Kyoto was the capital of Japan for nearly 1000 years, from the 8th to the 19th century. There was a break between the 12th and 13th centuries when the first feudal government was established in Kamakura. It was in Kyoto, then called Heian-Kyô, that the Heian-era court laid the foundations for the Japanese aesthetic refined by the rising warrior class, the samurai, in the 15th and 16th centuries. Developing the art of Ikebana (flower arrangements) and the Tea ceremony, as well as the elegant architectural style that can still be admired in temples today. It is also known as the city of samurai and geisha.
When in 1868 the emperor was recognised as head of the nation and the imperial residence moved to Tokyo, Kyoto ceased to be the capital of Japan, but in the hearts of the Japanese it will always be the cultural capital of the country.
As Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan, what to do in Kyoto is no problem. It is the place where Japanese culture is at its most refined, most intense and most distinctive. In fact, Kyoto is where many Japanese go to learn what it's like to be Japanese.
The people of Kyoto, whether craftsmen, geisha or simple office workers, bear the imprint of this rich cultural legacy from their way of speaking to their unique manners. It is the city with 17 UNESCO world heritage sites, over 1000 Buddhist temples, and over 400 Shinto shrines.
There are over 1000 temples in Kyoto, most of which are Buddhist and the rest Shinto. The Kiyomizu-dera temple is perhaps the best known and most visited. But on the list of the most visited and well-known, we also have Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari-Taisha and Ryôan-ji.
But tourism in Kyoto is not just about temples, we have the wonderful Arashiyama bamboo forests, the imposing imperial palace of Kyoto, known as Kyoto-Gosho with its fabulous garden Sento-Gosho, and the castle of Nijo where the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa lived.
Also not to be missed are the Kyoto festivals (matsuri) that take place throughout the year.
The capital Tokyo, the most densely populated metropolitan area in the world, is located in the Kanto region. It has about 30% of Japan's population.
In the Kansai region, as it is where the first capitals were established, it is where great attractions are located, such as Nara and Kyoto. Each with its own history and culture, which makes them mandatory places on a first trip to Japan.
In the Chubo region, Nagoya is the largest city in Chubo and the gateway to the Chubo Mountains. Or set up base to explore Gifu and Aichi prefectures.
In the Kanto region is Japan's second largest city, Yokohama. Yokohama is a port city practically adjacent to Tokyo. A bit like Lisbon and Amadora, but on a grand scale.
The third largest city in Japan, it is also known for Japanese cuisine, which has always been the supplier of fish to the capital of Kyoto. Today it has gained status and fame as the best place to eat in Japan. Japan's greatest comedians also originate from here. Will it be the food?
Hiroshima is the largest city in the Chugoku region and the best known, for the worst reason, in Japan's history. Despite its past, today it is a city that has managed to reinvent itself and is a place with many attractions, whether monuments, museums or even culinary attractions.