Unique Buildings in Kyoto

April 20, 2019

by Noa Murakami,Masashi Morishita and Kaho Imamura

Where can you find ancient Japan? Most people will say it is Kyoto. Indeed, the cityscape of Kyoto is very old-fashioned and is famous worldwide. There are many historic buildings in Kyoto. Buildings have strict regulations to protect their traditional feel. in order to protect them and maintain the traditional atmosphere of the cityscape, the shape, color, and appearance of buildings in Kyoto are highly restricted.

History of Kyoto City

During the Nara period (710-794) the capital city was placed in Kyoto. We call the next era when the capital was changed to Kyoto the Heian period. Kana letters, yamato pictures and stories became popular in the Heian period. Many of the structures built in that era were houses with gardens. Also, the famous Byodo-in Temple, Chuson-ji Temple, and Konjiki-do were built. The original culture of ancient Japan was called kokufu culture. Kokufu were the capitals of the historical provinces of Japan. Since Kyoto was the capital during the Heian period, and many of its buildings were preserved, it now offers visitors a historic cityscape from over 1,300 years. Foreigners like the old cityscape of Kyoto.

Currently Kyoto is working to maintain this historic atmosphere of the cityscape. In January 2006, Kyoto City decided on the maximum height limit allowed for buildings in each area of the city. Currently many tourists – both domestic and foreign – come to Kyoto for sightseeing. And it is people’s desire to maintain its old-fashioned landscape that makes Kyoto such a special place.

Keikanho – Landscape Laws

Keikanho are Japanese laws designed to create and maintain a pleasant scenery in Japanese cities and rural areas. The goals of keikanho is to develop beautiful and stately land, to create rich and comfortable circumstances of life, to improve the economy, and finally to contribute to the development of communal society in Japan. The original keikanho were made in order to protect the loss of tradition because a lot of modern houses, buildings and factories were being built that did not have any relation to tradtional Japanese culture. This caused degradation of tradition and local characteristics, which disturbed the harmony between the townscape and the natural landscape. Therefore, keikanho was put forth in June of 2004 and actually became an enforceable law by June 1st, 2005. As a result, the Japanese government has been able to regulate the way buildings are designed and how they look, including shape, size, materials, and color. In fact, Kyoto now has the strictest keikanho regulations in all of Japan. In this way, the scenery of Kyoto has been protected.

Examples of Keikanho in Action

There are many ways that keikanho have affected the way buildings look in Kyoto. For example, in the famous Gion shopping street, the design of all the signboards of stores in the area are unified, creating a traditional atmosphere.

Another example is post office boxes. Everyone knows that post office boxes in Japan are red and shaped like a square box. However, in Kyoto there are still old post office boxes in the form of cylinders. These can be found on Hanamikoji-dori street in Gion, for example.

There is also an AED box that is so unique, few have ever seen one. The meaning of this kanji is “be careful about fire”.

Also, convenience stores often use different colors in Kyoto than what is the norm in other cities in Japan. For example, Lawson is usually blue, but there are some Kyoto-based branches that use brown.

This same phenomenon can also be found in Kyoto-based restaurants, like McDonald’s, Nagasaki Champon, Freshness Burger, and so on. When compared with their counterparts in other Japanese cities, they are different in Kyoto from the color you usually see. The signboards of all these shops are brown. This is one way to protect the landscape in Kyoto.

Unique Buildings in Kyoto

One unique building with an interesting appearance in Kyoto is an okonomiyaki shop called Issen Yoshoku, which is near Gion-Shijo Station. The name of this shop means ‘Western food’, but its appearance looks traditionally Japanese. Once you enter the restaurant, you can see many wooden plaques on the wall, called ema. Japanese people write their hopes and wishes on the boards and typically hang them in shrines for the Gods to receive. It is very beautiful, so you should go and see it.

Like most major cities in the world, you don’t need to look far to find a Starbucks. And as you might imagine, some of the Starbucks cafes in Kyoto have unique appearances. For example, there is one near Kawaramachi Station in an old wooden building of Kyoto. And not only do they sell items from their normal menu, but they also offer powdered green tea, which is popular with customers. Once inside, you may look at the beautiful courtyard. And one of the highlights of this Starbucks is that they have a tatami room. So you can drink your coffee or tea on a Japanese traditional tatami mat. This is the only Starbucks in the world where you can do this. Therefore, a lot of foreign tourists come here every day.

Conclusion

You can see a lot of old-fashioned, traditional buildings just by strolling around Kyoto on foot. You can meet a lot of people wearing kimonos as well. Kyoto is a fun city with old-fashioned shopping streets and shops. Kyoto is both lively and refined at the same time. Foreign tourists can enjoy the strange landscape. It is a calm space for us Japanese. Kyoto is a town in which you will never get bored. When entering one alley, it may be like a totally different world for you. Everyone, please try walking around Kyoto city.

