Kyoto is a city in the central part of the island of Honshu, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.
Long ago and for many years (794-1868) the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is its cultural heart. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than 1,600 Buddhist temples, and over 400 Shinto shrines, Kyoto is one of the most culturally-rich cities in the world and is the heart and soul of traditional Japan. With the mysterious Gion district, it is also one of the most evocative. There is simply nowhere more special than Kyoto. It is home to everything we associate with traditional Japan: vermillion temples, mysterious geisha, the sacred tea ceremony, Zen rock gardens, three imperial palaces, sumptuous cuisine, glittering kimono, bamboo groves, street-corner shrines, ancient festivals, and much more. At first glance, Kyoto shows its fair share of neon and concrete. However, a more discerning eye will soon pick out some of Kyoto's many treasures – sacred shrines tucked in among shopping arcades, time-honored teahouses nestled among modern businesses, and mysterious geisha scurrying along back streets among the tourists and souvenirs. Kyoto's charm lies in these details and, whether you're here for three days or three years, the closer you look, the more you'll discover. Most of Japan's most popular and iconic images can be traced back to Kyoto and, to understand Japan truly, one must spend time in the back streets and alleyways of this old imperial capital. Enjoy!
Kyoto was located in a valley, part of the Yamashiro (or Kyoto) Basin, in the eastern part of the mountainous region known as the Tamba Highlands. The Yamashiro Basin is surrounded on three sides by mountains known as Higashiyama, Kitayama, and Nishiyama, with a height just under 1,000 meters above sea level. This interior positioning results in hot summers and cold winters. There are three rivers in the basin, the Ujigawa to the south, the Katsuragawa to the west, and the Kamogawa to the east. Kyoto City takes up 17.9% of the land in the prefecture with an area of 827.9 km squared.
The original city was arranged in accordance with traditional Chinese geomancy following the model of the ancient Chinese capital of Chang'an (present-day Xi'an). The Imperial Palace faced south, resulting in Ukyō (the right sector of the capital) being on the west while Sakyō (the left sector) is on the east. The streets in the modern-day wards of Nakagyō, Shimogyō, and Kamigyō still follow a grid pattern.
Today, the main business district is located to the south of the old Imperial Palace, with the less-populated northern area retaining a far greener feel. Surrounding areas do not follow the same grid pattern as the center of the city, though streets throughout Kyoto share the distinction of having names.
Kyoto sits atop a large natural water table that provides the city with ample freshwater wells. Due to large scale urbanization, the amount of rain draining into the table is dwindling and wells across the area are drying at an increasing rate.
Although ravaged by wars, fires, and earthquakes during its eleven centuries as the imperial capital, Kyoto was spared from the firebombing of World War II. With its 2000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact, it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. Among the most famous temples in Japan are Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain; Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion; and Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion; and Ryōan-ji, famous for its rock garden. The Heian Jingū is a Shinto shrine celebrating the Imperial family (built in 1895) and commemorating the first and last emperors to reside in Kyoto. Three special sites have connections to the imperial family: Kyoto Imperial Palace, home of the Emperors of Japan for many centuries; Katsura Imperial Villa, one of the nation's finest architectural treasures; and Shugaku-in Imperial Villa, one of its best Japanese gardens.
Other notable sites in and around Kyoto include Arashiyama and its picturesque lake, the Gion and Pontochō geisha quarters, the Philosopher's Walk, and the canals which line some of the older streets.
The "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" are listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. These include the Kamo Shrines (Kami and Shimo), Kyō-ō-Gokokuji (Tō-ji), Kiyomizu-dera, Daigo-ji, Ninna-ji, Saihō-ji (Kokedera), Tenryū-ji, Rokuon-ji (Kinkaku-ji), Jishō-ji (Ginkaku-ji), Ryōan-ji, Hongan-ji, Kōzan-ji and the Nijo Castle, primarily built by the Tokugawa shoguns. Other sites outside the city are also on the list.
Kyoto is renowned for its abundance of delicious Japanese foods and cuisine. The special circumstances of Kyoto as a city away from the sea and home to many Buddhist temples resulted in the development of a variety of vegetables peculiar to the Kyoto area.
Japan's television and film industry has its center in Kyoto. Many jidaigeki, action films featuring samurai, were shot at Toei Uzumasa Eigamura. A film set and theme park in one, Eigamura features replicas of traditional Japanese buildings which are used for jidaigeki. Among the sets are a replica of the old Nihonbashi (the bridge at the entry to Edo), a traditional courthouse, a Meiji Period police box and part of the former Yoshiwara red-light district. Actual film shooting takes place occasionally, and visitors are welcome to observe the action.
JOURNEYS trips that include Kyoto:
Cherry Blossoms of Japan
Information based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto