Streets of Kyoto

When Kyoto was founded more than 1000 years ago, it was modeled after the then capital of China. This means, all of the city was laid out on a rectangular North-South, East-West grid, with the grounds of the imperial palace on the northern end of the city, representing its head.

Lots of things happen in 1000 years, in particular the growth of Kyoto beyond its original boundaries to fit the 1.5 million people living here today. A large portion of the newer parts of the city have simply extended the grid scheme, but especially near the mountains that enclose the town, this is not the case anymore.

However, to be considered a “true” Kyoto person, you must live in that inner part of town that once made up the original city (ideally, that means your family has been living there forever). And so as not to get lost in those little streets that all but looked the same in the time of the old Japanese wooden houses, children learnt the Kyoto street song, listing all the streets of Kyoto “proper” first from North to South, and then from East to West.

Even today, every person born in Kyoto knows this song. I am not sure if the song itself has a meaning beyond the street names, but since they are abbreviated and one of the lines talks about “Ane san”, meaning older sister, I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually did tell a story. Enjoy!

Just in case you’re wondering what’s with the penguins: Kyoto City Aquarium houses 47 penguins that are all named after the 47 streets in this song. And in this video, you hear the staff of the Aquarium.