8 Must See Places in Kansai

8 Must See Places in Kansai

Kansai region consists of seven prefectures: Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama, Fukui and Shiga.

It used to be the political and cultural center of Japan for many centuries and includes the cities of Kyoto and Nara. It is hard to say which one is the best as there are so many things to see! But Here are the spots that we recommend you visit. Enjoy!

Kinkaku Ji(金閣寺) – Golden Pavilion

Golden Pavilion (Photo Credit: https://www.japan-guide.com)
Ryoanji: Main Entrance Interior of the Kuri Building (Photo Credit: Sean Pavone)

The Golden Pavilion is a Zen temple located in the northern part of Kyoto. Its distinctive feature is the gold leaf embellishments on its upper two floors. It was originally designed as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and was set to become a Zen temple in accordance to his will.

The lower floor of the temple is constructed with natural wood pillars and white plaster walls and is adorned with statues of Shaka Buddha and of Yoshimitsu himself. You can only see these statues from open windows across the pond as access to the pavilion is prohibited. The second floor is designed in the Bukke style used for samurai residences and the exterior is completely covered in gold leaf. Inside is the seated statue of Kannon Bodhisattva surrounded by Four Heavenly Kings. The top floor is built in the style of a Chinese Zen Hall, covered inside and out with gold leaf, and is topped with a golden phoenix.

Kyoto Imperial Palace(京都御所)

Kyoto Gosho (Photo Credit: https://www.insidekyoto.com)

Gosho, Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, is the former residence of the Emperor of Japan, located north of downtown Kyoto. By 1869, Japan’s succeeding emperors no longer resided in Gosho because the imperial family and their retainers were transferred to Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration.

Gosho is inside the large Kyoto Imperial Park (Kyoto Gyoen 京都御苑) which is located in the former grounds of the Imperial Palace. It has a great variety of trees, and is very popular for both hanami (cherry viewing) and enjoying the fall colors. Another building in the park is the Sento Imperial Palace which was a palace for retired emperors and dates back from the early 17th century. A tour of the palace takes about 1 hour, and focuses on its large garden. The park also includes tennis courts, baseball fields, and the Imperial Household office.

Osaka Castle(大阪城)

Osaka Castle (Photo Credit: https://www.jnto.go.jp)


Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and is considered the symbol of Osaka. It contains thirteen structures which have been designated as Important Cultural Assets by the Japanese government.

The castle was originally built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), one of the three great warlords and unifiers of medieval Japan. Hideyoshi intended the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under his rule.

Hideyoshi modeled the castle after Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle, but in a much grander and more imposing scale so as to flaunt his unprecedented wealth. Inside, the innermost palace was embellished with silver and gold, and priceless treasures that were laid out and stacked up on every floor of the Main Tower.

Fushimi Inari Shrine(伏見稲荷神社)

Fushimi Inari Shrine (Photo Credit: https://thetruejapan.com)
The Romon Gate (Photo Credit: Minoir via Flickr)

Fushimi Inari was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake by the Hata family in the 8th century. It is a large complex consisting of five shrines with seemingly endless arcades of vermilion torii (shrine gates) spread across a thickly wooded mountain. It is, quite simply, one of the most impressive and memorable sights in all of Kyoto.

The site contains hundreds of stone foxes because it is considered the messenger of Inari, the god of rice, and the stone foxes, too, are often referred to as Inari. This is the head shrine for some 40,000 Inari shrines scattered within the length and breadth of the country.

A Sangyō-sai festival is held with offerings and dances to ensure prosperity for national industry. During the first few days in January, thousands of believers visit this shrine as their hatsu-mōde (first shrine visit of the New Year) to pray for good fortune.

