Discover Japan's rich heritage
For centuries, Kansai has been the cultural heartland of Japan.
A region on the western side of the main island of Honshu, Kansai is where you’ll find the traditional Japan of your imagination; winding cobbled streets lined with dark wooden houses, the sound of distant gongs in the mountains and the smell of incense in the rain. Also known as the Kinki Region, Kansai is sometimes seen as the more quirky counter to its eastern neighbor, Kanto. Kansai people are known for their humor, love of food and for riding on the other side of the escalator. They also speak a distinct dialect known as ‘Kansai-ben’.
Found right in the heart of the Kansai, Osaka serves as the economic and commercial gateway into the rest of the region. Osaka City is home to several sightseeing spots all of which are a short train ride away from each other. Start your day with a stroll around the Osaka Castle grounds then hit the shopping streets of Dotonbori or Shinsaibashi and end your trip with breathtaking night views at Umeda Sky Building. If you’d rather go out into nature, venture further out into the prefecture as there are several hiking trails that cater to varying difficulty levels.
Kyoto is known as the ancient capital of Japan. Nowadays tourists both domestic and international flock to the prefectural capital to explore the many traditional temples and shrines that are scattered all over the city. Try to visit the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the city like Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji and Kiyomizudera Temple to name a few. From Kyoto Station a one-day bus pass allows travelers to reach majority of the sightseeing spots with ease. At dusk wander around the Gion district and if you’re lucky you may just spot a geisha or two.
A popular day trip among tourists, Nara offers ancient temples, a 15-meter Buddha statue and a whole lot of deer. The best way to explore the capital city would be to rent bikes to explore the expansive Nara Park. Majority of the major tourists sites are found within the park along with the ever popular deer. Check out Todai-ji Temple one of the oldest landmarks of Japan as well as Horyu-ji Temple which is said to be the oldest wooden building in the world.
To experience a more spiritual side of Japan take a quick trip down the coast to Wakayama. The prefecture itself is home to a good number of UNESCO World Heritage Sacred Sites such as Nachi Taisha Shrine and pilgrimage routes. If you have some time on your hands consider taking on the challenge of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage which will take you all over the mountains of Wakayama to see the Three Grand Shines. Make sure to end your trip by visiting one of the many onsen towns like Yunomine that has over 1,800 years of history.
Shiga borders the largest lake in Japan called Lake Biwa or “mother lake”. To view the majestic lake from the best vantage points in the prefecture, start your trip with a stop at Otsu City the prefectural capital. From there, you have the option of daytime or night cruises on American style paddle-wheel boats that will take you around the lake. For those with some extra time, hop on a train about an hour away from Otsu Station to reach Mangetsuji Temple or the “floating temple hall.” Hikone Castle is also a noteworthy tourist spot that is also a popular cherry blossom viewing spot.
From breathtaking traditional architecture to scenic natural landscapes Hyogo is a destination that can be enjoyed no matter the season. In the western part of the prefecture lies one of Japan’s most iconic castles, Himeji Castle. To the center is Kobe the port town whose official mascot is a phoenix due to rising again after the devastating earthquake in 1995. Stroll along the European inspired buildings in the Kitano District then make your way to dig into some Chinese cuisine at Nankinmachi, the city is easily navigated on foot. For a more laid back experience head out into the country side and spend a night or two at Kinosaki Onsen.
Said to be the birthplace of Ninjas as well as the a shinto shrine regarded as the “Soul of Japan”, Mie is brimming with endless itinerary ideas. Iga Ueno Castle celebrates the annual Ueno Ninja Festival in May where tourists can wear ninja costumes and take part in ninja related training activities. Two hours away from Iga is Ise Shrine which is considered as one of the most important shrines in the country. Made to commemorate the sun goddess Amaterasu, Ise Shrine is located in the middle of the forest and has over 2,000 years of history.
Try the JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass to help with transportation fees. If you are traveling around western Japan and you are a temporary visitor try this pass, you may want to try this 5-day pass. This pass does not include travel within Mie prefecture.
If you buy it in Japan, it is typically ¥10,800 for an adult and ¥5,400 for children (6 to 11).