Kyoto Landscape Policy 2007/ What’s New

京都の景観政策 – Kyoto City Landscape Policy 2007

[Local Government]

When The Council on Landscape Formation of Kyoto Shining Forever was established in 2005, they had already proposed a few aspects that the new policy must address. After two years of consultation and planning, the council officially released the Landscape Policy in 2007. As mentioned before, the regulations were not new ideas and so instead this blog entry will more closely at the things that were changed.


1 – Stricter building height limitation

At the main artery roads, the maximum height was reduced from 45 meters to 31 meters. For the residential districts, the limit was reduced by more than 50% from 31 meters to 15 meters. This action was to protect the human scale characteristic of the Kyo-machiya urban space. The traditional Kyo-machiya is 2 stories tall, if a tall building was introduced it would completely destroy the appearance and experience of the city, as we’ve seen previously in the case of Kyoto Tower.

Existing buildings that exceed the building limit, 1800 of them, would be labelled as illegal [1]. However, the developers were not required to take it down immediately. The common apartment building in Japan is built to last only 30 years due to traditions of purchasing brand new homes  over second-hand ones. Therefore those structures would be demolished in due time anyway, and replaced by new buildings that conform to the new regulations.


2 – Review of building design standards

Previous standards were divided into 5 types of traditional building design. The new policy sets a list of common standards with additional region specific design standards, allowing local building characteristics to be preserved and enhanced. To facilitate this regulation, the city categorized areas as ‘Landscape Districts’ (風景区).  For example, Shimogamo (下鴨) is a ‘mountain-background’ type district, where the pitched roofs form a distinctive landscape with the mountains in the background [2]. Therefore, the district will have strict regulations to control the color and type of roof in order to preserve this consistent city aesthetic.

Shimogamo District Source: City of Kyoto


3 – Preserving ‘borrowed landscape’ and ‘perspective landscape’

Borrowed Landscape is a concept used in Chinese and Japanese Gardens, where a certain view is framed and the background elements are borrowed and used as part of the framed view. While perspective landscape is defined as “the entire visible landscape between the viewer and the target view” [3].

This regulation was the first in Japan to address the preservation of these views, and the reason given was that “such landscapes have incorporated in people’s daily lives and have been giving them pleasure for a long time”[4]. Indeed it would be a shame for the locals if a view of a distant mountain was to be blocked by a tower, or if a modern building suddenly appeared behind a traditional Shinto shrine.’

The policy categorizes the borrowed and perspective landscapes into 8 types, and basically all buildings within the line of sight will be strictly regulated. The building height, facade design, and roof color are to be carefully controlled as to not interrupt the landscape view.


4 – Stricter regulation of building advertisements

The color and locations of building advertisements were already under control by Kyoto regulation and this new policy further regulates them. Basically rooftop and flashing displays are now banned since they are “regarded as too strong for the urban landscape” [5]. Advertisement boards have become part of the contemporary Japan city aesthetic, for example a street in Shinjuku would be filled with glowing advertisement boards. The city of Kyoto obviously rejects that, in order for Kyoto to retain the traditional city aesthetic.


5 – Preservation and renovation of historical buildings

The Kyo-machiya are the core of the historical landscape of Kyoto, and this last part of the policy aims to preserve those traditional buildings. The local government will select areas with historical street landscapes and develop specific plans for the preservation of those districts. The city also provides a subsidy for locals who own Kyo-machiyas and encourages them to repair/renovate their houses.


[1] Christoph Brumann, and Evelyn Schulz. Urban Spaces in Japan: Cultural and Social Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2015. p64-66.

[2] City of Kyoto. “Kyoto City Landscape Policy”. 2007

[3] City of Kyoto. “Conservation, Revitalization and Creation of Kyoto Landscape“. 2007. Accessed 19th December 2018

[4] City of Kyoto.  “Conservation, Revitalization and Creation of Kyoto Landscape“.

[5] Ibid.

6 Comments on “Kyoto Landscape Policy 2007/ What’s New

  1. It is interesting to see how Kyoto trying hard to preserve its historical aesthetic while so many other cities in the world are trying cope with modernity and be the best ‘up-to-date’ city. I am not sure if Kyoto’s approach will limit new possibilities in the city, but the city’s respect and pride to its own culture and traditions surely is worthy of appreciation.

    • Although the regulations do indeed limit the architecture in the city, it also gives rise to other creative solutions. For example the excessive use of glass windows is discouraged and so K Associates uses a long and thin interior courtyard to bring light into the house. This also creates a unique interior spatial experience. For more information you can have a look at the posts by Amanda on contemporary architecture in Kyoto.

  2. Hi Quentin, these five items you’ve identified are very interesting. I would be curious to find out more about actual examples of each of these and their implications.

    If it’s in your interest, you could also ask further questions, for instance, what did the new height limitation mean for existing buildings? Or, did the “Landscape District” categorization build the local identity, or limit the freedom of the residents?

    You might also want to back up your statement on the relationship between the popularity of digital cameras and the regulation of “Borrowed Landscape”.

    • I have now included the implications of the policy in a new post. The landscape district categorization mainly limits the design freedom of the facade while the interior design is completely free, allowing for different spaces to happen inside the houses. Architect Tokuichi Yoshimura uses new abstract designs inside traditional machiyas, creating an interesting contrast.

      The statement about cameras does seem a bit irrelevant now and I have decided to remove it.

  3. Kyoto is no doubt a city that has a rich cultural and historical background. Having visited Kyoto a few times, I am much impressed by the authentic streets that are lined with traditional Japanese houses. I believe that with adequate aid from the government, the conservation of the unique landscape and historical urban fabric of Kyoto would be easier as the city undergoes economic and urban development. In recent years, the preservation technique of adaptive reuse is widely adopted in different places including Hong Kong and China. Adaptive reuse of buildings revitalizes the buildings through restoration and gives them new functions while retaining the original characteristics of the architecture. I think that the potentials of adaptive reuse in Kyoto would be an intriguing topic for further study.

    • Yes, adaptive reuse is one of the strategies used in the preservation of the kyo-machiya. For example some of the machiya are being converted into hotels or tea-houses. These programs are attractive for tourists and allow them to take part in an ‘authentic’ Kyoto experience. For more information you can have a look at the blogs by Rayna.

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