This is the city that many visitors hope will fulfill the wistfully idealised vision of Japan as a place of evocative oriental splendour, with a timeless serenity, calm and culture. Despite the heady expectations, Kyoto meets them, and then some. Certainly, of any city in Japan, Kyoto has the highest concentration of major temples, shrines and monuments. Seventeen separate Unesco world heritage sites in fact. This rich history stems from the fact that Kyoto was once Japan’s capital city, and emperor's residence from 794 until 1868, also because it was one of the few cities in Japan that wasn’t flattened during world war two.
Classic arts such as Noh and Kabuki theatre, Kyōgen (comic plays), tea ceremonies, flower arranging, and of course geisha, are still practised here. Admittedly many of the easily accessible performances are geared to the tourist market, principally around Gion Corner, but they provide a good starting point. Food is also an art form. From stylised Kaiseki ryori – a series of tiny dishes with presentation and texture given as high a consideration as taste – to late-night takoyaki (fried octopus balls) by the roadside, there’s a culinary adventure for every budget. Summers are stiflingly humid, winters shiveringly cold. Spring and autumn (for the national obsessions of cherry blossom and leaf viewing respectively) are probably the best times to visit.
Its cultural depth is unsurpassed anywhere, but I have a lingering fear – if Kyoto was not a sufficiently inspiring setting in which to agree a treaty on saving the Earth’s climate, where is?