Kyoto makes the travel itineraries of visitors to Japan because of its perfectly preserved shrines, temples and machiya (traditional wooden townhouses) – still standing thanks to a merciful lack of major earthquakes and a decision by the US during WWII not to bomb the city. But this is no timeworn relic living off the legacy of its Heian-era greatness. In the 1960s, Kyotoites came to accept that their city, with its historical treasures, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, had to change if it were to remain a dynamic urban centre. Many areas have been sympathetically renovated, with the insertion of hotels, art galleries and retail spaces, and today the city that brought the world the refined art of the tea ceremony and the classical theatre forms noh and kabuki is just as famous for being the birthplace of Kyocera, Daihatsu and Nintendo, and the location of the signing of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Restored, renewed and boasting young creatives and rising stars such as artists Kohei Nawa and Ryota Yagi, designer Masaki Tokuda and architectural firm Eastern Design Office, the former capital is again taking a key role in the shaping of tomorrow’s Japan. Since the samurai battles of the 15th century, Kyoto has avoided confrontation by preserving the old and tolerating the new, which is what makes it such an alluring destination. Soak up its ancient history, but also witness the modernity that brought the world two pixelated Italian plumbers called the Super Mario Brothers.