In 1945, more than 130,000 civilians lost their lives when the world’s most deadliest weapon was dropped at the epicenter of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What most history books didn’t teach is that Kyoto was originally designated to be the first city to befall into the horrific fate.
Just a few weeks before the mushroom cloud enveloped Japan, US Secretary of War Henry Stimson ordered Kyoto to be removed from the target list, arguing that the city is of major cultural and intellectual significance, insisting that “there was one city that they must not bomb without my permission and that was Kyoto.”
The city where a millennia of Japanese culture lives on…
A walk through the former imperial capital will transport you back to the past.
A peek inside one of the traditional wooden houses reveal a traditional tea ceremony dating back to the 9th century. Make yourself a guest and sip a cup as you admire their well-manicured gardens, fusing the beauty of nature and man-made elements to subtle details. And in between streets paved with flagstone in Higashiyama district, geishas still scurry through amongst us.
Further north is a two-kilometer long route known as the Philosopher’s Path, where the famous Japanese philosopher Kitaro Nishida passed by to practice meditation on his daily commute to Kyoto University during his younger years. With a beautiful canal lined up with hundreds of blooming flowers, green mosses and cherry trees, there’s no wonder anyone who’s walking through the very same road will be bursting with inspiration.
On the western outskirt of Kyoto lies Arashiyama, a scenic rural area decorated with hundred-year-old temples, lantern-lit streets and a stretch of bamboo forests which lead you to the turqouise-colored Katsura River.
Don’t forget to make your way to opposite southeast end of Kyoto to unravel the surreal beauty of Fushimi Inari Taisha. This ancient Shinto shrine presents a pathway adorned with thousands of torii gates drawing you into the top of a mountain for a panoramic view of this glorious city.
History has it that Stimson had spent his honeymoon in Kyoto 40 years prior to event of World War II, and had spared Kyoto out of his own personal experience.
In a city brimming with so much life and energy, not only Stimson, but we could all discover our universal pursuit…
1. Uniqueness: 17/20 — One of the few key ancient Japanese cities which has survived fully intact. It’s a piece of old Japan not so easily found elsewhere today.
2. Aesthetic: 18/20 — Arguably the most picturesque city in all of Asia, if not the whole world.
3. Integrity: 13/15 — Kyoto is a walk down the memory lane. While an urban sprawl has developed in its city center, in a relatively tasteful manner, the millennia-old ambiance and its cultural treasures are well-preserved.
4. Significance: 14/15 — Home to one of the most noteworthy civilizations from the post-classical era in human history. Need I say more?
5. Shelf Life: 14/15 — If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’d know that I have this “kan cheong habit” of budgeting no more than 1 day to explore a city. I spent 4 nights in Kyoto and felt that there’s still so much more which I haven’t had the chance to explore.
6. Access: 12/15 — A couple of points deducted because Kyoto is just too damn expensive you have no choice but to get out of it sooner or later.
Destination Score: 88/100
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