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Wonders of the World: Old Kyoto

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MCLA chapter.

After the semester started, my interest in this VERY old section of one of Japan’s most well-traveled cities was suddenly sparked after hearing stories of the Heian Era and the Meiji Restoration, first hand and fictionalized accounts of okiyas (VERY private geisha houses), Shinto and Buddhist temples that have been standing since the day of the flood and of course many 90s anime films and series that have had Old Kyoto as their backdrop. Even the 2005 film “Memoirs of a Geisha” and the novel by Arthur Golden depict Old Kyoto in a way that certainly makes people from all walks of life long to visit. 

The city itself once was the capital of Japan, long before Tokyo ever became what it is today. From 794-1868, it was the center of life, culture and for some the center of the universe. In 1868, the capital was formally moved from Kyoto to Edo (later Tokyo under Emperor Meiji). In Kyoto, many of the palaces of former Emperors still stand the test of time with the most famous being Nijo Castle. Princess Kazunomiya (1846-1877) had even said that Kyoto was her favorite place and when she left to marry the son of a shogun, she detested the thought of leaving. 

Walking through Old Kyoto, one often glimpses the past right before their very eyes. It’s hard not to imagine the famous Floating World of brothels, geishas, kabuki actors, samurai, sumo wrestlers and merchants selling their wares on the streets for those of the peasantry and middle class. Even the artwork depicts a place where the old ways remain and have stood the tests of time against the modern bustling of the big cities. Here it is quiet and calm, but modern amenities are still accessible in the main part of the city. Old Kyoto not only attracts foreigners who wish to glimpse the past, but it has also been known to attract Japanese citizens who still appreciate the old ways of life. 

The more one moves about the city, the more apparent the past becomes. Passing by the windows, one might expect to see Lady Murasaki at work on her famous “Tale of Genji” or even the palanquins of the Emperor passing by. One might expect to see a stage performance of a kabuki play or a streetside bunraku (puppet theater) performance. Whatever Old Kyoto evokes in the eyes of the beholder, there can be no denying that the city itself is a mirror to the past and an age unknown by many.

Enjoys music, history, art, hiking, geography and travel