Kyoto 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.
The city suffered extensive destruction in the Ōnin War of 1467–1477, and did not really recover until the mid-16th century.
During the Ōnin War, the shugo collapsed, and power was divided among the military families. Battles between samurai factions spilled into the streets, and came to involve the court nobility (kuge) and religious factions as well.
Nobles’ mansions were transformed into fortresses, deep trenches dug throughout the city for defense and as firebreaks, and numerous buildings burned. The city has not seen such widespread destruction since.
In the late 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi reconstructed the city by building new streets to double the number of north-south streets in central Kyoto, creating rectangle blocks superseding ancient square blocks.
Hideyoshi also built earthwork walls called odoi encircling the city. Teramachi Street in central Kyoto is a Buddhist temple quarter where Hideyoshi gathered temples in the city.
Throughout the Edo period, the economy of the city flourished as one of three major cities in Japan, the others being Osaka and Edo.
The Hamaguri rebellion of 1864 burnt down 28,000 houses in the city which showed the rebels’ dissatisfaction towards the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The subsequent move of the Emperor to Tokyo in 1869 weakened the economy. The modern city of Kyoto was formed on April 1, 1889.
The construction of Lake Biwa Canal in 1890 was one measure taken to revive the city. The population of the city exceeded one million in 1932.
There was some consideration by the United States of targeting Kyoto with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II because, as an intellectual center of Japan, it had a population large enough to possibly persuade the emperor to surrender.
In the end, at the insistence of Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, the city was removed from the list of targets and replaced by Nagasaki.
The city was largely spared from conventional bombing as well, although small-scale air raids did result in casualties.
As a result, the Imperial City (Emeritus) of Kyoto is one of the few Japanese cities that still have an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya.
However, modernization is continually breaking down the traditional Kyoto in favor of newer architecture, such as the Kyōto Station complex.
Kyoto became a city designated by government ordinance on September 1, 1956. In 1997, Kyoto hosted the conference that resulted in the protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.
Kyoto contains roughly 2,000 temples and shrines.
About 20% of Japan’s National Treasures and 14% of Important Cultural Properties exist in the city proper.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) includes 17 locations in Kyoto, Uji in Kyoto Prefecture, and Ōtsu in Shiga Prefecture. The site was designated as World Heritage in 1994.
As Japan’s former capital and seat of the imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto offers a rich culinary tradition.
The local food culture is diverse and ranges from aristocratic kaiseki ryoricourse dinners to the vegetarian shojin ryori of monks and the simple obanzai ryori home style cooking.
While some restaurants look to the past for inspiration, others experiment with new flavors. Fusion restaurants, that combine ingredients and techniques of Kyoto cuisine with cooking styles from other parts of the world, can also be found in the city.
The Pontocho nightlife district is one of the best places to find good fusion restaurants alongside traditional establishments. Not far away, the Gion district also offers a wide range of interesting dining opportunities, as does the Kyoto Station area.
Regular Japanese food that is not necessarily associated with Kyoto in particular, such as ramen, sushi and udon, is also available across the city.
Food fans should not miss a visit to the Nishiki Market in central Kyoto, which has been serving the city for many centuries.
Kaiseki ryori has its origin in the traditional tea ceremony, but later evolved into an elaborate dining style popular among aristocratic circles.
Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (kyo kaiseki) is particularly refined, placing an emphasis on subtle flavors and local and seasonal ingredients.
A kaiseki meal has a prescribed order of courses which is determined by the cooking method of each dish.
A common way for travelers to enjoy kaiseki is by staying at a ryokan where a kaiseki dinner is included with the stay.
But kaiseki meals can also be enjoyed at restaurants, including high end ryotei, many of which can be found in the Pontocho and Gion districts of Kyoto.
A good kaiseki meal usually costs around 10,000 yen per person, but prices can go as high as 30,000 yen or as low as 6000 yen. Some restaurants depart from tradition and include elements of foreign cuisines.
Whereas kaiseki developed out of the affluence of the aristocrats, shojin ryori developed from the austerity of Buddhist monks.
