Celebrating the 1,300th Anniversary of Nara Heijo-kyo Capital in 2010
Feel the warm heart and spirit of Japan in this ancient capital
The year 2010 marks the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Nara’s Heijo-kyo Capital. This is a wonderful opportunity for the people of Nara as well as the entire nation to celebrate the foundation of the basis of Japanese civilization and culture.
Starting from the end of the 6th century, the capital of Japan was located in Nara for almost 200 years. The Heijyo-kyo Capital and the Nara period (710-794) has become especially noteworthy in Japanese history. It was a period of intense cultural development resulting in some magnificent artistic and architectural achievements.
To celebrate this magnificent occasion, Nara has been already begun planning and organizing a number of projects. Learn about Heijo-kyo Capital and see how much rich historical heritage Nara has to offer. Nara is an ancient capital that lets you feel the essence of Japanese culture.
Heijo-kyo Capital, Japan’s First International Capital
Before Heijo-kyo, the capital was Fujiwara-kyo (present-day Kashihara City). However, Emperor Genmei began to relocate the capital only 13 years after the completion of Fujiwara-kyo. In 710, the emperor’s residence called Dairi and Daigoku-den Hall was established and other building complexes were gradually maintained.
Heijo-kyo was the first capital of Japan to unify the Japanese legal system. During this period, Japan was established as a state with a universal code of laws and a strong cultural foundation. Through exchange with the countries of greater East Asia and beyond, many foreign cultures and civilizations were introduced to Japan. Indeed, in those days Nara was quite a large scale international capital with over 1 million people (today Nara City has about 370,000 people).
The center of Heijo-kyo is the Heijo-kyo Palace where palace buildings and government offices were. Surrounded by tall earthen walls, the palace had big buildings and open spaces (Daigoku-den and Chodo-in Hall) in the center where a variety of ceremonies were held. It also played an important role as a residence for successive emperors.
The other parts of the capital city were divided into blocks, and office buildings were built in a line. On the southeastern corner of the eastern overhang was another palace building (To-in, or the East Palace) with a pond, and in the north of the Heijo-kyo Palace was the large Shorin-en Garden, in which beautiful nature scenes were incorporated. The whole picture of the Heijo-kyo Palace was of a well-organized complex but still full of variety.
The city was laid out on a grid pattern of square blocks sectioned by major or minor streets. The pattern is thought to have been modeled on that of the Chinese Tang dynasty capital, though basically following that of Fujiwara-kyo, a previous capital of Japan. Heijo-kyo was an orderly city where roads ran north to south and east to west. The eastern area of the Suzaku-oji was called Sakyo, or the Left Capital, and the western area, Ukyo, or the Right Capital. The whole capital including this extended area was about 5 kilometers from north to south and about 6 kilometers from east to west, with an area of about 25 square kilometers.
Exactly northward through the Rajo-mon Gate, which was the entrance to the Heijo-kyo Capital, was a wide avenue called Suzaku-oji which had a width of 75 meters. 4 kilometers away from the Rajo-mon Gate stood another gate called Suzaku-mon Gate, functioning as the formal entrance to the Heijo-kyo Palace. The Suzaku-mon Gate was a two-storied gate with a height of 20 meters and painted red. Important court ceremonies were held in front of the Suzaku-mon Gate. In 1997, based on thorough historical research, the Suzaku-mon Gate was reconstrcuted and today you can see its dignified appearance.
Commemorative Events for the 1300th Anniversary of the Heijo-kyo Capital
In 2005, Nara Prefecture, Nara City and other civic organizations formed the “Association for Commemorative Events of the 1300th Anniversary of the Nara Heijo-kyo Capital” in order to make this historical milestone a successful and meaningful event. Numerous events are planned before and during the actual 1300th anniversary year in 2010,.
Heijo-kyo History Museum: movie theatre, model figure presentation, reproductions of National Treasures related to Heijo-kyo, etc.
Experience-based event, Tempyo no Tabi: held in the reconstructed Daigoku-den Hall building, experience how people in the Nara period lived
Exploring Heijyo-kyo Tour: specialists will guide you around the Heijo-kyo site, etc.
Early Oct.-mid Nov., 2010
Memorial Ceremony of the 1300th Anniversary of the Heijo-kyo Capital
Heijyo-kyo Capital Fair: a number of interesting events (historical experiences event, concerts, exhibitions, and more)
‘Feel time flow peacefully and comfortably in Nara’,An Interview with the Governor of Nara Prefecture, Mr. Shogo Arai
Nara Explorer (NE): One of the core policies you are working on is ‘promotion of tourism’. What do you think the appeal of Nara is?
