Rajomon (Rashomon) in the 11th century

Question raised by: Ingrid Parker

Discussants: Matthew Stavros, Wayne Farris, Lawrence Marceau, Ingrid Parker, Robert Borgen, Ivo Smits, John Bentley

(1) The name of the Kyoto gate is romanized either as Rashômon or Rajômon. Many discussants use internet-friendly -ou- or -oo- to represent the doubled o sound.
(2) There was an extensive discussion in 2001 on pmjs about this same gate

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Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2002 13:31:54 EST
From: Ingrid Parker
Subject: Rajo-mon in the 11th century

I am new to the list and certainly not a scholar of Japanese history or
literature. I am, however, a writer of historical mysteries and usually
desperate for historical/cultural materials about the 11th century. The
situation is aggravated by the fact that I do not read Japanese. So I was
very glad indeed to find pmjs, even if that occasion confronted me with the
shocking news that Rasho-mon (or Rajo-mon) did not exist in the 11th century.
Having used the landmark in one published story and in a novel about to come
out, you may imagine my reaction.

Now I don't proceed into fiction (where much is forgiven) without some
research and in this case I plunged back into it. Having re-checked my
sources, I offer the following evidence for the existence of the great gate.

My primary source for Heian-Kyo is Ponsonby-Fane, the most complete
description of the Heian capital I could find in English. Please don't
snicker. If there is a newer one, I'd like to know about it. As far as I can
see, Ponsonby-Fane's maps and facts have been re-used by everyone else who
has dealt with the city since. Ponsonby-Fane says "A Rajomon certainly
existed as far back as the time of the Fujiwara capital and was copied from
Ch'ang-an-fu . . ." (23-24).

R.K.Reischauer (EARLY JAPANESE HISTORY, 1937) also shows the location of the
gate on map 31 (probably based on Ponsonby-Fane).

Ivan Morris in THE WORLD OF THE SHINING PRINCE (1972) mentions Rashomon three

Rose Hempel in THE GOLDEN AGE OF JAPAN: 794-1192 (1983) shows the gate on her
map (23). On p. 46 she states that the figure of Tobatsu-Bishamon-Ten "is
said to have stood originally in the upper story of the Rasho-mon city gate."

The translation of A TALE OF FLOWERING FORTUNES (1980) by the McCulloughs
also includes a map of the capital, with the gate indicated, in the appendix.

So does Helen McCullough's translation of OKAGAMI.

Finally, the recent (1999) edition of THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF JAPAN, VOLUME
TWO: HEIAN JAPAN bases its map on TALE OF FLOWERING FORTUNES and refers to
the gate in the text as "formally the main entranceway to Heian" (106).

It is true that there are no direct references to the great gate in the
contemporary literature (at least I have not noticed them), but there was
relatively little travel by those talented ladies and the gate may well have
been such a commonplace that it was not specifically mentioned in the travel

It seems to me that the symbolic importance of the city plan required
Rashomon to be the primary gate. Apparently the Saikaido (leading to Naniwa
and the Inland Sea?) ended there and the road to Nara probably also did. It
is more than likely that it would have been meant as access for foreign
legations, who would have entered the city there, proceeded northward along
the fantastically wide Suzaku Avenue, past the foreign legation hostels, to
the the Suzaku Gate leading into the Greater Palace enclosure. Fires
destroyed wooden buildings regularly, but they were also quickly rebuilt. An
edifice with the importance of Rashomon would not have disappeared
permanently or for long periods of time, I think.

And last, for a confirmation of sorts from Japanese literature:
KONJAKU-MONOGATARI (completed in 1120) contains the famous tale about
Rashomon (29/18) which was later used by Akutagawa and led to the famous
film. In the Royall Tyler translation (JAPANESE TALES) it appears on page 88.
The tale is said to be about an event in the past, which likely puts the
incident into the 11th century or earlier. In any case, since the tales are
older than the collection date and the anonymous author of the tale
stipulates the existence of the (two-story) gate long before his own time, a
Rashomon must have existed well before the collection.

Sorry to make this long, but while I respect the superior knowledge of folks
who have posted on the subject, I have a very hard time believing my sources
to be wrong. I am not, by the way, the novel-writing acquaintance of Karl
Friday, whose question started the whole discussion.

