Our speaker for the Kyoto Asian Studies Group April meeting will be Dr. Matthew Stavros of The University of Sydney, and Visiting Scholar at the University of Tokyo, who will present his paper, "What was "Medieval" about Medieval Kyoto?" (abstract below) on Tuesday, April 28th from 6pm-8pm, at the usual venue (Room 217, KCJS, see below for access info).
Abstract: Heian-kyo was meant to be a mononuclear capital: the imperial institution was its center of political, economic, and social gravity, and every constituent element of the cityscape was oriented, physically and philosophically, around a single, unified, public core. Private interests, however, undermined this ideal from very early on. Not only did the original capital fail to materialize as planned, alternative development patterns quickly emerged indicative of a society no longer aligned around a single political or economic nucleus. The imperial state, as an idea, had not become irrelevant but power, real power, shifted decisively from the imperial palace to the homes of court aristocrats, retired emperors, and religious institutions. Eventually appearing in documents as kenmon, a word meaning “great gate,” each of these centers of privatized power drew to itself a critical mass of human and material resources. Dense nodes of urban development sprang up in and around the capital, each oriented around a powerful kenmon. The formation of kenmon-centered urban nodes constituted a profound spatial transformation whereby the capital became a composite of urban islands, each with a distinct identity and the occupants of each enjoying a degree of political and economic autonomy. Most significant about nodal urban development is how it so vividly reflected an abandonment of the classical ideal of a mononuclear political, economic, and social universe. To be sure, the fragmentation, pluralization, and privatization of Kyoto’s urban space were stark indicators that, by about the tenth century, the capital had departed decisively from its classical era and become a medieval city.
In this talk, I will explore the phenomenon of nodal urban development as it occurred around four distinct types of privatized power: powerful civil aristocrats (such as the Fujiwara), wealthy commercial commoners in Shimogyo, temples on the capital’s outskirts, and the temple-palace complexes of several outstanding retired emperors. I will argue that the advent of nodal urban development constituted a profound spatial transformation whereby the capital evolved from a state and emperor-centric, mononuclear city into a composite of kenmon-centric urban islands associated more by proximity than a unified identity. The structure of the city became a homology of the socio-political condition of the medieval era: space, like authority, was fractured, privatized, and pluralistic.
Dr. Matthew Stavros is an urban historian specializing in architecture and space as elements of authority during the premodern era. Through the synthesis of textual, pictorial, and archaeological sources, his research attempts to reconstruct and analyse key urban landscapes and architectural monuments with the objective of drawing conclusions about warrior authority, political and economic relations, and religious legitimacy. Dr Stavros was trained in architectural and urban history at Kyoto University and he studied Japanese history at Princeton University. He presently teaches at the University of Sydney and is, annually, a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo's Historiographical Institute.
Sponsored by the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies
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