Kyoto is the home and soul of traditional Japanese culture.
Seventeen World Heritage Sites are sprinkled throughout the city.
Many other sites not recognized by the UN are equally stunning.
Several hundred geisha work in the city's four licensed geisha quarters.
Moreover, unlike every other major city in Japan, it was not bombed during World War II. Kyoto remained intact in August 1945 - while Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Nagasaki et al lay in ruins.
However, in the 50+ ensuing years the city itself - in the name of becoming "modern" - has essentially destroyed itself. Old buildings have been knocked down and replaced by concrete structures with no design value.
The idea that historic preservation has any inherent value is still mostly an alien concept to the powers that be in the city.
As a result, the signature features of modern Kyoto have become:
1. Pachinko parlors
2. Convenience Stores
3. Parking Lots
4. High Rise Coops known in Japan as "Mansions"
5. Telephone poles and wires
For a city that earns its much of its living from tourism, one would hope for a bit more vision and planning.
With the exception of small pockets - Shirakawa Dori, Nene no Michi - there is not one area that has retained a "Kyoto" look in its entirety. Walk around Kyoto and in your mind's eye compare the cityscape to what you would find on a street in Paris, Florence, Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, Philadelphia's Society Hill.
As a result, the World Monuments Fund recently placed Kyoto's beautiful machiya townhouses on its "2010 At Risk" list.
Perhaps this will spark a bit more of a revival of the beautiful townhouses than the current "boom" has.
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Monday, October 19, 2009