Heijo-kyo (also pronounced Heizei-kyo) used to be the ancient capital of Japan.
It is also known as 'the capital of Nara.'
The capital, which was located in current Nara City, Nara Prefecture, and the vicinity of Yamatokoriyama City, is thought to be modeled on 'Changan' of the Tang Dynasty and Rakuyo of the Northern Wei Dynasty.
The discussion on the transfer of the capital from Fujiwara-kyo to Heijo-kyo began in 707, and in 708 Empress Genmei issued an edict of the transfer, which stated that the capital was 'the center of government offices and the place where people of the world gather.'
Three sides of the Heijo property were surrounded by mountains and one open side was facing south, which was considered to be positive according to feng shui.
However, when it was relocated in 710, it is believed that the construction of only a few facilities such as the Imperial Palace, Daigokuden (the central building) and official residences were completed, and other facilities like the temple and residence were being constructed step by step until the capital was transferred to Nagaoka-kyo in Yamashiro Province. Although Heijo-kyo was temporarily abandoned due to the transfer of the capital to Kuni-kyo in 740, it was relocated to Heijo-kyo once again in 745 and was the center of the government for 74 years, until it was transferred to Nagaoka-kyo in 784.
After it was relocated to Yamashiro Province, it was also called 'Nanto.'
On September 6, 810, an edict to destroy Heian-kyo and transfer the capital to Heijo-kyo was issued by Emperor Heizei. Emperor Saga opposed this and swiftly raised an army, and the retired Emperor Heizei became a Buddhist monk on September 12 (known as the Kusuko Incident). Because of this incident, the transfer of the capital to Heijo-kyo did not happen.
It was previously spelled as 'Heijo-kyo' in the school textbooks, however, it is now mostly spelled as 'Heizei-kyo.'
The Emperor's name '平城' is read as 'Heizei,' and the pronunciation of 'Heijo' was a combination of the Han and Wu reading of the same Chinese characters, so the standard writing was changed to 'Heizei' by simply using the Han reading.
However, the name 'Heijo' is still commonly used, and Commemorative Events of the 1300th Anniversary of Nara Heijo-kyo Capital organized by Nara Prefecture also uses the term 'Heijo.'
As stated above, Heijo-kyo is now read as 'Heijo-kyo' or 'Heizei-kyo,' however, it is believed that it was once read as 'Nara no Miyako.'
Although there are many various theories as to why '平城' was pronounced as 'Nara,' one well accepted theory states that it came from the meaning 'flat city.'
Since the word 'nara' is used to describe flattening an undulating land even in modern day, one theory states that the name came from the relocation of the capital from the mountainous place Asuka to the middle of the Nara Basin.
Because of this the character '平' was chosen, and in order to use the Chinese style, which uses two character for place names, '城' from the word '城市' (fortified town) was added, and they were together used for the name of the capital '平城.'
Incidentally, the pronunciation 'Nara' is written as '奈良' or '寧楽' based on Manyo-gana (an early Japanese syllabary composed of Chinese characters used phonetically). There used to be scholars who suggested a possible connection with the Korean word 'nara' (meaning a country), however, this theory is no longer accepted (the origin of the word is believed to be 'to flatten').
Summary of City Planning
The shape of Heijo-kyo was a long rectangle which had Suzaku-oji Street dividing Ukyo (west part of capital) and Sakyo (east part of the capital), and further down the Sakyo, Gekyo (extra part in the east part of Heijo-kyo) was constructed on sloping ground. The city planning was based on the jobo system (a series of avenues running at right angles to each other marked out the system) and was constructed with Ichijo to Kujo-oji Street running through east to west, from Suzaku-oji Street and Ichibo to Shibo Streets in Sakyo running through north to south, and from Ichibo to Shibo Street in Ukyo. Each major street was separated by an area of roughly 532m, and those surrounded areas (known as Bo) were divided by mud walls and ditches, which were then divided into towns by three streets running down from north to south and east to west. The capital measured 4.3 km from east to west and 4.8 km from north to south excluding the northern bo.
The residential land of urban areas was divided based on one's rank, which allowed the high rank nobles to have 4 towns, and the rest were followed by 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 town. Since land was publicly owned, it was generally given by the emperor.
