Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto came to prominence internationally in 1997, when the city hosted the conference that resulted in the Kyoto protocol.
Kyoto has long been popular with tourists, both within and from outside Japan, due to its abundance of quintessential Japanese sights, such as its numerous Buddhist temples, including The Golden Temple (Kinkakuji), and The Silver Temple (Ginkakuji). It has a magnificent Shinto shrine, The Heian Shrine, with its traditional Shinto colours of eye-catching vermilion painted woodwork, and contrasting green-tiled roofs, and its enormous torii archway, which is one of the largest in Japan. Kyoto is still very much the cultural capital of Japan, being the centre for the kimono industry, tea ceremony, and the traditional geisha arts.
Having been saved from bombing during the Second World War, due to the fact that the beauty and historical relevance of the city was recognised by the Americans, Kyoto is the only large Japanese city to still have a large number of prewar buildings, such as the traditional wooden townhouses known Machiya.
Kyoto is also very much an educational centre, with Kyoto University being the second university of Japan after Tokyo University, and there are also a number of big name universities, such as Doshisha and Ritsumeikan.
Having such a large student population, it’s no surprise to discover that Kyoto is also famous for its nightlife, and at the weekends the downtown streets of Kawaramachi and Kiyamachi are buzzing with activity. You can find a profusion of great and varied nightspots such as Bar Isn’t It (yes, there really is a bar with that name), innovative nightclub Metro, Teddy’s, the authentic Jamaican bar known as the Rub A Dub, Cock A Hoop, Zappa, Pub Africa, and many more. And although I have a tendency to avoid the British pub abroad, I have to wholeheartedly recommend the Pig and Whistle, popular with expats and Japanese alike, which really does offer a warm welcome – and warm English beer too, if you wish.
The two best times of year to visit Kyoto are in the cherry blossom season and in the autumn, when the leaves are turning a fantastic array of colours from gold to red. The best places to see these seasonal wonders are the The Philosopher’s Road (Tetsugaku michi), Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen), and Arashiyama. But whatever the time of year, Kyoto is a good place to be.