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At the Heart of Old Japan: Exploring Kansai Region

Japan has always been known for its quirks and variety. With over 47 prefectures divided into eight regions, the country has endless sights, food, and amazing experiences on offer. Every village, town, and city provides unique attractions and a ton of surprises that definitely make for the ultimate trip, whether it’s your first time visiting or the seventh.

Nara Prefecture_Mt Yoshino

This article will take you on a tour around one of the regions that truly captures the heart and soul of Japanese culture.  

A contrast to the crowded streets of Tokyo with its neon-lit skyscrapers and thriving pop culture, the Kinki region, or more commonly known as Kansai, has a more traditional feel to it and provides a window to old Japan. From small towns and breathtaking sceneries to unique cultural experiences, it’s a great place to start your adventure.

Check out Kansai region’s prefectures and uncover all the sights and activities they have in store for you:

Kyoto

Golden Pavilion Kyoto

Once Japan’s capital for over a millennium, Kyoto is a city that encapsulates the country’s tradition and culture. A world away from modern Tokyo, Kyoto boasts classical temples and scenic views, and offers the most historical and cultural experiences to travelers than any other city in Japan.

Places to Visit

Fushimi Inari Taisha

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha: Visit this Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto and take an IG-worthy snap through the stunning rows of vibrant red torii gates. 
  • Kinkaku-ji: A Zen Buddhist temple covered in gold! The gorgeous structure overlooks a large pond and is surrounded by sprawling gardens. You can take beautiful photographs of the temple and its surroundings from across the pond. Want to see more of Kyoto’s temples? Book a sightseeing tour here.
  • Arashiyama: Located on the western outskirts of the city, this is the place to be if you want to see more of the country’s stunning nature views. With the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, the lovely bamboo groves, and Tenryuji Temple, it’s a definite must-see! Arashiyama is especially popular during spring and autumn as it has one of the best spots for cherry blossom and fall foliage viewing.

Osaka

Osaka Castle

Known as the Kitchen of Japan, Osaka offers art and flavor like no other, with countless restaurants, street food stalls, and shopping opportunities all over. It perfectly blends the old and the new, featuring modern attractions like theme parks and urban escapes, and old destinations like ancient temples and sacred shrines.

Places to Visit

Dotonbori

  • Osaka Castle: Known as one of the most iconic landmarks in the country, this castle played a significant role in the unification of Japan in the 16th century, and houses some treasured artifacts. A must to visit and experience when in Osaka.
  • Dotonbori: Bright, colorful, and flavorful are just some of the words that best describe this ever-bustling area. Filled with restaurants, retail shops, and neon-lit buildings and giant signages, it’s Osaka’s answer to New York City’s Times Square and is the prime entertainment destination in the city.
  • Universal Studios Japan: If you love theme parks, then you’ll definitely enjoy a day in Universal Studios where you can immerse yourself in the most iconic and beloved Universal Studios films, go on thrilling rides, and experience advanced 3D adventures. Skip the line and book your tickets in advance here.

Nara

Nara Park

Known for its abundance of deer, Nara is a prime nature destination. Enjoy the day exploring its traditional temples, shrines, and scenic parks that make for a laid-back experience.

Places to Visit

Todaiji Temple

  • Nara Park: Enjoy a peaceful afternoon exploring or lounging within this large expanse of land in the middle of the city. Here you’ll find hundreds of deer that freely roam the area. It’s one of the top places to view cherry blossoms in spring and the fall foliage during autumn.
  • Kofuku-ji: Considered as one of Japan’s most powerful temples for centuries, Kofuku-ji features a five-floor pagoda and a central hall that houses one of the best collections of Buddhist art in the country.
  • Todai-ji Temple: This temple is famous for housing a 15-meter tall bronze statue of Buddha. With a stunning wooden gate, a museum with significant historical treasures, and several temple halls that offer scenic garden views, it has become one of Nara’s most prominent and visited landmarks. 

Hyogo

Hyogo

This prefecture is home to one of the most beautiful castles in Japan! Its capital Kobe is a lively port city and hub for international trade. It’s best known for its hot spring resorts and mouth-watering marbled beef delicacy.

Places to Visit

Himeji Castle

  • Himeji Castle: With its elegant white design and massive size, it’s considered as Japan’s most spectacular-looking castle. Also known as the White Heron Castle, this structure is a must-see especially during cherry blossom season.
  • Arima and Kinosaki Onsen: Visit and go bath-hopping in these historic and charmingly old-fashioned hot spring towns.
  • Mount Rokko: There are no words to describe the view from this summit. From here, you’ll get a spectacular panoramic view of Kobe and Osaka. Tip: The best views are seen around sunset and at night when the entire region lights up, resembling millions of bright twinkling stars.

Wakayama

Nachi Falls

Unlike its neighbors, most people might not have heard of this prefecture just south of Osaka, which makes it more mysterious and enticing. Enjoy the serene temples, nature sights, and other treasures without the crowds and experience a unique getaway in Wakayama.

Places to Visit

Shirahama Beach Wakayama

  • Nachi Falls: Visit the tallest waterfall in Japan and enjoy a stunning view of the Seiganto-ji that looks straight out of a painting.
  • Tomogashima Islands: A fantastical place to explore, this cluster of islands is a great venue for camping, hiking, and sightseeing. With untamed nature weaving through historic structures, it promises an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
  • Shirahama Beach: For your dose of sun, sand, and waves, head over to this white-sand beach for a soak and dip. Don’t miss the Shirahama Jinja Shrine standing solemnly in the middle of the beach.

Shiga

Lake Biwa

Home to the largest lake in Japan and a haven for nature lovers, Shiga offers a respite from the touristy districts and allows one to enjoy Japan as it is: a sanctuary of culture, nature, and history.

Places to Visit

Hikone Castle

  • Lake Biwa: Japan’s largest lake can be enjoyed in a number of ways, from going on a cruise and riding the cable car up the nearby mountain ranges to walking the suspension bridge. The annual Birdman Rally—where locals attempt to fly their home-made gliders or aircraft as far as possible into the lake—is a must-watch in July!
  • Shirahige Shrine: Similar to the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima, this floating torii gate on the edge of Lake Biwa is just as stunning! We recommend visiting during sunset for a memorable view.
  • Hikone Castle: Another one of Japan’s lovely castles, this is a top destination in Shiga to see cherry blossoms in spring.

Getting Around 

Japan train

Right now, you might be wondering how you’ll be able to cover everything on this list. Don’t worry, we know exactly what you need.

Get a taste of old Japan and explore Kansai and its national treasures with the Kansai Thru Pass (KTP). With the KTP, you can travel with ease and enjoy unlimited access to subway trains, buses, and private railways across Kansai. Available in two or three-day passes, it’s the ideal transportation pass if you plan on exploring all the wonderful sights that make up this exceptional region.

Immerse yourself in the historic and rich culture of Japan and make your travels hassle-free by booking your passes in advance on Traveloka today. Book now!

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