京のキー 7) A Short Guide to the History of Kyoto: The Golden Pavilion.

7) A Short Guide to the History of Kyoto: The Golden Pavilion.

Hikone Castle, upon the shores of Lake Biwa.
Hikone Castle is only one of only four in Japan designated national treasures. Rhod and Jess try scaling the walls. Hikone was the site of many important battles during Japan's Warring State Period.
Lake Biwa is Japan's largest lake and one of the world's oldest (reportedly 3rd). The keep of Hikone Castle. Genkyu-en Garden, part of Hikone Castle.
Kyoto had not weathered the turbulent fighting of the Taira and Minamoto well. After the kidnapping of the child Emperor Antoku and his tragic drowning, slowly things returned to normal. A new emperor, adequately powerless, sat on the throne and the hiccup in court rituals was quickly forgotten. Kamakura watched carefully from beneath its hooded eye, ever ready to strike down insurrection and cow the men who might prove a threat. Importantly, Kyoto was still the beating heart of the country. The Minamoto-Hojo knew this, and whilst they continued to use their 'curtain government' to rule, they made no attempts to move the country's capital from West to East. But in the wake of the Mongolian defeat, the Hojo made serious errors of judgement. In jubilation that the enemy's armadas had been destroyed by a storm at sea, the Hojo considered themselves blessed by the gods who had protected them from a terrible foe. They became more willing to celebrate than dirtying their hands with ruling, living in luxury at the expense of others, and forgetting that power was not merely inherited but a hard slog. A weak link in the chain was all it took for stronger men to swoop and take power.

Ashikaga no Takauji manouevered the exiled emperor, Go-Daigo (who had attempted a political coup), back to power. He then went about taking control of the city and eliminating his rivals. The Kemmu Restoration had begun in earnest, a conflict to restore imperial authority at the expense of the Hojo. In arms they wrestled the capital away from the shogun and, with the help of Yoshisada Nitta, took the country. Then Takauji saw his moment, he betrayed both Go-Daigo and Nitta (supporting the cause of the daimyo, who wanted to limit imperial authority), destroyed the remaining Hojo forces, took Kamakura, and marched back to Kyoto after a deciding victory at Hikone. Nitta fought him and won Go-Daigo's cause, chasing Takauji to Kyushu. Ashikaga returned to do battle and this time destroyed his rivals, replaced the emperor with his own favoured man and made himself shogun. Power trekked back to Kyoto and the Ashikaga dynasty began.

Takauji was a veteran soldier and expertly seized control of the provinces. A new peace descended and the years of Kamakura rule were temporarily forgotten. Emperor Komyo was favoured by Takauji and the turbulent Northern (controlled by Takauji) and Southern Court (controlled by Go-Daigo at Yoshino) Period of two opposing emperors began. An unbroken line of 15 Ashikaga shoguns rolled out, a hundred years in which they barely had control of the capital and sometimes not even that. The breakdown of authority impoverished the aristocracy, as their provincial estates were seized, the imperial family was made bankrupt, and one emperor went unburied for six weeks as there was no money for a funeral. Provincial warlords started posturing for control and Kyoto saw itself become imprisoned, the chessboard for war.
The great buddha at Kamakura. Minamoto Yoritomo made Kamakura his seat of power in Japan. Kamakura is known as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan.
It was a lavish time. Peace at the beginning of the Muromachi Period brought with it prosperity, a hint of which can be gleaned from the rather formal yet nonetheless spectacular festivals that have survived to the modern day. Gion was already an ageing festival at the time, yet it was transformed in this period to something we would recognise today. The Yamaboko floats are recreations of this period, decorated with priceless antiques from across the globe (hinting that Japan was a country thriving in international trade, a policy that would be reversed to isolationism come the Edo Period).
Toji-in Temple. The tea-house overlooks a heart-shaped pond. The temple was founded by Ashikaga Takauji.
The Reiko-den houses statues of successive Ashikaga shoguns. Takauji was first of the Ashikaga shoguns. The temple was attacked because of anti-shogunate feelings prior to the Meiji Restoration.
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) came to power at the height of the city's prosperity. His grandfather had placed his government in the Northern Part of Kyoto and he constructed the lavish Flower Palace (now long gone) in the Muromachi area (how this period of history is known), putting the Imperial court to shame. Yoshimitsu, like the emperors of the time, found himself limited by responsibility and ritual, unable to rule with any great efficiency. Thus he retired, passing on title of shogun to his son. In reality, he kept power behind the scenes. The Northern and Southern Courts were reunited and the daimyos saw their power-bases evapourate under Yoshimitsu. The 9 year old shogun was young and inexperienced, but his father found it easy to use him like a puppet.
A yama float. The giant wheels of a hoko float. Elabourate golden tapestry on a hoko float.
The Gion Matsuri is one of Kyoto's (and Japan's) three main festivals. The religious services and processions were to fight against pestilence and plague. By 1533 the processions remained but the religious services ceased.
The month long festival culminates in Yama-boko Junko Parade. For the three days running up to July 17th, the streets are closed to traffic. Each float is decorated with precious ornaments.
Relatively free from the ties of government, Yoshimitsu took residence in Kitayama, fashioning the North Western part of the city into landscaped gardens, peaceful retreats and sprawling temples. The epitomy of his reign was the gaudy and tourist honey-trap of Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), famous for being burnt down by a mentally disturbed monk in 1950. The pavilion was plastered in gold leaf inside and out, meant to visualise Japan's power, wealth and cultural importance to the world outside. No matter that it consumed most of Japan's gold at the time, no matter that it was so extortianately expensive, it was meant to wow the emperor and impress the Chinese delegation visiting at that time. Emperor Go-Komatsu was the first emperor to stay in the abode of a commoner, a clear sign that imperial power was dissolving and that Yoshimitsu clearly saw himself as a king of Japan. The Ming Dynasty called him such.

Kitayama looked to the refined culture of China. The painter Josetsu was famed for his ink sketches. Poetry was written in Chinese. Zenchiku, Soami, Sesshu, Sogi and Shuko were all master of their arts. Noh was transformed. From the lively traveling troupes of dancers and tellers of morality plays that it had once been, the masters Kan'ami and Zeami (who Yoshimitsu bedded to his father, Kan'ami's, fury) changed the rules and made it much more slow, distictive, distinguished and refined.
A stupa on an island in the gardens of Kinkakuji. The golden pavilion behind the mirror pond. In 1950 a mentally disturbed monk burnt down the pavilion.
Kinkakuji was a retirement villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The pavilion was the centre of Kitayama culture. The pavilion is made up of three architectural styles from varying periods.
Yoshimitsu was a lover of the arts (literally in one sense), but he was no weak ruler. He was a clever man who balanced the needs of government whilst acting as patron to much of the culture of the time. He knew the importance of ruling with a hard heart and that with leisure also came great responsibilities. It was something his grandson was to forget with tragic results. Kitayama was the golden period of culture. How soon the city was to turn to flames.
Remember personal info?

Emoticons / Textile

To make sure that you are a real person, we have to ask you this silly question before your comment can be put on the site. Sorry

  (Register your username / Log in)

Hide email:

Small print: All html tags except <b> and <i> will be removed from your comment. You can make links by just typing the url or mail-address.


Rhod and Ki's tour of life in Kyoto, Japan.

Kyonoki Gallery

View our easy to navigate galleries