The Heian Capital

Emperor Kanmu (r. 781-806) established his new capital on the site of modern Kyoto in the year 794. Although he officially named it Heian-kyō (Capital of Peace and Tranquility), the most popular term for it in the centuries that followed was simply "the Capital" (Miyako). As the second volume of The Cambridge History of Japan is at pains to emphasize (see Chapter 2), plans and maps of the city in the early Heian period date back only to the 12th or 13th century, so that reliability is an issue when describing (or illustrating) the capital's appearance in the 9th and 10th centuries, especially with regard to particular features. With allowance for possible discrepancies, however, the diagrams below can be considered reasonably accurate.

The Heian capital measured 1,753 (about 5,240 meters) north to south and 1,508 (about 4,510 meters) east to west. Detailed maps in Japanese list the names of all 39 avenues (ōji) and streets (kōji) running east to west and the 33 avenues and streets running north to south. Suzaku Avenue, the central north-south thoroughfare, was about 84 meters wide; Nijō Avenue was about 52 meters wide. Other avenues were between 24 and 36 meters in width, and streets were 12 meters wide. Specific districts were identified by the name of the avenue bordering them on the south. Thus, the Rokujō district extended from Rokujō Avenue on the south to Gojō Avenue on the north.

For the Greater Palace Compound, or Daidairi, it is important to remember that the blocks represent gated compounds rather than buildings, and that these compounds enclosed buildings and open spaces. The Great Hall of State, for example, was a structure more than 50 meters wide that stood at the northern end of the Court of Government and was approached through two independent gates. Until 1177, when it was destroyed by fire, this building was where the emperor conducted affairs of state. English names here are taken mostly from Volume 2 of The Cambridge History of Japan (p. 110). Transliterations, however, follow Japanese sources (Dantenmon, for instance, is also called Dattemon or Datemon, which are now considered variants; the reading "Chūwain" given in the Cambridge History for "中和院" has been replaced by the currently accepted "Chūkain"). ln addition, some locations differ slightly from those found in the Cambridge volume. Space prevents the listing of names for a number of minor offices; those names can be found in Japanese sources. Again, uniform agreement regarding layout details and pronunciation should not be taken for granted.

The Inner Palace Compound, or Dairi, contained the living quarters of the Emperor and his consorts, along with various supporting structures and offices. Some functions of state were also conducted here, especially after the destruction by fire of the Great Hall of State in 1177.



Key (the sites are not necessarily concurrent historically)

  1. Udain: Supposedly the residence of Emperor Kōkō (r. 884-887) while an imperial prince; it is possible that Emperor Uda (r. 887-897) was raised here, causing his name to be associated with the site.
  2. Ichijōin: Emperor Ichijō (r. 986-1011) used this residence as his temporary palace (satodairi) when the Inner Palace Compound burned down in 999. This is the palace referred to in The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu.
  3. Tsuchimikadodono (Kyōgokudono): The principal residence of Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027), who symbolized the power of the Fujiwara clan at its peak. According to The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu, this is where Empress Shōshi -- Michinaga's eldest daughter and consort to Emperor Ichijō -- gave birth to the future Emperor Go-Ichijō.
  4. Kaya no In: The residence of Fujiwara no Yorimichi (992-1074), eldest son of Fujiwara no Michinaga. Yorimichi converted his villa in Uji into the Byōdōin in 1052.
  5. Reizeiin: The detached palace used by Retired Emperor Saga (r. 809-823).
  6. Daigakuryō (Fun'ya no Tsukasa): The school attended by sons of the aristocracy destined for careers in the Confucian-oriented bureacracy.
  7. Shinsen'en: Garden park reserved for the pleasure of the imperial family. Much of the original site is now occupied by Nijō Castle.
  8. Nijōtei / Nijōnomiya: Nijōtei, on the north, was the residence of Fujiwara no Korechika (974-1010); Nijōnomiya, on the south, was the residence of Empress Teishi (976-1000), consort to Emperor Ichijō. Sei Shōnagon, author of The Pillow Book, served Empress Teishi.
  9. Junnain: Originally the detached palace of Emperor Junna (r. 823-833); made into a temple in 879.
  10. Suzakuin: The principal detached palace in the western half of the Heian capital, used from the reign of Emperor Saga (r. 809-823).
  11. Kawara no In: The residence of Minamoto no Tōru (822-895), said to have been one of the models for Hikaru Genji. The residence itself was supposedly the model for Genji's Rokujōin in The Tale of Genji.
  12. Nishi no Ichi: The West Market, one of two markets established on either side of Suzaku Avenue.
  13. Higashi no Ichi: The East Market, one of two markets established on either side of Suzaku Avenue.
  14. Saiji: The West Temple, one of two temples built near the Rajōmon gate at the southern boundary of the city.
  15. Tōji: The East Temple, one of two temples built near the Rajōmon gate at the southern boundary of the city.

Other notes:

  • Ichijō Avenue was the route of procession taken during the Kamo Festival. This is where the famous kuruma arasoi (carriage conflict) between Aoi and Rokujō takes place in The Tale of Genji (east of the Greater Palace Compound).
  • The procession of the Ise Saigū (virgin priestess of the Ise Shrine) departed toward the east from the Suzaku Gate of the Greater Palace Compound, turning south along the avenue on which Genji's Nijō mansion was located (this would be the north-south avenue to the east of Kaya no In, No. 4 in the map above).

This map is a heavily edited adaptation of the layout diagram uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Sakumiya Kaoru and is subject to the same Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Colors were all modified and at least one correction to the basic grid was made (involving the location of Kawara no In); the result was exported as an image. The version here should be credited to Mark Jewel, Sakumiya's diagram is said to be based on Kokushi daijiten (Dictionary of Japanese History), published by Yoshikawa Kōbunkan. Final locations follow Akiyama Ken and Komachiya Teruhiko, eds., Genji monogatari zuten (Shōgakukan, 1997).


It has been suggested that the open Banquet Pine Grove to the west of the Inner Palace Compound was intended to serve as an alternate building site for the compound so that, like Ise Shrine, it could be rebuilt at regular intervals.


The above image should be credited to Mark Jewel, Jlit ( It may be freely used in printed form, but online reproduction is prohibited.



The above image should be credited to Mark Jewel, Jlit ( It may be freely used in printed form, but online reproduction is prohibited.