Another Kyoto: Modern Buildings in the Ancient Capital

May 13, 2018

By Takumi Abe

 

Kyoto

 

If  you have interest in Japan, you may know that Kyoto was the ancient capital for many centureis. Many tourists come to Kyoto to see the traditional temples and shrines, or Japanese houses built from wood. However, if you spend any time in Kyoto, you will also find some contemporary architecture. For example, when you walk along Sanjo street, you will encounter many modern buildings. Furthermore, there are more modern buildings in Kyoto than you probably expect. These structures are completely different from traditional Japanese-style houses. Do you know why such structures as these exist in the old city Kyoto? On this page, you can find another Kyoto.

 

Sanjo Moderns

Modern Buildings on Sanjo

When you walk down on Sanjo street, you will discover several modern buildings. Many date from the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926). The most famous structure is the former branch of the Bank of Japan. Now it is used as the Museum of Kyoto. This building is covered with red tiles, so you feel like you are in Europe. It was built during the Meiji period when Japan brought in many things from the Western cultures in Europe and America.

 

the Museum of Kyoto

 

Another building that resembles the museum is the central post office. This post office was built in 1902 and it has been used ever since then. The roof and the exterior walls have been preserved.

the Nakagyo post office

 

The SACRA building was used to be the branch of a bank. The building reflects some Renaissance-style architecture. It was built in 1916.

 

 

 

In this building there are beautifully designed arches that appear on the façade. This building was built in 1890 and is the oldest building that was privately built in Western-style commercial construction.

 

 

The1928 Building was built in 1928, and it was used as a branch office for the English edition of the Mainichi Daily  newspaper. Nowadays this building is home to a gallery, restaurant and free space.

 

1928

 

 

At the Sanjo-Rougaemachi intersection stands another modern building that is registered as an important cultural property. This building is a wooden western-style building. It contains shops such as a kimono boutique, a restaurant and cosmetic store.

Modern building stands at the Sanjo-Ryougaemachi intersection

 

 

On temple grounds

Nanzenji temple

In the back of Nanzenji temple, you will discover an elevated aqueduct built of red bricks. You might feel strange when you see this because it looks out of place on the temple grounds. You can see the traditional temple and Roman style architecture. This aqueduct has been in use since it was built in 1888.

 

What you can see from modern buildings

Sanjo

 

Now the Japanese capital is Tokyo. However, before that, the capital of Japan was Kyoto. It was capital for about 1000 years. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan tried to be like Western countries. That’s why there are many modern buildings in Kyoto. Moreover, when the capital was moved, Kyoto was on the edge of a cliff. The emperor moved, the nobility moved, the artisans that made things for the Imperial family moved. Kyoto had to find new life. Therefore, Kyoto people made Kyoto great without the emperor. Kyoto city residents made a plan to become great again by embracing the new scientific innovations that were invented in the late 1800s, including gas lighting and the introduction of water- powered electricity. The aqueduct at Nanzenji was but one part of this large plan to modernize the city. You can see from these modern buildings the efforts and strength of Kyoto residents and the city government of Kyoto. From Kiyomizudera temple and Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, you can see the ancient Japanese faith. However, if you stand in front of a modern building, you may change your previous ideas about Kyoto.

Kyoto’s Historical Boulevard

by Takumi Abe

Many people who visit Kyoto want to seeonly  Kiyomizu temple, Kinkakuji temple or the Ryoanji rock garden. However, when most people first arrive in Kyoto, they will see the Kyoto Tower and a wide avenue going to the north. This street has many cars, taxis and buses. Its name is Karasuma-dori, and its length is six kilometers. Karasuma street is an important and central street in Kyoto, so there are many business buildings and some temples along it.  In addition, two universities are located on Karasuma, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace flanks the avenue as well. It is an important street especially from the views of the economy, education and Japanese history.

Karasuma from 794

Kyoto city has prospered for about 1200 years so many streets in Kyoto have a long history. If you walk down Karasuma street, you can see buildings from various eras. Karasuma was constructed in the Heian period (794-1185). At that time, this road was called Karasumaru-koji street. “Koji” means small road. This street was named after a family of Heian-period aristocrats. Karasuma has been significant because among the many Fujiwara families it was the largest area where Heian aristocrats lived. The street flourished,  but it fell into ruinduring the civil war in Medieval times. After this period of battles, the street was revived by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Due to his project, the street had many upper-class mansions, houses and stores. In  the Meiji period (1868-1912),  one of the modern Japanese periods, Kyoto Station was built at the south end of Karasuma street. As a result, this street was expanded and extended to all the way to northern Kyoto. At the same time, a streetcar started to run along the street. Today, Karasuma is in the central business district, where there are many banks and companies. Additionally, it is a gateway to Kyoto for people from various countries first arriving at Kyoto Station.

 

The gateway of Kyoto

What you can see on Karasuma

Shijo Karasuma

Shijo-Karasuma is one of the big commercial areas in the city. Many banks and insurance companies are located here. You can see the modern Japanese architecture and a long history. On the left side of the above photo of Shijo -Karasuma is the Mitsui building. This entrance was created in 1941.

Cocon Karasuma

Doshisha University

Cocon Karasuma is a commercial complex and office building. You may be fascinated by the arabesque pattern on the wall. This building was constructed in 1938, and it was recently renovated. It was not exposed the fires of war, so you can see the old-style stairs and floors inside. “Cocon,” in Japanese means both ancient and modern, so this amazing building shows the past  and the present in Kyoto.

If you continue much further north on Karasuma you will come to Doshisha University. This university was founded in 1875, and now about 27,000 students go to this school. It was established by Jyo Nijima. He was the first Japanese person to graduate from a university in the USA. He opened the door to modern education in Japan.

Toraya

If you want to eat Japanese sweets, I recommend that you go to Toraya. It has a long history, and this store has been around for nearly five centuries. From the days of old, this store made sweets for the Emperor. Its famous itme is Azuki-bean jelly. It has been loved for more than 500 years. Is is on Karasuma just southwest of Doshisha University.

Traditional culture inJapan is not only concerned with food, but there is also kadou or literally “the way of flowers”. Kadou is arranging flowers beautifully. It represents and expresses the beauty of Japan. Kadou was formed in the Muromachi era (1336-1573). It is said that it originated at the pond of Rokkakuji temple. This temple is crowded with tourists. Next to it on Karasuma is the headquarters of the Ikenobo School of Flower arrangement.

Manga museum

Moreover, people who love Japanese culture had better go to the Manga museum, which is nearby the Oike-Karasuma intersection. As the name indicates, this museum keeps more 30 thousand manga. You can read manga in the museum or in its garden. The Giga-Ukiyoe, which is a collection of funny pictures and was printed in the Edo era (1603-1867), is in the collection of the museum. Moreover, some manga housed here are from overseas. The amazing thing is that this building has been used since 1929. it used to be an elementary school, therefore you can see also the old style of Japanese school.

The street as a face of Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Karasuma street has a long history. It is rare that you can see a story that is 1200 years long. This place has faces of traditional Japan, modern Japan and present-day Japan. You can feel a Japanese passion to create the city, protect its heritage, and reinvigorate its culture.  The street is bustling with university students and some of its cafés are filled with young power. What is more, many workers use the street to find lunch or dinner, or go shopping. In  old times, there were many people riding in a carriage or walking in kimono. Suppose you come to Karasuma—you may feel the history of Japan.