Kyoto (Japan)

Kyoto (originally named Heiankyō) was established in AD 794, modelled on the grid system of the Chinese city of Chang'an. It was the political and cultural centre of Japan almost continuously for eight centuries and is still regarded by many as the cultural heart of Japan. Under the Ashikaga shogunate (1333-1568) it also became an important commercial centre. The city was badly damaged during the ōnin Wars (1467-77), but made a rapid recovery. By the late seventeenth century it had a population of 600,000, larger than Paris. However, Kyoto steadily became subordinate to Edo (modern Tokyo), the shogunal city, after the reunification of Japan by Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1600. The Tokugawa Shoguns built Nijō Castle in Kyoto, from which they controlled the Emperor and his court.

Buddhism has always had a strong presence in Kyoto. From the early Heian period the Tendai sect monks of Mount Hiei were particularly powerful. Their strong army was eventually destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in 1571. Zen temples built in the Chinese style (karayō) with gracefully curved roofs and elegant gardens dominate the surviving ancient architecture in the city, although large parts of Kyoto were in fact destroyed in fires in 1788 and in the 1860s.

Kyoto had a flourishing painting and craft tradition which at first revolved around the court, Buddhist temples and military rulers. In the late fifteenth century, a new class of wealthy townsmen (machishū) emerged which became a powerful force in the city's cultural life. They were patrons of the arts, taking up the noble pastimes of Nō drama, tea ceremony, calligraphy and poetry. They also commissioned genre paintings depicting scenes of townspeople going about their daily lives. During the Edo period (1600-1868), the nobility and the wealthiest merchant families sponsored new schools of art: the Rimpa and Maruyama-Shijō schools were both founded in Kyoto. Kyoto was also an important textile centre, famous for Nishijin silk brocades and Yūzen dyed and painted fabrics.

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