Kyoto is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.
Although archaeological evidence places the first human settlement on the islands of Japan to approximately 10,000 BC, relatively little is known about human activity in the area before the 6th century AD. During the 8th century, when the powerful Buddhist clergy became involved in the affairs of the Imperial government, the Emperor chose to relocate the capital to a region far from the Buddhist influence. Emperor Kammu selected the village of Uda, at the time in the Kadono district of Yamashiro Province, for this honor.
The new city, Heian-kyō, became the seat of Japan's imperial court in 794, beginning the Heian period of Japanese history, named after Chinese word for capital city, jingdu. In Japanese, the city has been called Kyo, Miyako or Kyo no Miyako. In the 11th century, the city was renamed Kyoto. Kyoto remained Japan's capital until the transfer of the government to Edo in 1868 at the time of the Imperial Restoration. After Edo was renamed Tokyo (meaning "Eastern Capital"), Kyoto was known for a short time as Saikyo.
An obsolete spelling for the city's name is Kioto; it was formerly known to the West as Meaco or Miako. Another term commonly used to refer to the city in the pre-modern period was Keishi , meaning "metropolis" or "capital".
The city suffered extensive destruction in the Ōnin War of 1467-1477, and did not really recover until the mid-16th century. Battles between samurai factions spilled into the streets, and came to involve the court nobility (kuge) and religious factions as well. Nobles' mansions were transformed into fortresses, deep trenches dug throughout the city for defense and as firebreaks, and numerous buildings burned. The city has not seen such widespread destruction since.
There was some consideration by the United States of targeting Kyoto with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II because, as an intellectual center of Japan, it had a population "better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon." In the end it was decided to remove the city from the list of targets due to the insistence of Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. The city was largely spared from conventional bombing as well, although small-scale air raids did result in casualties.
As a result, Kyoto is one of the few Japanese cities that still has an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya. However, modernization is continually breaking down the traditional Kyoto in favor of newer architecture, such as the Kyoto Station complex.
Although ravaged by wars, fires, and earthquakes during its eleven centuries as the imperial capital, Kyoto was spared from the firebombing of World War II. With its 2000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact, it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. Among the most famous temples in Japan are Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain; Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion; Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion; and Ryōan-ji, famous for its rock garden. The Heian Jingū is a Shinto shrine, built in 1895, celebrating the Imperial family and commemorating the first and last emperors to reside in Kyoto. Three special sites have connections to the imperial family: the Kyoto Gyoen area including the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sento Imperial Palace, homes of the Emperors of Japan for many centuries; Katsura Imperial Villa, one of the nation's finest architectural treasures; and Shugaku-in Imperial Villa, one of its best Japanese gardens.
Other notable sites in Kyoto include Arashiyama and its picturesque lake, the Gion and Pontochō geisha quarters, the Philosopher's Walk, and the canals which line some of the older streets.
Kyoto became a city designated by government ordinance on September 1, 1956. In 1997, Kyoto hosted the conference that resulted in the protocol on greenhouse gas emissions that bears the city's name.
The "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" are listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. These include the Kamo Shrines (Kami and Shimo), Kyō-ō-Gokokuji (Tō-ji), Kiyomizu-dera, Daigo-ji, Ninna-ji, Saihō-ji (Kokedera), Tenryū-ji, Rokuon-ji (Kinkaku-ji), Jishō-ji (Ginkaku-ji), Ryōan-ji, Hongan-ji, Kōzan-ji and the Nijo Castle, primarily built by the Tokugawa shoguns. Other sites outside the city are also on the list.
Kyoto is renowned for its abundance of delicious Japanese foods and cuisine. The special circumstances of Kyoto as a city away from the sea and home to many Buddhist temples resulted in the development of a variety of vegetables peculiar to the Kyoto area.
Japan's television and film industry has its center in Kyoto. Many jidaigeki, action films featuring samurai, were shot at Toei Uzumasa Eigamura. A film set and theme park in one, Eigamura features replicas of traditional Japanese buildings which are used for jidaigeki. Among the sets are a replica of the old Nihonbashi, a traditional courthouse, a Meiji Period police box and part of the former Yoshiwara red-light district. Actual film shooting takes place occasionally, and visitors are welcome to observe the action.
Kyoto International Manga Museum is also situated in Kyoto. For an entrance fee visitors are able to view exhibitions and read as much manga as they desire. It is trying to acquire every manga ever published and so far houses approximately 200,000 titles.