by Lillian Csernica on December 6, 2015
A train ride and a short hike brought us to the Imperial Gardens that are part of the Palace Grounds. We had made a reservation for one of the tours given in English. The Imperial Household Agency runs these tours. We were directed to arrive twenty minutes ahead of time at a specific outer gate. There we found something of a staging area in the form of a gift shop with tables outside and the usual array of vending machines offering a variety of drinks.
Pat took the opportunity to sit for a while. The tour is a walking tour that takes close to an hour. I had a look inside the gift shop. In Japan it’s traditional to wrap up gifts in furoshiki, large squares of fabric that come in many beautiful designs. Much to my delight, this gift shop had a whole case devoted to furoshiki. The young man behind the counter was very kind in helping me look through the variety of colors and patterns until I found two that would suit the gifts for my mother and my sister.
This is where I got down to business in terms of serious research. Most of the story in the third novel in the Flower Maiden Saga takes place at the Imperial Palace. Tendo and Yuriko will be a long way from their allies in Satsuma, surrounded by the politics and prejudices that fill the Emperor’s Court.
In an earlier post I mentioned not seeing many Caucasian people while I was in Kyoto. As people began to assemble for the tour given in English, I heard French, German, Italian, and Russian. At the appointed time, our passports were checked again as we passed through one of the huge gates and into the outer courtyard. We assembled in a waiting room full of padded benches. There were lockers available free of charge, which was quite considerate. People with backpacks or heavy purses (like mine) could park them in a locker, the better to enjoy the tour.
Our guide was a wonderful lady named Yoshiko. She introduced herself, then the tour began with a short audiovisual presentation that gave us more detailed information on the Palace. Whoever wrote the tour guides’ script did a good job of providing more than just names, dates, and places. I suspect Yoshiko brought her own personal flair to the tour. As much Japanese history as I already know, there’s still so much more waiting for me. Yoshiko and I had a nice chat about the writings of Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon.
I am standing in front of the Kenreimon, the gate through which foreign dignitaries would be admitted to the outer courtyard of the Palace grounds. George W. Bush entered through this gate during one of his official visits to Japan.
The Jomeimon is the inner gate leading to the inner courtyard. Notice that blazing orange color, vermillion. It was at this point when our tour guide mentioned it that we learned the true purpose of this color. A fixed form of sunlight or fire, the color serves to drive away evil spirits. The structure visible through the pillars is the Shishinden, the building where the enthronement ceremonies of Emperor Taisho and Emperor Showa took place.
In the Shodaibunoma, there are three waiting rooms. Officials who had business with the Emperor were sorted into one of these three rooms according to rank and priority.
The first has screens painted with sakura, or cherry blossoms. I hope the people in the sakura room had packed a lunch, because they were probably sitting there for quite a while.
The middle room features tigers:
Cranes decorate the third room waiting room, where the most important people sat drinking tea until their turn came.
This is the room where the Emperor sat at his writing desk, receiving messengers, officials, and conducting the business of the empire. Inside the striped canopy is what amounts to the Emperor’s recliner where he could retire when he needed a break.
Notice the fu dogs seated outside the canopy. Fu dogs are the guardians of the sacred, which is why you see them at the gates of temples. The Emperor, being divine, deserved the same kind of veneration, respect, and protection.
To be there, looking at the rooms once occupied by the man believed to be descended from Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess herself, left me in a state of overwhelming awe. A thousand years of history had happened, all those lives, all those hopes and dreams, on the grounds where I stood. For a writer of historical fiction, it doesn’t get any better than this.