About Kyoto


Kyoto, the Capital for 1,000 years, aspires to hold the Creative Workshop of the 21st century

Few cities in the world have a history spanning over a millennium. Kyoto was Japan’s capital for 1,000 years and the center of imperial culture, boasting of being the forefront in craft and sophisticated goods. Groups of expert artists and craftspeople gathered in this imperial city and it became the source of Japan’s beauty and culture. One archeologist conducting an excavation in Kyoto stated, “There are thirty times more artifacts discovered in Kyoto than in other regions. There are nearly ten distinct layers from the Yayoi period through the Heian period to the end of the Edo period.”

Emperor Kammu decided to move the capital to Kyoto in 794, after his previous capital became plagued with political unrest and various disasters. The location and construction method was chosen using feng shui, the science of the day, so to speak. Situated in a basin surrounded by mountains to the north, east, and west, the area was blessed with fresh water from the Kibune, while wild birds frolicked on the banks of the Kamogawa River, which ran through the middle of town. An ancient breath still permeates the World Heritage-listed Tadasu no Mori Forest at the Shimogamo Shrine.

There are 17 World Heritage sites in Kyoto Prefecture, which is the highest number anywhere in Japan. Kyoto is also known as the venue where the Kyoto Protocol was signed. Innumerable shrines and temples link the mountainous countryside to areas of human habitation; their gardens make use of “borrowed scenery” to accentuate the changing of seasons in harmony with the surrounding environment. The entire Kyoto is Japanese culture concentrated into one beautiful garden. The gardens lush with vegetation change each season with their cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, while the dry landscape gardens such as the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple, made only of sand and rocks, are praised by international artists and appreciators of culture. Steve Jobs, the innovator who led the world into the 21st century, stated in his autobiography that he was inspired by the dry landscape gardens of Kyoto. It is no exaggeration that Kyoto’s traditions have been a source of inspiration for innovation.

Kyoto became a city during the Heian period. At that time, Japan’s colorful dynastic culture blossomed, with literature such as The Tale of the Genji coming to the fore. Even under samurai rule in the Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods, the foundations of traditional Japanese culture were being laid in the form of the tea ceremony, Noh, Ikebana, and Kabuki. Artists, Buddhist sculptors, carpenters, and artisans in various fields who were employed by the court or at the shrines and temples began to emulate techniques, and traditional culture began to be handed down. Surrounded by mountains, blessed with pure water, and a refined sensitivity to the changes in nature like a color print depicting the four seasons—this was beauty cultivated by a refined sense of esthetics. Architecture and gardens, pictures and partition paintings, Buddhist sculptures, crafts, classical theater—the traditional culture continues to live in the present day in this thousand-year-old city, with over a thousand shrines, temples, and shops. Makers of Nishijin fabrics, Kyoyaki ceramics, Kyoto cuisine, and Kyogashi sweets have charge over the esthetics in their respective fields. Wandering into a back alley, one might see a bamboo artisan weaving bamboo, a yūzen craftsman dyeing ceramics, or a picture framer mounting a Japanese painting. Students at our university have the opportunity to visit the workshops of these artisans who are the custodians of traditional fine arts, experience these places of creation, and be introduced into the field. Kyoto is a living museum. Living in Kyoto provides our students with the opportunity to research their own topics using all five senses to the fullest.

While one might think of Kyoto in terms of shrines, temples, and traditional industries, there also exist many industries in Kyoto that have developed epoch-breaking, cutting-edge technology. These include Kyocera, Nintendo, Omron, ROHM, Shimadzu, Wacoal, and Takara Shuzo. These industries have reference libraries and research laboratories, and, behind the scenes, they work closely with educational institutions through industry-academy collaboration.

Kyoto has so many universities that it is known as a “university city.” Its specialized universities such as Kyoto University, which is one of Japan’s national universities, arts universities such as ours, or Buddhist universities are training a new generation of young people in the unique academic traditions of Kyoto. Kyoto is well known for its free and creative researchers. This is symbolized by Kyoto University, the alma mater of Hideki Yukawa, Japan’s first Nobel Prize laureate. The university is even now receiving worldwide attention for iPS cell research spearheaded by Professor Shinya Yamanaka. Many of these universities have facilities such as art galleries, museums, and reference libraries. The Kyoto University Museum Collaboration was recently established to involve the general public in its activities.

The temples and artisan’s workshops, which are the custodians of tradition, are collaborating with young artists and innovative companies to begin new creative projects for society. Kyoto is not simply a thousand-year-old time capsule. Tradition and innovation go hand in hand in this city where young people gather with respect for tradition, awareness of their environment, and a dream to advance into the future. This is the beginning of a 21st century renaissance.


