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The palace was the residence of the Emperor, and many kinds of Imperial Court annual events were held here. For more than 1,000 years until 140 years ago the Emperor used to live here in Kyoto, and now lives in Tokyo. Incidentally, to see the palace visitors need to join the tour, in the same way as at the Katsura Imperial Villa and the Syugakuin Imperial Villa. Now, let’s look at this palace as a political device.
On entering the Kyoto Imperial Palace, you notice the vastness of the site and the relative newness of the buildings. These buildings were rebuilt about 160 years ago because of many big fires in Kyoto as well as in Tokyo, although their appearance remains the same as those of 1,200 years ago. Of the buildings you can see, this booklet covers the waiting room (known as the Shodaifu no ma), the main building (Shishin den) and the ceremony hall (Seiryo den).
At the beginning of this tour, you will see the waiting rooms, or Shodaifu no ma. In these three rooms, the pictures on the sliding doors are different for each room. Of these three, the one for the highest-ranking people is situated at the innermost location.As the rank of the people waiting would be lower, the room for them is closer to the entrance. In terms of pictures, tigers are painted on the doors of the room for high-ranking people, cranes for intermediate-ranking and cherry blossoms for low-ranking. The rank and pictures were closely connected.
Next, a look at the main building, or Shishin den. The corridors are painted a very bright red, stretching from both sides of the main building, and surround an area of ground covered with white gravel. This building is the heart of the palace, and stands magnificently. In the building, the most important ceremonies, just as important as the ceremony of succession to the throne, were held. Incidentally, people used different gates to enter the palace according to their rank. The main gate, called the Kenrei-mon gate, stands to the south of the main building. This is quite a grand structure, and forms the main access to the building. Only the highest class, i.e. the King, Queen and President, may use this gate.
Next, you can see the ceremony hall, or Seiryo-den. Originally, this building was used for daily life, but after the construction of another building known as the Otsune-goden, it became used for ceremonial purposes. Looking into this building from the outside, you can see tatami (floor mats made of a kind of straw) on the wooden floor. These tatami are thicker than usual, and the edging is richer as in those days the tatami also reflected ranking.
Looking up to the eaves and the top of the columns in the ceremony hall, you may find them simpler than those of the main hall or Shishin-den. This indicates that the position of the ceremony hall is lower than that of the main hall. The more complicated the upper parts of the pillars, the higher the position of the building.
The hierarchy is expressed in various ways: the pictures on the sliding doors in the waiting room, the gate on the outer wall, the type of tatami and the upper parts of the pillars. The same applies in Nijo Castle, the building for the military leader, but there is quite a difference between the two; in contrast with the ostentatiousness of Nijo Castle, the palace is quite simple as it inherits the tastes of the aristocrats of more than 1,200 years ago.