Japan: Protecting the Kyoto Cityscape

While many countries around the world are struggling to tackle Kyoto at home, the city the environmental accord was named after is caught up in its own struggle. The capital of Japan for over 1,000 years (794-1868), Kyoto was once a picturesque ancient city surrounded by mountains. Today it is a major tourist destination, attracting about 47 million visitors every year, with a set of historic locations listed as World Heritage sites. At the same time, Kyoto is one of the major economic centers in the west of Japan. The economic boom in the 1980s and 1990s accelerated modern development in Kyoto, which turned the city into a big jumble of tall concrete buildings, glaring neon signs and rooftop advertisements. To clean up its negative image, the city of Kyoto recently passed a bill to introduce an ordinance protecting its cityscape and views. As the bylaw came into effect on September 1, raising some controversy, bloggers from Kyoto and elsewhere expressed various concerns and opinions.

Kyoto Tower
Photo: Flickr user Jameswy Wang CC-BY-NC-ND

One blogger writes:


Well, anyway, I totally support the new landscape bylaw. I would like to help by all means. Kyoto is a city which has a lot of tourists, and if the city becomes much cleaner, there will be even more tourists. In other words, “if the city is cleaned up, then there is money to be made”. To put it in extreme terms, “beautification of the city = money making”. Kyoto is the only place where this kind of scheme can be applied.

On the other hand, this blogger writes:


I think it's understandable in the case of Kyoto, a tourist city, but if this measure gets implemented in other cities, then I think it will prevent city development…
I am worried that this may be welcomed by people in regional cities who don't like change.

Kyoto Station
Controversial Kyoto Station
Photo: takasunrise0921 (GNU Free Documentation Licensed)

Fuji-chan Film is sceptical about the new bylaw.


While I think the regulation came too late, I don't think you can do much by regulating some part of the city landscape. That's because the ugliness of the present landscape is made up of not only the neon signs and electric wires, but also Kyoto Station and Kyoto Tower as well as the pachinko places in the Shijo area and a combination of other elements.
The kind of areas that tourists think of as “Kyoto” are very scarce, so wouldn't be more realistic to pinpoint and protect temples and other historical architecture?
Because the city scape of Kyoto is largely made up of buildings that are reminiscent of the Showa era, which you see everywhere in Japan, the landscape policy seems to be a waste as these things will be protected as a result.

Towers in Kyoto
A pagoda with Kyoto Tower in the background
Photo: Courtesy of Chisaki Inoue

This blogger shares his/her experience and view.



Whenever I show my friends around Kyoto, they always say that rooftop signs and tall buildings are in the way when they try to take pictures.
Indeed, I can imagine that it could be a turnoff to see drab objects in pictures of historical buildings and landscapes.
As a historical tourist city that Japan boasts about, I think it should mimic at least one thing that other historic cities in the world do.

“I can see the Daimonjiyaki from my veranda,”
residents of high-rise condominiums boast.
As a result of these high-rise condos, how many people have lost the view of the Daimonjiyaki?

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.