Please advise.


Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2002 14:59:39 -0500
From: Matthew Stavros
Subject: Rajo-mon in the 11th century

Dear Ms. Park,

I can understand your frustration. I find myself equally confounded by questions of the actual or imaginary existence of urban monuments and structures. It's a particularly fraught dilemma in a place like Kyotowhich has been the the object of so many centuries of literary adulation-our perspective may be rather clouded.

If you have not yet see the following PMJS archive, please do so:

I made the point that the gate *was* likely constructed when the city was first planned. However, because the southern part of the city did notdevelop (until the late 16th c.), the southern entrance likely fellinto disuse, obviating the upkeep of the gate. There is little reliable (primary) textual documentation and even less archeological data to confirm that a gate did exist, however, considering the profile it has come to have in the discourse of Heian history and literature, and its original importance to the achievement of the idealized plan of the imperial city, there is likewise no particular reason to doubt that the gate did not in fact exist, albeit for a short time.

For curiosity's sake, the question of Rajo-mon's existence is compelling, however, in terms of Heian history, I think we should ask ourselves how relevant an issue it is. Personally, I get the sense that the gate itself (or the southern entrance to the city for that matter) did not necessarily serve as an important monument, either functionally or symbolically.

Someone else will be able to offer better advice on the efficacy of using Ponsonby-Fane as a source. I would say, nevertheless, that he and hishistory are products of their time and should be used with caution.

As for good urban history books in English, as you said, there are indeed few. (I'm working on that problem now). Have you seen, "Kyoto AsHistorical Background," by John W. Hall, in Hall and Mass, ed., Medieval Japan, Essays in Institutional History? Also, see the newest addition to the canon of literature on Kyoto's urban history, Suzanne Gay's The Moneylenders of Late Medieval Kyoto. The description of the early city is brief yet, as far as I can tell, right on! (Congratulations Professor Gay on a wonderful and most welcome book!).

Finally, if you might have any specific questions on the built-record of premodern Kyoto, it would be my pleasure to peruse the relevant Japanese literature in search of an answer.

I humbly offer my input,

Matthew Stavros

Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2002 17:51:04 -0500
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: Rashoomon

Dear all,
If I may quote my favorite scholar, on Rashoomon and Japan's ancient
capitals in general, I would recommend my SACRED TEXTS AND BURIED TREASURES.
There is a chapter on capitals. On p. 185, I note reliable sources that
stated that Rashoomon fell over in great winds in 816 and was apparently never
repaired. Later on p. 187, I wrote that no archaeological remains for the
Rashoomon have come to light as of yet.
Hope this clears things up. By the way, in myopinion Posonby-Fane,
Hall's essay, and the others are all badly out-of-date and lack any attention
to material evidence.
Best wishes,
Wayne Farris

Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 10:37:32 -0500
From: Lawrence Marceau
Subject: Rajo-mon in the 11th century

Matthew Stavros raises an important point regarding the
"functions" of the Rajou-mon (also, Rashou-mon, Raisei-mon)
in the Heian Capital. The standard encyclopedia I have
access to (Heibonsha's Sekai dai-hyakka jiten, 1972/1978)
certainly doesn't reflect current scholarship, but is still
useful in this regard. The record of court rituals and
ceremonies, Engi shiki (completed 927, promulgated 967),
stipulates a ceremony "Rajou no miagai ", the
"August Thank Offerings in the Outer Quarter (held once in
every reign; same in the Middle Palace)" (trans. Felicia
Bock, Engi-shiki, vol. 1, p. 104). The Nihon kokugo
daijiten says that this particular offering (eight slaves,
etc.=to whom/what were these offerings made?) occurred in
front of the Rajou-mon, at the accession of a new individual
to the Throne. It seems that something was going on at the
Rajo-mon in the mid-tenth century. Getting back to the
encyclopedia, the item by Takeda Masakazu states that indeed
the gate collapsed in heavy gales in 816, but that it was
subsequently rebuilt, and that the foundation stones were
reported to have survived into the early modern period
(17th-19th c.). The area never developed, so rumors arose
that bandits and "oni" resided there, and that corpses were
abandoned there.

