From Kyoto to Tokyo: the amazing story behind Japan’s changing capital city!

From Kyoto to Tokyo: the amazing story behind Japan’s changing capital city!

We know Tokyo as the capital city of Japan. The bright, neon-lit city is the first image that pops in our head at the mention of the country’s modern vibes. But at the mention of authentic Japan and Japanese culture, Kyoto is where we think of. These are the reputations of the two cities. But did you know, Tokyo wasn’t always the capital city? Back in the day, Kyoto was the one that held the title. So why was there a switch from Kyoto to Tokyo as the capital city of Japan? We have the answers you’re looking for.

Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan

Kyoto wasn’t called Kyoto back in the day. Just like other Japanese cities, it had a few names. One of it was “Heian-kyo” (平安京). This translates to “metropolis of peace or seat” in Japanese. Another name for Kyoto was “Saikyo” (西京), which means Western capital.

Originally, Kyoto only consisted of the Imperial Palace and the areas surrounding it. But now, as we know it, it’s grown much bigger. Some believe that Kyoto’s architecture was designed to resemble Xi’an City during the Tang Dynasty. The grid-like streets and rectangular enclosures were hints of that.

Kyoto was the capital city of Japan for more than a millennium, after its inception in 794AD. It’s one of the oldest cities of Japan, after all, so it only made sense that leaders have settled down there and created history. In the 8th century, Emperor Kanmu was the one that decided Kyoto to be the capital. Rulers after him would have the city as the seat of the Imperial Court for centuries, until the 19th century. Kyoto was gradually losing its prominence as an administrate centre. A change was required.

How the oligarchy influenced the change

Now, we’re not going to delve deep into history. We’re going to just touch on it. The Tokugawa Shogunate, as we know, was the last feudal Japanese military government. They reigned from 1600 to 1969. In the early years, then-Edo now-Tokyo was the spot for their military government. The Tokugawa Shogunate became so powerful to the extent that the Emperor was below them.

The Meiji Restoration got back the Emperor’s position in politics and culture. In 1868, the Tokugawa Shogunate was no more. At the time, the ruling emperor was merely 15, so the power was given to the oligarchs. They decided to stay in Edo instead of going back to the then-capital city Kyoto because of its convenient location and easy access to the West for trade. Edo was given a new name: Tokyo, the “Eastern Capital”.

Edo, from village to castle town

Credit: Lilac and Honey on Flickr Creative Commons

The name “Edo” means “estuary”. It was originally a mere village during the Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333). The village’s location was perfect for the establishment of headquarters. It had access to busy lands and sea routes. When the Tokugawa Shogunate established in Edo, it was the beginning of Edo’s rapid growth. Edo Castle became their base, with moats and bridges surrounding it. By 1720s, Edo’s population drastically boomed and had a major economic growth.

Today’s Tokyo

And we skip to today. The emperor wasn’t the one that decided the change of capital city to Tokyo, but this incident marks a crucial time in Japan’s history. It was inevitable that Tokyo became the main area for trade due to its accessibility. From there, technology, Western clothing and architecture began to influence the city. Just like how Kyoto grew in size, so did Tokyo to include its surrounding regions.

Capital city: Kyoto or Tokyo?

Now, Kyoto is still known as the “Western Capital” and Tokyo as the “Eastern Capital”. The move of capital city to Tokyo affected Kyoto deeply, but now the city’s thriving with its own unique personality that contrasts that of Tokyo. Kyoto will always be a symbol of old Japan, and Tokyo’s a symbol of the country’s evolution and development. Kyoto will always be thought of as the heart of Japan for it’s storied and important history.

Top 9 Coffee Places in Kyoto

Top 9 Coffee Places in Kyoto


The ancient capital city of Japan, Kyoto, is filled with coffee hot spots everywhere — north to south, east to west. You get everything from coffee shop chains to the traditional kissaten (喫茶店), a Japanese-stye coffee shop. The hustling and bustling Tokyo is nice and all, but Kyoto takes it down a notch — everything about the city, including its coffee, focuses on the slow and therapeutic process.

If you ever find yourself in Kyoto with a dying need for a cup of coffee, here are the 9 best coffee places that are dedicated to the Japanese aspects of high quality and hospitality.

