Situated amidst the mountains of Western Honshu, Kyoto is probably the most picturesque city in Japan.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the Emperor’s residence from 794AD to 1868. In fact the very word Kyoto means “Capital City”. Though the capital of Japan is now Tokyo, Kyoto is not any less important. Thus the name “capital city” is not quite off the mark.
The once capital was at the height of its glory when the Emperor ruled the country from here and its myriad architectural landmarks like palaces, temples and shrines were built mainly in this period. Kyoto was the only city that was spared in the devastating World War 2 bombings.
The city is now a very important centre of business and trade and many important corporate houses are based in Kyoto. The city is visited by more than 40 million tourists in a year proof that for tourists, language does not pose a very big problem. 99% of the people are Japanese and because the Kyoto accent is a little different from the traditional Tokyo accent, if you do know Japanese communicating with the locals would be a little difficult. 1% of the population comprises Korean, Chinese, Filipino and Brazilian people so you might just come across a few people who are conversant with these languages.
Tourists unaware of the Japanese language need not be very concerned about communication problems as most people will speak English at the airports and major hotels. Since the shopkeepers in Kyoto are accustomed to dealing with foreigners, basic communication through gestures or other such means would be quite easy. However street signs, information boards, store signs and menus are generally written in the Japanese language.
The Japanese language has three types of writing: katakana and hiragana (both of which are syllabaries), and kanji or Chinese characters. Japanese writing can be written two ways: from the right side of the page downwards, working toward the left; and from left to right, working downwards. People in Kyoto speak with a unique accent. Even if you study Japanese (standard Japanese) it can sometimes be difficult to follow what they are saying.