30 Interesting & Unusual Facts About Kyoto | #3 is Bizarre


Ahh, wonderful Kyoto.

Even a short time here creates such a sense of awe that time slows in a way the original Zen masters would be proud of.

As ever, we love to learn as much as we can about the places we visit, so spent our time in Kyoto challenging each other to find out the best facts we could.

So here we are, our favourite facts about Kyoto, from the stat-based to the very unusual.

OUR JAPAN CREDENTIALS

The Reeves Roamed for 25 days through Japan, taking notes as we went. Our route was based on our typically thorough research, though we also found some surprises along the way. We only write about places we’ve actually been, so you can be confident that the details are first-hand.

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Ben Reeve
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1. Kyoto is Only Japan’s 9th Largest City

photo of kyoto taken from mount inari

Considering how famous Kyoto is, I thought it was a lot bigger, but it’s actually only Japan’s ninth-largest city (by population).

At 1.4 million people, it pales in comparison to Tokyo, which is the world’s largest city with 8.9 million, and holds nearly half the number of people as Osaka.

It is a city comparable in size to Adelaide in Australia and Frankfurt in Germany.

SOURCE: population-hub.com

2. The Deadliest Post-War Massacre

The Kyoto Animation arson attack happened on the morning of 18th July 2019 at Kyoto Animation’s anime studio one.

Shinji Aoba walked into the building with 40 litres of gasoline, dousing the area and multiple people before igniting it.

36 people were killed and 34 injured.

Aoba accused the studio of plagiarising his books, and was sentenced to death on 25th January 2024 – a sentence which hasn’t yet been carried out.

SOURCE: Wikipedia

3. It Has a Mound Full of Sliced Off Ears & Noses

Mimizuka Ear Mound, in the south-east of the city, is a memorial filled with the noses and ears of Korean soldiers and civilians killed by invading armies in the 16th century.

When Toyotomi Hideyoshi decided to invade the Korean Peninsula in 1597, he ordered entire towns be killed, with their heads sent back to Japan as evidence.

As the body count racked up, the space on the ships proved to be too small, so soldiers just sliced off just their noses or ears instead, packing them in boxes of brine.

There are conflicting numbers, but somewhere between 30,000 and 200,000 of them are buried here.

SOURCE: Mimizuka Ear Mound

4. Japan’s Longest-Serving Capital City

Kyoto was Japan’s capital city for longer than any other city, a total of 1,074 years, earning it the rather obvious nickname ‘The Thousand-year Capital’

Established as the capital in 794 CE, Kyoto, originally known as Heian-kyō, played a central role in Japanese history until the capital was moved to Tokyo in 1868.

SOURCE: The Historical Capitals of Japan

5. The City of 10,000 Shrines

a golden temple in kyoto japan

Kyoto’s other nickname is ‘The City of Ten Thousand Shrines’.

Whilst there are many shrines here, my research shows it’s more like 2,000 with 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines.

SOURCE: The Travel Turtle

6. A Honeymoon Stopped an Atomic Bomb

Kyoto was originally top of the list of cities to be devastated by the atomic bombs dropped by the USA in 1945. After being left largely untouched by bombing during the rest of the war, Japan had moved lots of major factories to the area.

That was until Secretary of War Henry Stimson stepped in.

Stimson argues that Kyoto was of ‘cultural importance’ and went to President Truman to have it removed. Stimson had visited Kyoto several times in the 1920s, including on his honeymoon, and it was this that had given him a great admiration for the city.

SOURCE: BBC.com

7. Reducing Greenhouse Gas

The Kyoto Protocol, was agreed on 11th December 1997 in the city, and binds developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with agreed targets.

SOURCE: United Nations

8. 33% of All Non-Business Visitors Visit Kyoto

Despite it’s small population, it’s not a surprise that Japan’s ancient capital city is the third most visited city in the county, behind Tokyo and Osaka, with 33% of tourists heading here.

SOURCE: Japan Tourism Statistics

9. 75 & 146/500

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and the historic Gion district both made it into Lonely Planet’s list of the top 500 places on earth.

SOURCE: My bookshelf!

10. 17 UNESCO Sites

temple sticking out of dark trees

As a UNESCO geek, I love the fact that Kyoto has so many UNESCO sites they had to club them together under one big umbrella ‘The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto’.

In total, there are 17 of them dotted around the city.

A few of them made our list of favourite places in Japan.

SOURCE: UNESCO

11. Nijo Castle Is Not Original

a traditional japanese white castle nijo castle in kyoto

Sorry all, but there are only a dozen castles in Japan that have survived its wars and natural disasters, and Nijo Castle in Kyoto is not one of them.

Nijo was originally built in 1603, but the central keep was struck by lightening in 1750, and a citywide fire took out the rest in 1788.

What you see now are bits of the original castle plus significant restoration works.

SOURCE: Japan’s Original Castles

12. You Can Crawl Through a Rock For Good Luck

toddler crawling through a hole in a rock at a temple

At Yasui Kompira-gu Shrine in the Gion district, you can cast a wish on paper, stick them on a stone then crawl through a hole in the middle of it to make them come true..

If you’re interested, little Gracie wished for a unicorn!

SOURCE: Atlas Obscura

13. There Are Over 10,000 Torii Gates At Fushimi Inari

red torii gates with steps between them at fushimi inari shrine in kyoto

Fushimi Inari is one of the most recognisable and photographer places in Japan.

Sweeping up the side of the hill are 10,000 red torii gates, donated by people and businesses in the hope of gaining divine properties.

SOURCE: Japan Travel

14. Its Trams Are Purple

purple tram in kyoto

I’m not sure whether or not you find that an interesting Kyoto fact or not, but I’m going to back it up with this – it was the first place to have them in Japan, and they’ve been here since 1895.

