Best of Kansai
Best of Kansai
Kansai is at the heart of Japan and contains some of the most famous and popular tourist cities in the entire country. Through its history, Kansai has held two national capitals including Nara and Kyoto, as well as several of the nation’s most historically prevalent cities. With a star studded line up that consists of Kobe, Osaka, Nara and Kyoto, a trip through Kansai is just has too much to pass up on. The problem though, there really is just too many fantastic attractions within the seven prefectures, that you just do not know where to start. We’ve laid out some of the best attractions in each prefecture to make your next trip to Kansai all that much better. Check out our list of the Best of Kansai, and be sure to add any of your suggestions in the comments!
Best of Kansai
Hyogo is not nearly as well known as its capital, Kobe, but has a great deal of attractions that you are sure to be familiar with. The prefecture holds the beloved Himeji Castle which is constantly placed either at the top or near the top of anyone’s list of Japan’s Must See Castles. The prefecture of course has the romantic city of Kobe as well as one of the greatest night views in all of Japan. Hyogo has a lot to offer our list of the best of Kansai.
There are very few cities in Japan as famous as Kobe. The city of Kobe has gained international attention recently for its world famous beef, the devastating earthquake, and for it just being a very cool city. The harbor and the city’s architecture has made the city one of the most romantic areas in all of Japan, and thus should be high on your list of places to visit. Just don’t come here alone.
The Himeji Castle was built in 1333, and is the largest and most visited castles in the entire country. The castle survived the Meiji Restoration, World War 2 bombings, earthquakes, and a host of other natural disasters that have hit the area. The castle has been placed on many lists, including ours, as the most spectacular castles in all of Japan, and is well deserving of this title. Unfortunately, the castle is under construction at the moment and will be until Spring of 2014. Even though the castle is under construction, you can still access majority of the grounds. In a little less than a year, the castle in all its polished splendor will be revealed and once again everyone will see what makes Himeji Castle at the top of our list of Japan’s Must See Castles.
Mt. Rokko, one of “Japan’s Top 3 Night Views,” offers a tremendous view of both Osaka and Kobe Bay. The mountain is found near has a very convenient ropeway that will take you to the top. To get here head to Sannomiya Station in Kobe City and then take the Hankyu Kobe Line to Rokko Station. From there it is a short bus ride (Bus #16) straight to Rokko Cable-car Station.
While in Hyogo, you should definitely stop at Awaji Island and check out the landscaping works of Tadao Anodo. One of his more famous works is the Awaji Yumebutai which consists of a stairway-shaped garden (pictured above) amongst other great pieces of art. The Yumebutai is made up of over 70 acres of land that contains conference halls, resorts, an outside theater, and most importantly the botanical gardens. The stairway-shaped gardens called the Hyakudan-en is a personal favorite and has some convenient walkways which will take you throughout the park. It is the perfect escape for both plants and art lovers.
Best of Kansai
Kyoto, one of Japan’s most historic and traveled to cities, is a must see on anyone’s trip to Japan let alone Kansai. A list of the best of Kansai could simply be made up of different attractions in Kyoto if we didn’t space things out by prefecture. We are only going to mention a few, but rest assured these are some of the best Kyoto has to offer.
Kinkaku Ji, or the “Golden Pavilion,” was a Zen Buddhist created in 1397. The temple is a three story pavilion that is best known for its gold paint that covers the building. There is a solid gold rooster on top of the pavilion that has become the symbol of Kinkaku Ji. The pavilion sits in the middle of a pond that is surrounded by a beautifully kept garden that is perfect in any season. Kinkaku Ji has become one of the most iconic attractions in all of Japan and is a must see while in Kyoto.
Kiyomizu Dera is one of the largest and oldest temples in Kyoto. The temple was founded in 778 on top of a hill overlooking the city. The buildings that are currently standing were created in the early 1630s and were made without using a single nail. The temple is famous for clean, wish granting water as well as the trees surrounding the temple. Depending on the season, the trees give the temple a completely different look, which makes the temple worth coming back to.
Nijo Castle, a flatland castle located in central Kyoto, is one of the most visited castles in all of Japan. The castle is made up of massive surrounding walls, beautiful blue moats, some phenomenal gardens, and of course the historic castle buildings. The castle has many features that makes it special including two fortifying walls as well “Nightingale Floors” that mimic the chirps of a mockingbird when stepped on. Overall the Nijo Castle is a phenomenal attraction that should not be missed.
Arashiyama, a district found in western Kyoto, is an area abundant in history as well as natural beauty. The Arashiyama area contains numerous attractions including a monkey park a top of a mountain, several unique and ancient temples, and a stunning bamboo grove that is sure to please any who make it this scenic district. Arashiyama may not be covered by the bus pass, but the natural beauty makes it well worth the couple hundred yen.
