The old imperial capital, Kyoto was founded in 794 as Heian-kyo, the 'capital of peace and tranquility'. The city, modeled after the Tang Chinese style in Chang'an, China, is bordered by mountains on three sides and is divided by a river, making it a choice spot for Emperor Kanmu. The rapid growth of the city, however, created hygiene problems that were exaggerated when the Kamo River would flood. Rituals and festivals to subdue the spirits responsible for these problems became very important and resulted in today's reverence of ritual and custom.
Kyoto's culture is a mixture of several influences beginning with the imperial court and nobility, the most important. Other influences came later from the samurai, Zen Buddhists, and the tea ceremony. The impact of these customs in Kyoto is evident today where women commonly dress in kimonos and there is a strong pride in their culture. The city was destroyed several times by fire, earthquake, and the Onin War, a decade of civil unrest. During the Edo period (1600-1868), the balance of power began to shift and in 1868 Kyoto lost its title as capital to Tokyo.
Kyoto is a modern city full of history and custom, but you must look hard to find it interwoven into daily life. Be sure to try Kyoto's famous cuisine, Kyo-ryori,a multi-course Japanese dinner.