Friday, October 1, 2010

Kyoto Gosho - Emperor For A Day

1st November, 2006 - After a long day of temple-watching the day before, we were at a bit of a loss... we had plans for the afternoon, but had a free morning. That's not to say we didn't have something up our sleeves - we just didn't know if we'd have the opportunity to do it. About twice a year, the Imperial Palace - Kyōto Gosho - throws open its doors to the public. Today was one of those rare days. Could we resist... Alas - no, we couldn't. So after a quick bout of morning sickness, my wife and I headed out for a new adventure.

The last time we were here (only 10 days ago) there were similiar numbers of people to see the Jidai Matsuri. Now - they were massing, in their thousands, to have a peek inside the Palace walls. So without further ado, here we go...

The first stop is the Shodaibu-no-ma... the rooms set aside for visiting nobles, where they could await an audience with the Emperor.


The original Imperial Palace, constructed in 794 AD, was actually built on a completely different location... to the west of Nijo-jo. The original Palace was huge, at about 1.4 km x 1.16km...a substantial portion of the original footprint of the city. Now, only the Inner Palace (Daidairi) remains in the current location. The castle was burned down in 1177 AD (along with a number of other calamitous events) which lead the Emperor to be re-located to a temporary palace near Kobe. On return they re-established the Palace in it's present location. The Palace was rebuilt by Nobunaga, then destroyed in 1788, and again in 1854. It was finally rebuilt in 1856, in a much earlier style... perhaps a sign of the changing nature of Kyōto from Capital to cultural treasure.

Alas - the Imperial Palace has lain vacant since the Meiji Restoration... so no opportunities to rub shoulders with Emperors today. The palace represented both the home of the emperor and the seat of government. 

Waiting in style - Shodaibu-no-ma.

On the return of emperor to Kyōto, the present site was chosen based on the temporary palace that had been used in previous fires and calamities. The construction was completed in 1331. The current buildings however date from 1855 after fire destroyed the palace.

Two noble-women indulge in a game of Go... deep in concentration (and varnish).


In the south eastern corner lies the solitary, and somewhat aloof building known as the Shunkoden, which reputedly held the Sacred Mirror (Yata no Kagami) - one of the three Sacred Imperial Regalia. The other two were the sacred sword, Kusanagi, and the sacred jewel, Yasakani no Magatama. These are the items that provide sacred sanction from the Gods of Japan, that the Imperial family do indeed hail from godly origins. The mirror is no longer held here however...

The main hall is known as the Shishinden (below), is also known as the Hall of State Ceremonies, and is surrounded by a garden of white gravel.

The Shishinden (and idiot) as viewed from Jomei-mon.
There are 18 steps leading up to the main hall, for the 18 levels of nobility. In the centre sits the Imperial throne (above) from the 1915 enthronement of Emperor Taisho. The front of the building is framed by a cherry(right) and citrus tree (left)... just as was seen in Heian Jingu.

The Shishinden and citrus tree

"Shishinden"... just in case you had missed it

In the middle of the Shishinden is placed the original throne that was used in the 1915 enthronement of Emperor Taisho.
Throne in the Shishinden (Hall of State Ceremonies)

The Seiryoden (the Serene and Cool Chamber) was originally the residence of the emperor, and was used through to the 11th century. This building was re-created in 1790 on a slightly smaller scale. It was originally the official residence hall, but came to become another ceremonial hall... The design, in the shinden-zukuri style with cypress bark roof, is typical of residence designs of the later Heian period.

The Seiryoden... not a good place for a zombie out-break

The ten room hall can be converted into a single open room through the removal of walls and doors. The main room also holds an imperial throne, framed by a Korean dog and lion statue.

The Seiryoden
To emphasise the official nature of the hall now, in the centre is located another of the Imperial Thrones... this one known as the Michodai.
Michodai...(Imperial Throne) - protected by pair of Korean dog (left) and lion (right)
To the left of the throne lies a sacred area, with a granite floor, where the Emperor could make symbolic contact with the earth in order to worship his ancestors. When he wasn't doing that however, the stone floor was covered with white sand.

To the west of the Shishinden can be found the Kogosho, or Little Palace... that overlook the Oike-niwa. This is a 1958 reconstruction of the original... which was destroyed by fire in 1954. The story goes that fireworks from the nearby Kamogawa summer fireworks festival landed on the cypress roof and before you knew it, Wham-bam-thank-you-maam.... a new twist on the Imperial fireworks festival. To the immediate north can be found the Ogakumonjo, another series of waiting rooms where poetry reading would often be undertaken.
Now the Kogosho is a stage for various tranditional court kimono.

A notable feature of the palace is the gardens, including the Oike-niwa. The former was designed by Kobori Enshu (1579 – 1647) and Emperor Go-mizuno-o. It was originally fed by water from Biwa-ko through an underground pipe, but is now supplied by a well specifically constructed for this purpose.
Oike-niwa Pond (looking north)

Oike-niwa Pond (looking south)
To the north of the Oike-newa, can be found the Otsune-goten, the Every Day Palace, became the actual residence of the Emperor once the Seiryoden had been overtaken by official engagements.

Otsunegoten Imperial Villa

Paintings in the Otsune-goten

Painting detail

 Gonaitei was the private garden of the emperor, and included a tea-house. It makes for a nice way to end the tour of the Imperial Palace...
Goneitai - Emperor's private garden

The open days at Kyoto Gosho are a mixed blessing. The visit is free, and you don't need to book through the Imperial Household Agency (which would normally be required). However - you don't get the tour in English (as you do with the official tours), and you have to mix it up with upwards of 10-20,000 people at any given time...(guesstimate). The official tours are a bit of a pain to get on (see here for the details) - they don't run on weekends, and you need to book ahead of time generally.

As for the Imperial Palace itself - well, it's not what you call grand, and I have to admit that the heavy use of mannequins puts me off, big-time. However, as a way of seeing at least a re-creation of an Imperial court, it's not bad. Just don't expect to be able to head off and explore anywhere.... both the official tours and the public openings are carefully directed.
Posted by Picasa

No comments:

Post a Comment