Buddhist Statues in their Original Settings in Historical Buildings

There are more than a thousand temples and shrines in Kyoto, standing serenely against backdrops of mountains, valleys, or rivers, and providing a calm oasis on busy streets. Seventeen of these have been world-heritage listed and are cultural treasures of ancient Kyoto, such as Kiyomizu-dera, Rokuonji (Kinkakuji), Jishouji (Ginkakuji), Ryoan-ji, Toji, and Byodo-in. Although many of these temples were rebuilt due to earthquakes or after being burned down during wars, such as the Ōnin War, many of them are now already several hundred years old and are valuable cultural assets, boasting world-class traditional wooden architecture. The image of Amitabha Tathagata, crafted by Jocho Busshi, revered at the temple of Byodo-in in Uj, as well as in its Hōō-dō (Phoenix Hall), remains as it was when it was erected around one thousand years ago; the image is a priceless embodiment depicting Sukhavati as it existed in the minds of noblemen at the time. Although Toji is a recreation of the original, the layout of the temple, including that of statues of Buddha within the auditorium, follows the arrangement given in the plans by Kukai when the temple was founded. One can experience the mastery of the sculptures, which are pure esoteric Buddhist sculpture, with all five senses as a three-dimensional mandala. Through art, one can experience the worldview of Kukai, Japan’s greatest producer of Buddhism. The five-story pagoda (re-built in 1644) is 55 meters high, and is the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan. Its construction, with the central pillar placed simply on the stone base, has been a point of reference for earthquake-resistant construction of modern-day high-rise buildings. A visit from Tadasu-no-Mori Forest to Shimogamo Shrine gives a vicarious sense of the essence of Shinto and the nature worship of the ancients, who sensed divinity in the trees and pure water.


A distinguishing characteristic of Japan’s gardens is the way in which buildings and borrowed scenery—designs that incorporate the surrounding natural landscapes such as mountains—are synthesized into a garden. There are a great variety of gardens in Kyoto, from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, shrine and temple grounds, the mansions of the wealthy and villa gardens, to small townhouse gardens. Classic examples would be the Shugakuin Imperial Villa and the Katsura Imperial Villa, constructed in the 17th century. As the power of the imperial court started to decline during the Edo period, the abdicated Emperor Go-Mizunoo turned to culture to display the significance of the imperial court’s existence. The cultural essence of the aristocracy was confined to buildings and gardens.* The Katsura Imperial Villa, which was built for Go-Mizunoo’s imperial outings, was the main cultural salons of the day; the Shugakuin Imperial Villa, designed by Go-Mizunoo himself, shine with the last rays of the beauty of dynastic culture. Students at this university can contribute to the preservation of our cultural heritage by participating in activities, such as cleaning and trimming of the Katsura Imperial Villa garden, as part of their class work. Students also have the opportunity to visit and experience different types of gardens, such as the rock garden at Ryoan-ji, together with experts in the field.

The Beauty of Paintings and Partition Paintings

For a thousand years, Kyoto has attracted artists from all over Japan, competing for the patronage of the imperial court and the shrines and temples. Kyoto has been leading the Japanese art since the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, throughout the Edo period when the culture of nobles and merchants flourished, and to the present day. Buddhist art thrived in the Heian and Muromachi periods; outstanding works that were produced and adorned temples are now national treasures and important cultural property. Painters such as those from Kanō school, Sesshū, Hasegawa Tōhaku, Tarawaya Sōtatsu, Ogata Kōrin, Maruyama Ōkyo, and Itō Jakuchū were active from the Muromachi period to the Edo period, showcasing their talent on the canvases of sliding and folding screens. Many of these works have been donated to museums, since they are valuable important cultural properties. Although most of them are not ordinarily open to the public, they can be appreciated at special exhibitions and openings during spring and fall. For example, Jakuchū was born into a greengrocer family in the Nishiki market district, and developed an ultra-realist style of painting from carefully observing chickens in his own garden. Many of his works are preserved at Shōkokuji because he converted to Buddhism and maintained a friendship with the abbot of that temple. The Heavenly Dragon, said to have been painted by Kanō Mitsunobu, is a painting of a huge dragon on the ceiling of the lecture hall at Shōkokuji. By looking at these paintings, one can gain a sense of the workings of minds of these painters, feel the power of the place involved in their productions, and examine the records held at the temple. Moreover, a movement has begun in Kyoto’s temples to commission works by modern artists and train young artists. Creating and displaying works in these historical temples is no longer an unattainable dream.

