuka
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Steven L. Renshaw
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