If there is one place where history resides more than anywhere else in Japan, it is in Kyōto (pop. 1,465,000). Capital of Japan from 794 to 1867, Kyōto totalizes no less than 17 sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, 24 museums and 37 universities and has hundreds more of temples and shrines.
Kyōto was laid out following a grid plan copied on the Chinese Tang capital of Chang'an (Xi'an). It is fairly easy to navigate between the perpendicular streets, as main avenues running from east to west are numbered from 1 to 10, the main thoroughfares being : Sanjō-dōri (3rd Ave), Shijō-dōri (4th Ave), Gojō-dōri (5th Ave) and Shichijō-dōri (7th Ave).
The main avenues running on a north-south axis are (from west to east) : Ōmiya-dōri, Horikawa-dōri, Karasuma-dōri, Kawaramachi-dōri and Higashiyama-dōri. Try to remember them as bus stops and train stations are usually named after avenues or junctions names.
Shopping streets with izakaya restaurants and departments stores are concentrated along the Sanjō-dōri, Shijō-dōri, Karasuma-dōri and Kawaramachi-dōri.
Kyōto is one of the rare cities (with Nara) which was spared the US carpet bombing during WWII in order to preserve the cultural heritage. But as visitors first set eyes on the city, the impression is one of chaotic concrete jumble. Postwar Japanese officials did not hesiate to tear down most of the traditional wooden houses in the name of modernity, leaving only temples, shrines and a few traditional districts (like Gion) standing.
As a result, tourist attractions are almost all confined to the outskirt of Kyoto, in areas like the Higashiyama to the east, Arashiyama to the west, as well as most of the north and a few sites along the JR Nara line to the south.
Zen Garden, Ginkaku-ji Temple
Maiko in the streets of Gion
Five-storied pagoda at night
|A little trivia...|
- Kyōto's oldest shrines are the Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines.
- Kyōto's oldest temple is the Kōryūji.
- Kyōto's oldest surviving building is the five-storied pagoda at the Daigo-ji Temple
- Japan's most important Rinzai Zen temple is the Nanzenji.
- Japan's highest pagoda is the one at Tō-ji Temple.
- Japan's tallest temple gate is the Sanmon at Chion-in, closely followed by those of Nanzenji and Higashi Honganji.
- The Goei-dō Hall of Higashi Honganji is one of the largest wooden structure in the world.
- The 800-year-old Chōjū-giga scrolls from Kōzanji are considered to be Japan's first manga.
List of attractions by area