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World Heritage / Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Criteria: (ii) (iv) | Date of Inscription: 1994 | Location: Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures | Justification for Inscription

UNESCO

Description

An approach covered with cherry-blossom petals, a garden colored with the tinted leaves of autumn and temples and shrines covered in clean white snow, Kyoto has something to offer in each of the four seasons while always preserving Japan's traditions and values.

Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizu-dera
Kyo-o-gokoku-ji (To-ji)
Kyo-o-gokoku-ji (To-ji)
Rokuon-ji (Kinkaku-ji)
Rokuon-ji (Kinkaku-ji)
Kyoto is a symbol of the origin of much of the Japanese culture and was the center of Japanese politics and culture for over 1000 years since first being established as capital in 794AD. Learning about the history of Kyoto today means learning about the development of Japan's traditions and culture.
Kyoto, "the thousand-year capital" contains many historical sites. Seventeen of them including shrines, temples and castles are inscribed on the World Heritage List and in 1994, the following remains were designated as "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto": Kamowakeikazuchi Shrine (Kamigamo Shrine) Kamomioya Shrine (Shimogamo Shrine), Kyo-o-gokoku-ji Temple (To-ji Temple), Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Enryaku-ji Temple, Daigo-ji Temple, Ninna-ji Temple, Byodo-in Temple, Ujigami Shrine, Kozan-ji Temple, Saiho-ji Temple (Koke-dera Temple), Tenryu-ji Temple, Rokuon-ji Temple (Kinkaku-ji Temple), Jisho-ji Temple (Ginkaku-ji Temple), Ryoan-ji Temple, Hongan-ji Temple (Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple), and Nijo Castle. All are appreciated individually as precious properties whose structures producing the landscapes of the city that have fascinated visitors for so long.
During the Heian period Kamowakeikazuchi Shrine (Kamigamo Shrine), Kamomioya Shrine (Shimogamo Shrine), and Kyo-o-gokoku-ji Temple (To-ji Temple) were constructed as guardian shrines and temples for the city of Heiankyo, the new capital. At that time the authoritative Fujiwara family all but ruled Kyoto and helped in creating a rich and exquisite aristocratic culture based on the city. Byodo-in Temple and the images of Buddha, constructed by the Fujiwara family in late Heian period, embody the splendid style of this era. In 1192 power was transferred from the aristocracy to the samurai class and at the same time the center of politics shifted from Kyoto to Kamakura. It was not until 1338 when the Muromachi government was again (re)established in Kyoto and the city regained the power it had lost 150 years earlier to once again become the nation's center of politics and culture. Throughout the following decades and centuries the traditional aristocratic culture and the new culture of the emerging samurai class combined, all the while being heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. This influence of Zen Buddhism led to the construction of Tenryu-ji Temple, Ryoan-ji Temple, Kinkaku-ji Temple, and Ginkaku-ji Temple with many Zen-style gardens called "Karesansui," featuring rocks and sand also constructed around the city. As this form of aristocratic culture spread the opposite aesthetics of "wabi and sabi" (austere beauty and elegant simplicity) became popular and much of the future foundation of Japanese culture was created in Kyoto in this era. In the 17th century, even after the Tokugawa government clawed its way to power, Kyoto remained the residential site of the emperor until he moved to Tokyo in 1868. During these centuries known as the Edo period, the Tokugawa family constructed Nijo Castle as their prime residence in the city and the castle today retains a great deal of its Momoyama-style design.
During WWII, many Japanese cities were hit by allied bombers but Kyoto and Nara were spared; believed by many to be the result of US Army studies showing the cities to contain many historical remains.
Why was modern day Kyoto selected as the site for the capital known as "Heiankyo"?
Kyoto was chosen as a new capital by Feng Shui (Chinese divination used in selecting safe ground). In this divination process Kyoto was selected as it is surrounded and protected by four guardian gods. The four gods are a blue dragon to the east, a white tiger to the west, a sacred bird to the south, and the water god to the north. These gods are translated to mean a river in the east, a road in the west, a lake in the south and a hill in the north; conditions that apply perfectly to Kyoto with the Kamogawa River in the east, the San-in do road in the west, Ogura pond in the south, and Mt. Funaoka in the north.
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