If you know me in real life, then you know I’m a shameless weeb.
I’ve loved Japan ever since I was there on exchange when I was 11 years old, and I’m lucky enough to have travelled there a few times since then too. Most recently in April of this year for the Hanami festival season.
There are a million things to do and see in Japan, and a million posts out there with great recommendations. There’s nothing that sets my opinion apart from anyone else’s particularly, but if you are looking for some advice on where to go and what to see when you visit, here are my must-see Kansai spots!
I don’t think a trip to the Kansai region is complete without going to Kyoto, there is just so much to do and see there, and if you’re looking for a taste of Old Japan, then Kyoto is the best city for it! You’ll see ladies dressed in their traditional garb, strolling down the streets in pairs and groups. Don’t go past trying some of the delicious Uji Gyokuro plum wine while you’re there! Here are a couple of places that I’ve really enjoyed on my visits.
I’ve visited multiple shrines and temples during my visits to Kyoto, but Chion-In, located in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto, still remains my favourite. The Buddhist temple is still fully functioning, and visitors are free to pray inside the temples and walk about the beautiful gardens.
The Yuzen’en and Hojo Gardens both within the temple grounds are home to numerous water features, rock features and small tea houses which were built over the years since the temple has been in use.
The main gate, or Sanmon, is huge and was built in 1619. Chion-In is also home to the largest temple bell in all of Japan, it weighs 74 tons and requires a team of 25 men to sound it.
The wooden beams of the temple are all carved, and even the roof tiles are etched and decorated beautifully, with the crest of the Tokugawa family, in honour of their patronage of the temple.
There are a large number of steps to climb to reach Chion-In temple proper, which is something some travelers might want to take into consideration when planning a visit. The temple is accessible to those with disabilities, however the monks do ask that you call ahead so they can make all the necessary arrangements for you. If you don’t speak Japanese, your hotel or hostel staff should be more than happy to make the call and provide translation for you. Most Japanese hotels have English speaking staff for this very reason!
The Camellia Tea House is close by the Chion-In temple, and it’s a great way to continue your experience of the traditional side of Kyoto!
Tea ceremonies at Camellia are delivered in English, and your host will carefully explain the details of every facet involved in the Japanese art of tea making. They’ll tell you the history of the tools they’re using, from the handcrafted bamboo chasen (whisk), to the specific type of kyushu (tea pot). Your host will even tell you about the water that they’re using that day, where it was drawn from and any significance it might have.
Guests will all get an opportunity to make their own matcha under the guidance of the host, so that they know they’ll be tasting the perfect cup of green tea!
If you’re after an immersive and educational cultural experience in Kyoto, then I can’t recommend Camellia Tea House enough! If you happen to be traveling with a larger group, they’ve also recently opened a second location in June of this year for private tea ceremonies!
I won’t lie, my favourite things about Osaka are the food and the night life! But after that is the architecture! Here are my three favourite buildings in the Osaka Skyline!
The Umeda Sky building is probably one of the most amazing pieces of architecture I’ve encountered in all my world hopping. Located on the border of the Kita and Umeda districts and also sometimes known as “New Umeda City”, this building’s unique, modern style make it one of the most eye catching parts of the Osaka skyline. The “Floating Garden” that connects the two towers is accessed by a glass escalator and both the ride up and the top offer breathtaking views of the city. There’s also a basement restaurant that’s decorated in the Showa period style if you’re looking for a place to eat!
Although the Gate Tower Building is just an office building, it’s something I think anyone traveling through Osaka should take a look at! If you have the opportunity to drive or take a ride through the Hanshin and take the Umeda exit, then do it! But even just travelling past it on the train is an experience, you can’t believe your eyes. I mean there is a highway going through the middle of it!
Only in Japan can an office building rent out three floors to the Highway Commission and still function perfectly normally for all of the other workers inside!
NambaHIPS and the Dotonburi Area
The Dotonburi neighbourhood is probably my favourite part of Osaka, and if you’re in that area you really can’t go past a visit to it’s iconic landmarks.
