Ever since Kyoto was founded by the Emperor Kanmu in 794, its temples, garden sanctuaries, artisan quarters, elegant back streets and superb inns and shops have lent credence to the city's nickname, "Hana no Miyako," the City of Flowers.

Every flower needs a ready source of water to thrive, a commodity which Kyoto, fortunately, has in plenty. If the history of the Arabs has been influenced by the absence of water, Japan's culture has been shaped by its abundance. Kyoto, with its rivers, commercial canals, irrigation channels, artesian wells and garden ponds, is perhaps the most aquatic of Japan's inland cities, though in such a discreet and seductive way that you would hardly notice.

The site, surrounded by mountains at the northern extremity of a fault basin, was chosen in 793 not only for its conformity to Chinese principals of geomancy, but for its ready supply of water from the Katsura and Kamogawa rivers. Indeed, one of the few traces of cultural geography to have survived from the time of the Emperor Kanmu is a large pond, originally part of the Shinsen-en, or "divine spring garden."