By Alvin Li
Japan was founded and inhabited around 30,000 B.C.E, it has changed its capital city many times. Despite this, there have been 3 main cities that have been defined to be the former capitals in Japanese history. Japan’s first recorded permanent capital was Heijō-kyō during the Nara period. It was located south of Kyoto today in the Nara Prefecture. The capital was moved to Kuni-kyō in 740 in the Kyoto Prefecture, but it only lasted 4 years before it moved again. Instead of moving to a new location, however, the capital was moved back to Heijō-kyō due to the public pressuring the emperor and compromises from opposing parties. Nagaoka-kyō was the next location in 784 within the Kyoto Prefecture, but once again, the capital was changed after 10 years. During the Heian Period, the year 794 saw the movement of the capital once again to Heian-kyō or also known more commonly as Kyoto. These changes are to reflect where the seat of the Emperor and the central government of Japan is located.
There are a total of 13 periods in Japan’s entire history. The earliest 3 periods of Japan are the Jomon, Yayoi, and Yamato periods, which lasted from around 10,000 B.C.E to 710 A.D. During this time, it was mostly the people shifting from hunter-gatherers to agriculture and meeting Chinese and Korean influence. When the Nara period started, the imperial government was located in Nara and Japanese culture started to develop itself from other growing Asian influences. Things like religion, literature, and proper government systems, which were mainly inspired by China, were set inside Japan. Japanese culture continued to flourish and grow during the Heian Period. At this point in history, art was at an all-time high and could be referred to as the Golden Age of classical Japanese culture. However, the periods following the Heian period until the Edo period, which included the Kamakura, Ashikaga, Azuchi-Momoyama periods, had many battles against both external forces and internal powers. It was not until the Edo period in 1603 that Japan finally saw lasting peace and the imperial system was restored again. The Meiji Period starting in 1868 saw modernization and defending Japan from western influence. The latest 3 periods of Japanese history are the Taishō, Showa, and Postwar Periods of Japan, which all occurred in the 20th century. Modernization and technological advances are happening all around the world and Japan is not missing out. The current period is the Postwar period and Japan seems to be doing well even during the pandemic.
As for the political conflicts and reasons that made these changes in the location of the capital city, there are a few. The main reason is just the simple change of emperors. Since the Capital is usually the seat of the Emperor, if the emperor were to move anywhere, that new location would be stated to be the capital. Another reason that the capital might be moved is opposition from other clans, rebellions. and noble families that hold a lot of power in government. Continuing on, natural disasters and attacks from external forces cause the capital to be relocated. This is one of the reasons Nagaoka-kyō was moved a decade after it was declared the capital, as flooding was a frequent occurrence. There are definitely more reasons, but these are the 3 most common reasons that capitals might change and this could be seen all across the world, not just in Japan.
Around 1868, the capital moved from Kyoto, which has been Japan’s capital city for more than a millennium, to Tokyo. Tokyo was originally named Edo before the Meiji government changed the name to Tokyo and settled there. As time went on Tokyo saw lots of ups and downs. 1923 was the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake. Later on would be both World War 1 and 2, and the Pacific War which damage the entirety of Japan. Since then, a lot of western influence has also started to impact the way Japan was run. Censuses were conducted, a more democratic government was put in, and Japan would eventually join the United Nations. After several long periods in Japanese history lasting many millennia, Tokyo will probably stay as Japan’s capital city for quite some time to come.