Kyoto (formerly known in the West as Meaco) is a city located in the central part of the island of Honshu, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years, it is now the capital city of Kyoto Prefecture located in the Kansai region, as well as a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area. Kyoto is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines.
Kyoto is located in a valley, part of the Yamashiro (or Kyoto) Basin, in the eastern part of the mountainous region known as the Tamba highlands.
Today, the main business district is located to the south of the old Imperial Palace, with the less-populated northern area retaining a far greener feel. Surrounding areas do not follow the same grid pattern as the center of the city, though streets throughout Kyoto share the distinction of having names.
Kyoto sits atop a large natural water table that provides the city with ample freshwater wells. Due to large-scale urbanization, the amount of rain draining into the table is dwindling and wells across the area are drying at an increasing rate.
Although ravaged by wars, fires, and earthquakes during its eleven centuries as the imperial capital, Kyoto was spared from much of the destruction of World War II. It was removed from the atomic bomb target list (which it had headed) by the personal intervention of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, as Stimson wanted to save this cultural center which he knew from his honeymoon and later diplomatic visits.
With its 2000 religious places- 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact, it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. Among the most famous temples in Japan are Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain; Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion; Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion; and Ryōan-ji, famous for its rock garden. The Heian Jingū is a Shinto shrine, built in 1895, celebrating the Imperial family and commemorating the first and last emperors to reside in Kyoto. Three special sites have connections to the imperial family: the Kyoto Gyoen area including the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sento Imperial Palace, homes of the Emperors of Japan for many centuries; Katsura Imperial Villa, one of the nation’s finest architectural treasures; and Shugaku-in Imperial Villa, one of its best Japanese gardens. In addition, the temple of Sennyu-ji houses the tombs of the emperors from Shijō to Kōmei.
Other sites in Kyoto include Arashiyama, the Gion and Pontochō geisha quarters, the Philosopher’s Walk, and the canals which line some of the older streets.
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