Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)

Kyoto and Shiga prefectures
N34 58 50 E135 46 10
Date of Inscription: 1994
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Property : 1,056 ha
Buffer zone: 3,579 ha
Ref: 688

Built in A.D. 794 on the model of the capitals of ancient China, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan from its foundation until the middle of the 19th century. As the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto illustrates the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens, which has influenced landscape gardening the world over.

The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) consist of seventeen component parts that are situated in Kyoto and Uji Cities in Kyoto Prefecture and Otsu City in Shiga Prefecture. Built in A.D. 794 on the model of the ancient Chinese capital, Kyoto has acted as the cultural centre while serving as the imperial capital until the middle of the 19th century.

As the centre of Japanese culture for more than a thousand years, it spans the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens, which has influenced landscape gardening the world over. Most of the one hundred ninety-eight buildings and twelve gardens that make up the seventeen component parts of the property were built or designed from the 10th to the 17th centuries.

All of the seventeen components of the inscribed property are religious establishments except for the castle of Nijo-jo. Together they cover a total of 1,056 hectares and are surrounded by a buffer zone of 3,579 hectares.

Criterion (ii): Kyoto was the main centre for the evolution of religious and secular architecture and of garden design between the 8th and 17th centuries, and as such it played a decisive role in the creation of Japanese cultural traditions which, in the case of gardens in particular, had a profound effect on the rest of the world from the 19th century onwards.

Criterion (iv): The assemblage of architecture and garden design in the surviving monuments of Kyoto is the highest expression of this aspect of Japanese material culture in the pre-modern period.

Suggested Bases:

Osaka is the third largest city in Japan, with a population of over 17 million people in its greater metropolitan area. It is the central metropolis of the Kansai region and the largest of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto trio. If Tokyo is Japan’s capital, one might call Osaka its anti-capital. Whatever you call it, though, there are many opportunities for you to discover its true anti-character. Osaka dates back to the Asuka and Nara period. Under the name Naniwa, it was the capital of Japan from 683 to 745, long before the upstarts at Kyoto took over. Even after the capital was moved elsewhere, Osaka continued to play an important role as a hub for land, sea and river-canal transportation. [read more]

Kobe is a city in the Hyogo Perfecture of Japan. A cosmopolitan port city with an international flavor, hemmed in by Mt. Rokko, Kōbe is often ranked as the best place for expatriates to live in Japan. The city has a population of over 1.5 million people. A port in what would become Kōbe was established as a concession to western powers in 1868, during the time when Japan was opening to the world. Nagasaki and Yokohama had already begun serving foreign ships nine years earlier. Today, a synagogue, Japan’s first mosque, Japan’s first Sikh temple, a Chinatown, and European architecture mark Kōbe as a place where foreigners and foreign culture first arrived in Japan. Kobe’s main attraction for the Japanese is its concentration of Western-style houses, some dating back to the days when Kobe was opened for foreign trade in 1868. [read more]

Nagoya  is the capital and largest city of Aichi prefecture, in the Chubu region of Honshu. The hub of the Aichi region, Nagoya is Japan’s fourth-largest city after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka and one of the nation’s major economic centers. In terms of manufacturing, as home to auto-making giants Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi Motors, Nagoya is to Japan what Detroit is to the United States — which, along with having been completely flattened during World War II, also explains why it’s not one of Japan’s top tourist draws and most tourists just zip through on the bullet train on their way between Tokyo and Kyoto. But if you do decide to stick around, there are plenty of car-related attractions, a restored castle, an ancient shrine and surprisingly happening nightlife. [read more]

9 replies »

  1. Nijo Castle influenced history. The interior is amazing, I could feel that this castle had a different purpose to all of the other castles I’ve seen.


  2. Only 15 minutes away by train from Kyoto, Arashiyama feels like a world apart. From the iconic Togetsu-kyo Bridge over Katsura River, it’s an easy walk to the Tenryu-ji Temple. Originally built in 1334, it is one of Kyoto’s Five Great Zen Temples. Entering via the red torii gate, aflame with autumn reds during fall, we are welcomed into an oasis for contemplation. Everything is landscaped according to a Zen ideal by Muso Soseki, the temple’s first head priest, from the rock-ringed pond to the pebble garden.

    We wander without hurry, passing the hojo (main hall) where prayers are held. The meticulously raked pebbles, the murmur of monks in supplication, the forest of pines in the background: every detail is an opportunity to meditate.

