You’ve heard a lot about Tokyo, but have you considered visiting Kansai Japan? With the fabulous antiquities of Kyoto and Nara, the bustle of Osaka and Kobe, in my opinion the Kansai region offers more to the first-time visitor than any other part of Japan. To help you better plan your trip to Kansai, here’s the complete Kansai Travel Guide.
1. Kansai Travel Guide – Osaka (大阪)
When it comes to Kansai, Osaka may be the first name that most people think of. It’s Japan’s second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo. Form bustling shopping district, to the historical Osaka Castle, the city has many things to offer.
Here are the top places you must go when you are in Osaka.
Kansai Travel – Osaka Castle
Located in the city center, the castle tower is surrounded by secondary citadels, gates, turrets, impressive stone walls and moats. The park is one of Osaka’s most popular Hanami (花見) spot during the cherry blossom season, which usually takes place in early April. It’s also a pretty spot to visit during autumn, when leaves start to turn yellow and red.
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Kansai Travel – Universal Studio Japan (USJ)
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) was the first theme park under the Universal Studios brand to be built in Asia. It currently has eight sections: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
If you are seeking for thrill and fun rides, the park is the perfect place to spend a day! Another highlight of the park is its awesome parade!
Kansai Travel – Namba / Minami
Located around Namba Station, Minami (南, “South”) is one of Osaka’s two major city centers. It is the city’s most famous entertainment district and offers abundant dining and shopping choices. Take photo with the signature Glico Man when you are there!
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2. Kansai Travel Guide – Kyoto (京都)
Kyoto is the MUST-SEE place when you are in Kansai. It takes about 1 hour from Osaka by train. Once the capital of Japan, it offers a glimpse into the Japanese ancient culture. 17 shrines and temples are registered world heritage of UNESO. Indeed, you will feel like travelling back to the past when you are there.
Kan Sai Travel – Kiyomizu-dera(清水寺)
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of Japan’s most famous attractions in the historic city of Kyoto. With a history of more than 1200 years and listed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, you can say it is a MUST-VISIT.
Kansai Travel – Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺)
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto. It’s famous for the pavilion which top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, Kinkaku-ji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond.
Kyoto is also a perfect place to view autumn leaves, which is called Momijigari (紅葉狩り) in Japanese. For a more complete list of Kyoto attractions, and the best spots for Momijigari, check out my blog post on Where to View Autumn Leaves in Japan Kyoto.
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3. Kansai Travel Guide – Kobe (神戸)
Kobe is a city on Osaka Bay in central Japan. It is known for its signature marbled beef and scenic setting of mountains framing the harbor. This contemporary city is a fusion of relaxing sea view, art installations and traditional temples and architectures. Here are the top few attractions in Kobe you must not miss.
Kansai Travel – Mount Rokko
Mount Rokko (931 meters) is the highest peak in the Rokko mountain range, which provides the pleasant green backdrop to the city of Kobe. Once you reach the top, you can enjoy the panoramic views of the urban city. This place is the best place for sunset.
Kansai Travel – Shin-Kobe Ropeway
Shin-Kobe Ropeway departs from Shin-Kobe Station, Kobe’s shinkansen station. The highlight of the ride lies in the observation deck located just beside the top station, which offers spectacular views of Kobe, making it a popular night view spot.
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Kansai Travel – Meriken Waterfront Park
Meriken Park is a beatiful waterfront park in Kobe’s port area. Built on an outcropping of reclaimed land, the park is covered in grassy lawn and open courtyards dotted with a collection of modern art installations and fountains. It is home to some of the city’s more iconic contemporary architecture such as the red Kobe Port Tower and the Kobe Maritime Museum.
During weekends, there’s also a flea market around the area. Things there are really cheap and unique. You’ll have so much fun shopping and walking around!
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4. Kansai Travel Guide – Nara (奈良)
Nara is located less than one hour from Kyoto and Osaka. Due to its past as the first permanent capital, it remains full of historic treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples. Don’t be surprised when you see a lot of deer when you are there! Attractions you must visit are:
Kansai Travel – Todaiji (東大寺)
Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple) is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan. It grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple’s influence on government affairs.
Every year during March, the temple will hold a ritual called Omizutori (お水取り). From March 1 to 14, this collection of Buddhist repentance rituals has been held yearly for over 1250 years, making it one of the oldest reoccurring Buddhist events in Japan. Don’t miss out this spectacular event when you are there!
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Temple visitors will also encounter some deer from the adjacent Nara Park, begging for shika senbei, special crackers for deer that are sold for around 150 yen.
Kansai Travel – Horyuji Temple (法隆寺, Hōryūji)
Horyuji Temple is one of the country’s oldest temples and contains the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It was designated a world heritage site in 1993.
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As you can see, Kansai area has so many things to offer! Be it you are looking for cultural immersion or bustling city life, Kansai has something for you. In fact, I did my 6-month exchange program in Kansai area. Every moment I was enjoying myself. I can never get bored of it.
If you’ve been to Kansai before, share with us your journey by commenting below! Let’s inspire each other to travel longer, better and smarter!