7 Interesting Facts About Kyoto

Japan’s spiritual heart Kyoto is dripping with ancient history, culture and heritage. Located on the island of Honshu, it’s the capital city of Kyoto Prefecture and stretches across a total area of 828 km (320 miles). But how much do you know about this cultural capital? From the thousand-year-old shrines to the atomic bomb, we’ll bet you haven’t heard some of these interesting facts about Kyoto before.

Interesting facts about Kyoto

1. It was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years

Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, from 794 to 1868 AD. Kyoto literally translates as ‘Capital City’. Founded by one of Japan’s earliest emperors, who had himself moved the capital from Nagaoka-kyo, the city once only encompassed the immediate area around the Imperial Palace.

During the 19th century, Edo (now Tokyo) became a major trading hub with the west, while Kyoot maintained its isolationist policy. The capital transferred to Tokyo in 1868, though since there was no official decree some maintain that Kyoto should still be considered the true capital.

interesting facts about Kyoto

2. Kyoto was once the largest city in Japan

Once upon a time, Kyoto was Japan’s largest city. Edo (Tokyo) and Osaka took the lead towards the end of the 16th century. Today, it’s the eighth-largest city in Japan.

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3. There are over 3,000 temples and shrines in Kyoto

There are over 3,000 temples and shrines dotted around the city, hence its nickname ‘City of Ten Thousand Shrines’. Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is one of its iconic shrines, situated on the mountainside. Kiyomizu-dera is another of Kyoto’s most visited Buddhist temples. Founded in 778 AD, it encompasses various buildings and the main hall designed as a National Treasure.

interesting facts about Kyoto

4. It was a potential target for the atomic bomb

At the end of World War II, the Target Committee of the United States Manhattan Project put Kyoto ad the top of the list of targets for the atomic bomb. The then U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, allegedly refused because it was the ancient capital of Japan and one of great religious significance to the Japanese He had visited and been impressed by the city’s many architectural treasures several times.

5. Kyoto is home to one of Japan’s most prestigious universities

Kyoto University was established in 1897 and is one of the former imperial universities. It is the second oldest university in Japan and consistently ranked amongst the top two in the whole of Japan, the top ten in Asia, and the world’s top fifty institutions of higher education. 

It has produced five prime ministers of Japan, one president of Taiwan, 19 Nobel Prize laureates and a roster of world-class researchers.

interesting facts about Kyoto
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6. Kyoto is home to a shrine over 1,300 years old

Kamigamo Shrine is one of the most important Shinto sanctuaries in Kyoto – and the oldest too. It was founded on the banks of the Kamo River in 678 AD. It’s one of the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its full name is Kamo-wakeikazuchi Shrine. Records from Emporer Heizei’s reign mention the Kamo-mioya jinga as one of the only establishments granted a divine seal for use of documents. 

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7. Kyoto is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan

Many of Japan’s historic buildings and districts have been lost to fires, wars, earthquakes and redevelopment over the past few centuries. That makes Kyoto even more exceptional. Gion’s Hanami-koji Street is lined by beautiful centuries-old buildings, tea houses and restaurants. The narrow streets of  Higashiyama and the rural town of Miyama are breathtaking too.

While the rest of Japan has adopted modernity and new-fangled technologies, Kyoto is clinging to its roots. Traditional arts and crafts are passed down from generation to generation, and you can still find ancient speciality shops selling washi (Japanese handmade paper) and chazutsu (tea canisters).

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Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

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