“Yokoso, Kyoto e!” - “Welcome to Kyoto!”
Please accept a very warm welcome from me, as local host for the 6th Asian Conference on Civil, Material and Environmental Sciences (ACCMES) to be held from November 23rd to 25th, 2023 in Kyoto, Japan.
The city and its environs are well known to most as one of the, if not the, main centers of cultural heritage in Japan. After a more than 1000-year reign as the capital of Japan, starting in 794, Kyoto relinquished the title to Edo (Tokyo) in 1868, at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. Kyoto was the scene of much intrigue, negotiation, and no small amount of violence, as Japan moved from rule by the shogunate to restoration of the role of the emperor and adoption of many aspects of western culture and technology. Characters such as Ryoma Sakamoto, of the Tosa clan, and Isami Kondo and his Shinsengumi were active in Kyoto, where Sakamoto was assassinated shortly before the Meiji Restoration. The history of this period is rather convoluted, but very interesting and crucial to Japan’s evolution from a feudal society. Exploring Kyoto to identify the sights of famous and pivotal events from this time would be a fascinating adventure in itself.
Political intrigue and ancient culture aside, Kyoto has long been a center for technology in Japan. The video games giant Nintendo got its start in Kyoto in 1889, Precision instruments maker Shimadzu was established in Kyoto in 1875 by Genzo Shimadzu Sr., also famous for his involvement in planning Japan’s first manned hot air balloon, whose test flight in Kyoto in 1877 was watched by tens of thousands of spectators.
Genzo’s son, Genzo Jr., who took over Shimadzu corporation after the early death of his father, was a famous inventor who collaborated to produce Japan’s first X-ray photograph in 1897, less than one year after Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery. He was also a leader in the development of battery technology in Japan.
Tokyo-born Sakuro Tanabe was responsible for the Lake Biwa Canal as chief engineer. This project, which started as an irrigation channel, also became a hydropower project under Tanabe, producing Japan’s first commercial hydroelectricity in 1891. In addition to powering Kyoto’s industries, itprovided the electricity for Japan’s first electric municipal streetcar in Kyoto in 1895. Kyoto’s famed Philosopher’s Walk runs along an old irrigation channel that brought water from the canal.
In addition to the two technology giants of Nintendo and Shimadzu, Kyoto is home to a host of small producers of high-tech components, such as semiconductors, circuits, etc.
Kyoto is located in a geographical basin, meaning there is a large difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, resulting in ideal conditions for brilliantly coloured autumn foliage. In addition to the prime natural conditions, Kyoto has a long history of people appreciating the colors of the leaves, with many tree species whose leaves turn vivid colors having been planted in the grounds of temples, shrines and other areas through the centuries. Shigeru Matsutani, the honorary director of the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, recommends IwatoOchiba Shrine, with its bright yellow ginkgo tree leaves making a yellow carpet in the autumn. The shrine is northwest of the main area of Kyoto, on a route that passes the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), Ryoan-ji zen temple and Kyoto Botanical Gardens themselves. Another site famous for its autumn colors is Kiyomizu-dera temple, one of my personal favorite places in Kyoto, and which is also famous for a Japanese proverb「清水の舞台から飛び降りる」(Kiyomizu no butai kara tobioriru), whose meaning is to “jump from the platform of Kiyomizu Temple.” It is a metaphor for making an important or bold decision and is similar to the English saying "make a leap into the dark". Incidentally, the platform is about 12 meters above the ground, with trees to cushion the fall, but jumping from there was outlawed in 1872, and the temple has measures in place to prevent people from taking the proverb literally anymore!
I hope that you will enjoy the contrasts of culture and technology that Kyoto has to offer, and that your decision to attend the conferences will be easier than a leap from the platform of Kiyomizu Temple!