Can KASHI transform on the lines of KYOTO? Why & Why Not?

Possibilities are tremendous but task is daunting…this is what I feel…but not our PM. I visited Varanasi some 20 years ago but memories have come alive while watching PM in Japan. As I know Varanasi, the city of Kashi Vishwanath temple, Dhashdhmedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, BHU, IIT, Sarnath, Five – Star Hotels, Tourists, Gangaji ki Aarti…it has tremendous potential as a tourist destination but for its infrastructure. Now that it has caught attention of our PM, it cannot escape transformation. PM’s main agenda of this visit to Japan. So what are the similarities, what are the differences, what are the opportunities and what are the threats? For this, it is important to know how splendid is Japanese city Kyoto.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Osaka on August 30 and, within hours, oversaw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe to turn Varanasi into a ‘smart city’ with help from Kyoto. The pact is in line with Modi’s vision of building 100 ‘smart cities’ across India. Under the smart heritage cities programme, Kyoto will provide cooperation in the fields of conservation and modernisation of cities, as well as art, culture and academics.

While Kyoto and Kashi share many similarities historically, there is a wide gap in where they stand today. First, the similarities: Kyoto is called the city of ten thousand shrines, while Varanasi boasts of numerous temples and ghats. Kyoto has been the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, while Varanasi is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Both cities also have rivers flowing alongside them.

Now, the differences: Kyoto has modernised while keeping its old city, temples and monuments alive, while Varanasi has languished in its past glory. Kyoto’s streets are wide and clean, with magnificent tree-lined boulevards — something Modi witnessed on his way to the luxurious Westin hotel. Varanasi’s squalor and narrow roads have prompted the PM to resolve to clean up the city. Varanasi’s Ganga river is polluted and the ghats need repair, while Kyoto has a number of rivers, canals and other navigable waterways. While Yodo, Kamogawa and Katsura rivers flow through Kyoto, its Late Biwa canal is a major infrastructure milestone.

These differences are likely to be highlighted by Kyoto’s mayor Daisaku Kadokawa in his a presentation to Modi on the subject. Modi’s plan of 100 ‘smart cities’ is one of the major focus areas during the visit. The Prime Minister is keen on rejuvenating Indian cities as urban centres, and Kyoto is a magnificent example of how a city preserves its cultural heritage while modernising itself. It, therefore, dovetails into PM’s own emphasis on rejuvenation of cities in India while preserving their cultural heritage as also his focus on what is widely known as ‘smart cities’. Kyoto, in the Japanese lexicon, is known as a smart city which is environmentally friendly, which preserves its heritage and which is at the cutting-edge of technology.

Could you see some parallels between Kyoto and Varanasi? Yes we can ancient history, culture, heritage, holiness, temples, art & craft, rivers, Ghats, Education and IT Hub, food and cuisine. No wonder Modiji has chosen Japan to do the job of transforming on the lines of Kyoto.

I thought of sharing history and present of Kyoto city of Japan on which Varanasi’s transformation has been modelled, traditional, cultural yet modern. Indeed the task is humongous, but worth trying. Probably it will be the most challenging task for Japan…but Japanese love challenges!

Let me share with you, what is the challenge is all about. How did this elaborate transformation happened? What it will take to transform Varanasi?

In Japanese, the city has been called Kyō , Miyako or Kyō no Miyako (京の都). In the 11th century, the city was renamed Kyoto (“capital city”), after the Chinese word for capital city, jingdu (京都). After Edo was renamed Tokyo (meaning “Eastern Capital”) in 1868, Kyoto was known for a short time as Saikyō (西京, (meaning “Western Capital”). During the 8th century, when powerful Buddhist clergy became involved in the affairs of the Imperial government, the Emperor chose to relocate the capital to a region far from the Buddhist influence. Emperor Kammu selected the village of Uda, at the time in the Kadono district of Yamashiro Province, for this honour.
The new city, Heian-kyō (平安京, “tranquility and peace capital”), a scaled replica of the then Tang capital Chang’an, became the seat of Japan’s imperial court in 794, beginning the Heian period of Japanese history. Although military rulers established their governments either in Kyoto (Muromachi shogunate) or in other cities such as Kamakura (Kamakura shogunate) and Edo (Tokugawa shogunate), Kyoto remained Japan’s capital until the transfer of the imperial court to Tokyo in 1869 at the time of the Imperial Restoration.

The city suffered extensive destruction in the Ōnin War of 1467-1477, and did not really recover until the mid-16th century. Battles between samurai factions spilled into the streets, and came to involve the court nobility (kuge) and religious factions as well. Nobles’ mansions were transformed into fortresses, deep trenches dug throughout the city for defense and as firebreaks, and numerous buildings burned. The city has not seen such widespread destruction since.

