Kyoto combines the past with the present, and the present with the future. The former imperial capital excels in many areas, and its very name is linked to the idea of perfection. The old capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, Kyoto is imbued with history, culture, tradition and a charm beyond compare.
Though more than a millenium old, this beautiful city does not rest on its laurels. Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan, is an landmark for the arts, spirituality, and great food.
A stroll through Kyoto is intoxicating. The soothing zen garden of Ryoanji, with its famous stone landscape, Kinkakuji, or The Golden Pavilion, as it is called in the novel by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), the neighborhood of Gion and the Philosopher's Path enchant even the most jaded tourist. Insatiable travellers can explore the streets leading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, overlooking the city, browse the ceramics boutiques, and buy local specialties such as yatsuhashi (traditional Kyoto sweets). Or perhaps stroll through Nishiki Market, a long, covered alley where merchants display typical Kyoto ingredients at their stalls. In Maruyama Park, the cherry blossoms are a popular event in April, with revellers crowding under the flowers every year.
Routes for discovering Kyoto come in endless variations. There are nearly 1,600 Buddhist temples and over two hundred and fifty Shinto shrines in the city! Constantly in the presence of these monuments, visitors can feel the weight of the centuries of history. The old Heian-kyo, "capital of peace and tranquility," Kyoto first came to prominence around 1,000 years ago. The "Florence of the Far East," it boasts and jealously guards its treasures. While millions of tourists visit each year, including entire schools of students who come from all over Japan to explore the temples, shrines and gardens, there is far too much in Kyoto to be seen in just one visit. Visitors staying in the city for a couple of days should choose only a few attractions to visit, in order to fully appreciate their stay.
Included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kyoto has a prestigious past. Founded in 794, it became the seat of the Imperial Court at the expense of Nara, the political and religious center of the country. The reason? Religious persuasions were weighing too heavily on the Imperial Court. For over a thousand years, Kyoto has embodied the heart of the country. Though it was deprived in 1868 of the title of capital in favor of Tokyo, (formerly Edo) it will never cease to be the spiritual and artistic center of Japan.
Kyoto and the bomb
Surrounded by wooded hills of pine trees and bamboo groves, this city, built from a design based on the checkerboard pattern of the Chinese Tang capital Chang'an, was spared by the Americans. Kyoto did not suffer bombing during the Second World War. And yet, when the President of the United States Harry Truman decided to use atomic weapons against Japan, it was one of four cities selected as a potential target. The intervention of the French orientalist Serge Elisseeff persuaded the Pentagon to avoid irreparable damage. His argument: to do so would destroy priceless cultural treasures and would be detrimental, in time, to a reconciliation between the two countries. They listened.