Festivals and Events in Kyoto

There are various festivals and events in Kyoto throughout all four seasons. The most representative of these are the Three Major Festivals: the Hollyhock Festival (May), the Gion Festival (July), and the Festival of the Ages (October). The Gion Festival began in 869A.D. with the erection of 66 halberds to intercede with the gods to stop the spread of a plague at the time. In recent days, the festivities start on July 1 and last around one month. The greatest highlight is the float parade, with Shijō Street so crowded with spectators that movement is impossible. The festival floats from each neighborhood are also considered important cultural property, and are dazzlingly decorated with 16th- and 17th-century Belgian tapestries and traditional carvings by the legendary sculptor Hidari Jingorō. Local community leaders show-off the wealth and beauty of their neighborhoods through the extravagance of their festival floats. During the small festival on the eve of the float parade, shrine parishioners play Gion festival music on flutes, gongs, and drums from atop their decorated mountains or halberds, while families put on their heirlooms or display prized folding screens or works of art. As such, the whole neighborhood becomes like a gallery. The “Gozan no Oukribi,” another special attraction in the summer, is a traditional Kyoto event to send-off the spirits of the ancestors invited during O-Bon. This festival requires a lot of work behind the scenes, such as transporting large amounts of firewood to the surrounding mountains, arrange it in the shape of the characters, and set it alight. Students at this university can volunteer to take part in this work, thus, supporting a traditional Kyoto event and experiencing a festival from the perspective of the organizers.

Gion Festival

Gion Festival "Special Reserved Seating" Information The Gion Festival is famous for being one of the three great festivals of Japan. In order to comfortably view the Gion parade, please take advantage of this special reserved seating. KYOTO CITY TOURISM ASSOCIATION TEL +81-(0)75-752-7070

Tea Ceremonies and Ikebana

Tea ceremonies and Ikebana are typical modern Japanese cultural traditions. These traditions, which have had a major influence on Japanese art, can have their origins traced back to the Muromachi period in Kyoto. During the Muromachi period, Murata Shukō, who studied Zen under Ikkyū Sōjun of Daitokuji, advocated wabi-cha (the tea ceremony), which was perfected by Sen-no-Rikyū in the Azuchi-Momoyama period. As Warring States warlords battled to gain control over the entire country, the tea ceremony became a place for exchanging information and strategy as well as a stage for politics and diplomacy. Sen-no-Rikyū was an actively participated in politics and culture and interacted over tea with conquering leaders such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Rikyū’s “forlorn” esthetics, which seek beauty in simple tools used in daily life and rustic, thatched-roofed tea huts, has had a major impact on the Japanese esthetic sense. Tai-an, a miniscule, two-tatami tea hut made by Rikyū, still exists in Oyamazaki-cho, providing inspiration not only to tea masters but also to architects and designers as well. The san-Senke, the descendants of Sen-no-Rikyū, are based in Kyoto to this day and continue to uphold his teachings. Ikebana is thought to have originated in Rokkakudō in Kyoto in the form of floral offerings to the Buddha. Tachibana began in the Muromachi period as a way of decorating alcoves in traditional buildings; this practice developed into Ikebana. The Rokkakudō area was also home to Ikenobo, the founder of Ikebana; modern Ikebana is followed there by interacting with tradition.

Japanese Classical Theater/Noh and Kabuki

Noh developed from dengaku—ritual religious performances—and sarugaku theater, and was perfected by the father and son duo, Kanami and Zeami Motokiyo in the Muromachi period. The plays developed into stories of women, military commanders, priests, ghosts, and gods who freely crossed space and time to travel between the present and past (now and hereafter). The stage is a space of about six square meters, stripped of all decoration, with a passageway to the backstage. The masked shite performs a shuffling dance of restrained tension, inviting the audience into a world of delicate beauty. Zeami’s noh was the pinnacle of the Kitayama culture that developed out of Rokuonji (Kinkakuji) under the Muromachi shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The noh that was succeeded by actors of the Kanze and Kongō schools can be seen in noh theaters and temples or shrines in Kyoto, and there are many opportunities to practice noh skills. Costumes and masks that belong to heads of noh schools are available for public view when they are being aired out, which is a valuable opportunity for researchers of noh costumes.

photo_Toshihiro Shimizu

Kabuki is also a typical traditional form of Japanese performing arts. The dry river bed of Shijōgawara is said to be the birthplace of kabuki, where Izumo no Okuni first danced her kabuki. Kabuki at Minamiza draws many spectators even in modern times. There are also shrines in Kyoto that showcase a primitive form of music and dancing every month; there are still many forms of performing arts with abundant folkloristic interest, such as the Mibu kyogen of Mibudera Temple. This university’s kabuki theater—Shunjuza—hosts public performances such as noh and kabuki plays by current leading performers, as well as workshops and symposia, providing more opportunities for fieldwork experiences; this enables scholars to pursue integrated academic research on classical theater.

photo_Toshihiro Shimizu