Ginkaku Ji also known as the “Silver Pavilion” is one of the better known sights in Kyoto. The temple’s impressive and pristine gardens surround the pavilion, and offer a path that gives a tremendous view of the temple grounds. Despite the name, the “Silver Pavilion” is not actually silver, but a wooden temple. The grounds also contain a fantastic tea house, some beautiful rock gardens, as well as a few ponds. Although not nearly as flashy as its brother the “Golden Pavilion,” the “Silver Pavilion” tends to be the favorite between the two and one of the better sites in Kansai.
Kyoto has several spectacular stone gardens spread out throughout the city that are absolutely worth seeing. Out of the numerous stone gardens there are two that stand out as must sees. First, the ancient stone garden found at Ryoan Ji. No one actually knows when this ancient garden was constructed, but it has been around for a rather long time and has been the inspiration for of the country’s most famous pieces of poetry. The second can be found at Tofuku Ji which has a far more interesting temple complex and a much larger rock garden, however it was created in the past century and does not have the history that Ryoan Ji has. So if you are looking for history check out Ryoan Ji, but if you are looking for something a little bigger then you should take a look at Tofuku Ji.
Although not in Kyoto City, Amanohashidate is a pine tree covered sandbar that spans across Miyazu Bay and is one of Japan’s Top 3 Views. The name Amanohashidate can be translated as “the Bridge in the Heavens” and is often viewed by turning your back to the bridge then bending at the waste to look at the sandbar between your legs. It might be weird, but its just how the locals have been viewing the sight for over a thousand years. It is best viewed from a hill on either side of the land bridge.
Best of Kansai
One of the lesser known prefectures in Kansai, Mie has been one of the most important prefectures in the country’s long history. The prefecture is well known for its ninja town, Iga, as well as its expansive shrine, Ise Grand Shrine, which are both two of the most traveled to attractions in all of Japan by native Japanese. Mie may not have the abundance of well known temples and castles, but it has a great deal of attractions that make the prefecture worth exploring.
Ise Grand Shrine
Ise Grand Shrine, one of the most sacred shrines in all of Japan, is a vast complex that consists of 125 different shrines and is visited by over 7,500,000 people every year. The shrine is one of the prefecture’s biggest attractions and one very good reason to visit Mie. Ise Grand Shrine’s complex reaches out to the ocean, leads you through a forest, and gives you so much natural diversity that you will lose yourself in a spiritual wonderland. The natural beauty surrounding the shrine is a fitting place for one of the country’s holiest places. To top it all off, Amaterasu herself chose the area to be the location of her enshrinement. All of this makes Ise Grand Shrine an easy pick for the Best of Kansai.
Iga Ninja Village
Who doesn’t love ninjas. Through movies, anime, and even books people have been fantasizing about the secret arts of ninjutsu for decades, but how many of us really know what the ninjas actually did? Iga, a former ninja village, has put together a fantastic Ninja Museum that educates on the history and the lives of the ninja. On top of that the city puts on a festival every year in April and May that celebrates the ninja. The city also contains some old castle remains as well as a beautiful waterfall. All in all a perfect way to spend a day… just watch your back for any of those sneaky ninja.
Kumano Kodo is a road used on a pilgrimage to several of the holy sites found in Mie. The pilgrimage has a great deal of historical significance and is even included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are several paths you can take on the Kumano Koto, including ones that lead to Ise Grand Shine, that offer hours of incredible and spiritual hiking.
Best of Kansai
Nara, one of Japan’s old capitals, has some of the country’s largest and oldest shrines and temples that make the prefecture one of the most visited areas in the entire country. Some of the prefectures temples are even world record holders including the world’s largest wooden structure which was awarded to Todai Ji. The capital of the prefecture, Nara City, has become quite popular for its quaint town like feel, superb temples, and tame deer that wander the streets. This is one area you do not want to miss and has a lot to offer any list of the best of Kansai.
Tour though Nara City
Having a brief stint as that nation’s capital, Nara City has a great deal of history and interesting sites to see, most of which can be seen on a one day walking tour. The city is beautiful, and is famous for its free roaming deer. There are several parks set up throughout the city that allow you to take in and just be with the deer. Nara also holds numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and world record holding attractions that are simply stunning and cannot be missed. While here be sure to check out Todai Ji, Kofuku Ji, and Kasuga Grand Shrine (all of which deserve to be on this list of the “Best of Kansai”).
As mentioned earlier, you simply must stop at Todai Ji. Todai famous for being the world’s largest wooden structure, but the temple also holds the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. The temple and its statue are just unbelievably massive and is one of the country’s most incredible temples. Todai Ji can be found at the heart of the city and is a sort walk from any of the other beautiful attractions found in Nara.
If you are a fan of Sakura, or Cherry Blossoms, then you need to add Yoshino Yama to your Japan Bucket List. The mountain contains so many sakura trees that the cherry blossoms run down the mountain like a pink river. The trees are gorgeous from any vantage point, but there are observation areas at the top of the mountain for one of the country’s most spectacular views. Too bad it only occurs for a few weeks each year.
