The Capital of Japan (日本の首都)

In this article, we describe the history of capitals and their changes in Japan.

A capital is the no.1 city in a country, the Imperial Palace, the place where the central government is located. It was after World War Ⅱ that the word 'capital' was generalized, and during the period before the war and for some period after the war, there were many cases where it was described as a 'chief city' (primate city) with no clear distinction made between it and normal cities. The capital corresponding to the present concept of capital was established in 1868, since then it has been chiefly called 'the imperial capital,' and it was after the enactment of 'Law of Capital Construction' in 1950, that the term 'Capital' spread into general use.

Since the dawn of history, the "Miyako" corresponding to the capital of Japan had been repeatedly relocated within Kinai (present Kinki region, or provinces surrounding Kyoto and Nara). Since the transfer of the capital to Heian-Kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Kyoto) ruled by Emperor Kanmu, the capital was transferred according to the emperor's declaration and there were no act, laws or ordinances that directly affected the transfer of the capital. But the present capital is generally said to be Tokyo Metropolis, as was ruled by 'the Law of Capital Construction' (law No. 219, 1950: abolished).

The 'Improvement Law of Capital Zone' (law No. 83, 1956), prescribes that the zone of Tokyo and its surrounding area (Saitama Prefecture, Chiba Prefecture, Kanagawa Prefecture, Ibaraki Prefecture, Tochigi Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture and Yamanashi Prefecture) are the national capital region

Law of Capital Construction was abolished in 1956 and there is no existing law that directly stipulates that 'the Capital is Tokyo.'
As for reasons supporting that Tokyo is regarded the Capital of Japan, two are generally given: the Emperor who is prescribed by Japanese Constitution as "the symbol of Japan and the symbol of Japanese people's integration" is permanently stationed and the Imperial Palace is located in Tokyo, and also the highest organs of the three powers ruled by Japanese Constitution such as the Diet (legislature), the prime minister's official residence and central government ministries and agencies (administration) and the Supreme Court (administration of justice) are located in Tokyo (they are especially concentrated in Chiyoda Ward). It is written in the imperial edict for convocation of the Diet, " Diet is levied in Tokyo " where the Diet Building is located. Moreover, Tokyo is also internationally regarded as the Capital of Japan.

For statistics within Japan, in many cases the 23 boroughs in Tokyo are treated as if they were equal to one city. In general, 23 boroughs are treated as "inside Tokyo," and the other local authorities are distinguished as "suburban Tokyo." This derives its origin from the fact that the 23 boroughs are equal to the old City of Tokyo, but today there is no administrative unit having autonomy as a single unit over the 23 boroughs. On the other hand, the common name that Tokyo officially uses, is "Tokyo Metropolis" (note, metropolis means capital, metropolis, big city or main city, central city), and the Governor of Tokyo attends the international conferences as "Governor," so Tokyo is treated as a single autonomous body and there is no meaning to separate the Tama area and islands area from the 23 boroughs. In these ways, it is common that domestically the 23 boroughs concentrated of capital functions are treated as a capital, while internationally the Tokyo Prefecture including Tama area and islands are regarded a capital.

In ancient times, in many cases, capitals were located in places near Kyoto, Nara and their surrounding area, and areas including Yamashiro Province, Yamao Province, Settsu Province, Kawachi Province and Izumi Province (part of Kyoto Prefecture, Nara Prefecture, Osaka Prefecture and part of Hyogo Prefecture) were collectively called the Kinai region (which means within the wall) (provinces surrounding Kyoto and Nara). Kinai region was land within 500 ri (ri is a Japanese distance unit; one ri = about 3.92 km) from the capital which was under direct control of an emperor). Kinai possessed the same meaning as the national capital region at the present time.

Cognition of a Capital in Various Ways

In Japanese history, besides the Imperial Court ruled by the Emperor, existed military governments such as Bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun): bakufu was headed by a shogun (a barbarian-quelling generalissimo in official name) who was called at times "the King of Japan" or "the Emperor of Japan", and therefore, there are various discussions and understandings as to what a capital is defined as, including both the capital systems of Tokyo and Kyoto.

Capital of Japan defined by dictionaries

The view asserting that the successive transfer of capitals such as the transfer of capital in Heian era is the movement of capital.

The view stating that Tokyo acquired the position of capital with the appointment of Tokyo Castle (Edo Castle) as the Imperial Palace and the movement of Dajokan (Grand Council of State) to Tokyo, and Tokyo acquired the first position in the order among prefectures in 1871, with which Tokyo acquired the position of capital.

