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Kyoto was the political capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years - from 794 until 1868, when the government was transferred to Edo (Tokyo). It remains the cultural heart of the Japanese nation, and with more than 2,000 temples and shrines, it is a place of pilgrimage as well as a veritable open-air museum. No fewer than 17 major sites in and around the city have gained UNESCO World Heritage status.
It is in Kyoto, more than anywhere else in Japan, that the old ways of the country’s old imperial civilisation are kept alive, both in the arts and in real life. From geisha to kabuki actors, the past is still present in the old capital, and this is also reflected in the physical environment; the city has managed to retain (not least since Kyoto was spared bombardment at the end of WWII) the ambience of old at least in some areas, where temples, shrines, teahouses and old wooden machiya townhouses give the visitor a vivid impression of what traditional Japan must have been like.