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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

But when Kwammu ascended the throne


TRANSFER

OF THE CAPITAL TO KYOTO

The reign of Kwammu is remarkable for two things: the conquest of the eastern Yemishi by Tamuramaro and the transfer of the capital from Nara to Kyoto. Nara is in the province of Yamato; Kyoto, in the neighbouring province of Yamashiro,* and the two places lie twenty miles apart as the crow flies. It has been stated that to change the site of the capital on the accession of a sovereign was a common custom in Japan prior to the eighth century. In those early days the term "miyako," though used in the sense of "metropolis," bore chiefly the meaning "Imperial residence," and to alter its locality did not originally suggest a national effort. But when Kwammu ascended the throne, Nara had been the capital during eight reigns, covering a period of seventy-five years, and had grown into a great city, a centre alike of religion and of trade. To transfer it involved a correspondingly signal sacrifice. What was Kwammu's motive? Some have conjectured a desire to shake off the priestly influences which permeated the atmosphere of Nara; others, that he found the Yamato city too small to satisfy his ambitious views or to suit the quickly developing dimensions and prosperity of the nation. Probably both explanations are correct. Looking back only a few years, a ruler of Kwammu's sagacity must have appreciated that religious fanaticism, as practised at Nara, threatened to overshadow even the Imperial Court, and that the influence of the

foreign creed tended to undermine the Shinto cult, which constituted the main bulwark of the Throne.

*Previously to becoming the metropolitan province, Yamashiro was written with ideographs signifying "behind the mountain" (yama no ushiro), but these were afterwards changed to "mountain castle" (yamashiro).

We shall presently see how this latter danger was averted at Kyoto, and it certainly does not appear extravagant to credit Kwammu with having promoted that result. At all events, he was not tempted by the superior advantages of any other site in particular. In 784, when he adopted the resolve to found a new capital, it was necessary to determine the place by sending out a search party under his most trusted minister, Fujiwara Tanetsugu. The choice of Tanetsugu fell, not upon Kyoto, but upon Nagaoka in the same province. There was no hesitation. The Emperor trusted Tanetsugu implicitly and appointed him chief commissioner of the building, which was commenced at once, a decree being issued that all taxes for the year should be paid at Nagaoka where also forced labourers were required to assemble and materials were collected. The Records state that the area of the site for the new palace measured 152 acres, for which the owners received compensation amounting to the equivalent of L2580 ($12,550); or an average of L17 ($82) per acre. The number of people employed is put at 314,000,* and the fund appropriated, at 680,000 sheaves of rice, having a value of about L40,800 ($200,000) according to modern prices.

*This does not mean that 314,000 persons were employed simultaneously, but only that the number of workmen multiplied by the number of days of work equalled 314,000.

The palace was never finished. While it was still uncompleted, the Emperor took up his abode there, in the fall of 784, and efforts to hasten the work were redoubled. But a shocking incident occurred. The Crown Prince, Sagara, procured the elevation of a member of the Saeki family to the high post of State councillor (sangi), and having been impeached for this unprecedented act by Fujiwara Tanetsugu, was deprived of his title to the throne. Shortly afterwards, the Emperor repaired to Nara, and during the absence of the Court from Nagaoka, Prince Sagara compassed the assassination of Tanetsugu. Kwammu exacted stern vengeance for his favourite minister. He disgraced the prince and sent him into exile in the island of Awaji, which place he did not reach alive, as was perhaps designed.


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