Using the example of capital cities, this paper addresses the issue of cultural borrowing and the subsequent modification of imported ideas in ancient Japan. It is common knowledge that during the early centuries CE the ruling elites of the Japanese archipelago were heavily dependent on Chinese archetypes and prototypes for the formation of the early state. Unquestionably, one of the most visually striking and impressive examples of this process of cultural borrowing was the establishment of large, semi-permanent urban centers. Laid out on a gridiron pattern with a clearly delineated space reserved for the ruler’s residential quarters as well as for the apparatus of government—itself also mostly newly introduced—these cities symbolized the power of the ruler and the political, social and cultural center of the recently emerged state. In order to explain how the Chinese archetype was adopted and adapted, this paper briefly traces the evolution of gridiron cities. Then it addresses the process of selecting a suitable site for the establishment of these cities. In most cases, this process is mentioned only briefly by referring to lofty ideals and/or to esoteric practices but has received little scholarly attention so far.