Kokufu (国府)

"Kokufu" is a place and city at which facilities were established for Kokushi (provincial governors in the nation's governing system in old days) to administer governmental affairs during the Nara and Heian periods. It is also called "Kokuga".

Facilities in Kokufu and their arrangement

The facilities where the Kokushi administered the government affairs were called "Kokucho" under the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code), whose surroundings were squarely demarcated by a fence or other means. The building where government affairs were mainly carried out was called "Seicho" (government office) in the province under the Ritsuryo system, county and "Josaku" (government office with defense system), therefore, Kokucho was often called Seicho as well. Kokucho and the surrounding government offices as well as its urban area were collectively called Kokuga or Kokufu. At present, the word "Kokuga" is sometimes used for the government offices only, as well as "Kokufu" for urban areas in historical study. However, in those days, both words could replace each other. Historically, the word "Kokufu" spread earlier than "Kokuga," therefore the word "Kokufu" was mainly used in the eighth century, while "Kokuga" was mainly used after the late Heian period.

There was little difference among each province in the structure of Kokucho. Kokucho built in a square lot was usually equipped with three buildings in the north, east and west, which was called "Seiden," "Higashi-wakiden" (palace located on the east side) and "Nishi-wakiden" (palace located on the west side) in that order, as well as a main gate in the south, all of which surrounded a square courtyard. In the Kokufu with the most sophisticated appearance, intersecting roads running north to south and east to west--the former started at the main gate of Kokucho--were the main streets. In addition, other facilities such as "Kanga" (government office), and "Kokushi-kan" (official residences for Kokushi) were established in the lot given after division. However, loose regulations were applied to the arrangement of the buildings surrounding Kokucho in many cases. There was no border between the inside and outside of Kokufu except the case that Kokufu was established at Josaku.

The building of the government office including Kokufu was called "Zoshi" (曹司) in Japan at the Ritsuryo period (period governed by Ritsuryo system). When these buildings were grouped in an area, the area was called "In." Kokushi-kan, including Kamiyakata (守館) (official residence for the highest-ranked Kokushi) and Sukeyakata (介館) (official residence for the second highest-ranked Kokushi), was an official residence for Kokushi. Kokushi originally administered the government affairs at Kokucho, although the center of the administration was shifted to Kokushi-kan after the mid Heian period. In spite of the custom that "Shoso" (warehouse) was established in the site of Kokufu, most Shoso in the local area were established at "Gunke" (municipal government office in a county) in the Nara period, because the county played an important role in collecting taxes. Moreover, there was also a workshop in Kokufu, where choyobutsu (national tax) for the central government was produced in compliance with the requests of officers working at the Kokufu. "Kuninokuriya" (also called "Kokufukuriya," a kitchen of "Kokufu") provided meals for people working at offices and workshops. There was a tateanajukyo (a pit dwelling house) complex as the residence for workers being engaged in the works at workshop and various miscellaneous duties. In addition, there was also a market. "Umaya" (facilities for providing horses, foods, etc.) were established for traffic over land. Port, called "Kozu," was often established for water transportation.

A provincial monastery and provincial nunnery had officially been built by each province since 741, however some provinces had already built their own temple having a collusive relationship with "Kokufu." In addition, "So-ja shrine" (shrine enshrining several gods) was built in the Heian period.

When these facilities were concentrated in one place, it provided an urban spectacle. However, in many Kokufu, these facilities were built dispersively, and not too close to each other. In addition to Kokushi, there were various staff such as Shisho (a person doing miscellaneous duties about documents), Kunihakase (teacher of Japanese classical literature), Kuniishi (local governmental doctor) and Yocho (laborer), whose numbers reached several dozens for small provinces and several hundreds for large province. The population is presumed to have reached 2,000 to 3,000 in a dense area such as Mutsu Province and Musashi Province.

