Kyoto is in the western part of Japan’s largest island, Honshu, and is located in a peaceful valley surrounded by mountains on three sides. Its origins go back to the 6thcentury; it has been a Buddhist center since the 8th century and is in many ways the intellectual heartland of Japan.
1. Kyoto is Largely Untouched by War
Wars have raged across Kyoto down the centuries, but the city largely escaped conventional World War II bombs because it was not included in American invasion plans. There was talk of dropping the Nagasaki atom bomb on it because its largely intellectual population would be “better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon.” The Secretary of War vetoed the idea, and so the Imperial City of Kyoto has more pre-war buildings than most other Japanese cities taken together.
2. Kyoto is Among the Best-Preserved Cities in Japan
The city has 1,600 Buddhist shrines and 400 Shinto Temples. Among these, the 17 historic monuments of ancient Kyoto are a collective UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are also many intact palaces, gardens, and historic buildings. It is justifiably renowned for its remarkably authentic cuisine. Being distant from the sea and having so many Buddhist vegetarians resulted in the development of 13 varieties of vegetables. When you visit, look out for restaurants advertising albino potatoes, shogun kabul turnips, kamo nasu eggplants, and the shogoin radish that tastes good especially when simmered gently.
3. The Shimogamo Shrine is 1,337 Years Old
Kyoto is popularly known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines, of which the Shimogamo Shrine is the most venerable. It stands in honor of the Mother of the God of Thunder. Buddhist monks built the original structure in 678 AD ahead of a visit by the Emperor Tenmu who became the first monarch of Japan. Shimogamo Shrine is part of the larger Kamo religious complex. This is within an area landscaped according to ancient Japanese tradition, where visitors may freely roam.
4. The Old City is a Replica of a More Ancient One
Following a period of wanton destruction in the 15th century, Emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi refashioned Kyoto in the style of the City of Chang’an that had a quarter of a million inhabitants by the year 2 AD, when recorded history begins. The original design called for matching square city blocks. During the 16th century, Emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi doubled up the number of north-south streets. This created the familiar rectangular blocks with shorter side streets that form the fascinating older suburbs adored by visiting tourists.
It is a sobering thought that all this history could have been eliminated in a single atomic blast, and a horrible reminder of the past treasures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lost forever to future generations. Time cools tempers. This is not a good time to reopen old wounds. To get the most out of this city, dust away the cobwebs, find an affordable hotel in Kyoto and take in one of the most beautiful cities in the world for what it is.