Best of Kansai
Osaka holds the second largest city in all of Japan as well as some of the better attractions in Kansai. The city, Osaka, has always been a popular place to visit with its convenient Osaka Castle and night life, but within the past decade or so, Universal Studios Japan has also brought in a great deal of family tourism. The area is perfect for anyone’s vacation and has a lot to offer people of all ages. Be sure to stop by Osaka and see what it has to offer.
One of our “Must See Castles of Japan,” Osaka Castle is truly a masterpiece of Japanese castle architecture and a landmark worth seeing while in the city. The castle may have been torn down after the Meiji Restoration, but it has since been rebuilt and renovated into one of the area’s most important museums. The castle grounds are expansive to say the least, and offer spectacular views of moats, castle walls, and one of the best city parks in all of Osaka.
Umeda Sky Building
Umeda Sky Building offers one of the finest city views in all of Japan. The building is beautifully designed and includes a water fountain, some escalators that connect the towers, as well as an outside observation deck. The view is stunning both day and night, but we prefer the night view of Osaka. Umeda Sky Building is a bit pricy and out of the way, but the views are absolutely worth it.
Namba is one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Osaka and is a district commonly seen in movies as well as TV shows. The districts bright lights and lively night life make Namba a place you will not want to miss. One of its most famous features is the Dotonburi Glico Man which draws in tourists from all over the world.
Instant Ramen Museum
When you think of great inventions throughout human existence, what comes to mind? The wheel? The light bulb? The internet? What about instant ramen? Very few of us would have made it through those late nights with out an instant meal like ramen in our cupboards, and to top it all off, you just can’t beat the price. Sure you have appreciated its taste and price, but have you ever wondered about its origins? Well at Osaka’s Instant Ramen Museum, you can learn all about ramen and even make your own. It is a pretty good deal and surly something worth checking out.
Best of Kansai
Shiga certainly has several fantastic mountains and temples spread out throughout the prefecture, but what makes Shiga special is its massive freshwater lake, Lake Biwa. The lake is the largest in all of Japan and offers some fantastic boating experiences. Hikone Castle can also be found in the area and really makes for a wonderful and relaxing weekend getaway.
Hikone Castle, one of the 12 remaining original castles, is Shiga’s most important historical structures. The castle was used between the years 1622-1874, and somehow survived the Meiji Restoration. The castle park is phenomenal, and offers a tremendous view of the surrounding city. Hikone Castle is now also a museum and can teach you all about the history of the area. This is one of the few original castles, and definitely worth the visit.
Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, is home to some of the country’s most scenic areas. The lake offers some spectacular beaches, cruises, canals, and all kinds of lake fun that you just cannot get anywhere else in Japan. The lakes canals are especially famous during sakura season in the spring. If you enjoy lakes, boating, and just fun on the water Lake Biwa is an absolute must.
Best of Kansai
Wakayama has quite the mix of superb attractions that go overlooked far to often. The prefecture contains some great hiking, temples, shrines, and a great deal of history that everyone can appreciate. What the prefecture lacks in attention from foreigners it makes up in hidden gems and opportunities. Be sure to hit up Wakayama on your tour through Kansai.
Mt. Koyasan is a small temple town which contains over a hundred unique and ancient temples. The town is the center of Shingon Buddhism which is one of the country’s oldest and most historically significant religions. Koyasan is most famous for its ancient temples and its temple stays which allows you to experience the lifestyle of a monk. The town is also the starting and finishing point of the Shikoku Pilgrimage which makes one of the most important temple areas in all of Japan.
Through a series of interesting qualifications, Nachi Waterfall claims to be the “highest waterfall” in all of Japan. It is an impressive 133 meters tall and is surrounded by a serene natural setting. Near the waterfall you can find massive religious structures including temples and pagodas. The area is quite impressive and certainly not something you want to miss while exploring Wakayama.
Wakayama Castle, one of the prefecture’s greatest and most impressive castles, not only contains castle buildings, but some 600 cherry blossom trees and a rather fantastic traditional Japanese garden. The castle was established in 1585 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and served as an important base for the Tokugawa Clan during the Edo period. Although it’s history is interesting enough, the real attractions here can be found in the surrounding natural beauty. The castle is known as one of the best areas for cherry blossom viewing in all of Kansai and the nearby Momijidani Garden is a fantastic place to enjoy the fall colors. Wakayama Castle is just one of those sites that you have to visit several times throughout the year to get the full extent of its beauty.
The Niutsuhime Shrine, said to have been founded more than 1,700 years ago, is one of the most significant shrines in all of Japan. The shrine is considered to be the origin of the Japanese religion of Shinto as well as Buddhism. The temple has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most treasured shrines in all of Japan. There are numerous important cultural properties that make the Niutsuhime Shrine worth your visit.
Best of Kansai