Access

Issen Yoshoku

You can go to Issen Yoshoku about 3 minutes on foot from Keihan line Gion-shijo stati

〒605-0073

Adress:238 Gion-cho kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, Japan.

TEL:075-533-0001

FAX:075-531-6511

Opening hours:Monday to Friday AM11:00-AM3:00

Weekends and holiday AM10:30-PM10:00

HP: http://www.issen-yosyoku.co.jp/

Starbucks in Ninenzaka Yasaka-Chayaten

You can go to Starbucks in Ninenzaka yasaka-chayaten about 18 minutes on foot from Keihan line Gion shijo station exit1.

If you use the bus, you get off bus at Higashiyama-yasui and can go to the shop about 10 minutes on foot.

〒605-0826

Adress:349 Shimogawara-Higashiirumasuya-cho, Minamimon-dori, Kodaiji,

Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, Japan.

TEL:075-532-0601

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday AM8:00-PM8:00

HP: https://www.starbucks.co.jp/store/search/detail.php?id=1476

Old Schools as the ‘New Kyoto’

Background

At present, Japan has an aging population and declining birthrate problem. Therefore, the government has been closing about 500 schools a year. Rather than let these buildings go to waste, the closed schools are being revamped into new places such as welfare facilities, hotels, community centers and so on. The closed school sites are attractive plots of land in Kyoto due to it being a crowded city that sits in a basin. The densely populated situation in the city center means that any large spaces are far and few between. Plus, the school buildings themselves have historical value.

There are 3 main advantages of using old school buildings. First, the ample space can be used effectively, for example, holding seminars in the classrooms and enjoying sports in the gymnasium or outdoor ground. Second, by using existing facilities, new ventures can significantly decrease their costs. Finally, the site of a former school is designated as cultural property as a historic building, so they should be maintained as such. The Kyoto Art Center and Comic Museum in Kyoto are both housed on old school sites. On the other hand, there are demerits too. These old schools need repair work which means they are not always easy to use as a welfare facility or for social gatherings. They also need a lot of money to look after them. As explained, using these sites has various problems which need to be considered carefully.

 

Renovations

Currently, even in the center of Kyoto, there are 10 sites where elementary schools used to be. These buildings have been turned into libraries, hospitals, homes for the elderly, NPO offices, museums, cafés and spaces for volunteer activities. Kyoto International Manga Museum is a famous museum for overseas visitors. Inside there is a café, shop, exhibition room and memorial hall about the old elementary school. Before this site was used as a museum, it used to be Tatsuike Elementary School. The wooden floors and stairs faced of stone and tiles still remain. The floor creaks under your feet when you step on it, giving sweet memories of times gone by but in a modern setting. Moreover, visitors can read various comics and books in the surroundings of an old school. In one of the buildings, there is still the principal’s office. You can see the main terrace by the playground from the window in this office.

Kyoto Art Center used to be Meirin Elementary School. You can see the design of floats that were used for traditional feasts in Kyoto in front of the building. There is a large tatami mat -156 square yards- which adds to the traditional Japanese atmosphere. This facility also has a library, cafe and workspace for art. The management of the facility wanted to revive Kyoto, so they established the center in the old school. In 2008, there was some resistance to use the site as a cultural property, but this school was used carefully for a long time by the people in the neighborhood. Even now, a lot of people go there to learn and see the art, drink something and catch up.

The Department of Administration in Kyoto City Hall has beautifully renovated these old elementary schools into new facilities with thoughtful consideration of the local community. Elementary school buildings create fond memories for many children and adults, so it is important that the new facilities do not destroy old memories.

 

Future of old schools

Finally, let’s take a look at some future plans for reusing old school sites. Until now, old schools in Kyoto have been transformed into new facilities through a careful renovation process that does not break up the existing buildings, creating spaces for bustling communities and thriving cultural exchange. Planners care about the thoughts of the local community more than anything else and intend to continue this way in the future. They have to observe the rules made by the city. For example, stores that are built inside of these old schools must be local business’ that have a link to Kyoto’s traditions. As a result, local people who have affection for the old school buildings agree to the new utilization plans. As an example, there is the case of Rissei Elementary School. It is located in Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto and closed in 1993. This school will be renovated by 2020 and opened as a new complex that includes a hotel, café, library, resident committee meeting space among others with the cooperation of the city, local self-governing associations and real estate companies. Furthermore, a similar cultural complex will be opened in 2021 at the site of Shirakawa Elementary School in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. In this complex, planners intend to build shops that exhibit and sell Kyoto’s traditional crafts, a garden where local people can feel free to gather, and a hotel where guests can experience Kyoto’s culture. You will be able to see a lot more renovated buildings with new cultural complexes that protect the old school buildings. The purpose of the old schools can live on through these reconstruction projects.