1. Vermillion Espresso Bar

First on the list, we have Vermillion Espresso Bar — a list of Kyoto’s coffee places wouldn’t be complete without the mention of this amazing coffee place. There are two Vermillion coffee places, a cafe and an espresso bar, located within walking distance of the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, making it the perfect break spot after a long day of sightseeing,

The name “Vermillion” is to refer to the deep red of the torii gates at the shrine. Both locations offer coffee, of course, as well as cakes and toast. You can get everything from pour-over coffee to espresso — one of their bestselling coffees is the matcha latte which uses green tea from Uji City located in the south of Kyoto Prefecture. 


Another famous coffee shop in Kyoto is WEEKENDERS CAFE. This hidden cafe can be found at the back of a parking lot just around the corner of Tominokoji-dori. To get there, the nearest station is Kawaramachi station and you’d have to walk about 10 minutes — not too far at all.

Opened in 2005, this coffee shop aims to bring artisan coffee to Kyoto and is one of the most reputable coffee shops among local residents. Tons of other cafes use their beans in their store as well — Vermillion is one of them! Pioneer of the Scandinavian type of lighter roast coffee in Kyoto, this minimalistic aesthetic in everything that they do is what keeps the customers coming back.

3. Inoda Coffee

Just a 10-minute walk from Karasumaoike Station, Inoda Coffee is one not to miss out on. This long-established coffee place is extremely popular among locals and tourists alike — they have tons of branches all around the country, but their main store is in the ancient city.

Their speciality coffee is one with sugar and milk, making the coffee richer and more flavorful — while you can drink it straight, why not try their number one rated menu option, the Arabian Pearl?

4. Ogawa Coffee

If you can’t be bothered going so far from the main area and need a quick fix at Kyoto Station, head on down to Ogawa Coffee. Conveniently located and delicious coffee, this stylish coffee shop is one of the most popular ones in town.

What’s more, you’ll have your coffee served by the world championship barista, so don’t worry about not getting a decent cup of coffee at the station — this one’s pretty much a done-deal. You can get everything from espresso to hand drip coffee, as well as food to match if you’re in the mood for a small snack.


5. Kurasu

With two locations in the city, Kurasu is a buzzing topic among the locals. One located just a five-minute walk from Kyoto Station and the other near Fushimi Inari Shrine, this coffee shop gets all the buzz. 

I’d recommend the one near the shrine as it also houses their roastery. Kurasu began as a humble online shop selling Japanese coffee equipment, but now it has even outgrown the local market and dived into the international one. The owner is truly dedicated to combining the experience of a traditional kissaten and the modern trends of a coffee shop. 


Nothing beats a cup of coffee after a stroll around the Kyoto Botanical Gardens — located just across the river from that, WIFE&HUSBAND coffee is a small, hidden cafe in the northeast of the city. They have a pretty simple menu: pour-over coffee with homemade toast with butter, honey or cheese. 

The coffee beans at this cafe are roasted by the owners themselves, who, as you can tell, are a married couple. Sitting at this cafe is like visiting a friend’s home — the comfy, cosy atmosphere is thanks to the antiques hanging on walls and the self-service picnic equipment that you can use on a nice sunny day. 

7. Murmur Coffee

You’ll love it here, trust me. This coffee shop is kind of like the romanticized version of a traditional kissaten. Murmur Coffee has everything you’d expect from a full-on traditional Japanese experience — the sliding doors, the wooden structure, the expertly-brewed coffee.

Located just by the Takase River, you’ll not only get an amazing cup of coffee but also a spectacular view to boot. There are also food options on the menu, so it’s the perfect place for a relaxing morning breakfast or for a coffee break in the day.

8. Dongree Coffee

Dongree Coffee is quite raging recently — located nearby Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, this coffee shop is the only one you need to go to if you’re in the area. This hipster-esque coffee shop only serves hand drip coffees, as do all specialty coffee shops in Kyoto. 

If you’re looking for a laid-back ambience with a chance to practice your coffee tasting palates, this is the place for you. There are roasts of different flavours and levels, so you’re sure to find one that you’d fall deeply in love with.


