Rakuchū-rakugai zu, scenes in and around Kyoto
Scenes in and around the Capital
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years. Its grid layout, articulated around the imperial palace, has inspired numerous painters. The best-known theme is the Rakuchū-rakugai zu, a type of composition depicting scenes in and around Kyoto.
The peaceful capital
Kyoto was Japan’s imperial capital from 794 to 1868, under the name of Heian-kyō (“peaceful/tranquil capital”). The original city was arranged in accordance with traditional Chinese feng shui following the model of the ancient Chinese capital of Chang’an. The Imperial Palace faced south, resulting in Ukyō (the right sector of the capital) being on the west, while Sakyō (the left sector) is on the east. The streets were organized following a grid pattern. Although the city’s name suggests tranquillity, its history has been marked by numerous fires and devastating confrontations until the relocation of the imperial capital to Tokyo.
Rakuchū-rakugai zu, a view of Kyoto and its suburbs
Paintings with views of Kyoto and its suburbs are known as rakuchū-rakugai zu, a term referring to “inside” the capital city (rakuchū) and “outside” (rakugai). Usually executed on screens, these pictures illustrate the famous scenic spots and important monuments that served as settings for seasonal festivals and entertainments.
The maplike composition of this pair of screens (see below) depicts festive scenes and iconic sites in and around Kyoto, among them bustling streets, temples, shrines, and canals set against a panoramic view of the river, surrounding hills, and suburbs. Screens of this type—encyclopedic visualizations that incorporate renowned scenic spots and monuments that served as settings for seasonal events—are also filled with images of townspeople whose customs, garments, mercantile and leisure activities, and modes of transportation are carefully documented. The majority of surviving Kyoto screens, like this pair, separate the city into east and west. On the right screen, the eastern half of the city and the summer Gion festival dominate the street activity, while the left screen shows Nijō Castle and the city’s western half. Text via Met museum
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left.
Take a walk inside the painting here