Kyoto (京都市) is the cultural capital of Japan. With about 2,000 temples and shrines, it is a true paradise for people who would like to learn more about Japanese culture. It was not without a reason that in 1945 the Americans had never considered dropping an atomic bomb on this city. From a cultural-historical point of view, that would have meant a great disaster for the country. It just shows how important this city is for the Japanese. And this city should definitely not be missed during your trip through this beautiful country. In this guide you will discover more about the history and the best sights of the ancient capital of Japan.
What would you like to know about Kyoto, Japan?
- A brief history of the cultural city of Kyoto
- Sightseeing – What to do in Kyoto?
- Accommodation – Where to stay?
- Transportation – How to get there?
A brief history of the cultural city of Kyoto
The history of the city of Kyoto dates back to the eighth century AD. It was the Emperor Kanmu at the time who decided to move the capital from Nara to a newly built settlement, today’s Kyoto. The reason for the move was that the Buddhist priests were becoming too powerful and that could lead to instability. The new place, which came to be called Heian-Kyo would become the capital of the country for over a thousand years. Heian-Kyo, by the way, means capital of peace.
Despite its central location, Kyoto suffered little from internal strife between the various landlords. Although in 1602 the Tokugawa family seized power and chose Edo, present-day Tokyo as their power base, Kyoto remained the country’s capital. This changed when Emperor Meiji moved to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in 1868.
During World War II, the Americans considered dropping an atomic bomb on the city. They thought it wiser not to do so because of the important cultural and historical value Kyoto represented in Japan. Kyoto was dropped and replaced by Nagasaki. Despite this, bombing raids were carried out on the city, but the damage was still fairly limited.
Sightseeing – What to do in Kyoto?
Wait a minute, did I say 2000 temples and shrines? Indeed I did! If you would like to visit all these places you would be busy for months (years?). But try to plan at least 3 full days for this fascinating city, which by the way is totally different from Tokyo: few high-rise buildings and less chaotic than the modern capital. It was not without a reason that it was founded in 794 under the name Heian-kyo, which means the capital of peace and tranquility. Below are a number of sights that you should definitely not miss during a visit.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha: The photo at the beginning of this article is from this shrine. It is located in the south of the city and is characterized by the approximately one thousand gates (torii) that you walk through. It is one of the best visited attractions in the city and on top of the mountain you have a beautiful view of the surroundings.
Kinkaku-ji: This golden pavilion was built in the 14th century by the then landlord (shogun) of Kyoto, Yoshimitsu (1358-1408). He decided to resign his duties as landlord at the age of 37 and became a monk. This building was his home and is now one of the city’s main attractions. And don’t forget to take beautiful pictures of this magnificent shrine.
Nijo-Jo: This castle was built by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is located in the middle of the city and is known for its beautiful interior and special nightingale floors. When entering these floors, you hear bird-like squeaking sounds, where intruders could easily be caught in the act back then.
Gion district: Located east of the Kamo River, this district is the place to spot geishas. A geisha is a lady in traditional dress who entertains her guests and serves them (with tea) in the proper sense of the word. Definitely a must during your stay in Kyoto.
Of course there are many more historical sites to be found in Kyoto. Soon an article will appear here with even more information about the attractions of this cultural city.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Kyoto?
The nicest district in Kyoto is of course Gion. Therefore, isn’t it a good idea to stay in the historic neighborhood of the geishas? This district can be reached by subway from Kyoto Station with a change at Karasuma-oike. Gion is located at the Sanjo stop.
Transportation – How to get to Kyoto?
The best way to reach Kyoto is by train. It doesn’t have its own airport, but within 50 minutes by train you’ll be at Osaka International Airport. From Tokyo it takes about 3 hours by bullet train, the Shinkansen to reach this cultural city. The main station of the city is Kyoto Station. From here you can take the subway and explore the city. Or you can take a walk and explore the center north of the station.
Next destination in Japan?
Kyoto is centrally located in Japan. To the east, head to cities like Nagoya, Nagano or Tokyo. To the south you go to the ancient capital Nara and to the west to cities like Osaka, Himeji and Hiroshima. So plenty of choice!
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