"Cultural Capital Kyoto" Top 5 Page for this destination Kyoto by Rabbityama

Kyoto Travel Guide: 1,948 reviews and 6,217 photos

Kyoto became the nation's capital in 794, ushering in the Heian Period. The city was modeled after the Chinese capital Chang-an in a grid and called Heian-kyo. Toji Temple (East Temple) and Saiji Temple (West Temple, no longer there) sat on each side of the city's southern gate and the Imperial Palace was at the opposite end in the north.

Although today you'll find many temples in the city, aside from those at the gate, temples were initially kept out of the capital, because the power and influence of temple priests in politics was one of the reasons the capital had been moved out of Nara, so Jingoji Temple was set up in the mountains of the Takao region in the northwest and headed the Shingon sect under Kukai, while Enryakuji Temple was established atop Mount Hiei in the northeast of the city to head the Tendai sect. This meant that pilgrims and temple priests/servants had to climb up and down the mountains to get to and from the capital, keeping them from meddling in court affairs. Both of these temples still exist today, and Enryakuji Temple remains the head of the Tendai sect. Jingoji Temple remains important, but the Shingon head temple is now to the far south of Kyoto on Mount Koya.

The Heian Period was a glorious time in Japanese history when many famous books and poems were written, such as the Tale of Genji. Despite the initial placing of temples outside the capital, Buddhism flourished during this period among both the public and the court. Paintings, religious artwork, and sculptures were also a part of the Heian culture. The court designated special shrines where they would make offerings, many of which are in Kyoto (Kamigamo Shrine, Shimogamo Shrine, Hirano Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Yasaka Shrine, Yoshida Shrine, Oharano Shrine, Matsuo Shrine, and Umenomiya Shrine). All of these shrines are still there today, although many do not date back to the Heian Period.

The city thrived as the capital and home of the Imperial court for hundreds of years until the Onin War in 1467 which arose from a dispute regarding who would rule once the current shogun had retired. It lasted 10 years, resulting in the emergence of the famous daimyo Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, the decline of the Ashikaga Shogunate, and the destruction of much of the city. It was during this time that Ginkakuji Temple was constructed.

National Capital to Cultural Capital

While it took many years for the city to recover, it did remain capital and home of the court for many years and once it recovered, it once again became a prosperous city. The capital and emperor finally withdrew from the city and moved to Edo (Tokyo) in 1869 after the Hamaguri Rebellion.

While many of the nation's treasures were destroyed by bombings in World War II, the city of Kyoto was spared devastating air raids, as well as the nuclear bombings. This is what has made Kyoto the nation's cultural capital! It's historical structures were spared during the war, so visitors can appreciate them today! The city does still face problems, as historic buildings are constantly being demolished in order to build new structures. Kyoto Station is actually controversial, as it is a very large, modern structure built in a very historic city. Many people resent it, because it represents exactly what they don't want the city to become. The nation already has Tokyo!

Regardless of your feelings about the station, outside the center, the city is gorgeous and crawling with temples, shrines, teahouses, imperial residences and villas, nature... It's one of the greatest historical city's in the world! It's really a must for anyone with an interest in Japanese history and culture, for so much of it is captured here!

I don't think there could possibly be another city in the entire world that possesses more cultural and historic sights than KYOTO! If you believe otherwise, I'd be very interested in hearing about the city you feel has MORE cultural and historic sights. By no means have I explored every city!

Regions of Kyoto

I created the travelogue pages below to give visitors an idea of where the sites are in the city in hopes that it will help make the city easier to manage when planning a trip. So many people get overwhelmed when they realize how many options there are in Kyoto.

Even so, it is important to know that travel between the areas is very easy, so there is no need to necessarily limit yourself to any one region or subregion. Plus, sites located near the borders of regions are sometimes closer than other sites within the region (Shimogamo Shrine is just a short walk away from the northern part of Kyoto Imperial Park, for example).

Also note that I didn't creat a "Southern Kyoto" album, because I've placed the Matsuo area and Oharano area in the "Arashiyama and Western Kyoto" album and the Fushimi and Daigo areas in the "Higashiyama and Eastern Kyoto" album, because they are in the southwest and southeast respectively.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Endless Amount of Historic and Cultural Sights
  • Cons:So Many Places to See, the City Can be Quite Overwhelming!
  • In a nutshell:The Cultural Capital of Japan
  • Intro Updated Nov 1, 2010
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Reviews (175)

Comments (10)

  • jlanza29's Profile Photo
    Jul 3, 2015 at 7:02 PM

    Love your intro for your Kyoto page ... I couldn't have said it better when you stated ...I don't think there could possibly be another city in the entire world that possesses more cultural and historic sights than KYOTO! If you believe otherwise, I'd be very interested in hearing about the city you feel has MORE cultural and historic sights. By no means have I explored every city ......

    I will be visiting again in a couple of weeks and your page has really confirmed the sites I need to finish seeing .... on my trip I only saw 1/4 of the sites ....

    • Rabbityama's Profile Photo
      Jul 4, 2015 at 11:33 AM

      I'm glad it's helpful! I've been to Kyoto so many times and I always discover new places and many old places that I love going to back to!

  • IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
    May 3, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    What a fantastic page. I especially love your autumnal photos. I have been to Japan in spring and just at the beginning of autumn. Would love to see it in full autumn glory. All the best, Irne

    • Rabbityama's Profile Photo
      May 7, 2014 at 7:46 AM

      Thanks! Kyoto is definitely nice in autumn as well as spring. I hope you can see the Japanese autumn someday!

  • taigaa001's Profile Photo
    Aug 28, 2011 at 6:18 AM

    Excellent work of Kyoto. You takes the best out of the area.

  • ancient_traveler's Profile Photo
    Aug 5, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    your Kyoto's page is outstanding! nice job... i love Kyoto especially the maikos and geikos.. amazing!

  • THLIN's Profile Photo
    Jul 12, 2011 at 6:18 AM

    I do love Kyoto! Sadly, I was there less than a full day; I will be back!

  • snuggie's Profile Photo
    Jul 10, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    Thanks for the greetings.You have nice page on Kyoto. Hope to visit one day.

  • paolodecastro's Profile Photo
    Jul 3, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    you have a very nive kyoto page.........i hope i can also go here and personally see the cheery tree blossom..:)...you are a lucky person.......:) pls accept my friendship

  • Paris92's Profile Photo
    Jan 31, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    You've done such a great job on these pages! Well done and congrats on the Barney nomination!

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Jun 28, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    I have seen on TV places in Kyoto, and these temples are outstanding. You took great pictures and the comments very informative.

  • dancinbudgie's Profile Photo
    Jul 17, 2009 at 3:03 PM

    Wow! You have put together some very useful and informative tips. Obviously you have spent a lot of time on them. Thank you so much. They have been really helpful. Tracey

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