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Heian-kyō was one of several former names for the city now known as Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

. It was the capital of Japan for over one thousand years, from 794
Year 794 was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 794 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.- Asia :* Kyoto becomes the Japanese capital, ending...

 to 1868 with an interruption in 1180.

Emperor Kammu
Emperor Kammu
was the 50th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Kammu reigned from 781 to 806.-Traditional narrative:Kammu's personal name was . He was the eldest son of Prince Shirakabe , and was born prior to Shirakabe's ascension to the throne...

 established it as the capital in 794, moving the Imperial Court there from nearby Nagaoka-kyō
was the capital of Japan from 784 to 794. Its location was reported as Otokuni District, Yamashiro Province, and Nagaokakyō, Kyoto, which took its name from the capital...

 at the recommendation of his advisor Wake no Kiyomaro
Wake no Kiyomaro
was a high-ranking Japanese official during the Nara period. He was born in Bizen Province to a family of politically important, devoted Buddhists who hoped to keep Buddhism and politics separate through religious reform...

 and marking the beginning of the Heian period
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

 of Japanese history. Modelled after the Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 Chinese capital of Chang'an
Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was restored...

 (modern day Xi'an
Xi'an is the capital of the Shaanxi province, and a sub-provincial city in the People's Republic of China. One of the oldest cities in China, with more than 3,100 years of history, the city was known as Chang'an before the Ming Dynasty...

), it remained the chief political center until 1185, when the samurai Minamoto clan defeated the Taira clan in the Genpei War
Genpei War
The was a conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the late-Heian period of Japan. It resulted in the fall of the Taira clan and the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate under Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192....

, moving administration of national affairs to Kamakura
Kamakura, Kanagawa
is a city located in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, about south-south-west of Tokyo. It used to be also called .Although Kamakura proper is today rather small, it is often described in history books as a former de facto capital of Japan as the seat of the Shogunate and of the Regency during the...

 and establishing the Kamakura shogunate
Kamakura shogunate
The Kamakura shogunate was a military dictatorship in Japan headed by the shoguns from 1185 to 1333. It was based in Kamakura. The Kamakura period draws its name from the capital of the shogunate...


Though political power would be wielded by the samurai class over the course of three different shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

ates, Heian remained the site of the Imperial Court and seat of Imperial power, and thus remained the official capital. In fact, even after the seat of Imperial power was moved to Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

 in 1868, since there is no law which makes Tokyo the capital, there is a view that Kyoto legally or officially remains the capital
Capital of Japan
The capital of Japan, where the seat of the Government of Japan and home of the Emperor are located, is de facto. While this is generally not in dispute, the capital de jure is unclear. There is a dispute as to exactly when Tokyo became the capital. Some state that it occurred when Tokyo...

 even today.


Heian-kyō was built in what is now the central part of Kyoto city covering an area spanning Yamashiro kuni’s Kadono gun and Otagi gun (kuni and gun are different types of administrative district in use between the Nara
Nara period
The of the history of Japan covers the years from AD 710 to 794. Empress Gemmei established the capital of Heijō-kyō . Except for 5 years , when the capital was briefly moved again, it remained the capital of Japanese civilization until Emperor Kammu established a new capital, Nagaoka-kyō, in 784...

 and Meiji
Meiji period
The , also known as the Meiji era, is a Japanese era which extended from September 1868 through July 1912. This period represents the first half of the Empire of Japan.- Meiji Restoration and the emperor :...

 periods.) The city boundaries formed a rectangle measuring 4.5 km from East to West and 5.2 km from North to South. The city layout followed Heijō-kyō
Heijō-kyō , was the capital city of Japan during most of the Nara period, from 710–40 and again from 745–84. The Palace site is a listed UNESCO World Heritage together with other places in the city of Nara Heijō-kyō (平城京, also Heizei-kyō, sometimes Nara no miyako), was the capital city of Japan...

 (Japan’s capital during the Nara period) with the Imperial palace (Daidairi) placed in the centre of the Northern city limits and the Suzaku-oji main thoroughfare extending from the palace down through the centre of the city, dividing it into the Right and Left Capitals (the Eastern side being the Left and the Western side being the Right.) The design followed Sui and Tang dynasty Changan with the exception that Heian-kyō had no city walls. It is thought that the site for the city was selected according to the principles of Shijinsoō based on Chinese Feng shui
Feng shui
Feng shui ' is a Chinese system of geomancy believed to use the laws of both Heaven and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive qi. The original designation for the discipline is Kan Yu ....

 ( Shijinsoō lit. “Four God Suitability” relates to the Four Symbols
Four Symbols (Chinese constellation)
The Four Symbols are four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations. They are:*Azure Dragon of the East *Vermilion Bird of the South *White Tiger of the West *Black Tortoise of the North...

 of Chinese Astrology.)