    Here is peace; here is calm, even amidst the profusion of colour. Jade, gold and fire are reflected on the cool blue surface of the pond, itself a mirror of the cool blue sky. Barely a cloud in sight. This tapestry is all the more beautiful, all the more precious, for its fleeting quality.


  3. The Higashiyama district is one of Kyoto’s best preserved heritage areas and a great place to start exploring Kyoto. There are numerous temples and shrines, Japanese gardens and tea houses best explored by walking the narrow streets. The highlight is Kiyomizu-dera temple, a UNESCO Heritage Site with amazing views over Kyoto.

    As you approach the temple and walk the heritage Yasaka and Kiyomizu-michi Streets, you will melt into the bustling crowd. A popular activity for both domestic and foreign tourists is to dress up in geisha or maiko costumes while exploring the area. There are lots of opportunities to shop in the wooden storefronts selling Japanese trinkets and matcha goodies. If your legs aren’t too tired, have a wander through Gion, where you might just spot a geisha going to an evening engagement. Have dinner in nearby Pontocho Alley, a narrow street full of restaurants, many overlooking the river.


  4. Watching the sunset over the fall colors at Kiyomizu-dera is one of my favorite memories of Japan. Be sure to pay the entrance fee to go into the main hall and walk around the back to see the Otowa Waterfall. Kiyomizu-dera means “Pure Water Temple” and gets its name from this waterfall. The waterfall is divided into three separate streams. Drinking from each stream has a different benefit — longevity, success at school, and success in love. However it is considered greedy to drink from all three!

    The path to Kiyomizu-dera is a vibrant shopping street lined with fun boutiques, cafes, and souvenir shops. Be sure to pop in the souvenir shops and try all the free samples!


  5. The Nijo Castle was built in 1626, and while the capital had by then moved to Edo (now Tokyo), Nijo Castle remained the home of the Japanese Imperial Court. The whole complex is surrounded by walls and a moat, and the main building is the very large palace. The palace rooms are all very minimalist, with no furniture, and the main features are extensive murals on all the walls. The whole building is made entirely of wood, and there are a lot of measures in place to protect both the building and the murals. You have to take your shoes off before you go in, you’re not allowed to take photos, and none of the semi transparent screens around the outside of the building are allowed to be opened. As we walk around it sounds like the whole building is full of birds, and we wonder if someone has decided to play recording of bird noises to make everyone feel like they’re surrounded by nature. It seems instead that this was a cunning ploy by the original builders, who installed so-called nightingale floors throughout the palace; the floorboards all have metal ends, and when anyone walks on them they rub together and make a bird-like sound, which was intended to warn the occupants of intruders.


  6. Kyoto is still a place where you can lose yourself in time, walk the byways of ancient Japan (complete with drooping willows and cherry blossoms—if you time your trip right for Sakura season—and dramatic vermilion gates stretching up and down hillsides), while not straying far from a buzzing urban scene.

    One of the most unforgettable scenes in Kyoto is of the famous Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) surrounded by lush greenery, shimmering in its reflection in the lake below. Just three minutes away by car brings you to possibly the most peaceful place on earth, the Zen rock garden at the Ryoanji Temple. Then visit the Gion district to get a glimpse of geishas in training. Kyoto is just 15 minutes away from Osaka via the Shinkansen (bullet) train.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A visit from Osaka to Kyoto is at the top of most Japan itineraries and rightly so. Staying in Kyoto can be expensive – but it’s a great (and easy) day trip from Osaka by train.

    Many of the top sights can be seen in a day, especially if you take a tour with a guide that can show you around, meaning you won’t waste any time getting lost. Stop off first at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple where you can soak up the historical ambience and gaze in awe across the city from Higashi-yama.

    Afterwards, head to Sanju-san-gen-do Temple and attempt to count all of the 1001 statues on show. Afterwards, make the hike up the hundreds of steps, through the numerous red toris at the truly magical Inari-Taisha temple, your efforts to hike up the steps will be rewarded with great views of the old town.

    Make sure to try some of the delicious and delicate traditional dishes severed up all over Kyoto and don’t forget to pay a visit to the iconic Kinkaku-ji (officially Rokuon-Ji) temple with its top two floors that are completely covered in gold leaf.


  8. Regardless of your faith, a visit to the shrines is bound to be an eye-opener – it is hard to disregard the calming silence experienced within the walls of these sacred grounds as a regular part of your itinerary. The sight of devotees lining up to offer a word of prayer, monks who give up all of their gold and glory, all in a country often known for their hard work and fast pace of life; to watch this time slow down right before your eyes is a beautiful experience, and definitely one not to be missed.


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