According to wholevehicles, Kyoto has been the capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, during which time it has become the repository of the best achievements of Japanese art, culture, religion and thought. Pavilions with curved roofs are reflected here in the still surface of the ponds, coniferous trees grow neatly, it seems, right out of the rocks, and there are more than enough attractions for more than one eastern country. Among other things, Kyoto is an extremely urban, lively and youthful city with a lot of entertainment.
How to get there
The nearest airport is located in Osaka, from where trains run regularly to Kyoto (every half an hour, an hour and a half on the road) and buses (three times an hour, travel time is about an hour). From Tokyo to Kyoto, you can take the Shinkansen high-speed train in just 2 hours and a quarter. Another option is the Hikari and Kodama trains (just under 3 hours on the way). There are also many express buses from Tokyo and other major cities in the country to Kyoto.
History of Kyoto
According to archaeological data, the first settlements on the Japanese islands date back to 10,000 BC. e., however, about human activity in this area up to the 6th c. n. e. relatively little is known – it was during this period, as scientists believe, that the Kamomyoya Temple (or Shimogamo Temple) was founded in Kyoto.
In the 8th century, when powerful Buddhist monks began to take part in political affairs, the emperor decided to move the capital to another place, far from the influence of the monks. Thus, Emperor Kanmu chose the village of Uda, at that time located in the Kadono district of Yamashiro province. In 794, a new city, Heian-kyo, located on the site of modern Kyoto and representing a large-scale copy of the Chinese capital Chang’an of the Tang period, became the residence of the imperial court.
Despite the fact that the samurai rulers established their governments both in Kyoto (the Muromachi shogunate) and in other cities such as Kamakura (the Kamakura shogunate) and Edo (the Tokugawa shogunate), Kyoto remained the capital of Japan until the relocation of the imperial court to Edo (current Tokyo) in 1869.
Kyoto suffered greatly during the Onin War (1467-1477) and could not really restore its former power until the middle of the 16th century. At the end of the 16th century Toyotomi Hideyoshi is carrying out work to restore the city – new streets are being laid, walls are being erected, and temples are concentrated in the central part of Kyoto. Throughout the Edo period, Kyoto’s economy flourished and the city became one of the three largest in Japan.
The city’s economy began to weaken as a result of the incident near the Hamaguri gate in 1864, when 28 thousand houses burned down, and the subsequent transfer of the capital of Japan to Edo in 1869. April 1, 1889 is considered the date of foundation of modern Kyoto.
Entertainment and attractions in Kyoto
Tourists should definitely visit the Gosho Imperial Palace (founded in 794, the current building was built in 1855) with the Shishinden ceremonial hall, Sannaiden Palace, the living quarters of Emperor Seiryoden and the adjoining courtyard. Nijo Castle (1603) is also very interesting with the Ninomaru inner palace, famous for its unique system of “singing floors”, which at one time was a kind of security system, as well as the classic Japanese gardens of Ninomaru and Seiryu-en.
“Golden Pavilion” Kinkaku-ji (1397) with a roof covered with the thinnest golden plates and a unique sand garden, Rokuon-ji temple located on the shore of a picturesque lake, two-tiered “Silver Pavilion” Ginkaku-ji (1489).
Tofuku-ji (“temple of the treasures of the East”, 1236), the temple complex of Kiyomizu-dera (“Temple of Pure Water”, 798, rebuilt in 1633) with a ritual waterfall. The oldest temple in the city is Yasaka-Jinja (10-16 centuries) with a large park, the imperial villa of Katsura Rikyu with a unique landscape park (1624, admission is limited).
The famous rock gardens of Ryoan-ji and Sambo-In, the magnificent moss garden of the Saiho-ji temple (limited admission), the Katsura palace ensemble (17th century), To-ji temples (7th-17th centuries), Heian-Jingu (1895.), Nishi-Higashi, Nishi-Honganji (1272), Sanjusan-gedo (1164) and Tenryu-ji (16th century), as well as numerous imperial tombs, gardens and parks.
Gardens of Kyoto
The Kyoto Botanical Garden, also known as the Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden, is located next to the Kamo River and is famous for its sizable greenhouse with 4,500 plant species. The Botanical Garden, founded in 1924, fell into decline in 1946, and was reopened in 1961. As of 2007, about 120,000 plants belonging to 12,000 different species grew in the garden. Currently, the botanical garden consists of several zones, including a bamboo garden, a bonsai exposition; Camellia Garden, Cherry Garden, European Style Garden, Hydrangea Garden, Japanese Iris Garden, Lotus Pond, Peony Garden, Sunken Garden and more. While the greenhouse, opened in 1992, features a pineapple room, aquatic and insectivorous plants, desert plants, savanna plants, succulent plant forest, jungle zone, orchid section.
Other popular gardens in Kyoto are the Japanese garden around the Buddhist temple of Ginkaku-ji, the dry or rock garden, Ryoan-ji, and the masterpiece of Japanese gardening, the Katsura Imperial Villa Garden.
Parks of Kyoto
Kyoto is arguably Japan’s most beloved and popular spot for cherry blossom viewing, and there really is no shortage of cherry trees. And the most popular “sites” are Maruyama Park, the pearl of which is a weeping cherry tree illuminated at night, and a park laid out at the (former) Imperial Palace.
Another kind of entertainment is offered by the Iwatayama Monkey Park, located in the Arashiyama district and inhabited by more than 170 Japanese macaques, and owned by the Japanese film company Toei – Kyoto Studio Park – a film set and a theme park at the same time.
Temples of Kyoto
Despite numerous wars, fires and earthquakes, Kyoto was fortunately spared the devastation of World War II that befell other cities in Japan. With 2,000 religious sites located in Kyoto: 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces and gardens, Kyoto is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan.
Among the most famous temples in Kyoto and throughout Japan, the magnificent wooden temple Kiyomizu-dera, located on a hillside, should be noted; Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion, or Golden Temple); Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion); Ryoan-ji, famous for its rock garden, and the Shinto shrine of Heian-jingu, built in 1895 on the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the city of Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto).
Golden Temple in Kyoto
Zen Temple Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion, or Golden Temple), also known as Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple) is declared by UNESCO as one of the 17 cultural monuments of ancient Kyoto and is one of the most popular temples in all of Japan, attracting many visitors every year. Kinkaku got its name from the gold leaf covering the pavilion.
Kinkaku-ji was originally a villa owned by a noble kuge (Japanese aristocrat), and the history of the Golden Pavilion dates back to 1397, when the villa was acquired by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who made it part of a vast palace complex. According to Yoshimitsu’s wishes, after his death, the building was converted into a Zen temple.
During the Onin war (1467-1477), all the buildings of the complex, located away from the Golden Pavilion, were burned, and on July 2, 1950, the pavilion itself was burned down by a young monk.
The current building of the pavilion, dating from 1955, consists of three floors and is about 12.5 m high. In 1987, the lacquer coating and gilding of the temple were updated, which became much thicker than the original coating; inside the temple, paintings and a statue of Yoshimitsu have been restored.