Kyoto/ genius loci

Kyoto/ genius loci



During the Edo period, there was a strict establishment of control and zoning by the Japanese authority in reinforcing their own culture and identity. It is acknowledged that a complete transformation of Kyoto, the imperial capital city, gave raise to an urban spatial configuration reflecting order and social hierarchy. By that time, classifications in the social system was enacted. This significantly insisted on traditional social hierarchies of esteem and status, and , to name them, bringing emperor, shogun, daimyo, samurai, peasant, artisan and merchant in the social order.

Comparing the maps below, we can see the retaining of the grid streets layout from the rectification during the time of Edo in the few-centuries-later streets maps. The stratification indicates the reshaping and redefining of the nation’s capital during Edo and its significance in asserting the ambience of Kyoto. The remarkably strong imposition of cultural identity and social structure in Kyoto was found to be, in my opinion, significant in depicting the cultural preservation and internalization of the Japanese.

Kyoto, 1653

This is the map of the streetscapes of Kyoto and its surrounding in 1653.

Kyoto street plan in 1894, Kyoto-shi(ed.) Heian tsushi, 1895

This is the streets map of Kyoto in 1894.

Kyoto, 1969

This is the map of Kyoto in 1969.



3 Comments on “Kyoto/ genius loci

  1. Edo period in Japanese history was indeed based on highly systemized social strata, with clear distinction of territories belonging to each caste group. Such series of maps clearly discloses the preservation of traditional grid system that was manifested in Edo period. The research of Kyoto is still substantially broad, however, as it is also applicable to other Japanese cities such as Tokyo. A possible path may be to delve into the function of Kyoto during Edo period as formal ancient capital, as the locus of political power was shifted to Tokyo (formerly Edo) – the realm for Samurai class. This possibly suggests a swift of dynamic of political power, from traditional noble families to military-based class.

  2. The transformation of Kyoto is led by Toyotomi Hideyoshi approximately from 1653 to 1867, he built a city wall and mansion house (Jurakudai) to show his authority and power, then built some samurai residential houses near Jurakudai. He forced the noble to live in assigned regions and also moved temples in Osaka to specific area to control religious power. This corresponds to this article on how the urban spatial configuration according to order and social hierarchy. Furthermore, Hideyoshi modified the sizes and shapes of the grid of streets and built main streets in town which explained changes in the urban map in Kyoto.

  3. Such grid system is, as mentioned in above comments, not unique to Kyoto. Since Kyoto had long been Japan’s capital city for more than a thousand years, it is not as surprising that the strict grid system is employed. Similarly ordered city planning occurred to for example, Chang An, which was an ancient Chinese capital city.

    However, it is very interesting to see how the grid and naming systems retained over generations of wars and revolutions, which seems to be rather unique. A lot of street names and addresses today can even be dated back from the times of Heiankyo (平安京), when one would expect drastic changes within the city through these years of burning down and rebuilding by different powers to make it totally unrecognizable from its historic times. I wonder if this is also to some degree indicate any of the cultural aspect observed from the series of maps. Whether it is just a matter of convenience or is it a more complex nostalgic emotion driving behind?

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