Traditionally, the home of the Emperor was considered the capital. From 794 through 1868, the Emperor lived in Kyoto. After 1868, the seat of the Government of Japan and the location of the Emperor's home was Tokyo.
In 1941, the Ministry of Education published the "designation of Tokyo as capital" (東京奠都,Tōkyō-tento?).
After World War II, the new Constitution of Japan transferred the state's sovereignty from the Emperor to the people. The people of Japan are represented by the Diet of Japan in Tokyo. Consensus considers the site of the Diet is the capital of Japan.
Law and custom
While no laws have designated Tokyo as the Japanese capital, many laws have defined a "capital area" (首都圏,shuto-ken?) that incorporates Tokyo. Article 2 of the Capital Area Consolidation Law (首都圏整備法?) of 1956 states that "In this Act, the term 'capital area' shall denote a broad region comprising both the territory of Tokyo Metropolis as well as outlying regions designated by cabinet order." This clearly implies that the government has designated Tokyo as the capital of Japan, although (again) it is not explicitly stated, and the definition of the "capital area" is purposely restricted to the terms of that specific law.
Other laws referring to this "capital area" include the Capital Expressway Public Corporation Law (首都高速道路公団法?) and the Capital Area Greenbelt Preservation Law (首都圏近郊緑地保全法?).
This term for capital was never used to refer to Kyoto. Indeed, shuto came into use during the 1860s as a gloss of the English term "capital".
The Ministry of Education published a book called "History of the Restoration"in 1941. This book referred to the "designation of Tokyo as capital" (東京奠都,Tōkyō-tento?) without talking about "moving the capital to Tokyo" (東京遷都,Tōkyō-sento?). A contemporary history textbook states that the Meiji government "moved the capital (shuto) from Kyoto to Tokyo" without using the sento term.
Recently, there has been a movement to transfer the capital from Tokyo, with the Gifu-Aichi region, the Mie-Kio region and other regions submitting bids for it. Officially, the relocation is referred to as "capital functions relocation" instead of "capital relocation", or as "relocation of the Diet and other organizations".
List of capitals
This list of legendary capitals of Japan begins with the reign of Emperor Jimmu. The names of the Imperial palaces are in parentheses.
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Kashiwabara, Yamato at the foot of Mt. Unebi during reign of Emperor Jimmu
Fiévé, Nicolas and Paul Waley. (2003). Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective: Place, Power and Memory in Kyoto, Edo and Tokyo. New York: Psychology Press. 10-ISBN 070071409X/13-ISBN 9780700714094