Even if the gate were indeed in ruins by the early 11th
century, it seems that there would still have been enough
left for the creation of legends, such as those related to
Watanabe no Tsuna (953-1025) and his destruction of an "oni"
at the gate. As a "symbol," not of prestige and glory, but
of danger and decline, the gate was extremely powerful,
inspiring countless legends and tales over the span of
Japanese artistic and literary history, up to Kurosawa's
postwar film. In Edo, a section of the Yoshiwara pleasure
quarters came to be known as "Rashoumon" or "Rashoumon-gashi
(river bank)" because the courtesans there developed a
reputation for their aggressive tactics at "capturing"
customers and dragging them upstairs, just as the "oni" of
the old Rajou-mon had done in times past.

Lawrence Marceau

Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 10:57:11 EST
From: Ingrid Parker
Subject: Rajoo-mon information

My sincere thanks for the very kind responses by Matthew Stavros and Dr.
Farris to my question about the gate in the 11th century. I have made
grateful note of the sources and will get hold of them. Let me say that at
least for my purposes words such as "likely" and "apparently" are most
welcome. They rather leave some options open. In any case, fiction does not
require the same standards as history and I shall do very well with a small
end note on this matter. Let the great gate live!

Thank you both again. I hope I shall not become a nuisance in the future.


Ingrid (Parker)

Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 09:00:22 -0800
From: Robert Borgen
Subject: Gates

I wasn't going to do this, but Wayne set a precedent. Attentive readers of my own book on Michizane surely recall the following information in chapter five's footnote 30 (p. 364): the gate, however we want to romanize it, was said to have been blown down twice, first in 816 and again in 980, after which it was apparently not rebuilt. In 1023, Michinaga hauled away its foundation stones to recycle in a temple he was having built. My footnote cites the books where I found this interesting information, along with other bits of amusing trivia. As I recall, I did double check the relevant primary sources, but didn't bother citing them, since the whole thing seemed so tangential to what I was writing about.

I was thinking of this just a couple of days ago when I showed the movie "Rashomon" to one of my classes and wondered what Akutagawa and Kurosawa knew about their gate. Surely the compiler to Konjaku, where the story first appeared must have known it was no longer there when he was assembling his anecdotes. Was his story supposed to have been set in an earlier period, or was it meant to be purely fictional? In either case, it serves to remindus historians that we must be very cautious in evaluating our sources.


Date: Fri, 15 Mar 02 13:34:28 +0100
From: Ivo Smits <i.b.smits@let.LeidenUniv.nl>
Subject: Re: Rajo-mon, a P.S.

Dear all,

with my students I happen to be reading the story in "Konjaku monogatarishuu" (29:18) of the robber who climbed the second story of Rajoumon and found an old woman pulling the hair out of her mistress' corpse. This leads me to two queries/remarks, as a postscript,to the Rajou-mon thread earlier.

1) as Bob Borgen remarked earlier in this discussion, the 12th-century "Konjaku" contains several stories in which Rajoumon is presented as still standing. Should we read these as historical fiction, if we assume (as the evidence certainly suggests) that the gate was never rebuilt
after 980? BTW, it seems that there was an abortive attempt to re-rebuild the gate
in 1004 (Nihon kiryaku, Kankou1.uruu9.5, and Mido kanpakuki, Kankou2.9.10, according to Kokushi daijiten)

2) getting back to the question that set off the whole discussion ("Would the Tokaido leave from the Rasho gate or at the (I think it would be) Sanjo gate?"), the Konjaku story tells how the robber is hiding inside the gate (ground floor) because there are so many people on Suzaku
Avenue. Then he hears how travelers from Yamashiro Province arrive from the other side of the gate, so he hides upstairs. In other words, in this story Rajou-mon really functions as the main
entrance for travelers coming from the east of the capital. Is this at all reliable information?

And and extra point, but not one that really bothers me, is that Konjaku glosses have "Rasei-mon" rather than "Rajou-mon": or "Rashou-mon". Indeed, vol. 14 of "Kokushi daijiten" says that "Rasei" was the official designation, that "Rashou" was its " nformal name" (zokushou) and that only in the middle ages did "Rashou-mon" became the generally accepted pronunciation.

