Scenes in and around the Capital

There is a genre of screen paintings called Rakuchu rakugai zu (Scenes in and around the Capital), which captures the early capital of Kyoto from a bird's-eye-view. These paintings, which usually come in the form of a pair of six-panel folding screens, captures in detail Kyoto's famous temples and shrines, the Imperial Palace, warrior residences, and various shops as well as the townspeople.

How do you think this screen of Kyoto came to be named Rakuchu rakugai zu? The reason for this lies in the historical fact that Kyoto was originally modeled after the Chinese Tang-dynasty (618-907) capital Chang'an (now Xian). At some early point, the western (right) half of Kyoto came to be called Choan-jo (Chang'an Castle) and the eastern (left) half, Rakuyo-jo (Castle of Luoyang, another early Chinese capital). However, the western half of Kyoto was full of wetlands and soon became desolate, and the name Choan-jo gained only nominal fame. On the other hand, the development of eastern Kyoto made Rakuyo synonymous with the capital, and the abbreviation Raku came to mean Kyoto itself.

During the 14th century, the Imperial Palace, the center of the capital, also moved over to the east, where the current Imperial Palace of Kyoto is located today. Rakuchu rakugai refers to the areas within Kyoto (raku chu, inside the capital) and its vicinity (raku gai, outside the capital). In the Momoyama period (1573-1615), the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98) built an earthen wall that surrounded the city. This wall encircled the eastern Rakuyo-jo part with additions extending to the north and east; this section came to be considered rakuchu.

So when did Scenes in and around the Capital actually come to be painted?

The earliest mention of this genre of screens that we know of appears in Sanetaka koki, the diary of the courtier Sanjonishi Sanetaka (1455-1537), a treasure trove of information on late medieval Kyoto. The entry, dated the twenty-second day of the twelfth month of Eisho 3 (1506), reads: "Lord Asakura of Echizen Province recently commissioned a pair of screens of Kyoto. They are a very rare set of new paintings by the official court painter Tosa Mitsunobu. It was quite exciting to see."

However, the existence of this pair of screens has not yet been confirmed. The oldest existing Rakuchu rakugai zu that we know of is the Machida-ke bon (Machida Family version), which was named after its former owners and now belongs to the National Museum of Japanese History in Sakura City, Chiba Prefecture. The depiction of Kyoto in this edition is thought to cover the years from 1530 to 1540. The National Museum of Japanese History also has another early edition, known as the Takahashi version by Kano Naonobu, the father of the famous Kano painter Eitoku (1543-90). The finest example, known as the Uesugi version, which has been passed down in the Uesugi clan for generations, is by Eitoku, who served as an official painter for the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-82), who gave this painting to the renowned warrior Uesugi Kenshin (1530-78).

The above examples are known as the "early Rakuchu rakugai zu." After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, the victorious Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) built Nijo Castle, which was added to the many "new Rakuchu rakugai zu" that later came to be painted. The version here (owned by Shimane Prefecture) is the earliest known example from this later phase.

The round facial expression and close detail given to the buildings are distinctive features of this work, which is almost identical in style to the version now owned by the Hayashibara Museum of Art in Okayama Prefecture (known as the Ikeda version, named after its former owner, the Ikeda clan). Can you believe that Kyoto is the only city in the world that has been painted in such detail in a single work by so many leading artists?

Text by by Hiroyuki Kano, Department of Fine Arts
Illustrations by Satoshi Ichida, Department of Public Relations
(Issued on December 13, 1997)