Kyoto City history

Over View of the Ancient Capital

When you come to the City of Kyoto, or Looking at a City Map of Kyoto, you would realize that the layout of the streets is a grid., They run from North to South and from East to West. This enables you to easily come back to the same place in case you missed your way. With the basin shape surrounded by mountains on three sides, north-south streets have gentle downslopes from North to South and east-west streets have rather steep uphill slopes at the end of East area. The city began to be shaped at the end of 8th century. The emperor decided to move his home and to build the huge City with grid streets modeled after the Chinese capital. But the original city was so big that the west part of the city soon deserted. After several fires and Civil wars during 15th century, the streets were ruined and the city was divided into North and South areas.
At the end of 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) brought an end to the Civil War period and started to rebuild the city as a castle town. He removed temples to the eastern side of the downtown, now called Teramachi-dori (temple town) street as part of the military defense.. Hideyoshi made streets and alleys to go in and through the square grid. The entrance of the houses came to face the alleys, which made it easier to collect taxes. This changed the squares to rather rectangle blocks.
He built the earthwork walls called Odoi (お土居) and built barriers to get into the city. Entrance to the city were called kuchi or guchi(means mouth), some of which remain in the names of the place like Kurama-guchi, Kojin-guchi .Castles were built at Fushimi, the south of the city where three rivers joint. This was suitable for trades and clear water from springs flourished Sake breweries.
During its long history, Kyoto was not only imperial capital for court nobles and Samurais but also residential city for merchants, artisans and commoners. Their skills and hard works kept on developing the culture of Kyoto even after the Meiji restoration took away the status of the capital. To prevent decline in the population and industry, the Government of Kyoto Prefecture built Biwako Sosui (Lake Biwa Canal) to supply water, rice from Lake Biwa and established Japan’s first hydroelectric power. This allowed the country’s first tram car to be constructed, which changed views of streets in the city.
The city of Kyoto is not the place where old original structures remain the same, but the place where histories of rebuilding and changing are compiled over the old structure. The new were built to fit into the old ones, which make you feel Kyoto quite different from other cities.This is one of the reason Kyoto is loved by people from all over the world.
Local people like to challenge new things, though they are often said to be conservative. University of Kyoto produces Nobel Prize winners and the companies such as Kyocera, Shimadzu, Murata started here and still based in Kyoto.

Photo: Roxana Russo


Yukio Kuze