More recently, it has gained perhaps even greater fame abroad by association with the international climate change treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol, which comes into force on Wednesday.
But any pride among Japanese about the latest use of their old capital's name has failed to translate into the world's number two economy taking the lead by cutting greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.
Many here feel that having hosted the 1997 meeting that led to the treaty means Tokyo has a greater duty to meet emissions targets set out in the pact for developed nations.
"Given that the Kyoto Protocol is the only international treaty with a Japanese name, it would be good to be able to live up to it," said Keizo Fukushima, who works on climate change policy in Japan's Environment Ministry.
"We aren't doing too well, though. And given present conditions, it could be pretty tough to meet the goals."
Tokyo originally pledged to cut emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels. Instead, emissions have risen by 8 percent since then, the environment ministry says.
According to the UN Framework on Climate Change, though, levels have risen by 12.1 percent, which Japan says is due to different calculations. While the figures look bad, Japan is hardly the worst offender.
Many Kyoto signatories have failed to meet their targets. Spain, for example, has increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over 1990 levels.
Under the pact, developed nations are obliged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012, the protocol's first phase. Deeper cuts are planned for the next phase after 2012.
For Japan, a number of factors are behind the rise, including low consumer awareness and an economy finally overcoming years of recession. A tug-of-war between environmentalists and a powerful business lobby hasn't helped, either.
Business leaders worry that too much emphasis on cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could damage international competitiveness, especially against the United States, which opted out of Kyoto in 2001, and China, which as a developing nation has no obligation to cut emissions for the present.
"Compared to conditions in America, China and in Europe, Japan's pledge to cut by 6 percent is quite stiff," said Meguri Aoyama, chief economist at the environment bureau of the Japan Business Foundation (Keidanren), Japan's largest business lobby.
Nowhere is the split more evident than in debate over whether to impose an environment tax of 2,400 yen ($23) for each tonne of carbon emitted from fossil fuels such as crude oil or coal, an Environment Ministry proposal that has so far gone nowhere.
The tax would be imposed on companies, but the hope is that it could encourage ordinary households, whose emissions have risen a worrying 28.8 percent from 1990 levels, to cut back on electricity usage through higher energy costs.
Green awareness campaigns have included tie-ins to "The Day After Tomorrow," a US movie in which global warming brings worldwide calamity, and songs by a Japanese female pop group encouraging children to save energy. But none of these have had much success.
"People don't really respond that well to urging. You have to hit them financially," said Fukushima.
Business leaders are ferociously opposed, arguing the tax would dampen economic growth and weigh heavily on Japan's already highly taxed population.
"The Environment Ministry seems to think ordinary people are bad guys, that rules need to be made to get anything done," said Aoyama at Keidanren.
He said that conservation should be voluntary and businesses would do their part by supplying eco-friendly appliances.
"Conservation is something that should be taken care of by market mechanisms," he said. "The Environment Ministry just wants money they can use -- that's why they want the tax.
"My biggest worry is that if people are taxed, they'll think they've done their bit and stop thinking about conservation."
The industrial sector is actually faring best, up by only 1.7 percent over 1990 levels, which Aoyama attributes to an early push to conserve but Fukushima says was due to the lengthy economic downturns.
EYES ON CHINA
Even so, a recent survey by the trade ministry showed that more than a third of major industries could fail to meet targets.
Worst is the commercial sector, up 36.7 percent, largely on a boom in nearly ubiquitous 24-hour convenience stores.
"They have to stop being short-sighted about a business system that's contributed to rising emissions and will have an impact on all their lives," said Masaaki Nakajima, with Greenpeace Japan.
Officials said it was too early to think about numerical targets after 2012.
They said the emphasis must be on getting the United States, and especially China, to commit to emissions curbs, a frequent criticism about the pact because it excludes large developing nations in the first phase.
"Of course there's a need for Japan to debate its policies," said Aoyama at Keidanren. "But if you look at the whole earth, Japan's impact is nothing compared to China."