The boundaries of Heian-kyō were smaller than those of modern Kyoto with Ichijo-oji at the Northern limit corresponding to present-day Ichijo-dori between Imadegawa-dori and Marutamachi-dori , Kyujo-oji in the South corresponding to Kyujo-dori slightly to the South of the present-day JR Kyoto Station and Higashi-kyogoku-oji in the East corresponding to present-day Teramachi-dori. The location of Nishi-kyogoku-oji at the Western limit is estimated as a line running North to South from Hanazono station on the JR Sanin line to Nishi-kyogoku station on the Hankyu Kyoto line.

The layout of Heian-kyō was plotted in accordance with the principles of geomancy
Geomancy is a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground or the patterns formed by tossed handfuls of soil, rocks, or sand...

 as a square city. Jo (丈, 3.03 meters) was the basic unit of measurement. 40² Jo (丈) made a Cho (町, 121.2 meters on each side). The city was further divided by major streets called Oji (大路) and minor streets called Koji (小路). Four lines of Cho running East to West (excepting the first 2 rows in the North) were together called a “Jo” (条) and four lines of Cho running from North to South were called a “Bo” (坊) The Cho which shared the same Jo and Bo were each given a number from 1 to 16. In this way addresses could be identified as follows: "Right Capital, Jo Five, Bo Ten, Cho Fourteen" (右京五条三坊十四町)

The width of even the minor streets was 4 Jo (丈, about 12m) and for the major streets over 8 Jo (丈, about 24m.) Almost all of the streets in present-day Kyoto have become considerably narrower. Suzaku-oji for example was 28 Jo (丈, about 84m) wide. In addition a river ran alongside Horikawa-koji and Nishi-horikawa-koji.


In 784 A.D. emperor Kammu constructed Nagaoka-kyō
was the capital of Japan from 784 to 794. Its location was reported as Otokuni District, Yamashiro Province, and Nagaokakyō, Kyoto, which took its name from the capital...

, moving the capital from Heijō-kyō. It is thought that he wished to build a new, Tenchi faction capital far from Yamato kuni which was the power base for the temples and aristocrats who supported the Tenmu faction. However only 9 years later in January of 793 A.D. the Kammu emperor assembled his retainers and announced another relocation of the capital (for the reason see the entry on Nagaoka-kyō
was the capital of Japan from 784 to 794. Its location was reported as Otokuni District, Yamashiro Province, and Nagaokakyō, Kyoto, which took its name from the capital...

.) The location for the new capital was to be Kadono located between two rivers in the north of Yamashiro kuni, ten kilometres to the North East of Nagaoka-kyō. It is said that the Emperor Kammu had previously looked out on Kadono from the Shogun Tsuka in Kyoto city's Higashiyama district, deciding then that it was a suitable location for the capital. Emperor Kammu's words are recorded in the Nihon Giryaku as follows: “Kadono has beautiful mountains and rivers as well as good transport links by sea and land making it convenient for people to assemble there from all four corners of the country.”

It is thought that the construction of Heian-kyō began from the palace, with the construction of the remainder of the city following afterwards. As a display of the emperor's authority the Daigokuden (main building of the palace) was constructed at the far north of the central thoroughfare, Suzaku-oji, making the building visible from anywhere in the city. Ports such as Yodonotsu and Ooitsu were set up along the river next to the city. These ports acted as a transit base for collecting in goods from all over the country and for forwarding them on to the city. The goods which arrived in Heian-kyō reached the people by way of one of the two large markets (the East market and the West market.) This arrangement provided a stable supply of food and goods which encouraged population growth. Measures were also taken to guard against the flooding which had plagued the residents of Nagaoka-kyō. Although there was no natural river in the centre of Heian-kyō, two artificial canals (the present day Horikawa and Nishi Horikawa) were dug whose water level could be adjusted, simultaneously securing a supply of water and guarding against flooding. It was also permitted to construct Buddhist temples in Heian-kyō, something which had been forbidden in Nagaoka-kyō. It was thought that the power of the East and West temples might protect the city from natural disaster and disease, and priests like Kukai were welcomed, being able men, well versed in Buddhist scripture and with no interest in political power. On 22 October 794 A.D. the emperor Kammu arrived at the new city and on 8 November proclaimed “I hereby name this city Heian-kyō.”

A movement in favour of returning the capital to Heijō-kyō arose in 810 A.D. during a standoff over the emperor's succession. However, Emperor Saga
Emperor Saga
was the 52nd emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Saga's reign spanned the years from 809 through 823.-Traditional narrative:...

 thought that keeping the capital in Heian-kyō would be best for the stability of the country and resisted this movement, naming Heian-kyō "Yorozuyo no Miya" (the eternal city.)

