Matthew Stavros

Monumentalism and Power in Medieval Kyoto
Part I: The Muromachi Palace


Kyoto’s urban landscape was completely reimagined in the late fourteenth century through the ambitious building projects of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358–1408). This paper examines these projects, focusing particularly on the Muromachi Palace, the Zen temple of Shōkokuji, a monumental esoteric pagoda, and the imperial palace. The aim is to identify a grand urban vision and, more important, a guiding principle that inspired the warrior-aristocrat’s aspirations. Several interpretations will be explored, including the possibility that Yoshimitsu imagined himself a dharmarāja or cakravārtin, a universal monarch creating a capital emblematic of his transcendent status.

See also the second part of this lecture on the Kitayama Villa.


Matthew Stavros is a historian of early Japan at the University of Sydney and the author of Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan’s Premodern Capital (Hawai`i UP, 2014). His research focuses primarily on the urban and architectural history of Japan to 1700, with interests extending to religion, material culture, and monumentalism in East and Southeast Asia. He trained in architectural and urban history at Kyoto University and read history at Princeton University, where he earned a PhD in East Asian Studies. He teaches on all periods of Japanese history and historiography, research methods in Asian Studies, classical Japanese, and more broadly on the histories and cultures of East Asia. (See also his personal web project.)