Performative Loci of the Imperial Edicts in the Shoku Nihongi, 749-70

Ross Bender

Nara’s hackneyed image as Japan’s “first permanent capital” in the minds of Western historians has been steadily undermined by the realization that in fact Nara was anything but. Shomu Tenno’s mid-century capital shuffling was described in 1991 by William Coaldrake as a reversion to the “peripatetic palace syndrome”, and a “brief revival of the indigenous notion of a capital as impermanent.” Joan Piggott discussed Shomu’s attempts to build capitals at Kuni and Shigaraki in terms of both factional struggles at court as well as religious pilgrimage, and recounted the sovereign’s “frequent royal progresses around the extended core.” Wayne Farris’ analysis of the archaeological record emphasized the portability of the Nara court and capital, detailing the remarkable way in which the major structures were packed up like monumental tents and transferred to new locations. Similar attention has not been given to the following reign, that of the “Last Empress” Koken/Shotoku Tenno. My study will argue that this sovereign was on the road to perhaps a greater degree than even her predecessor. I will demonstrate this by analyzing the imperial edicts recorded in the eighth century chronicle Shoku Nihongi for her reign. By comparing the contexts, contents, and text-types of the various edicts, I will illuminate the performative loci of imperial rule in this critical segment of late Nara history. The picture that emerges is that of a peregrinating monarch ruling by edict from not only the Heijo palace in Nara, but also from the grand Buddhist temples, mansions of the upper nobility, and temporary palaces in the course of magnificent royal progresses.

Performative Loci in the Imperial Edicts of Nara Japan, 749-70

Oral Tradition 24/1 (2009):249-268

Ross Bender,