The land of the Right Capital overlapped the wetlands formed by the Katsura River
Katsura River
The is a continuation of two other rivers, the Hozu River, a small, speedy river which begins in the mountains near Kameoka and then slithers through the mountains separating Kameoka and Kyoto; and the Ōi River , which emerges from those mountains and expands into a shallow, slow-flowing river...

 and even by the 9th century little progress had been made in developing the area. By the 10th century when the Ritsuryō
is the historical law system based on the philosophies of Confucianism and Chinese Legalism in Japan. The political system in accord to Ritsuryō is called "Ritsuryō-sei"...

 system was almost at an end, the district had become so dilapidated that it began to be used as farmland, something which had previously been forbidden within the city limits. With the exception of an area in the north of the Right Capital near to the palace, the residential areas which housed the aristocracy were all situated in the Left Capital, with the highest echelon of aristocrats such as the Fujiwara clan gathering in the northernmost part of the district. The poor of Heian-kyō began to set up home by the Kamogawa river, beyond the eastern limits of the city, and on the Eastern banks of the river temples and country homes sprung up. So started a tendency for the city to extend out to the East. In 980 A.D. at the southern tip of Suzaku-oji the Rashōmon
Rashomon may refer to:* Rashōmon, the former main city gate in two Japanese capital cities, Heijokyō and Heiankyō * Rashōmon , a short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa first published in 1915...

 (the grandest of the two city gates) collapsed never to be rebuilt. In this way the original borders of Heian-kyō extended out to the East forming the streets of first medieval and then modern day Kyoto.

With the advent of the Kanto centred Kamakura
Kamakura shogunate
The Kamakura shogunate was a military dictatorship in Japan headed by the shoguns from 1185 to 1333. It was based in Kamakura. The Kamakura period draws its name from the capital of the shogunate...

 and Edo Shogunate, Heian-kyō began to lose its significance as a seat of power. The greatest decline was during the Muromachi and Sengoku periods when almost half the city was burnt to the ground during the Onin war
Onin War
The ' was a civil war that lasted 10 years during the Muromachi period in Japan. A dispute between Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sōzen escalated into a nationwide war involving the Ashikaga shogunate and a number of daimyo in many regions of Japan....

. After this Heian-kyo separated into upper and lower cities each becoming places of little note. However the two were to be reunited into one city during the Azuchi Momoyama period following the ascension of Nobunaga Oda. During the Meiji Revolution Edo was re-christened Tokyo (becoming the new capital of Japan). Although Heian-kyo lost its status as capital city it became a backup capital while the emperor was away in Tokyo. Since that time the emperor has not returned to Kyoto, however at the direction of the Emperor Meiji the imperial residences have been preserved and the Takamikura (a special throne whose location traditionally marked the seat of the emperor) remains at the palace in Kyoto.

Schematic diagram of Heian-kyō

The green areas in the diagram are markets, temples and a garden. There were two large markets, West Market(西市) and East Market(東市), facing the seventh street, Shichijō
literally means seventh street in Japanese., a numbered east-west street in Heian-kyō, present-day Kyoto, Japan* Shichijō Station, a train station on the Keihan Main Line in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, a Japanese kuge family descended from the...

-ōji (七条大路). Tō-ji
is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect in Kyoto, Japan. Its name means East Temple, and it once had a partner, Sai-ji . They stood alongside the Rashomon, the gate to the Heian capital. It is formally known as which indicates that it previously functioned as a temple providing protection for the...

 (東寺, "East Temple") and Sai-ji
or the West Temple was one of the two large Buddhist temples established in Kyoto, Japan.-History:Sai-ji was founded in the early Heian period. The temple dates from 796, two years after the capital moved to Heian-kyō. Sai-ji was established together with the other temple, Tō-ji...

 (西寺, "West Temple") were Buddhist temples built on the southern edge of the capital. An imperial garden called Shinsenen (:ja:神泉苑) was adjacent to the Daidairi.

Note that there were more paths cut short by residences straddling multiple blocks.


The gates of the Daidairi are marked in Japanese. The romanization of those gate names are as follows:

  • South side (east to west):
    • Bifuku-mon
    • Suzku-mon
    • Kōga-mon
  • West side (south to north):
    • Datten-mon
    • Sōheki-mon
    • Impu-mon
    • Jōsai-mon
  • North side (west to east):
    • Anka-mon
    • Ikan-mon
    • Tatchi-mon
  • East side (north to south):
    • Jōtō-mon
    • Yōmei-mon
    • Taiken-mon
    • Ikuhō-mon


  • Mibu
  • Sujzaku-ōji
  • Kōgamon-ōji

  • Ōimikado
  • Nakamikado
  • Konoye
  • Tushimikado





  • Tushimikado
  • Konoye
  • Nakamikado
  • Ōimikado


Below is a 1696 map of Kyoto, known as Genroku 9 Kyoto Daiezu (元禄九年京都大絵図) held by the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken).

See also

  • Heian Palace
    Heian Palace
    The Heian Palace was the original imperial palace of Heian-kyō , the capital of Japan, from 794 to 1227. In Japan, this palace is called Daidairi...

  • Kyoto
    is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

  • Chiteiki
    , also known as Chitei no Ki, is one of the representative kanbun texts of the mid Heian period. Belonging to the zuihitsu genre, it was written by Yoshishige no Yasutane in 982...

    , a mid-Heian period text describing social issues within the capital