Kyoto is the capital of the prefecture of the same name, located in the Kansai region, in the centre of Honshu, the largest island in Japan. Its name literally means “capital city”: for nearly a millennium it was the imperial capital of Japan, from 794 to 1868, under the name of Heiankyo (“the capital of peace”).
Shaped by history and ancestral imperial rituals, Kyoto is the guardian of a legendary empire. Today, it is one of the most important cities in Japan, often considered as the country’s cultural and religious centre. It is part of one of the largest metropolitan areas in Japan, called Keihanshin, which includes the 3 major cities of Kansai: Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto.
Kyoto was almost chosen as a target by the United States to drop the atomic bomb in 1945, but was finally rejected because of its historical and cultural importance. It was therefore relatively spared by the Second World War, so that today the historic monuments of the old Kyoto (the area containing the cities of Kyoto, Uji and Otsu) are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage.
The best way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo is by Shinkansen (Tokaido line). The journey in Hikari is direct and takes 2 hours 40 minutes, while in Kodama is also an alternative but as it stops in several cities, the journey takes 4 hours.
With its many historic monuments, gardens, bridges and sites listed by UNESCO, Kyoto has no shortage of places of interest. The traditional district of Gion to the east of the city is also a must, with its historic alleys, traditional houses, and Maruyama Park; as well as the geisha district, Higashiyama. We can also mention Nijo Castle, former residence of the Tokugawa Shogun, and its park.
From the vast imperial palaces to the silk kimono Geishas wandering in its atypical districts, Kyoto is home to countless ancestral jewels. The city has managed to keep some aspects of its traditional identity over the years, while at the same time adapting to the present day, such as the Kyoto Tower, or its station with its modern architecture. Kyoto is also one of the cradles of video games via the company Nintendo, which was founded there in 1889, giving rise to global phenomena such as Mario Bros and Pokémon.
As for walks, the bamboo grove of Arashiyama, whose pictures are constantly being taken around the world, is a must, provided you avoid hordes of tourists. But also the path of the Philosopher (Tetsugaku no michi), so called because the philosopher Kitaro Nishida used it every day to meditate.
Every year on July 17, you can attend the Gion Matsuri festival, the most famous in Japan, with its impressive parade of tanks measuring up to 6 meters!
As for gastronomy, Kyoto’s specialities are kyo kaiseki and shabu shabu, sets of several traditional dishes. You can enjoy it in one of the restaurants on stilts overlooking the Kamogawa River, but be careful, the prices are high. Yudofu (hot boiled tofu) and vegetable pickles are also a must. As for sweet specialities, nama yatsuhachi (a kind of sticky rice flour crêpes in the shape of triangles and filled with red bean paste) are not to be missed.