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Central Kyoto is fairly compact and easily navigable. Its grid layout, originally modeled on Xi'an in China, makes this Japan's most rational urban space. The city map is easy to understand.

Broad avenues running east–west are numbered, giving you an opportunity to practice your Japanese. Counting to eight—ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi—gives you most of these main arteries: Ichijo-dori, Nijo-dori, Sanjo-dori, and so on. Several important avenues don't follow this system, notably Oike-dori, running in front of city hall, and Maruta-machi-dori and Imadegawa-dori, on the northern and southern sides of the Imperial Palace.

Streets running north–south aren't numbered, but sights are clustered around a few main thoroughfares. Karasuma-dori bisects Kyoto Station in the middle of the city. East of the Kamogawa River, Higashiyama holds many of the city's most popular sights, all connected by the congested Higashi-oji-dori.