August 28, 2016
By Mai Takezawa, Kanako Wakamatsu, and Mayumi Otsuka
The most characteristic point of Kyoto city is its grid pattern of streets. Kyoto city’s streets are constructed by North-South lines and crossing East-West lines. This grid pattern looks like Igo, the Japanese board game of capturing your opponent’s territory. The board is like a grid. It is called “Goban”, and from that it is called Gobannome in Japanese. The main streets in Kyoto run East and West are are named in numerical order, from one to ten, Ichijou to Jujou. The North and South streets are named by each street. It was too complicated to remember the whole name of the streets for people who lived in old days because they do not have convenient tools like the Internet. Therefore, the Warabe uta, which is like a children’s song, was made to remember it easily. Hokkaido and Tokyo are also cities in Japan using the same grid pattern style.
There are various theories about origin of the grid pattern. One of the most popular theories is the imitation of the old Chinese capital city, also based on Chinese fortune telling. In the old days, people’s houses were similar. They were called Machiya, so individual houses were hard to recognize. However, setting up a grid pattern and named every streets provided people distinction of individual houses more clearly. Moreover, for military aspect, arranging the roads this way made it easy to move a large number of armed forces. And if a fire happened, people could escape easily. Also the grid pattern deters the fire from spreading.
Main Streets in Kyoto
Karasuma Street is one of the most well-known streets in Kyoto. It is a causeway which starts from Imamiya Street in the north to Kuzebashi Street in the south. The length of this street is about 6.6 kilometers. In the old days, traffic jams often occurred. However, in 1981 they started the subway service between Kitaoji Street and Kyoto station. Because of this, the problem of traffic jams was solved.
The historical place of Karasuma Street is Kyoto Gyoen. It is a national park that contains Kyoto Gosho, Sentou Gosho, and the Kyoto state guest house. This area has about 63 hectares. Especially, Kyoto Gosho used to be an imperial house before the Japanese capital city moved to Tokyo. Sentou Gosho is the house for the emperor when he retires. Sentou Gosho was built in 1627. In the east part of Sentou Gosho, there is a garden with a huge pond. Kyoto state guest house was built in 2005 to give foreign visitors a hearty welcome and to make their understanding of Japanese culture and become friendlier.
The mood of Karasuma Street is different in the northern side than it is south of Marutamachi. The northern side has a lot of historical and religious places, while the Southern portion is basically a business district with many office buildings.
Kawaramachi Street is another such street. It is not only historical, but also highly commercial. The history of Kawaramachi started about 300 years ago. During the summertime Gion festival, the yamaboko - which is kind of sacred portable shrine - goes through Kawaramachi Street. The name ‘Kawaramachi’ comes from the Kamogawa River. “Kawara” means riverbank in Japanese. Nowadays, for Japanese people, Kawaramachi is famous for shopping and there has many cafes and restaurant, so it is really good place to hang out.
Main East-West Streets
The most famous street running East and West in Kyoto is Shijo Street. Our school (Kyoto University of Foreign Studies) is on Shijou Street. Shijo starts from Yasaka shrine in the East and runs all the way to Matsuo Grand Shrine in the West. The length of this street is about 7 kilometers. The history of Shijo street goes back to the past of Heiankyo. The intersection of Shijo Street and Karasuma Street is called ‘Shijo Karasuma’. In Shijo Karasuma, there are many department stores, for example, Daimaru, and if anything, it is more for adults rather than young people. This is because there are a lot of famous brand shops. Therefore, it is said that it is like the center of Kyoto city. On the other hand, there are serious traffic problems in and around Shijo Karasuma. The expansion the of sidewalk was completed in 2015. As a result, the sidewalk was certainly expanded, but it means the roadway has become narrower. Because of this, traffic jams occur frequently, so complaints about this from residents have been increasing rapidly.
Advantages for Tourists
If you lose your way in Kyoto, you can use the grid street pattern to help you find your way. For example, if you can find the name of the street you are on, it is easy to recognize where you are. And even if you cannot find the name of the street, you can turn every corner three times and can go back to the place where you were. The structure of the streets is very simple, so tourists can arrive the place where they want to go by using a map. When you take a cab, it is easy to tell the driver where you want to go by just giving street name.
Disadvantages for tourists
On the other hand, the grid pattern has disadvantages. If you want to go somewhere located diagonal, you have to go a long way round. However, most of Kyoto city’s streets are one-way. It means if you use the bus and you get involved in a traffic jam, it will take a lot of time. Furthermore, Kyoto city has regulations about the exterior color of houses and buildings. For example, McDonald is famous for yellow and red, but in Kyoto city, it is painted a sober brown or tan color. For this reason, the streets look similar, so it is easy to confuse where you are.
If you decide to go to Kyoto city, we recommend you to study about its grid pattern before you travel. It make you trip more enjoyable if you understand how it works.