Location and excavation of Kokufu

Kokufu was entirely extinct in the Muromachi period, whose location became uncertain. Wamyo-ruijusho (Japanese dictionary of Chinese characters) introduces the county where Kokufu existed, however further details were difficult to obtain. In research conducted until the 1960's, places whose name was associated with 'Kokufu' as 'Ko,' 'Kokubunji,' 'Soja' or names that are similar to the above were searched. Adding other circumstantial evidence to this research, the location of Kokufu was inferred to be a variety of different places. Not a few places were always put forward as a candidate of the location of Kokufu, however each place lacked decisive proof. Almost no one had knowledge concerning a concrete image of Kokufu.

However, after the excavation of the Kokufu of Omi Province in 1964, the ruins of Kokufu were excavated one after the other, which provided desperately needed change to the research effort. With the additional discovery of the ruins of gunga (county government offices) and temples, these elements made the common feature of Kokufu clear. Kokufu established from the Nara period to the early Heian period has a unique feature in its Seicho which consists of a square lot, Seiden, Wakiden and others. Since Seicho was the central facility of the Kokufu, discovering the Seicho is as good as determining the location of the Kokufu.

When the excavation was started, Kokufu was thought to be a miniature of a capital in the central government such as Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara) and Heian-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Kyoto). It was assumed that Kokufu adopted a threefold structure including a squarely demarcated line in the outer fold, placing Kokucho at the center of the lot surrounded by the government offices called Kokuga. As work on the excavation progressed, it was discovered that there was not a definite outer demarcated line in Kokufu, and that the stretch of urban area was not large enough to encompass the Kanga area; rather, it was a small additional parcel of land. However, the well-planned roads were constructed. Such roads include the road running north to south at the south main gate of Kokucho in Shimotsuke Province, as well as the neatly designed roads like the grid on a go (a Japanese game played with black and white stones on a board) board in a north part of Kokucho in Ise Province as well as Dazaifu (Government Headquarters in Kyushu) in the tenth century.

As of 2007, the number of Kokufu whose location was identified is substantial, nevertheless some Kokufu have not yet been identified. Considering the scale of Kokufu, its excavation amounts to excavating a whole city, therefore only identifying its location is insufficient to grasp all the details. The excavation continues in various districts.

Historical materials with a list of Kokufu (location of Kokufu)
A set of "Wamyo-ruijusho" in 20 volumes

"Irohajiru sho" (one of Japanese dictionaries in the Heian period)
A set of the enlarged edition of "Irohajiru sho" in 10 volumes

"Shugaisho" (an ancient encyclopedia)

Japanese-language dictionary in "Ekirin-bon"

*The original text is introduced in detail on the internet through the digital archive system of the university library.

* There is a theory that the location of Kokufu varied according to the era in which they were built, and this theory is based on the following facts: some descriptions on Kokufu agree, but others differ depending on the type of document; some documents do not contain any descriptions on certain Kokufu; and some documents mention only the name of the province in which the Kokufu was established without providing any further details. Historical records which have been subject to dispute because they record several candidate locations for Kokufu were compiled after the mid-Heian period, and there is another theory that the location of Kokufu that were established from the period around the Taika Reforms to the early Heian period differs from that established after the mid-Heian period. Furthermore, there is a theory that Kokufu was also located at the site where Kokubun-ji Temple and So-ja shrine were constructed. These theories caused controversy because they nominate various locations, and therefore the location of Kokufu must be identified carefully.

Place names originating in Kokufu

An ancient Kokufu remains nationwide as a place name "国府" in Chinese characters, which is pronounced 'Ko.'
"府中" (Fuchu) is a place name created in the Medieval and early Modern periods, derived from Kokufu and Shugo-sho (governor's office). Many place names written as "国府" in Chinese characters, which is pronounced 'Kokufu,' have been applied to the estimated site where Kokufu was located since the modern period. Some of the "国分" (Kokubu), which is assumably derived from Kokubun-ji Temple, changed their name to "国府".