Asuka (飛鳥 in Chinese characters, the name of present-day Asuka Village, Nara Prefecture) (飛鳥)
Asuka is the name of a region located in vicinity of present day Asuka Village, Takaichi County, Nara Prefecture. The region is a small basin encircled by mountains, slopes, and the Asuka-gawa river centrally runs the small basin.
To differentiate it from Asuka of Kawachi Province (Habikino City, Osaka Prefecture) (also known as 'Chikatsu-Asuka' 'Kawachiasuka'), it is sometimes called 'Totsu Asuka' or 'Yamato Asuka.'
It is considered that Totsu Asuka refers to Asuka in the eastern south of Nara Basin.
It is not a name which was officially used only in the ancient time. In recent years, Asuka existed as a name of a local government unit, Asuka Village (飛鳥村) in this region, until Asuka Village (明日香村) was established after the municipal merger in 1956. Today, the regional name, Asuka (飛鳥) as a regional name still exists as aza (an administrative designation of small sections into which some of the rural districts of Japan are divided) of Asuka-mura village (明日香村). However, it is common that 'Asuka' (飛鳥) refers to the Asuka of Nara Prefecture, not referring to Asuka of Osaka Prefecture, mentioned at the beginning.
It is not clear about the word origin of 'Asuka,' though there are a few theories including the theory that the word came from abroad, and the theory that the word is based on the topography.
"Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) contains a few waka that begin with 'tobu torino' (飛ぶ鳥の; a flying bird).
Tobu tori no Asuka no sato wo Okite inaba Kimi ga atari wa Miezu ka mo aramu (If I depart and leave behind, the village of Asuka, where the birds fly, I shall no longer be able to see the place where you abide) (1-78)
Tobu tori no Asukano kawa no Kamitsuse ni Ouru Tamamo ha Shimotsuse ni nagare furau Tamamo nasu (In the River of Asuka, the gemweed growing along the upper shallows are touching each other by swinging in the flow toward lower shallows)(omitted)(2-194)
Tobu tori no Asuka no kawa no kamitsuse ni Ishibashi watashi shimotsuse ni uchihashi watasu ishibashi ni oinabikeru (On the Asuka River, where the birds fly, in the upper shoals there is a bridge of stone, and in the lower shoals a bridge of wood: The gem weed that grows on the bridge of stone) (omitted) (2-194)
Asuka' (飛鳥) is read as 'tobu tori' (飛ぶ鳥) (a flying bird), and it is a Makura kotoba (a set epithet) of 'Asuka' (明日香). It seems that it has connections with that many birds came to Asuka.
The district of Asuka
Today, the entire Asuka Village is referred to as Asuka, and some people refer to the region which even includes the neighborhood of Asuka. It seems that in the Nara period, Asuka refers to a narrower region. It was considered that it was not so large area mainly located in Asuka Basin and the east of the Asuka-gawa River (its flatland was equivalent to the area, 1.6 kilometers from the north to south, 0.8 Kilometers from east to west) (by Toshio KISHI, and so on).
Asuka no miyako (the capital of Asuka)
Imperial palaces of the emperors (King [Yamato Dynasty]) were established in this Asuka many times. About 100 years, from when Emperor Suiko ascended the throne at Toyura no miya Imperial residence in 592, until when Emperor Jito transferred to Fujiwara-kyo (the Fujiwara Palace; the ancient capital of Fujiwara) in 694, was called the Asuka period in the Japanese historical period table.
Asuka has been the center of politics and culture in Japan for a long period, and there were a number of palaces or residences of Gozoku (local ruling family). Naturalized citizens gradually started to live in the vicinity of Asuka, and the Yamatonoaya clan, which later became a powerful clan, established their residence in Hinokuma close to Asuka from early on.
In the middle of the sixth century, Buddhism was introduced in Asuka which made Asuka become a culturally sophisticated place. In the seventh century, Asuka became a central place of politics and culture in ancient Japan, and it is called 'Asuka no miyako' as it took on the character of a capital with city functions developed ("Ki" [also known as "Nihonshoki," or Chronicles of Japan]).
The list of imperial palaces (king) placed in Asuka
Toyura no Miya Palace
Oharida no Miya Palace
Okamoto no Miya Palace (also known as Asuka Okamono no Miya, an ancient Imperial Palace where Emperor Jomei lived)
Itabuki no Miya Palace
Kawahara no Miya Palace
Okamoto Palace (also known as Nochi no Asuka no Okamoto no Miya, an ancient Imperial Palace where Empress Saimei lived)
Asuka no Kiyomihara no Miya Palace
It is said that in the Asuka period, Toyura no Miya Palace was located to the west of Asuka, was on the other side across the Asuka-gawa River, and Oharida no Miya Palace was in the region called Oharida (also known as Owarida) to the north of Asuka. In that sense, strictly speaking, they were not the palaces established in Asuka. It is assumed that the mansion of Gozoku (local ruling family) was used for Toyura no Miya Palace. After envoys from Sui Dynasty came back and forth, Oharida no Miya Palace was built. In 603, it was transferred by Emperor Suiko. This is probably because a palace adequate to treat envoys from abroad was required.
In addition, it is often understood that Totsuasuka no Miya Palace of Emperor Ingyo stated in Kojiki (The Records of Ancient Matters) and Chikatsu Asuka no Yatsuri no Miya Palace of Emperor Kenzo stated in Nihonshoki were established in Asuka.
After Emperor Yuryaku (418 - 479) placed the imperial palace in Hatsuse, in the era of Emperor Yomei (585 - 587) the capital was transferred to Asuka. It is Asuka where the first Imperial Court was placed.