Shirakawa (the surroundings of the old capital, Kyoto) (白河 (洛外))

Shirakawa (白河 or also written as 白川) is the name referring to the Shira-kawa River basin (Yodo-gawa River System) which was once included in Otagi County, Yamashiro Province, the Rakugai of Kyoto (outside of the capital Kyoto). It originally referred only to the area on the south side of Shira-kawa River, but later came also to include the area on the north side, with the south side named 'Minami Shirakawa/Shimo Shirakawa' and the north side named 'Kita Shirakawa' (according to "Yamashiro Meisho Shi" (Annals of Yamashiro's picturesque sites)). It currently belongs to Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, but was separated into Minami Shirakawa as Okazaki (Kyoto City) and Kita Shirakawa as Kita Shirakawa.


Shirakawa is understood as the area surrounded by Kita Shirakawa to the north, Higashiyama (Kyoto Prefecture) to the east, Okazaki or Awataguchi to the south and Kamo-gawa River (Yodo-gawa River System) to the west, centering around present-day Okazaki, Sakyo Ward, in the Shira-kawa River basin. The alluvial fan formed by the Shira-kawa River is thought to have been inhabited by humans from the prehistoric age as evidenced by dwelling sites from the Jomon period remaining in the area.


Shirakawa, immediately after the transfer of national capital to the city of Heian-kyo (old capital, present-day Kyoto), was one of the funeral areas including Toribeno. Awataguchi was an entrance to Osaka no seki (Osaka Barrier, which was one of the barriers of the road system of old Japan) and regarded as a major starting point of the road from Heian-kyo to Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, the term is used in the old days) via Omi Province. Also regarded as an important path to complement the road was Shimogamo-Otsu Line of Kyoto prefectural road and Shiga prefectural road No. 30, which crossed over Higashiyama (Kyoto Prefecture) in the upstream area of Shira-kawa River.

However, after FUJIWARA no Yoshifusa erected his betsugyo (villa), Shirakawa-dono Palace, villas and temples were erected one after another. FUJIWARA no Michinaga frequently hosted seasonal events like 'Kano no utage' (cherry blossom viewing party) and so force at the Shirakawa-dono Palace, and it is said that those from his branch families, FUJIWARA no Naritoki and FUJIWARA no Kinto, also set up their villas in Shirakawa. The Shirakawa-dono Palace was dedicated to the reigning Emperor, Emperor Shirakawa at the time of FUJIWARA no Morozane. Hossho-ji Temple was erected by Emperor Shirakawa, who appointed Kakuen, Morozane's biological elder brother Betto (the head priest). Later, the temple was referred to as 'Rokushoji' (or 'Rikushoji', The Six Victorious Temples) together with five temples which were erected by successive Emperors and Empresses. Emperor Shirakawa started to use Kakuen's once-used living quarters as his Gosho (Imperial Palace) (Shirakawa Izumi-dono) around 1090 after his retirement, then in 1115, erected the Shirakawa Minami-dono (South Imperial Palace) rebuilding the Shirakawa Izumi-dono, further in 1118, at the adjoining site, erected the Shirakawa Kita-dono (North Imperial Palace), and conducted the Insei (rule by the Retired Emperor) shuttling between the two Palaces. Since Shirakawa became the virtual center of mainstream politics, Shirakawa was called 'Kyo Shirakawa', even though it was originally located outside Heian-kyo. Documents including "Gyokuyo" (Diary of Kanezane KUJO) described how the land of Shirakawa, which had been an important area for traffic, was devastated and how the imperial palace and temples were kept ransacked by the poor and needy during and after the Genpei War (1180-1185, a war between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan in which the latter defeated the former and established the Kamakura shogunate government).

After the Kamakura period (1185-1333) began, the central part of Shirakawa have been referred to as 'Okazaki,' and when the Retired Emperor Gotoba erected his palace in Shirakawa in 1208, it was named the 'Okazaki Imperial Palace' (according to "Hyakuren sho"--a history book from the Kamakura period); since then, the name of Okazaki have been used too. In the Kamakura period, housing land development advanced in Okazaki (Shirakawa), and the north side of the Shira-kawa River which was originally not in Shirakawa was included in its geographical coverage. Also, Nanzen-ji Temple was founded. It is considered that the fire which burnt Hossho-ji Temple in the Northern and Southern Court period was caused by the fire from a house nearby (according to "Taiheiki" (The Record of the Great Peace)--a Chronicle of Medieval Japan).

During the Muromachi period, 'Okazaki' was established as a name for Minami Shirakawa, whereas 'Shirakawa' became to refer to Kita Shirakawa, the area on the north side of the Shira-kawa River. During the Onin War, both areas were directly affected by the turbulent war period such that Okazaki became a battleground, whereas Kitashirakawa-jo Castle was built in Higashiyama which was within a stone's throw of Kita Shirakawa where offensive and defensive battles were frequently fought. Yet, Kita Shirakawa became famous by activities including water wheel-driven rice polishing and flower peddling by Shirakawame (women from Shirakawa selling flowers).

During the Edo period, Kita Shirakawa solely formed 'Shirakawa-mura village', which became Shirakawa-mura, Otagi County (Kyoto Prefecture) in the Meiji Era. In contrast, as early as 1888, Okazaki was incorporated into the then Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City and became a part of municipality established in Kyoto City. In 1896, Heian-jingu Shrine was founded in Okazaki, which facilitated the integration of the area with the central part of Kyoto City. In 1897, the Faculty of Science, Kyoto Imperial University was established in Shirakawa-mura, which started to make Kita Shirakawa also the student quarter. In 1918, Shirakawa-mura was merged with Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City. Along with the ward-restructuring in 1929, Okazaki and Kita Shirakawa had belonged to Sakyo Ward.

Shirakawa-yofune (being fast asleep and totally unaware of what is going on around one)

Shirakawa yofune' (Sound asleep) means that someone was fast asleep and totally unaware of what was going on around, which is based on the anecdote-- when a lier told that he had been on a journey to Kyoto, and he was asked about the Shirakawa area, he thought he was asked about the Shira-kawa River and told that he was not aware much of the river because he traveled down the river by boat in darkness of night, there, he was caught in his lie. In the past, this term meant a "know-it-all" attitude such as saying as if someone had seen things he hadn't.