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Ancient capital's legacy

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Kyoto, which was the nation's capital for more than 1,000 years, is a major tourist destination.

The history of Kyoto as the capital started in 794, when Emperor Kanmu moved the capital to the city from Nagaokakyo, which was located in an area in present-day Kyoto Prefecture. It is believed that the emperor's decision to pick Kyoto as the capital was based partly on the principles of feng shui, the most advanced "scientific" idea of the time.

Feng shui says there are four guardian deities at the four cardinal points of north, south, east and west, and a place that has features that represent these deities will prosper.

There should be a blue dragon defending the east and a white tiger at the west, a phoenix at the south and the black turtle-snake, an imaginary turtlelike creature, at the north. If this applies to geographical features, a stream should be located in the east, the main street at the west, a body of water at the south and a mountain at the north.

The emperor noted that Kyoto fulfilled these conditions perfectly. Kyoto has the Funaokayama and Kuramayama mountains in the north, and the Kamogawa river runs in the east. There are the Sanindo and Sanyodo streets in the west, and Oguraike pond in the south.

In December 1994, 17 temples, shrines and a castle--including Kiyomizudera temple, Enryakuji temple and Nijojo castle--in Kyoto and surrounding areas were chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the designation Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

The 17 locations contain 38 national treasures and eight special scenic places designated by the government, and therefore had been preserved quite well. This is one of reasons UNESCO selected them as a World Heritage Site.

Since the 17 spots are scattered in a wide area, it is difficult to visit all of them in a short period. A tourist is advised to make up mind which ones to visit--maybe visiting closely located ones at one time, or visiting temples by sect.

"We recommend Kiyomizudera or Nijojo [both of which are easily accessible from JR Kyoto Station] for those who don't have much time," said Kazuki Yagi, manager at the city's tourist information center, which many foreign tourists visit.

"Then, if you have more time, we'd suggest adding Kinkakuji temple [to your itinerary]," Yagi added.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
Kamowakeikazuchi Shrine (Kamigamo Shrine)
Kamomioya Shrine (Shimogamo Shrine)
Kyoogokokuji temple (Toji temple)
Kiyomizudera temple
Enryakuji temple*
Daigoji temple
Ninnaji temple
Byodoin temple
Ujigami Shrine
Kozanji temple
Saihoji temple (Kokedera temple)
Tenryuji temple
Rokuonji temple (Kinkakuji temple)
Jishoji temple (Ginkakuji temple)
Ryoanji temple
Honganji temple (Nishi-Honganji temple)
Nijojo castle
(*Enryakuji temple is now in Shiga Prefecture.)
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