Views that pay attention to the emperor and the seat of government

The view asserting that both Kyoto and Tokyo are regarded as imperial capitals, but Kyoto is originally the capital and Tokyo is the place where Emperor exists for convenience'sake.

The view asserting that Kyoto as the imperial capital in west and Tokyo as the one in east are both capitals equally.

The view stating that during the Edo period, Kyoto had been the capital because Shogun was appointed in Kyoto, while Kamakura and Edo were not capitals, although Bakufu were located in these cities.

Relocation of capital should be accompanied with the movement of zasho (a room for a noble person) (an account in the Diet by prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1996)

The view paying attention to the function of capital and samurai (militarist) government.

The view asserting that the plan for Fukuhara-kyo by the Heike family was a plan for a system of multiple capitals with Heiankyo, and that Kamakura, where Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by shogun) was located, bore the functions of a capital with Kyoto, therefore, the multi-capital system existed in Kamakura era.

The view stating that Edo was regarded as a capital because of its political location, but in the end of the Edo period, Kyoto became the capital because it came to be the center of politics, before the capital moved to Tokyo (Edo) again.

The view that in Edo era Edo was recognized as the center of politics and administration and functioned as the capital, and it was also recognized by foreigners as the capital. According to "Kaiyuroku" written by Sin Yu-han, a member of Chosen Tsushinshi (the Korean Emissary), the capital in Japan was first located in Yamato, and after that Hideoyoshi TOYOTOMI moved it to Osaka and then Ieyasu TOKUGAWA transferred it to Edo.

Legal gounds

As of 2009, there is no existing law which directly prescribes the capital in Japan. Therefore, some advocates do not take Tokyo as the only capital of Japan by interpreting the difference between old laws, existing laws and common laws. In the following paragraphs, we list the main legislaion and their interpretation.

In the imperial edict (shosho), issued at the time of imperial visit to Tokyo from Kyoto in 1868, there was no word for 'capital.'
According to the leading view that because of giving the area name 'Kyo' which means 'capital,' Tokyo was established as the capital with this edict, but there are opposing views. Concerning this edict, another view asserts multiple capitals in which Tokyo is the capital along with Kyoto.

Imperial edict that Edo is renamed Tokyo (September 3, 1868)
" Edo is the biggest city in eastern Japan and the Emperor decides that Edo is renamed Tokyo ". In the imperial edict (September 12th, 1923) issued just after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, the following statement expressed Tokyo as the capital, and that it should be transformed and developed further.

Edict (Shosho) just after the Great Kanto Earthquake (September 12th, 1923)
"Tokyo is the capital of the empire and the political and economic center, and the source of Japan's culture. Tokyo suffered an enormous disaster this time and can not cling to its old situation, but still holds status as capital of the empire, therefore, it is necessary not only to restore it to what it used to be but also have it undergo a complete new transformation." In Tokyo, a regulation established in 1943 (law No. 89, 1943), explained the stage of its legislation as follows: "Tokyo aims to enforce an effective administration." However, in the Local Autonomy Law, "Metropolis system" is stipulated along with the prefectural system, but it is not stipulated that application of the Metropolis system is limited only to Tokyo, and there is no regulation says the Metropolis system should be applied only to the municipality near the location of Tokyo. For example, Osaka prefecture can be reformed to "Osaka Metropolis."

In 1950, Capital Construction law was established expressly ruling Tokyo as the new capital of Japan. The law was one of the special city construction laws which were established during those days.

Capital Construction Law (Law No. 219, 1950)
Article 1: This law aims to plan and construct Tokyo Metropolis so as to develop fully the functions of politics, economy and culture of Tokyo as the capital of the peace state.

Article 12: Concerning the city planning activities enforced depending on the area of Tokyo Metropolis, related administrative ministries such as the Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Transport and others can execute those activities, if they are recognized to be necessary, based on Tokyo being considered to be the Capital of Japan. In these cases, it is necessary to obtain consent from Tokyo and the related local public body in that area.

Although this law was abolished later, it was not because Tokyo ceased to be the capital, but because the objective of the law (construction of capital) was accomplished and it was necessary to expand the area of city improvement from the capital to the capital and its surrounding region; the succeeding law, 'national capital region improvement law,' has a continuity and unity with the abolished law. For this reason, they did not establish a new abolition law, but instead chose to add rules in the following law. The national capital region refers to the region 'the capital and its surrounding area,' but in the succeeding law, it is clearly defined that 'national capital' part is 'Tokyo Metropolis' established in predecessor law (abolished law) and it imposes the obligation of Diet vote in order to change that part, and concerning 'the surrounding area' the new law took over predecessor law, in the way to delegate the lower rank act (government ordinance) and not to require Diet vote and flexibly change 'the surrounding area' part.