Prohibited from taking the life of other living creatures, Buddhist monks had to make do without meat or fish in their diet.
Consisting of strictly vegetarian dishes, shojin ryori can nonetheless be savory and filling. Travelers who spend the night at a temple lodging will be able to enjoy a meal as part of the stay.
A common ingredient in shojin ryori is tofu, which is a local specialty of Kyoto. The preparation of tofu is so common that it can also be referred to as Tofu Ryori (“tofu cuisine”).
One popular dish that is widely served at restaurants is Yudofu, soft tofu simmered with vegetables in broth. A meal of Yudofu usually costs 1500 to 2000 yen, but the price can be higher or lower depending on the quality of the restaurant.
The Nanzenji and Arashiyama districts are particularly famous for tofu cuisine.
Kobe is the sixth-largest city in Japan and the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture. It is located on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, on the north shore of Osaka Bay and about 30 km (19 mi) west of Osaka. With a population around 1.5 million, the city is part of the Keihanshin metropolitan area along with Osaka and Kyoto.
The earliest written records regarding the region come from the Nihon Shoki, which describes the founding of the Ikuta Shrine by Empress Jingū in AD 201. For most of its history, the area was never a single political entity, even during the Tokugawa period, when the port was controlled directly by the Tokugawa shogunate.
Kobe did not exist in its current form until its founding in 1889. Its name comes from “kanbe” (神戸), an archaic title for supporters of the city’s Ikuta Shrine. Kobe became one of Japan’s 17 designated cities in 1956.
Kobe was one of the cities to open for trade with the West following the 1853 end of the policy of seclusion and has since been known as a cosmopolitan and Nuclear free zone port city. While the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake diminished much of Kobe’s prominence as a port city, it remains Japan’s fourth busiest container port.
Companies headquartered in Kobe include ASICS, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Kobe Steel, as well as over 100 international corporations with Asian or Japanese headquarters in the city such as Eli Lilly and Company, Procter & Gamble, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Nestlé.
The city is the point of origin and namesake of Kobe beef, as well as the site of one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts, Arima Onsen.
Kobe beef is meat from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle, raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture according to rules set out by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
The meat is a delicacy, valued for its flavor, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture. Kobe beef can be prepared as steak, sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, sashimi, and teppanyaki. Kobe beef is generally considered one of the three top brands (known as Sandai Wagyuu, “the three big beefs”), along with Matsusaka beef and Ōmi beef or Yonezawa beef.
Cattle were brought to Japan from China at the same time as the cultivation of rice, in about the second century AD, in the Yayoi period. Until about the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, they were used only as draught animals,
in agriculture, forestry, mining and for transport, and as a source of fertiliser. Milk consumption was unknown, and – for cultural and religious reasons – meat was not eaten.
Japan was effectively isolated from the rest of the world from 1635 until 1854; there was no possibility of intro-mission of foreign genes to the cattle population during this time. Between 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration, and 1887, some 2600 foreign cattle were imported, including Braunvieh, Shorthorn, and Devon.
Between about 1900 and 1910 there was extensive cross-breeding of these with native stock. From 1919, the various heterogeneous regional populations that resulted from this brief period of cross-breeding were registered and selected as “Improved Japanese Cattle”.
Four separate strains were characterized, based mainly on which type of foreign cattle had most influenced the hybrids, and were recognized as breeds in 1944. These were the four wagyū breeds, the Japanese Black, the Japanese Brown, the Japanese Polled and the Japanese Shorthorn.
The Tajima is a strain of the Japanese Black, the most populous breed (around 90% of the four breeds).
Beef consumption remained low until after World War II. Kobe beef grew in popularity and extended its global reach in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1983, the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association was formed to define and promote the Kobe trademark. It sets standards for animals to be labeled as Kobe beef.
In 2009, the USDA placed a ban on the import of all Japanese beef to prevent the Japan foot-and-mouth outbreak from reaching US shores. The ban was relaxed in August 2012. Shortly thereafter, Kobe beef was imported into the US for the first time.