Although it was a well established theory that the capital was modeled after Changan of Tang Dynasty, its relationship with Fujiwara-kyo, previously thought to be close, became questionable, and therefore another theory became accepted, which stated that Rakuyo in Northern Wei Dynasty was the inspiration, yet the development of the capital was unique to Japan. In other words, it was a political city, rather than a military city concerned with invasion by different ethnic groups from remote regions of China.
The urban area of Heijo-kyo was constructed based on Shimotsu-michi Street and Nakatsu-michi Street of Yamato no kodo (the ancient paths in Yamato Province), which divided the middle part of the Yamato basin into north and south. Shimotsu-michi Street met Suzaku-oji Street, and Nakatsu-michi Street met East Shibo-oji Street, which divided the eastern part of Sakyo (although slightly off). The extra section projecting from Nijo-oji Street and Gojo-oji Street was called Gekyo, and was the size of three bo. There were also two blocks projecting north from the northern part of Ukyo, and this area was called Hokuhenbo.
Architectures Inside Heijo-kyo
Heijo-kyu Palace was located at the north end of Suzaku-oji Street, and Suzaku-mon Gate was constructed there. Heijo-kyu Palace has always remained in the same location ever since the construction of Heijo-kyo. The central building known as Daigokuden was demolished when relocating the capital in 740, and later reconstructed on the east side of the original location. Rajo-mon Gate was on the south end of Suzaku-oji Street, and Rajo, which was built to surround the capital, was on the southern area of Kujo-oji Street. However, it is likely that only a small part of Rajo attached to Rajo-mon Gate was actually constructed.
Many temples were constructed. The major temples constructed in the capital were Daian-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple and Gango-ji Temple (together called the four great temples), and each were relocated one by one when the capital was transferred from Fujiwara-kyo. Todai-ji Temple was constructed on the east side of East Kyogoku-oji Street by the order of Emperor Shomu in 752, while Saidai-ji Temple (located in Nara City) was constructed on the north side of Ukyo by the order of Emperor Shotoku in 765. Horyu-ji Temple and the 6 others mentioned above are together called the seven great temples (Seven Great Temples of Nara).
On March 10, 2006, it was announced by the Yamatokoriyama board of education that Jujo-oji Street was certainly constructed in Heijo-kyo. This was due to discovery of remains of the street, as well as part of Rajo (walls). This Rajo is thought to have been built with a simple tiled roof and wooden walls, unlike the one in China, which was built with mud walls. There were a few high walls present.
Excavation and Research
When investigating the possible location of Heijo-kyo, Sadamasa KITAURA discovered that ruins of the city remained on the ridges between rice fields and streets, which he recorded in "Heijo-kyu Daidairi ato tsubowari no zu," in 1852. In addition, after Tadashi SEKINO discovered the substructure of Daigokuden and conducted research on the restoration of Heijo-kyu Palace, its results were published as "Heijo-kyu oyobi Daidairi ko" in 1907.
Nara Daigokuden Preservation Society' was established by Kajuro TANADA, and the excavation of Heijo-kyu Palace began in 1924.
Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has been continuing the excavation since 1959, and about 30% of the capital was uncovered by 2004.
The current location of Daidairi is roughly midway between Yamato-Saidaiji Station and Shin-Omiya Station on the Kintetsu Nara Line owned by Kinki Nippon Railway Company, and was nominated as a historic site in 1922 and later as a special historic site in 1952. A part of Suzaku-oji Street (the area from Nijo to Sanjo) was also nominated as a historic site in 1984.
As 710 can be pronounced as 'nanto,' meaning both 'how' and 'Nanto' in Japanese, there are some puns to describe the year of the transfer of the capital, such as 'how beautiful Heijo-kyo is,' 'how big Heijo-kyo is,' 'how nice Heijo-kyo is' and 'how lovely Heijo-kyo is.'
Since it was the final destination of the Silk Road, the capital became a very international place. Therefore, there were not only Japanese but also people from Tang Dynasty, Silla and the vicinity of India inside the Heijo-kyo.
Two main reasons Emperor Kanmu decided to transfer the capital from Heijo-kyo to Nagaoka-kyo were the geographical location of Heijo-kyo and its inconvenient water infrastructure. Since Heijo-kyo was built far from a big river it was not possible to use a ship, so it was difficult to transport food efficiently. Although there were a few streams running down the city, it was not enough to support a population of 100,000. Domestic wastewater and excrement were thrown away into the ditches next to the streets, and carried away by the stream water. However, waste piled up causing the water to almost stop flowing, and it became very unsanitary.