Best wishes,
Ivo Smits
Leiden University
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 07:17:05 -0600
From: "John R. Bentley" <jbentley1@niu.edu>
Subject: Re: Rajo-mon, a P.S.

Just a small note about this extra point.

And and extra point, but not one that really bothers me, is that Konjaku glosses have "Rasei-mon" rather than "Rajou-mon": or "Rashou-mon". Indeed, vol. 14 of "Kokushi daijiten" says that "Rasei"was the official designation, that "Rashou" was its "informal name"(zokushou) and that only in the middle ages did "Rashou-mon" became the generally accepted pronunciation.

Assuming the gate was completed in the early to mid Nara era, the name would have likely been based on the Chang'an dialect (of Late Middle Chinese) of Chinese. This results in Rasei-mon.
Likely, people later read the characters in the more nativized, earlier readings (so-called Go'on).

The idea of 'official' or 'informal' is, in my opinion, a rather misdirected explanation of what is probably nothing more than a simple linguistic phenomenon.


John Bentley
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 07:32:26 -0600
From: "John R. Bentley" <jbentley1@niu.edu>
Subject: Re: Rajo-mon, a P.S.

Sorry if my first posting was vague. My comments were directed to the
Kokushi daijiten and not Professor Smits.


John Bentley
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 09:27:49 -0600
From: "John R. Bentley" <jbentley1@niu.edu>
Subject: Re: Rajo-mon, a P.S.

Sorry to keep repeating myself.

Professor Smits reminded me that Heian-kyou wasn't built in the Nara period. I am under the
impression (correct me if I'm wrong) that the Rashou gate (or its concept) is originally Chinese,
so Heijou-kyou may have already had it.

At any rate, the kan-on reading is what I wish to draw attention to, and the fact that the populace in general probably kept the older Go-on reading.

Sorry for the confusion.

John Bentley_____________________________________________________________________
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 15:13:27 -0500
From: Lawrence Marceau <lmarceau@UDel.Edu>
Subject: Re: Rajo-mon, a P.S.

2 very small points and a question:

1. The earliest edifices of Heian-kyou were indeed planned
and constructed during the Nara period. I believe the South
Gate was one of the earliest built, even though it did
indeed collapse (several times).

2. Heijou-kyou (the Nara Capital) also had a
Rajou/Rashou/Rasei Gate, albeit on a smaller scale, I
suppose, than the later structure.

Therefore, John Bentley's assertion of a pronunciation
that approximated that imported from Chang an (Middle
Chinese) seems reasonable, with later shifts due to
alternative pronunciations as they appeared from other parts
of China in the 9th century.

I neither have a copy of Kokushi daijiten nor a Middle
Chinese dictionary at hand, but would the pronunciation be
the same whether the character were that for "life/draught
beer" (sei, sheng1) as it would be if the character were
"walled city/castle" (jô/shiro, cheng2)?


Lawrence Marceau
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 15:47:28 -0600
From: "John R. Bentley" <jbentley1@niu.edu>
Subject: Re: Rajo-mon, a P.S.

Lawrence Marceau wrote,

2 very small points and a question:

I neither have a copy of Kokushi daijitennor a Middle
Chinese dictionary at hand, but would the pronunciation be
the same whether the character were that for "life/draught
beer" (sei, sheng1) as it would be if the character were
"walled city/castle" (jô [shiro], cheng2)?

According to Pulleyblank's Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation
in both Early Middle Chinese (EMC) and Late Middle Chinese (LMC)
there is a difference.

[sei] sheng1 EMC SiajN LMC Sa:jN
[jô (shiro)] cheng2 EMC dziajN LMC SHiajN

[Note, S =voiceless retroflex fricative, N = velar nasal, H =
glottal fricative]

To the Japanese in the Nara era these may have been
pronounced almost identical. Old Japanese does not allow
voiced initials, other than in loans. I assume the gate was
pronounced something close to rajiau in Nara, but I'm
speculating off the top of my head here.

If the word had 'life' in it, it might have been pronounced
something close to ra-siau. Notice that velar nasals in
Chinese always go to -u in Japanese.

Not sure if that helps.

John Bentley

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