SOURCE: Brittannica

15. Its Name Is A Lie (Now)

Kyoto translates as ‘capital city’, something which hasn’t been true since 1868.

SOURCE: Quora

16. A Phoenix Saved From Flames

phoenix on top of golden pavilion in kyoto

In 1950, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) was set alight by a disgruntled monk.

Either by fortune or fate, the iconic bronze Phoenix that sits on the roof was away for repair, so survived the fire.

SOURCE: worldhistory.org

17. A Parade… of Monsters!

In northern Kyoto, there is a small parade of shops called Yokai.

Yokai is a little difficult to translate, meaning ghosts, possessed humans or demons, a mischievous supernatural creature which serve as warnings to children to not get in trouble themselves.

On the 3rd Saturday in October (though from 2024 this is moving to April), a monster parade is held down the street, with people coming from across the city to dress up like Yokai.

SOURCE: Kyoto’s Hidden Street of Monsters and Ghosts

18. A Rock Hidden From View

The famous Zen garden at Ryōan-ji Temple presents a riddle: from any vantage point, at least one of the garden’s 15 rocks is always hidden from view.

It is not known who designed these gardens, or what their meaning is, with theories ranging from a tiger carrying her cubs across water, to the rocks spelling out the Chinese character ‘heart’.

SOURCE: Discover Kyoto

19. Floors Which Tweet

Nijo Castle is renowned for its unique architectural feature known as ‘nightingale floors’.

These specially designed floors were constructed to chirp or squeak when walked upon, serving as an ingenious security measure against intruders during the feudal era.

SOURCE: somejapan.com

20. The Tallest Pagoda in Japan

Toji Temple in Kyoto is home to the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan.

The pagoda stands at a height of approximately 57 meters (187 feet) and is an iconic symbol of the city. Constructed in the Heian period, it has been rebuilt several times after being destroyed by fire, with the current structure dating back to 1644.

SOURCE: japan-guide.com

21. World’s Largest Manga Collection

The Kyoto International Manga Museum has around 300,000 volumes of manga from Japan and other countries.

This museum is more like a library, with visitors encouraged to take the books off the shelves to have a read.

SOURCE: otakumode.com

22. A Brown, Silver Pavilion

a japanese multi tier temple beside a pond silver pavilion in kyoto

Ginkaku-ji Temple, is also confusingly known as the Silver Pavilion, despite being a traditional mix of wood.

It was originally meant to be wrapped in silver foil, but even though it was never completed, the name stuck.

SOURCE: japan.travel

23. 1,001 Duplicate Statues – Each With a Unique Face

Sanjūsangen-dō temple, is so long that it’s become a unit of measurement for Tōshiya archery tournament.

Inside are 1,000 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, each of which has a unique face.

SOURCE: Atlas Obscura

24. Film-Worthy

Several famous films have been shot in the city, including:

  1. Memoirs of a Geisha (2005): Directed by Rob Marshall, this film is based on the novel of the same name by Arthur Golden. It was partially filmed in Kyoto, particularly in the Gion district, known for its geisha culture.
  2. Lost in Translation (2003): Directed by Sofia Coppola, this film includes scenes shot in Kyoto, particularly at the Heian Shrine and Nanzenji Temple.
  3. The Last Samurai (2003): Directed by Edward Zwick and starring Tom Cruise, this film had several scenes shot in Kyoto and the surrounding areas, depicting the traditional samurai culture and Japanese landscapes.
  4. Kagemusha (1980): Directed by Akira Kurosawa, this historical drama was partially filmed in Kyoto. The film is known for its portrayal of the Sengoku period and samurai battles.

25. The most Famous Festival in Japan

Gion Matsuri, perhaps Japan’s best-know festival, and known as one of the three great festivals (alongside Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka and Sanno Festival in Tokyo), takes place every year in July.

The first festival was in 869, and it has taken place annually since 970, and is considered a celebration of humans overcoming adversity, with the original festival held at a time of an awful epidemic.

SOURCE: gionfestival.org

26. Mario’s Home

Yes, yes, I know he’s Italian, but the headquarters of Nintendo are actually in Kyoto.

Did you also know that Nintendo was founded in 1889!? It started out as a card company.

SOURCE: How to Visit Nintendo in Kyoto

27. Beautiful Sisters

Kyoto has the most incredible list of sister cities.

It is twinned with (amongst others):

  • Cologne
  • Florence
  • Boston
  • Kyiv
  • Prague

Wow!

SOURCE: Wikipedia

28. The Oldest & Most Relegated Team

Kyoto Sanga FC are the longest established team playing in the J League, having been founded in 1922.

They also have the dubious honour of being the team most relegated, having been demoted three times – in 2000, 2003 and 2006.

SOURCE: Wikipedia

29. The Bunny Shrine

Okazaki-jinja is a Shinto shrine that has become a tourist attraction before for its cuteness that is religion.

Despite being an important Shinto shrine, built in 794, it is now far more famous for being fully of bunny statues and toys, an animal which represents fertility and reproduction.

SOURCE: Kanpai!

30. A Rope Made of Hair

During the construction of Higashi Hong-ji Temple, giant beams needed to be raised, but they couldn’t find any rope strong enough.

Step in some incredibly devoted followers of the temple, who cut off their hair and braided it into what must be some of the world’s weirdest ropes.

There’s even a section of it in the British Museum.

SOURCE: Reddit

Before You Go

If you are keen to learn more about Japan, take a look at our complete Japan Travel Guide here.

Do you have a great Kyoto fact that we’ve missed? Put it in the comments below, and we’ll add it to the article, with a link back to your website or social media channel.

the reeves family picture

AUTHOR – BEN REEVE

Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

Booking your trip via the links on this page earns us a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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