why did the capital of Japan change from Nara to Kyoto?

The capital of Japan changed from Nara to Kyoto in the year 794 AD, mainly due to political, social, and religious reasons:

  1. Political Centralization and Power Struggles: During the Nara period (710-794 AD), the emperor’s power was often overshadowed by the powerful Buddhist monasteries and the aristocratic families who controlled the government bureaucracy. The establishment of a new capital was a strategy by Emperor Kammu to consolidate his power and distance himself from the influential temples in Nara, particularly Tōdai-ji and its Great Buddha, which had grown too politically powerful.
  2. A Fresh Start: The move to Kyoto (then called Heian-kyō) was intended to mark a new era free from the old influences and conflicts. The emperor aimed to create a more manageable city that he could control more easily.
  3. Avoiding Natural Disasters: Nara faced several natural disasters, including flooding, which impacted the stability and functionality of the city as a capital. Kyoto was chosen partly because of its more favorable geographic location.
  4. Religious Considerations: Although Buddhism was a key factor in the move away from Nara, it remained integral to the new capital. Kyoto was established with the intention of appeasing the gods and ensuring divine favor, as well as creating a new sacred landscape with new temples and shrines.
  5. Ideal Geomancy (Feng Shui/Kyūryō): The choice of Kyoto was influenced by the principles of geomancy, aiming to choose a site that was auspicious and harmonious with nature. The location was believed to be spiritually and strategically superior to Nara.

Emperor Kammu moved the capital to Kyoto, and this marked the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185 AD), a time of great cultural flowering in Japanese history. Kyoto remained the imperial capital until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the capital was transferred to Tokyo (formerly Edo).

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