The history of Japan from 794 to 1868 is the history of Kyoto
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The history of Japan from 794 to 1868 is the history of Kyoto. Scattered over the city are monuments of every epoch since the beginning of the Heian period (794-1192) when the great Emperor, Kwanmu Tenno, forsook Nara and established his Hei-an-gū (the Palace of Peace and Comfort) at Kyoto. The earlier part of this period marked the rise of the Fujiwara family which had soon gained the extraordinary and enviable monopoly of providing Imperial consorts. In the days of Fujiwara Michi-naga ( 1026-1088) they reached the zenith of power and thence began to decline. The civil wars of Tenkei era (938-946) including the major uprisings of Masakado and Sumitomo perhaps prepared the way for the rise of the Samurai class. Out of the mêlée among numerous warriors contending for supremacy emerged the two great fighting clans of Taira and Minamoto.
First Taira and then Minamoto ruled in the names of the Emperors until the Minamoto clan founded a feudal régime with their Bakufu (camp government) at Kamakura, of which Yoritomo (1144-1199) was the Shōgun. His dynasty lasted for three brief generations, when the power was stolen by the socalled HōJō regency which exercised actual power under the cloak of ruling in the name of the Minamoto Shōgunate. The Hōjō's sun rose to its height and then sank. A brief interval of direct Imperial régime followed in the reign of Godaigo Tenno (1319-1339), an Emperor remarkable for his misfortunes, whose failure resulted in the so-called double-court régime during which two Emperors reigned, one legitimate in Yoshino, and the other, supported by the Ashikaga usurpers, in Kyoto.
Thus came into being the Ashikaga dynasty (1334-1573) whose founder Takauji is treated as the worst scoundrel in history. It was Yoshimitsu, a grandson of Takauji, who did the correct thing by amalgamating the South and North Courts, thereby establishing the legitimate single Court possessed of the three Imperial insignia, and in this way had himself formally appointed Shōgun. He built the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and many splendid palaces and gardens, living the most luxurious life one could imagine. No less pronounced in self-love and luxuriousness was his grandson, Yoshimasa, the builder of the Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) who has left the posthumous distinction of being the greatest and most charming dilettante of Japan.
The decline and fall of the Ashikagas swiftly followed, as many warring chieftains rose in all parts of Japan. The greatest of them (at the time) was Nobunaga, succeeded by Hideyoshi, "the Napoleon of Japan," who put the greater parts of the Empire under his control. The fruit of this centralization, begun by Nobunaga and completed by Hideyoshi, passed into the hands of Tokugawa Ieyasu, whom some historians call the wisest warrior statesman Japan has produced. Ieyasu laid his political capital at Edo ( Tokyo) and his dynasty lasted for 256 years, until 1868, when the Imperialists of Satsuma and Chōshū, jointly with some court nobles of Kyoto, took the power from the Shōgun and restored it to the Emperor.
Such is a broad outline of the history of Japan from the establishment of the capital at Kyoto in 794 to its removal to Tokyo in 1868. At every stage of development through these years Kyoto or its vicinity was the scene of drama, sometimes of serene peace and abundant prosperity, but more frequently of sanguine warfare, and at times of famine, drought, earthquake or pestilence. This spectacular pageant of events is even now revealed, as you wander through the lanes and streets, or shaded walks of Buddhist fanes, or study the old treasures of temples and palaces. It was upon the top of Hieizan, 2300 feet high, which commands a splendid view of both the city of Kyoto and the wonderful lake scenes of Biwako, that Masakado and Sumitomo stood one day, gazing with envious eye on the Imperial palace far below, and Masakado declared, in the words quoted by the historian San-yō, that he would like nothing better than to become the occupant of such a house.
The Heian Jingū Shrine, one of the first the visitor is supposed to see, was built in imitation of the first great Heiangū Palace which the Emperor Kwanmu caused to be built for his own residence. The two archaic shrines of Shimo (lower) and Kami (upper) Kamo on the river Kamo were those which this Emperor had worshipped from the time he had settled in Kyoto -- the oldest and most venerable shrines extant in Kyoto. The two pavilions of gold and silver, built respectively by Yoshimitsu and Yoshimasa, still stand as evidence of the Solomonlike splendor in which they lived. Despots of the deepest dye, both, however, contributed much to the progress of arts and crafts, especially Yoshimasa, who was a lavish patron of the tea ceremony, and many other æsthetic arts.
Kyoto and its environs have many districts with warlike associations. The word "Nishijin" which includes all that is lovely in silk weaving, from magnificent brocades to plain kerchiefs, means "Western Camp" where Yamana Sōzen encamped his forces against those of Hosokawa Kazumoto in the bloody warfare of the Ōnin era ( 1467-1468). Out in the suburbs, the river Uji, now so lovely and peaceful, was the stage of many a fierce battle between attackers of Kyoto and its defenders. Later in the warring period Nobunaga burned thousands of priests on Hieizan, and there is a trace of the original Honnōji, now barely recognizable amid the din and color of city life, where Nobunaga, attacked at last by his own vassal, Mitsuhide, committed suicide. Hideyoshi's dazzling Momoyama Palace, first built at Momoyama where Emperor Meiji's Mausoleum lies, was pulled down by Ieyasu to make the Nijō Palace which every privileged person may see today. It gives a glimpse into the temper of the man Hideyoshi--his bold genius and originality, his vaulting ambition and luxuriousness, limited only by his reverence for the Throne. This Nijō Palace, the lodging-house for the Shōgun on occasions of his visit to Kyoto, surpassed the Imperial Palace in golden luxury and splendor. The latter was, if you will but closely observe, a sort of palatial monastery in which the succeeding Emperors lived as in a grand but comfortless hermitage, venerated as living gods, but allowed little scope for personal liberty. Their manner of living was characterized by utmost simplicity, which the various apartments and their intricate corridors and ceremonial appointments indicate, as the guide will explain, while passing from one hall to another.
One cannot but see a sort of poetic justice in the very dramatic fact that a little previous to the Restoration these two great palaces witnessed fateful conferences--that in the simple Kogosho of the Imperial Palace met the chief Imperialists with the young Emperor in the chair (or on the dais behind the screen) to make the last heroic resolve to take the reins of government, which had for centuries been held by the Shōgunal regents, while at the gaudy Nijō Palace was being held the tragic parley, as an outcome of which the Shōgun decided to sur. render his power in favor of the Emperor.
Thus all the palaces and buildings of note, as well as the treasures they hold, are so many landmarks of national history besides being "national treasures" -- constant sources of wonder to artists and archaeologists.