There was some consideration by the United States of targeting Kyoto with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II because, as an intellectual center of Japan, it had a population “better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon.” In the end, at the insistence of Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, the city was removed from the list of targets and replaced by Nagasaki. As a result, the Imperial City (Emeritus), of Kyoto is one of the few Japanese cities that still have an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya. However, modernization is continually breaking down the traditional Kyoto in favor of newer architecture, such as the Kyōto Station complex.

Kyoto became a city designated by government ordinance on September 1, 1956. Kyoto is located in a valley, part of the Yamashiro (or Kyoto) Basin, in the eastern part of the mountainous region known as the Tamba highlands. The Yamashiro Basin is surrounded on three sides by mountains known as Higashiyama, Kitayama and Nishiyama, with a height just above 1,000 metres (3,281 ft) above sea level. This interior positioning results in hot summers and cold winters. There are three rivers in the basin, the Ujigawa to the south, the Katsuragawa to the west, and the Kamogawa to the east. Kyoto City takes up 17.9% of the land in the prefecture with an area of 827.9 square kilometres (319.7 sq mi).

The original city was arranged in accordance with traditional Chinese feng shui following the model of the ancient Chinese capital of Chang’an (present-day Xi’an). The Imperial Palace faced south, resulting in Ukyō (the right sector of the capital) being on the west while Sakyō (the left sector) is on the east. The streets in the modern-day wards of Nakagyō, Shimogyō, and Kamigyō-ku still follow a grid pattern.

Today, the main business district is located to the south of the old Imperial Palace, with the less-populated northern area retaining a far greener feel. Surrounding areas do not follow the same grid pattern as the center of the city, though streets throughout Kyoto share the distinction of having names. Kyoto sits atop a large natural water table that provides the city with ample freshwater wells. Due to large-scale urbanization, the amount of rain draining into the table is dwindling and wells across the area are drying at an increasing rate.

With its 2000 religious places- 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrinesas well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact, it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan.

Among the most famous temples in Japan are:

• Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain;
• Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion;
• Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion;
• Ryōan-ji, famous for its rock garden.
• The Heian Jingū is a Shinto shrine, built in 1895, celebrating the Imperial family and commemorating the first and last emperors to reside in Kyoto.

Three special sites have connections to the imperial family: The Kyoto Gyoen area including the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sento Imperial Palace, homes of the Emperors of Japan for many centuries; Katsura Imperial Villa, one of the nation’s finest architectural treasures; and Shugaku-in Imperial Villa, one of its best Japanese gardens. In addition, the temple of Sennyu-ji houses the tombs of the emperors from Shijō to Kōmei. Other sites in Kyoto include Arashiyama, the Gion and Pontochō geisha quarters, the Philosopher’s Walk, and the canals which line some of the older streets.

The “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” are listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Kyoto is renowned for its abundance of delicious Japanese foods and cuisine. The special circumstances of Kyoto as a city away from the sea and home to many Buddhist temples resulted in the development of a variety of vegetables peculiar to the Kyoto area (kyōyasai, 京野菜).
The key industry of Kyoto is information technology and electronics: the city is home to the headquarters of Nintendo, Intelligent Systems, Dainippon Screen, TOSE, OMRON, Kyocera, Shimadzu Corp., Rohm, Horiba, Nidec Corporation, Nichicon and GS Yuasa.
Tourism also forms a large base of Kyoto’s economy. The city’s cultural heritages are constantly visited by school groups from across Japan, and many foreign tourists also stop in Kyoto. In 2014, the city government announced that a record number of tourists had visited Kyoto, and it was chosen as the world’s best city by U.S. travel magazine.

Traditional Japanese crafts are also major industry of Kyoto, most of which are run by artisans in small plants. Kyoto’s kimono weavers are particularly renowned, and the city remains the premier center of kimono manufacturing. Such businesses, vibrant in past centuries, have declined in recent years as sales of traditional goods stagnate.

Kyoto Station is the center for transportation in the city. The second-largest in Japan, it houses a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, Isetan department store, and several local government facilities all under one fifteen-story roof.

More on Varanasi in my next post…wait & watch!

Kyoto history courtesy: Wikipedia

3 thoughts on “Can KASHI transform on the lines of KYOTO? Why & Why Not?”

    1. Sure Bajpaiji. Even I visited some 20 years ago, that time it never struck me what all could be done to make it worth. But today after 20-odd years, it seems time has stopped in Varanasi, it looks just the same. Good that PM is taking such big initiative, even I want to contribute my might for the cause of Varanasi and holy Ganga which is so very dear to us. I want to be proud of Varanasi. Yes we can certainly draw some inspiration from Kyoto. If we visit Varanasi now then certainly some more out of the box ideas may strike. Still I will work out some ideas, till I get to visit Varanasi. You can write to me on bienumv@gmail.com.
      Thanks

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