Kyoto, located in Kansai, the southern region of the Honshu Island of Japan, is also referred to as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines, with very good reasons.
History of Kyoto
The city of Kyoto, born as Heian-kyo (平安京, Capital of Peace and Tranquility), was built as a small reproduction of Chang’an, the Tang capital, specifically to become the new capital of the Japanese Empire, and acted as such from 794 AD. In those years, Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇, Kanmu Tenno) felt the need for a new capital in order to distance himself and his court from the Buddhist clergy, that had become too involved the affairs of the Japanese Government.
The city of Kyoto remained the formal capital of Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1869, but with the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, by the Minamoto clan, and the increasing powers held by the military forces of the Shogun, the Capital started losing its authority, until the Meiji restoration, in which the Emperor regained all its power and the capital was moved to Tokyo.
Moving Around in Modern Kyoto
Today, Kyoto can be defined the culture capital of Japan, counting about 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, so while the nickname City of Ten Thousand Shrines might be overstating it, it is still an impressive amount of religious constructions for one city.
The Kyoto Municipal Subway has two lines, as opposed to many larger cities in Japan (Kyoto does count about 1.5 million inhabitants), the Karasuma and the Tozai Line. But it is also well connected to the rest of Japan through the JR Tokaido Shinkansen rail, which means visitors and tourist can reach this beautiful city in as little as two hours and a half from Tokyo. A great way to move around in Kyoto is by bus, the major mean of public transportation, in use since 1928.
Main Attractions and Sightseeing in Kyoto
As anticipated, Kyoto as many attractions and tourist locations that are simply a must for anyone visiting Japan. Among the most famous temples and shrines that well deserve a visit are: the Kiyomizu-dera, an ancient temple known for its watefall, the Kinkaku-ji, the world famous Golden Pavilion, the Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, the Ryoan-ji, known for its Zen Garden. Other great places to see are the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the Katsura Villa, the Philosopher’s Walk and of course Gion, the geisha quarter, that will bring you back all the way to imperial Japan and it’s fascinating traditions.
Festivals and Events in Kyoto
Of all the festivals and events held in Kyoto throughout the year, the most important and beautiful is probably the Gion Matsuri, running throughout all July, this festival fascinates tourists from all the world and Japanese alike, with several events during its complete duration, it is the perfect period for photographers to capture great pictures of geishas and other people in traditional japanese clothing and it is a great show of Japanese Folklore. Another event worth seeing in Kyoto is definitely the Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火) or Daimonji (大文字), held at the end of the Obon festivities, on August 16, each year. In this day, five giant fires are lit on the mountains surrounding Kyoto, picturing several Kanjis, their meaning is to send off the spirits of the loved ones to the spirit world, after their visit to our realm during the Obon.
Overall, if you are a Japan enthusiast, and love its folklore, its traditions and its history, or if you are just visiting Japan out of curiosity, Kyoto is the place you have to visit, this beautiful will fascinate and capture you, and my personal advice is to visit in July to, live the wonderful Gion Matsuri.