Meiji Restoration vacation: heritage tourism in contemporary Kyoto

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Japan Forum




Issue 4: Meiji Japan in Global History


Kyoto has become synonymous with heritage tourism on a mass scale. Most accounts emphasize the role of Kyoto as the ancient capital, the arts and crafts that developed in the service of the court, and the wealth of temples and shrines. Yet, this article analyses the ways that Japanese historical events from the Bakumatsu era are represented, packaged, and consumed in contemporary Kyoto. Through a case study of two sites dedicated to the life and death of Sakamoto Ryōma, it is argued that the nostalgia exemplified in these sites is not one of pre-modern heritage, but the emergence of modern Japan. The sites examined here commemorate and commodify an important national moment, one that combines the bravado of samurai culture with the import of modern ideals. Through a pastiche of artefacts and experiences these sites recreate Ryōma’s story for a contemporary audience, lauding the turn to modernity through Ryōma as the quintessential young hero who embodied new global values. Thus, with Ryōma at the fore, this paper analyses the ways that heritage sites mobilize specific moments in history to construct tourist sites and visitor experiences, and how those places take on new meanings within the context of contemporary Japan.