Outline of Exhibition

The Relocation of Japan's Capital to Nagaoka - Emperor Kanmu and the Age of Upheaval -
Period Oct 10 (Wed) - Dec 2 (Sun), 2007
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries,
National Museum of Japanese History
Admissions Adults ¥830 (¥560)
Senior high school & college students: ¥450 (¥250)
Elementary & junior high school students: ¥250 (¥130)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more.
* Admission to permanent collection included
* Free admission for children up to senior high school age every Saturday
Hours 9:30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
(no entrance after 4:00 p.m.)
Closed Oct 15 (Mon), 22 (Mon), 29 (Mon), Nov 5 (Mon), 12 (Mon), 19 (Mon), and 26 (Mon)
Sponsor National Museum of Japanese History

The Relocation of Japan's Capital to Nagaoka - Emperor Kanmu and the Age of Upheaval -

This exhibition turns the spotlight on the period of the reign of Emperor Kanmu spanning from the end of the 8th century to the beginning of the 9th century, a period which marked a turning point in the Ritsuryo state of ancient Japan. Focusing on the themes of Monarchial authority and the Monarchial capitals, the exhibition illustrates the ways in which the state and society changed around this time. The main purpose is to reveal the findings of publicly funded research conducted by Rekihaku on
" Monarchial Authority and Cities: Transitions in the Age of the Ritsuryo State" (General Organizer: Akira Yamanaka, Mie University).

According to the findings of recent excavations, the capital Nagaoka-kyo (784) was not a transitional capital between Heijo-kyo (Nara) and Heian-kyo (Kyoto), capitals established in 710 and 794 respectively, but rather an innovative capital that already anticipated a large number of elements adopted later in Heian-kyo. But why was Nagaoka-kyo destroyed after a decade? The Kanmu era was an important period that set the framework for the center and margins of the Japanese state in pre-modern times in the sense of the construction of Heian-kyo, which was the capital for the next 1,000 years, and the defining of the nation's territory as a result of the subjugation of the Emishi. We consider this period of upheaval from modern perspectives, including Monarchial authority, the relocation of capitals, cities and wars. To help visitors visualize Nagaoka-kyo, a "virtual Nagaoka-kyo" has been produced based on the "Virtual Heian-kyo " made by the Department of Geography, College of Letters, Ritsumeikan University. This virtual version of Nagaoka-kyo will be screened in the exhibition gallery and visitors will also be given a walk through of the capital.

Exhibition Lineup

Prolog. Relocating the Capital, War and Vengeful Spirits

The era of the reign of Emperor Kanmu is characterized by the construction of capital cities and the subjugation of the Emishi. Accordingly, the exhibition focuses on the relocation of the capital city twice, first from Heijo to Nagaoka and then from Nagaoka to a new capital called Heian-kyo, and wars waged on the inhabitants of the Tohoku region on four occasions in what is known as the "subjugation of the Emishi." Symbolic relics such as dolls and pottery with faces painted in black ink are used to illustrate the spiritual lives of ancient Japanese represented by the concept of vengeful spirits

Part One. Monarchial Authority and Change

We examine the changes in Monarchial authority that occurred during this period from a variety of perspectives. We look at Emperor Kanmu's genealogical position, the relationship between the relocation of the capital to Heian-kyo and transportation, changes in palaces and the structure of rituals, theories concerning Kanmu's tomb, and the changing representations of the figures of Emperor Kanmu, Wake no Kiyomaro and Sakanoue no Tamuramaro that occurred over time. The period around the time of Emperor Kanmu's reign marked a watershed in Monarchial authority.

Part Two. "Subjugation of the Emishi" and Josaku Fortifications

Here we take a look at battles that took place in Tohoku as symbolized by the confrontation between Sakanoue no Tamuramaro and Aterui, chief of the Emishi. We consider government administration at josaku fortifications, the nature of the military and the actual lives of the Emishi people by relativizing conventional representations of the conflict between "government forces" and the "Emishi".

Part Three. From Nagaoka-kyo to Heian-kyo - Two Relocations and Urban Life

In this part of the exhibition we turn our attention to Nagaoka-kyo and the beginning of the construction of Heian-kyo. Nagaoka-kyo, which remained the capital for only ten years, was preparation for Heian-kyo, which remained the capital for a thousand years. Nagaoka-kyo also influenced the urban planning of Saiku Palace and Taga Castle. The idea of relocating the capital to Nagaoka emerged initially in association with the abolition of the secondary administrative center Naniwa-kyo and eventually gave rise to the demise of the capital itself, Heijo-kyo. Roof tiles from the Naniwa no Miya (Palace) and the Heijo Palace were transported to Nagaoka-kyo to build the capital where they were recycled. There existed within the capital a number of detached palaces, of which Tou-in is a typical example, as well as temples. An urban lifestyle evolved within the capital centered on government officials and supported by the inflow of large quantities of commodities and people from provinces throughout the country. Zones for residential land were standardized, there was a money economy in the city whereby commodities were bought using money, and with toilets, large wells and other amenities, standards of food, clothing and shelter were different from those in rural villages. Meanwhile, on the spiritual side of life, people prayed for peace within the capital by floating dolls and pottery with faces painted in black ink in water channels and wells.

Part Four. Changing Times

We illustrate the transition from the Nara period to the Heian period by showing changes in written culture, changes to seals, currency, inkstones and calendars, the change from controlling people to controlling the land, and advances in distribution typified by the movement of G-type jars with unusual forms.

Epilogue. Eastern Japan and "Capital Cities"

In this final part we show the spread of an awareness of there being a "capital city", which matured in Nagaoka-kyo and Heian-kyo and spread to eastern Japan, and the formation of a consciousness of "mini Kyotos" which saw provincial capitals made to resemble the "capital city". Enormous tiled pagodas also show the introduction of Buddhist culture.

Main exhibition items

  • Phoenix crest roof ornaments excavated from the Kaminoshoda tile kiln in Kyoto Prefecture
  • Pottery with faces painted in black ink excavated from the Mizutare archaeological site in Kyoto Prefecture
  • Frame of a well excavated from the remains of the Tou-in in Nagaoka-kyo, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Tiled pagodas excavated from the Magome site in Chiba Prefecture and other sites
  • "Kogenchokufu" (imperial restrictions) held in the collection of Nagoya University
  • Kanpyo Yuikai (treatise on rulership)
  • Annual festivals and events by Ononomiya
  • Many other materials excavated from Nagaoka-kyo and Heian-kyo, Saiku Palace and Taga Castle
Virtual Nagaoka-kyo   Kanpyo Yuikai (treatise on rulership) (1245 copy)
Virtual Nagaoka-kyo
Click for enlargement
Kanpyo Yuikai (treatise on rulership) (1245 copy)
Museum collection
Annual festivals and events by Ononomiya (uragaki), copy from the early Edo period   "Kogenchokufu" (imperial restrictions) of Emperor Sakuramachi (1747)
Annual festivals and events by Ononomiya (uragaki), copy from the early Edo period
Museum collection
"Kogenchokufu" (imperial restrictions) of Emperor Sakuramachi (1747)
Nagoya University collection
"Warabite" sword (reproduction) (second half of 9th century)  
"Warabite" sword (reproduction) (second half of 9th century)
Museum collection
Phoenix crest roof ornaments (late 8th century - early 9th century)
Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute collection and private collections

Note: Please note that items in the exhibition are subject to change.