Created 2-Nov-12
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The palace is situated in the Kyōto-gyoen (京都御苑), a rectangular enclosure 1.3 km north to south and 0.7 km east to west which also contains the Sento Imperial Palace gardens. The Gyoen dates from the early Edo Period when the residence of high court nobles were grouped close together with the Palace and the area walled. When the capital was moved to Tokyo, the residences of the court nobles were demolished and most of Kyōto Gyoen is now a park open to the public. The Imperial Palace has been officially located in this area since the final abandonment of the Daidairi in late 12th century. However, it was already much earlier that the de facto residence of the emperors was often not in the Inner Palace of the original Heian period palace, but in one of the temporary residences in this part of the city and often provided to the emperor by powerful noble families. The present palace is a direct successor—after iterations of rebuilding—to one of these sato-dairi palaces, the Tsuchimikado Dono (土御門殿) of the Fujiwara clan. The Palace, like many of the oldest and most important buildings in Japan, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt many times over the course of its history. It has been destroyed and rebuilt eight times, six of them during the 250-year-long peace of the Edo Period. The version currently standing was completed in 1855, with an attempt at reproducing the Heian Period architecture and style of the original Dairi of the Heian Palace. The Palace Grounds include a number of buildings, along with the Imperial Residence, or dairi (内裏). The neighbouring building to the north is the sentō (仙洞), or residence of the retired Emperor.The main building on the Palace Grounds includes, among other halls, the Shishin-den (紫宸殿, Hall for State Ceremonies), Seiryō-den (清涼殿, Emperor's Habitual Residence), Ko-gosho (小御所, Court Room), Go-gakumonjo (御学問所, Imperial Study or Library), and a number of residences for the Empress, high-ranking aristocrats and government officials. The main gate on the front, south, side of the Palace has a cypress-wood roof, and is supported by four pillars. This gate would have been used on the rare occasions of the Emperor welcoming a foreign diplomat or dignitary, as well as for many other important ceremonies of the State. To the sides lies a fence separating the inner areas from the general Palace Grounds, and just past this main gate is a second gate, painted in vermilion and roofed in tile, which leads to the Shishin-den, the Hall for State Ceremonies. The Shishin-den was used for such important ceremonies as the coronation of an Emperor and installation of a Crown Prince. It is 33 by 23 metres in size, and features a traditional architectural style, with a gabled and hipped roof. On either side of its main stairway were planted trees which would become very famous and sacred, a cherry (sakura) on the eastern, left side, and a tachibana tree on the right to the west. The center of the Shishin-den is surrounded by a hisashi (庇), a long, thin hallway which surrounded the main wing of an aristocrat's home, in traditional Heian architecture. Within this is a wide open space, crossed by boarded-over sections, leading to the central throne room. The Throne itself, called takamikura (高御座), sits on an octagonal dais, five metres above the floor, and could be separated from the rest of the room by a curtain. The sliding door that hid the Emperor from view is called kenjō no shōji (賢聖障子), and had an image of 32 Chinese saints painted upon it, which became one of the primary models for all of Heian period painting. The Seiryō-den sits to the west of the Shishin-den, facing east. It, too, has a hipped and gabled roof, and is primarily cypress wood. Originally a place where the Emperor would conduct his own personal affairs, the Seiryō-den was later used for various gatherings and meetings as well. In the centre is an area where the Emperor would rest, and on the east side of the hall, an area of two tatami was set aside for dignitaries and aristocrats to sit. Here was where the Emperor could conduct formal affairs. On the north side of the hall was an enclosed area where the Emperor would sleep at night; later, Emperors began to use the official residence. The west side was set aside for the Emperor's breakfasts, and also contained the lavatories, while the south side was used by the keeper of the Imperial Archives. This area contained paintings by the masters of the Tosa school, and just outside, various rare bamboos were planted.
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