Last but not least is & ARABICA coffee shop. This one is extremely popular — so popular that they don’t only have one store but three in Kyoto alone! If you’re in Higashiyama, Arashiyama and Kyoto Fujii Daimaru, you can get your fix at one of their stores! 

Their lattes are the best option on the menu, made by Custom Slayer espresso machines. Sometimes, if it gets quite busy, some of their menu options like lemonades get sold out in the middle of the day, so come by early! You could also buy beans from them and make your own cup of % ARABICA coffee at home.


Everything from modern-style coffee shops to kissaten-influenced ones, Kyoto has it all. So whatever your coffee cravings are, this culturally rich city can satisfy it. With this list of the best 9 coffee shops in Kyoto, you can start your coffee journey in the city!

The Art of the Kimono

The Art of the Kimono

The Japanese kimono is one of the world’s most fascinating garments, not only because of its beauty but also because of its history, as well as its longevity. While the kimono is an ancient garment with a history going back to Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), it has stood the test of time amazingly well and is still regarded as one of the most attractive (and comfortable) forms of clothing ever created.

Kimono Styles

In the beginning, kimono (the word in Japanese is the same in its plural form) were simpler in style and were worn with trouser-like skirts known as hakama. Sometime later the hakama was discarded, and the obi, a wide sash, was added. It wasn’t until the Kamakura period ( 1185-1333) that color combinations became fashionable, and today’s formal kimono still reflect colors and designs based on themes, seasons and even family and political ties.

Since ancient times, Japanese men and women have typically worn heavier silk kimono in the fall and winter, and lightweight linen and cotton kimono in the spring and summer.

A simple kimono, such as a household kimono or man’s casual kimono, is worn much like a robe. A classic formal kimono (such as the style that’s synonymous with geisha entertainers) is a much more complicated affair, enhanced with an elaborate obi, a wide sash that is tied around the middle and enhanced with a makura, an obi bustle pad in the back. A cord, known as an obijime, is tied in front to keep the obi in place.

Are Kimono Still Worn in Japan?

Is the kimono still being worn in Japan? The answer is a resounding yes. The kimono is still a staple costume in many types of traditional Japanese theater, including classic kabuki and noh. In real life, however, most Japanese restrict their kimono-wearing to special events and festivals, such as the November 15 children’s festival Shichi-Go-San, or Shogatsu (January 1-4), the Japanese New Year.

However, you can still see the kimono being worn in the streets of Kyoto, Japan’s center of kimono culture — although chances are that most of the people wearing kimono will be tourists. Kyoto is also the site of Japan’s famed geisha schools and teahouses, and tourists spend hours waiting for a glimpse of these talented kimono-clad performers. According to those in the know, if you want a photo, the best place to wait is in the historic Gion district at around 5:45 pm, when geisha are on their way to their evening engagements.

While in Kyoto, you can purchase a kimono from one of the town’s many specialty kimono shops, as well as rent them by the hour. When you do, be sure to pick up the proper tabi socks (with a separate big toe) and zori (kimono sandals) to complete your outfit. You can even get a geisha makeover, complete with fancy kimono, makeup and studio photos of yourself, for a reasonable price.

Taking a Language (and Kimono) Trip to Japan

Each year, thousands of people in the US learn Japanese online, teaching themselves Japanese words and vocabulary via websites. If you’re wondering how to learn Japanese online or how to read kanji, be sure to visit Nihongo Master, which offers a wide range of Japanese language lessons for every level. While you learn, Nihongo Master online also entertains you with manga-style comics and puzzles, making lessons not only more fun but easier to relate to and remember.

One of the best ways to learn Japanese is to take a language trip, where you can immerse yourself in the written and spoken language — as well as the culture — of this fascinating country. If you love the history of kimono, you can make it a kimono trip as well by taking a journey to Kyoto. For many, a trip to Japan isn’t complete without seeing at least one kimono-clad geiko (the Kyoto word for geisha) or maiko (apprentice geiko), either in performance or walking to a gig. While you’re there, be sure to treat yourself to an authentic kimono from one of Kyoto’s many kimono shops. It’s the best possible souvenir you could bring home from a trip to Japan.