KYOTO – Kyoto’s long history is one of great prosperity (the Heian Period of a millennium ago, when the arts flourished) and great tragedy (the 1467-1477 Onin War devastated the city). But in more modern times, 1868 was something of an annus horribilis.
The year that kicked off the Meiji Restoration was the beginning of an exodus from Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo) that would see Emperor Meiji, his retainers and the multitude of artists and craftsmen who served the Imperial court say goodbye to the old capital. Just a few years after 1868, Kyoto had lost a third of its population as well as its over 1,000-year position as the cultural and spiritual center of the country.
But next year, Kyoto will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration with a series of events that accent the positive, all with an eye on keeping tourists happy. A full program of seminars, exhibitions and public events is planned.
Events will include, from January, an exhibition of photos of Kyoto taken in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), an exhibition and cooking classes in February on what people in Kyoto filled their stomachs with during the period, and limited tours of what Kyoto says was Japan’s first commercial hydropower station, dating from 1891.
From April, the Biwa Canal that connects Lake Biwa to Kyoto will be reopened. The city plans to increase the number of canal trips, which take between 35 minutes and 50 minutes, depending on whether you’re going upstream or down. Kyoto ran the boats on a trial basis this year but will put them into full operation next year.
“For Kyoto, the Meiji Period was a difficult time, as the population shrank from around 340,000 to about 230,000. The socioeconomic damage was great. But the people of that time faced the difficulties and the city adapted to the outside world, bringing in much knowledge from overseas during this time,” Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa said in announcing the celebrations.
The Biwa Canal and the hydropower station were built using know-how transferred from Holland and the United States.
Many visitors may also check out the tomb of Emperor Meiji himself.
Though he resided in Tokyo until his death, his tomb is in Kyoto’s Fushimi district, a reminder that, although the Meiji Restoration represented a fundamental shift to Tokyo, it also affected Kyoto’s political and ancient cultural history.
A calendar, in Japanese, listing events in Kyoto next year related to the 150th anniversary celebrations can be found at meiji150.kyoto/event-calendar/