Mt. Rokko and Arima Onsen(六甲山と有馬温泉)

Rokko Garden Terrace (Photo Credit: Wikicommons 663highland)
Kinsen (Photo Credit: http://visit.arima-onsen.com)

Mount Rokko is the highest peak in the Rokko mountain range, which provides the pleasant green backdrop to the city of Kobe. The Rokko Mountains belong to Setonaikai National Park and is the best sightseeing and health resort in the Hanshin (Osaka-Kobe) district. The highest of the mountains is Mt. Rokko, rising 931 meters above sea level, and offers a night view of Kobe that is so beautiful that it is admired as a “million-dollar night view.” The night view is selected as one of the three best night view in Japan.

Mt. Rokko area was originally opened as a place for foreigners’ cottages, followed by rapid development into a health resort when a cable railway was put in service and draws upward of 7 million visitors a year.

Located in the other side of Mount Rokko opposite the city center is the famous hot spring, Arima Onsen. It is considered one of Japan’s oldest resorts and can trace its roots as far back as 1300 years. You can choose from two varieties of hot springs: the Kinsen (“gold water”) that is brownish in color and is rich in iron deposits which is said to be beneficial for those suffering from muscle aches and pains; and the Ginsen (“silver water”) which is clear but abundant in radium and carbonate and is said to cure various joint ailments. According to studies conducted by the Ministry of Environment of Japan, Arima Onsen has 7 out of the 9 natural components recognized for onsen curative effects.

Kyoto Arashiyama(京都 嵐山)

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Photo Credit: Daniel Peckham)
Hozu River (Photo Credit: http://www.deepkyoto.com)

Arashiyama is a pleasant, touristy district in the western outskirts of Kyoto renowned for its natural setting and is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons.

The Togetsukyo Bridge is Arashiyama’s well known, central landmark. There are also beautiful bamboo groves to be seen and boats are available for rent along the river.

Arashiyama becomes most attractive (and busy) around early April and the second half of November when the cherry blossom and fall color seasons usually peak. During the summer months, traditional cormorant fishing is practiced on the Hozu River for tourists to watch. Another good time to visit is during December’s Hanatoro illumination, when lanterns line the streets and bamboo groves.

Tofukuji(東福寺)- Stone Gardens

Tofukuji (Photo Credit: https://www.herenow.city)
Maple Leaves in Autumn (Photo Credit: http://www.wattention.com)

Tofukuji Temple is one of Kyoto’s most magnificent jewels and is one of the 17 UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites.

It is home to numerous historic buildings and valuable treasures, even though many of the original buildings were burned down during the period of civil strife and great families’ conflicts over succession known as the Onin Wars (1467-77). The temple’s colossal Sanmon Gate date back to 1273 and is now a designated national treasure.

Tofukuji is also well known for its colorful display of Japanese maples in mid-November which is very beautiful, but it is also a season when the whole complex is crowded with visitors.

Namba-Shinsaibashi area(難波-心斎橋エリア)

Namba-Shinsaibashi Shopping District (Photo Credit: https://www.japan-guide.com)
Rakugo

For most people, no trip is complete without hitting the best shopping centers the country can offer. Namba-Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s most popular entertainment area with a dizzying variety of restaurants and specialty shops. It has a long history and even goes back 380 years as early as the Edo period.

Here you will find the famous Glico neon sign, a well-known Osaka landmark. Stroll inside the historic Takashimaya department store to find countless luxury brands. The shopping district also features the Flying Tiger Copenhagen, a Scandinavian variety store. It offers affordable Scandinavian design inspired items that are very popular among locals and tourists alike. In the western part you will find the America-mura Village which is the center of teen fashion and culture. You will find many vintage items and pre-loved goods from the west coast in the United States.

Watch performances at the Nanba Grand Kagetsu. Enjoy unique Japanese shows such as vaudeville-style comedic acts like Manzai, that consist of two performers trading jokes or Rakugo, where a lone storyteller sits on stage and tells animated tales using various props without ever standing up. The shows usually feature music and acrobatic performances, making them enjoyable even if you can’t speak Japanese.

The district is easily accessible as it is served by three train companies as well as three subway lines and a highway bus terminal.

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