National Capital Region Improvement Law
Article 2: In this law, 'national capital region' means the wide area incorporating Tokyo and its nearby area.

Supplementary Provision
(abolition of national capital construction law)
4. National capital construction law (law No 219, 1950) is abolished.

Change of the Imperial Palace Address (= View that the Imperial Palace Address is the national capital region)
In history, Japanese capital was determined by the address of the Imperial Palace, the Emperor's residence. After Tumulus period, it became to carry out the construction of the Imperial Palace and improvement of urban areas simultaneously and to build a city suitable to a capital in a well-planned way.

Until the Nara period, even imperial palaces and residences of nobles were earthfast post architecture, and hence did not last very long. The sengu (transfer of a deity to a new shrine building) of Ise-jingu Shrine which is an earthfast post architechture is conducted once every 20 years.

It is thought that the frequent transfer of the capital and new construction of a palace were due to the influence of their short architectural lives in addition to political motives. In Fujiwarakyo capital, Heijokyo capital, and Heiankyo capital which introduced a Chinese city plan, and promoted as a place for common folk, were of earthfast architecture, therefore the wetlands and shores of rivers prone to flooding were abandoned due to their being unfit for living, changing the location of the cities from the original plans.

Before the Asuka Imperial Palace (Asuka period), there was no capital corresponding to a capital zone. According to "Records of Ancient Matters" and "Chronicles of Japan" edited in Nara period, it is thought that as an initial stage of capital, cities centering around palaces sprang up, because the palaces of successive great kings (Yamato sovereignty) (the ancient Japan sovereignty) were constructed in multiple places including Shiki, Iware (Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture), Nanba and Kawachi Provinces (Osaka Prefecture). However, their concrete ancient structural remnants remain undiscovered.
Reference: The article of " Imperial Palace in successive Imperial Families " as for palaces which appear in " Records of Ancient Matters " and " Chronicles of Japan "

In addition, in the Asuka and Nara periods, there were eras in which systems of multi-capital (which might be called the second capital) were established in order to complement capital functions in economics and transportation. As examples, Naniwanomiya Palace of Emperor Tenmu who took this system for the first time, 'Beijin' Horanomiya (detached palace) of Emperor Junnin (Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, 761-764) and 'Nishikyo' Yugenomiya (detatched palace) of Empress Shotoku (Yao City, Osaka Prefecture, 769-770) are known. Horanomiya and Yugenomiya were short lived, but Naniwanomiya Palace maintained its position as secondary capital city until the transfer of the national capital to Nagaoka.

There have been discussions as to whether to consider Fukuhara-kyo as a capital. From the standpoint of negative capital, on the actual condition of 'Transfer of the capital to Fukuhara' talked in the literary work such as "the Tale of Heike," some insist that the Taira clan government set Angu (tentative capital) in Fukuhara only for the purposes of transfering the captial toward Wada (Kobe City), and since Heian-Kyo did not lose any function as a traditional capital, Fukuhara ended up being the sub-capital to complement Kyoto in military and trade functions. In fact,the edict for the transfer of the capital to Fukuhara was not issued, and rites and festivals were conducted in Kyoto even while Angu was set up in Fukuhara,and after the capital transfer plan came to a sudden stop, the policy of setting the capital in Kyoto was decided by the chief executives of the government.
While the Chodo-in and government office were proposed in Fukuhara, they were not carried out in the end ("Gyokuyo" (Diary of Kanezane KUJO, July 16th, August 4th, 11th, Jisho era 4) (the old lunar calendar)

During the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) (1336-1392), except for the short time of Kanno Disturbance (1351-1352), Heian-Kyo was the capital of the Northern Court (Japan). But it is presumed that the headquarter of Southern Court was treated as Angu (a tentative foothold), and Heian-Kyo was regarded the official capital.

During the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, Emperor Meiji visited Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture and the Imperial headquarters was also transferred there. In Hiroshima City, the Imperial Diet was opened and capital functions were tentatively transferred to this location, and Hiroshima City temporarily assumed the status of capital.

In 1944 at the end of Pacific War, the Army of the Great Empire of Japan started a plan to move the Imperial Palace and the Imperial headquarters to Matsushiro Machi, Nagano Prefecture (present Nagano City), but the plan was suspended due to the end of the war (Matsushiro Imperial headquarters).

[Original Japanese]