Strolling through this historical city featuring a concentration of the Sui and Tang dynasties, you will feel at one with the ancient souls who once inhabited this great land. When you listen to the ancient stories, you will understand the cultural significance of this heritage emanating from the unbroken imperial lineage of the royal bloodline. All these factors come together to represent the perfect balance of hard and soft, firm and yielding, yin and yang, which is common to all of humanity, creating a breathtaking spectacle that will leave every visitor with a unique experience.
The Chrysanthemum Throne
On May 1, 2019, Emperor Akihito renounced his throne, while Prince Naruhito succeeded to replace his highness and become the 126th emperor of Japan, thus beginning the first year of a new era, or “Reiwa.” The kanji characters for Reiwa are derived from a line of ancient Japanese poetry, which says: “It was in new spring, in a fair (rei) month, when the air was clear and the wind a gentle (wa) breeze.”
Compared with Tokyo, a metropolis bustling with skyscrapers and modernity, Kyoto deemed to preserve its ancient past as a living reminder to all of Japan’s magnificent cultural legacy. However, each fluttering flag on the streets with the word Reiwa ( 令和 ), reminds everyone that times have changed and a new emperor has ascended the throne. In celebration of the new emperor, everyone dressed in their best and queued at temples for hours to purchase an exquisite pamphlet as a token of blessing for the new emperor.
According to the legend, in 660 B.C., Emperor Jimmu, descended from the gods, enthroned himself and established his empire in the land of Japan, marking the first chapter of Japan’s greatest 2,679 years of history. Despite the fact that Japan had suffered through more than 2,000 years of war and battles for the throne, and the imperial power of the emperor had been threatened many times, the Chrysanthemum Dynasty had never been overthrown. From ancient times, the Japanese believe that the imperial family descended from the gods, and conserving the inheritance of the throne among the imperial family has become the most sacred and unshakable mission of the entire nation.
As the seal of the Imperial Family resembles a 16-petal chrysanthemum flower, the reign became known as The Unbroken Imperial Lineage of the Chrysanthemum Dynasty by subsequent generations.
Modern Japan: Rooted in the Sui and Tang dynasties
History shows that Japan was a nation of fighters who loved to battle. The Japanese people worship heroes who died in warfare and they pay their respects to heaven, earth, and their ancestors. This unique spiritual approach led to the creation of the Shinto religion, which is infused with Japan’s ethnic characteristics.
In the years of the Sui and Tang dynasties, envoys brought Chinese culture and Buddhism to Japan, initiating the Kanji culture among the community to form the basis of Japan’s unique civilization that still exists today.
In 794, Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara ( 奈良 ) to Heian-kyō ( 平安京 ) and built it in the image of Luoyang City of the Sui and Tang dynasties. Heian-kyō is now known as Kyoto. It was from Kyoto that the Sui and Tang civilizations were introduced to Japan and it rose to its peak; law, politics, the military, and religion were all growing, heralding an era of peace and prosperity across the land. Kyoto evolved into the political and cultural heart of Japan, a role it still plays today.
The city has been perfectly preserved for more than 1,200 years. It is thanks to the noble gesture of the Japanese leadership that this unique city has been preserved for the enjoyment and appreciation of humanity. Whether it is the incense scented surrounds of Kiyomizu Temple or the purity of the Shimogamo Shrine, all of these sites emanate a strong aura of history, making it feel like you have traveled back in time.
It wasn’t until 1869 that Emperor Meiji decided to move the capital to Edo. As Luoyang City was known as the “capital of the East,” the emperor took this as a reflection and changed the name to Tokyo, thus heralding in the next chapter in this great nation’s history.
The Japanese aesthetic of withered flowers and slashing blades
In Kyoto, the streets are full of history. The shrines and temples, spectacular natural beauty, bars and restaurants, stalls selling cured meat, desserts, antiques and china, the exotic geishas, tourists donning traditional dress… all these elements fuse together to create an impressive ancient city that is truly unique.
If you spend some time here, you will soon see the Bushido (“the way of warriors”) spirit that permeates the thousand-year-old Shinto fidelity that has been passed down through the sole lineage, combined with the peacefulness that is found in Zen Buddhism. Bushido is a Japanese collective term for the many codes of honor and ideals that dictated the samurai way of life, similar to the European concept of chivalry. There is an aesthetic element that is rooted in the very marrow of Japan’s bones, an element that stubbornly persists into the modern age, struggling and ultimately successfully reconciling modern politics with an imperial dynasty.
As the seal of the royal family, the chrysanthemum represents the dignity of the emperor, while the blade represents the defense of the throne. Throughout its long history, Japanese swords have been an integral part of heroic stories and legends, especially where lords or innocent people have been at risk.
Japan represents a unique achievement in the world today, its ancient culture and a dynasty dating back over a thousand years playing a successful role on the world stage. The cultural spirit of today’s Japan still embodies a refined etiquette in the treatment of others, self-restraint, and perseverance. Its ancient legacy has served this nation well.
Written by Lucy Wu and translated by Shuqun He