Mr. Arai: Nara has a long history, and we still have some of that ancient atmosphere today. There are few cities in Japan or even the world that still have historical buildings which are over 1,000 years old, like Horyu-ji Temple (1,400 years old). What is more, Nara is blessed with beautiful natural surroundings and a rich historical heritage. I would like tourists from all over the world to take the time and enjoy both. The most appealing thing that Nara can offer is that people can feel the ‘slow’ pace. We are living in such a developed world and everything is going very quickly and efficiently. Probably, too fast. I am happy if people visiting Nara feel time flow peacefully and comfortably.
NE: There will be big celebrations in 2010, the 1,300th anniversary of Heijo-kyo Capital relocation. What kind of activities are you planning?
Mr. Arai: I believe that this is such an important event not only for the people of Nara but also for people all over Japan. I would like to make the event an opportunity for Japanese people to celebrate and appreciate the ancestors who founded Japan’s first capital. I don’t want to make it just a temporary event, but a chance for many people to discover the charm of Nara.
NE: Do you have a favorite place in Nara?
Mr. Arai: I love Nara Park. I like the peaceful and spacious natural beauty of the park very much. And now I want to make the site of Heijo-kyo Capital as landmark of Nara which can also be a restful place.
NE: What kind of plan do you have for the international tourism promotion of Nara? And please tell us what do you expect of Nara Explorer?
Mr. Arai: We will promote the memorial 1,300th anniversary of the Heijo-kyo Capital all over the world, and we expect to have many foreign visitors. I guess many of them who will visit Nara come to appreciate Japanese culture, which is very different from their own. Some may have great knowledge about the culture and history of Japan, and those kind of people will no dount feel the essence of Japanese culture in Nara. I would like Nara Explorer to be a necessary item for foreign visitors to ‘explore’ and enjoy Nara with. Please do your best to make Nara better.
born in Nara prefecture in 1945. Graduated from Tokyo University, worked in the Ministry of Transport and other important departments in national government. He assumed the governorship of Nara in May 2007 and has been actively involved in Nara’s tourism promotion.
Fully Experience Life in the Nara Period!!
Now you have learned about how Nara was established. Here are some places where you can directly experience life in the Nara period and get in touch with 1,300 years of history. Visit one or more of the places below and enjoy more of Nara’s past and present.
1) Daibutsu Great Buddha
You must be astonished by the huge and dignified appearance of the Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple. Here are some interesting facts and figures about this enduring symbol of Nara.
The Great Buddha was completed in 752 taking 9 years with 2,600,000 labors in total. The base of the body is made with 499 tons of bronze which was covered by 440 kilos of real gold (can you imagine how shiny it was in those days!?). Since then, the Great Buddha has been renovated many times but the pedestal, the belly, some parts of fingers remain as original. The present Great Buddha’s seated height is about 15 meters tall, the face is about 5.3 meters (from head to chin), the ears are about 2.5 meters long. The round objects on the head are called Rahotu, which is a sacred hair-style of Buddha, and there are 966 rahotu on this Buddhas’s head!
Todai-ji Temple: open: 7:30-17:30; 500 yen; Tel: 0742-22-5511; A-1, pg 7 map.
2) Tegai-mon Gate
This is one of the few ancient buildings belonging to Todai-ji Temple that has kept its original appearance since its completion in the Nara period. Surviving many wars, fires and other disasters, the gate has numerous scars and other evidence of this history. When you come close to the gate, you will find some fist-size holes on the stone paved street. It is said that these holes are created by rain drops which have kept dropping on the same place for 1,250 years.
Tegai-mon Gate: free entry; Tel: 0742-22-5511 (Todai-ji Temple); A-1, pg 7 map; about 20-min. walk from Kintetsu Nara Sta.
3) Heijo Palace Site Museum
This museum is located on the west side of the old site of Heijo-kyo Palace. A number of excavated archaeological objects (earthen ware, roof tiles, wooden artifacts etc.) have been exhibited here since 1955, when the first excavation was conducted. Reproductions of the dress worn by people in the Nara-period are also displayed.
Heijo Palace Site Museum; open: 9:00-16:30; closed Mon.; entry free; A-1, pg 7 map.
4) Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest
Mount Kasuga is a collective term for the mountains close to Nara city including Mount Mikasa and Mount Ho. There is a legend that Takemikazuchi, the guardian God of the Fujiwara Clan, descended from heaven on this mountain riding a sacred white deer. The forest has been worshipped as sacred ground since ancient times. In 831, hunting and wood cutting was prohibited in the forest. The forest has maintained its ancient appearance for over 1,100 years. There are pleasant walking paths around the forest and the area is a popular hiking course.
Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest: the entrance of the hiking course is a 5-min. walk from Kasuga Taisha Shrine.