An Urban History of Japan’s Premodern Capital

Matthew Stavros

Chapter 1 Study Sheet

“Housing the aristocracy was not just one of Heian-kyō’s functions, it was one of the primary reasons for establishing a permanent capital in the first place” (p. 3). Explain the implications of this sentence and, in particular, how it pertains to Emperor Kanmu’s centralizing impulses.  

Identify Heian-kyō’s founding prescriptions and proscriptions and describe how they (together and individually) might have reflected the political, social, and philosophical impulses of the day. 

What was the significance of Heian-kyō’s location and topography and how did these factors impact the capital’s long-term viability? 

What were the practical and symbolic advantages of building a capital city according to a Chinese model? 

In what ways did Heian-kyō depart from the Chinese capital model? 

Why does the author refer to the machi as “the essential urban building block?”

How did war with the Emishi affect Heian-kyō’s early history? 

How did Heian-kyō’s plan solve a problem that had caused a serious problems in earlier capitals?

Identify and describe status-specific elements of Heian-kyō’s urban plan and architecture. 

“The Daidairi enclosure was a potent metaphor for the early Japanese polity itself: a large and complex institution that, while taking cosmetic cues from China, was different on a fundamental level” (p. 20). How was the early Japanese polity (and society) fundamentally different from China? 

On p. 11, the author calls the Heian polity a “theater state” and the word “pageantry” comes up several times in the chapter. Why are these terms useful for understanding how Heian-kyō was planned and meant to be used? 

Referring to Figure 1.3, if you were a mid-level government official in early Heian Japan, would you rather live at the intersection of Nijō–Higashinotōin or Nijō-Kitsuji? Why? 

Figure 1.3 depicts the Heian-kyō plan with north at the top of the page. Why would it be just as reasonable (and maybe even more so) to put north at the top instead? (*The answer has nothing to do with the fact that the author lives in the southern hemisphere)