平城宮跡 The Heijo Palace ruins - World Heritage in Japan

 World Heritage in Japan


I’ve lived my whole life as a Japanese person, but when I went overseas I realised I know practically nothing about Japan. So now I’m learning about Japan’s World Heritage Sites, from oldest to newest. Those who are interested, and even those who are not, come along for the ride.

平城宮跡 The Heijo Palace ruins

撮影協力 / メルボルン総領事館 Thanks to the Consulate-General of Japan, Melbourne


 ○○○○○ 平城宮跡 広大な敷地を誇る発掘途中の名所旧跡 ○○○○○ 



その後は、1852年に奉行所に勤めていた北浦 定政(きたうら さだまさ)の実測研究によって、平城宮の規模が明らかになるも、建築家で奈良の古建築を調査し、建築年代を判定していた関野 貞(せきの ただし)によって、1900年に平城宮跡の保存・保護が訴えられるまで人々の記憶から忘れ去られていました。

ところで、皆さんはこの平城宮跡が世界遺産のひとつとして登録されていることに違和感を感じませんでしたか? だって、跡ですよ。跡。以前、世界遺産についてお話した時(2014年8月号参照)に、世界遺産とは有形の不動産が対象で、その中の文化遺産は、記念物や建造物群、遺跡や文化的景観と書いた記憶が…。確かに遺跡といえば遺跡だし、そこに何かが埋まっているハズだから有形だとは思うのですが、当時の物が地上に何も残っていない状態というのは個人的に違和感が。現在、第一次大極殿、朱雀門、東院庭園が復元されいますが、どちらもこの20年内に建てられたものだし…。世界的に有名なギリシャのパルテノン神殿のように、崩れかけでもいいから地上に何か当時のものがないとピンとこないと思うのは、私だけでしょうか? そこで、調べてみました。




○○○The Heijo Palace ruins: a massive and only partly excavated historic site○○○

Continuing our exploration of the ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara’, registered to the World Heritage list in 1998, this month we introduce the Heijo Palace ruins. The words for ‘Heijo Palace’ (平城宮, Heijo-kyu) and ‘the capital of ancient Nara’ (平城京, Heijo-kyo) are often confused, but actually the last kanji and the pronunciation are both slightly different.

The ancient Nara capital was established by Empress Genmei around 1,300 years ago, in 710. As the centre of the ‘ritsuryo’ government system it was modelled on Chang’an, the capital of Tang dynasty China. At the time more than 100,000 people lived in the capital. At the northern edge of the city sat Heijo Palace. It was a collection of government structures including the council hall and reception compound, where political and ritual ceremonies took place. It also included the imperial residence, offices for the everyday business of the government, and gardens for holding banquets and such. The palace was surrounded by walls with twelve gates, the main one being the ‘Suzakumon’. Only the imperial family, nobles, government officials and servants were permitted to enter. In 784, the capital and consequently the imperial residence were moved to Kyoto, ending the 74-year Nara period. It was an era that saw the flowering of the grand and splendid Tenpyo style of art, influenced by Buddhism and Tang dynasty China, and typified by the ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara’.

Heijo Palace was all but forgotten. It next came to light in 1852, when Kitaura Sadamasa surveyed the area and determined the former capital’s scale, and then in 1900, when Sekino Tadashi (who had examined and determined the period of the area’s architecture) campaigned for its preservation and protection.

Incidentally, does anyone feel uneasy about the ruins of Heijo Palace being World Heritage listed? After all, they are only ruins. When I explained about World Heritage sites in the August 2014 issue, I recall writing that sites must be material places in the real world, and that cultural heritage refers to monuments, structures, ruins, and scenery of cultural importance... Certainly the Heijo palace ruins must have parts buried underground and hence are ‘material’ I suppose, but above ground there are no remaining original structures, which is a little worrying for me. The Daikokuden (Imperial Audience Hall), Suzakumon gate, and East Palace Garden have all been reconstructed within the last twenty years. Is it just me who thinks that there ought to be at least something above the ground, even if it’s crumbling like the Parthenon in Greece? I investigated further.

The ruins of Heijo Palace are also registered by Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs under the category of ‘buried cultural properties’. I imagine that the Heijo Palace ruins were designated to be protected as a historically important site to Japan. But being within the bounds of Nara City, and covering an area over thirty times the size of a baseball stadium, there is a possibility that Japan’s ‘Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties’ may not be enough to protect it from future urban development. Perhaps the even greater honour of World Heritage listing was sought to allay this concern. And of course, there may still be more treasures buried, waiting to tell us of the past.

Next time we introduce another of the monuments of ancient Nara, Todai-ji.