The most obvious of which is NambaHIPS. This building is a great way to kill an afternoon! It’s an amusement complex has everything from pachinko parlors to a rock climbing rig on the outside of the building! There’s also a bowling alley and a golf studio inside!
This area is also home to plenty of little eateries with traditional japanese menus and meals priced cheaper than you can believe! So if you’re a bit of a foodie and want to eat where the locals do, be sure to check out this neighbourhood!
After you finish in there, head on out to some of the small sports bars and challenge some locals to a game of darts over some beer or cider! Then once you’ve made some new friends you can head on over to get yourself a token Osaka photo with them at every visitor must snap spot, the Glico Man!
No trip to Osaka is complete without a selfie with the Glico Man! Locals and tourists all congregate near this massive billboard along the Dotonburi canal while they’re walking through the entertainment district and it’s become a well known spot for taking photos! (Below, a picture of me and my mates with some locals. Hard evidence c; )
In case you’re wondering about Glico, they’re the confectionary company responsible for Pokky, so if you’re a fan of the snack then this should be on your Osaka bucketlist!
This one is quite self-explanatory. Although it wasn’t until my 3rd trip to Japan that I finally made it out to Nara Park, this UNESCO World Heritage site easily goes down as one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited.
It’s a fairly easy (uphill) walk from the train station to the park, although there are also buses that provide transit if you need it.
Deer have had the run of the town of Nara and the temples there for over a thousand years now, and the monks have been caring for them all this time. The deer rusks you can buy at the park are specially formulated so that even the greediest little fawns won’t get too fat, and as they’ve been living side by side with the Buddhist monks and the people of the town for generations, they’re all quite friendly!
Nothing makes your day like having a cute deer come up and headbutt you gently for a pat! ♥.♥
There are also plenty of shops, bars and restaurants around the town of Nara, so after you’ve visited the park’s shrines and temples, and fed some deer, you can feed yourself and pick up a few souvenirs or a cute pair of socks!
Kobe is famous for two things. Kobe beef and the Arima Onsen, and you can experience both at my favourite ryokan!
As someone with tattoos, I can never go past this place because it offers me a full ryokan experience with wonderful onsens to soak in without ever having to worry about offending any other patrons. I visit it almost every opportunity I get to travel to Japan!
But even if you don’t have tattoos to worry about, if you are after a traditional ryokan experience, then Taketoritei Maruyama is the perfect place.
Prices will depend on what sort of stay you’d like at the onsen, but their package deals include a full kaiseki dinner or breakfast – and if you want to splurge – both!
The onsen sources all of its ingredient locally, so the menu changes according to the season. You’ll have the opportunity to try wild mushrooms gathered by hand from Mountain that the ryokan backs onto, or seafood straight from Kobe’s harbor. Each course of the kaiseki is expertly prepared and beautifully presented. What’s more, you get to experience it all from the comfort of a private dining room.
The ryokan itself has both traditional rooms with futons and tatami mats, and western style rooms, so you can take your pick and sleep however you’ll feel most comfortable.
Guests of the ryokan can book the private spas for 45-minute intervals over the course of their stay. Each set of private baths is slightly different in style and in their view of the gardens and woodlands. They have several private onsens to choose from, and having visited both during the cooler months and warmer months, I’ve always managed to book at least two sessions in a private onsen every day.
The hot spas themselves are really something else. The onsen boasts both gold and silver water. Silver water is high in radium, while gold is high in levels of iron and sodium. Golden hot springs are good for muscle and joint pains, digestive diseases, sensitivity to cold and generally helpful in illness recovery. Silver hot springs are great for sufferers of gout, hypertension or those of us ladies who suffer from bad menstrual related pains.
Of course, you don’t need to suffer from any of these conditions to enjoy the benefits and pleasure of an onsen! I can tell you as well, even when there is snow on the mountain side, it’s well worth getting up in the crisp six o’clock air to go for a soak before you start your day!
Stay tuned for another Japan edition of #VAGABOND, dedicated to Tokyo and the Kanto and Yamanashi regions soon!
Of course, don’t forget to check out Burni-Diru-Noh’s Deviant Art gallery for more beautiful images like the shot of the Umeda Sky Building featured in this post!
Happy travels my dudes!