Kyoto, the ancient capital of the Mikados, is now far behind Tokyo in size and population, though in picturesqueness and historical interest it greatly out-does its modern rival; and from the moment we left the railway station we could see how little the streets had been touched by the new life of Japan. Religious fairs were going on in many parts of the city, and these, and the numerous priests among the crowds of passers-by, proved how powerful was the influence that the old religion and social customs still exercise upon the people.

Japan As We Saw It (Bickersteth) (1893)

Kioto is situated in a large plain, on all sides surrounded by hills. The town is on the western side, and the hill behind it commands a very fine view. This hill is covered with beautiful woods, and appeared to be the site for tea-gardens. The inscription over one of these was in English, or an attempt at it, announcing:—

“Artificial warm mineral spring

Principallij containing

Ferri carbonas.”

Around the town are rice-fields, the common feature of Japan. These rice-fields require constant irrigation, which one would think was unhealthy, though the people do not appear to suffer from it. The sewage is carefully preserved for manure for the land. I visited a great idol called Darbutz, which consisted of an enormous head, I should think twenty to twenty-five feet high, placed in a temple. I had not access to figures, but it did not strike me as being as large as the idol at Kama-kura. Close by is a very curious temple called Sanji Sanguento. A great idol sits on a throne with a small head over the great head, four other smaller ones in the coronet, and twenty-four hands. Immediately around twenty-six devilish-looking figures are grouped, while in long rows on either side, 1000 other figures are placed, in an attitude of devotion, the latter of a not unpleasing aspect. It is a remarkable and melancholy exhibition of idolatry. The great Buddhist temple of Nishihanguan-ji is a collection of several buildings which are good specimens of Japanese temples, ornate, but not very large. The interiors reminded me of those of the Greek Churches in Russia. I visited a large number of other temples, of which the city seems full. At the hotel they had put down Gosha, the Mikado’s Palace, on my list to be visited, but, on arriving there, a difficulty was made at admitting me, and my jinrikisha men took me to the government office to procure an order. Here a curious scene presented itself, which a good deal puzzled me, but which I afterwards found was the distribution of prizes for a recent exhibition. Long rows of girls gorgeously dressed, with painted faces, were being marched in procession through the court and about the building, while Japanese gentlemen in European evening dress were directing the proceedings. At length I found the official who had charge of Gosha, who told me I could not see it that day, as it was a holiday, but I might next morning before my return to Hiogo. He was very civil, and sent one of his clerks, whọ spoke English, to show me everything. This shows the rapid change in Japan, as only four years previously Baron Von Hubner, accompanied by Mr. Enslie, the British Vice-Consul at Osaka, had the greatest difficulty in obtaining the entrance which is now given as a matter of course to every traveller. The palace is more curious than beautiful. It consists of interminable small rooms separated by sliding panels with paintings on the screens. The only room of any size is the hall in which the Mikados were crowned. The gardens would be pretty if they were kept in order, but they are much neglected, as since the removal of the emperor to Yeddo, he has never paid a visit here. Those who now rule in his name seem so afraid of losing their influence that they discourage his travelling, and he remains as constantly at Tokio as his ancestors did at Kioto. Near Gosha is the palace of the ex-Mikados, who have been numerous in history, as it was not uncommon for princes to abdicate in favour of a child and continue to govern. The young Japanese who accompanied me said the population of Kioto was 600,000. Many Europeans are resident here in the service of the Government.

A Visit to Japan, China, and India (1877)

I took my abode at the Yaami Hotel, which is run on European lines and can be well recommended to visitors; it is magnificently situated on a little hill at the edge of the town and affords a splendid view of the whole place. From here all the principal sights of the town are within easy reach. All the places of amusement seem to be concentrated in this direction: some hundreds of tea-houses are here situated side by side in long rows, and various streets round an old Shinto temple are occupied by theatres, tea-houses, show booths, and stands for those who like to try their skill at shooting and slinging. These streets are crowded till late at night with joyous, happy merry-makers. A constant coming and going, a puffing and shouting on the part of the sellers and show-owners, and all the hubbub which we are accustomed to find in European fairs are displayed here.

Japan As I Saw It (1912)