Central Kyoto History
Kyoto served as Japan’s capital and Emperors residence from 794, serving as a center of politics and culture for 1100 years
Kyoto was first settled in the 7th century and in 794, Emperor Kammu relocated the capital of Japan from nearby Nagaoka-kyo to Kyoto, which at the time was called “Heian-kyo” and was built as a scale replica of the then capital of the Tang empire, Chang’an (modern day Xian). The subsequent Heian period (794-1185) saw Japanese culture blossom in the realms of poetry, architecture, art, and religion.
The Heian period also saw the rise of the samurai class, which eventually established rule in Kamakura, beginning the Kamakura period (1185-1333). This period saw the birth of various Buddhist sects and consequent construction of many of Kyoto’s famous temples, such as Kenninji, Chioin, and Nishi-Honganji. Kyoto witnessed a further cultural renaissance at the beginning of the Muromachi period (1333-1573), characterized by the birth of ikebana, the tea ceremony, the Golden Pavilion and more. Unfortunately, this was followed by the Onin war (1467–1477), where battles between samurai factions on the streets of Kyoto resulted in widespread destruction of the city.
During the violent Momoyama period (1573-1598) that ensued but served as the end of Japan’s medieval era, Kyoto was gradually rebuilt by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and later Tokugawa Ieyasu, both among Japan’s most famous samurai generals. Tokugawa’s eventual unification of a war-torn Japan and transfer of political power to Edo, marked the beginning of the Edo period(1600-1868). This stable, peaceful period allowed Kyoto to prosper both as a cultural and economic center, with the rise of the merchant class, that would serve as patrons for the arts.
With the tumultuous opening of Japan to the outside world and collapse of Tokugawa rule, Kyoto once again became the stage for internal strife, eventually quelled with creation of the modern Japanese state during the Meiji Restoration(1868-1912).