25 Facts About Kyoto

Updated on March 7, 2018

Kyoto (also Kyōto) is former capital of Japan and for more than a thousand years the center of traditional Japanese culture. Located in west-central Honshu, in the picturesque valley of the Kamo River with surrounding mountains, it is one of the most historic and attractive of the world's cities.

1. For the traveler, whether Japanese or foreign, Kyoto is a place of endless fascination and delight. It is reached easily from Osaka International Airport or in about three hours by superexpress train from Tokyo.

2. Kyoto forms part of a large urban complex referred to as the Kinki region, which includes Osaka and Kobe as well.

3. Kyoto preserves much of its historical charm and beauty in its many temples and shrines, its parks and gardens, and its old wooden houses with their gray tile roofs.

4. This city is also an important industrial center, suffering as all Japanese cities do from overcrowding, transportation bottlenecks, environmental pollution, and urban blight. In response to these problems, the government in 1965 passed the Kinki Region Development Law, which attempts to control land use, transportation, and air quality in the area.

Downtown Kyoto
Downtown Kyoto | Source

5. Kyoto has several hundred Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, a castle, three palaces, beautiful parks and gardens, numerous museums, and more than 30 colleges and universities.

6. Kyoto also has many picturesque and historically interesting sites in the environs. These include Arashiyama with its river and temples, the tea-growing district around Uji, Mt. Hiei with the historic Enryaku Monastery, and Lake Biwa with its beautiful views.

7. Among the secular monuments in Kyoto, the three that usually are mentioned as the most outstanding are the Imperial Palace, the Nijo Castle, and the Katsura Imperial Villa.

8. The palace, or Gosho, is located in a park of 200 acres (80 ha) surrounded by high walls. The present buildings duplicate the simple lines and beautiful proportions of those of the Heian period (794–1192). The palace is especially noteworthy for its use of natural materials, including wood, bamboo, bark, straw, and paper; for the elegance and beauty of its design; and for its lovely blending of landscape and structure. These features have never been surpassed.

Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle | Source

9. The Nijo Castle, erected early in the 17th century for Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa military dynasty, is one of the most splendid of all Japanese structures. Besides being a fine example of traditional Japanese architecture, it is famous for its painted decorations executed by Kano Tanyu and his assistants and for its beautiful garden designed by Kobori Enshu.

10. The outlying Katsura Villa, also built in the 17th century, is regarded as the masterpiece of Japanese domestic architecture. Modern Western architects, such as Wright, Taut, Gropius, and Le Corbusier, have made pilgrimages to view it and have pronounced it one of the great architectural jewels of the world.

11. Of the three great Shinto shrines in Kyoto, the Heian Jingu was erected only in 1895, to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of the city. It is, however, a most impressive structure, based on the old Imperial Palace.

Daitokuji | Source

12. The Yasaka Shrine, founded in the 7th century, is dedicated to Susa-no-wo, the patron deity of Kyoto.

13. The Kitano Shrine, established in the 10th century, honors the Heian statesman Sugawara Michizane. The buildings of both are 17th-century reconstructions.

14. Some of Kyoto's Buddhist temples are considered among the finest in all Japan.

15. Daitokuji, the center of Zen Buddhism, was founded in the 14th century, but the main buildings date from the 16th century. It is famous for its paintings and gardens as well as its architecture.

16. Kinkakuji contains the lovely Golden Pavilion built in the 14th century as the gilded retreat of the military ruler Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and reconstructed in 1955 after a fire.

Ryoanji | Source

17. Ryoanji, founded in the 15th century, is noted for its magnificent rock garden designed by Soami under Zen inspiration. Sanjusangendo, on the other hand, is celebrated for its large 13th-century hall and 1,000-armed sculpture of the deity Kannon.

18. Nishi Hoganji, founded in the 13th century, is the headquarters of the Jodo Shin sect. Some of its marvelous artworks come from Hideyoshi's castle that once stood in the Fushimi district.

19. The Kyomizu-dera, which was founded about 800 but with present buildings mostly of the 17th century, offers a panoramic view of the city.

20. Many splendid Buddhist establishments lie outside the city proper. The most outstanding are the Byodoin in Uji, with its Heian-period Phoenix Hall, and the Samboin, famous for its gardens and its art collection.

21. Of the city's museums, the Kyoto Kokuritsu Hakubutsakan (Kyoto National Museum), with its extensive collection of Japanese paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, is the most noteworthy. The work of contemporary artists is exhibited in the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

22. Kyoto University, established in 1897 and one of the former imperial universities, is considered the best in Japan after Tokyo University.

23. The prestigious Doshisha University is a Christian school founded in 1875 by Joseph Niijima in cooperation with the American Board of Foreign Missions.

24. Other important educational institutions include the Kyoto Institute of Technology, the Kyoto City University of Arts, Ryukoko University, and Ritsumeikan University.

25. The original name of Kyoto was Heiankyo, or Capital of Peace, but the city came to be called Kyoto, meaning the Capital. Although it now ranks only sixth in population among Japanese urban centers, it was for many centuries the largest city in the country and one of the most populous in the world. It is estimated to have had a half-million people by the 16th century, when few cities in Europe were that large.


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