Things to Do in Kansai Prefecture
One of Kyoto’s most sacred temples and among the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is dedicated to Inari, the God of rice. The shrine’s five magnificent temples lie at the foot of the Inari mountain, and thousands of red torii gates (the Senbon torii) mark the forested trails to the top.
Gion Corner is a convenient place for art lovers to visit while in Kyoto, as it brings seven traditional Japanese performing arts together under one roof. Attending one of its nightly performances is an ideal way to spend an evening in the heart of the Gion entertainment district while learning about traditional Japanese culture.
With its gleaming gold tiers reflected in the lake below and a backdrop of forests and twisted pines, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) is an enchanting sight. Dating back to the 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions and among Japan’s most visited temples.
Among the most famous castles in Japan, Osaka Castle (Osaka-jo) dates back to the 16th century, when it played a major role in unifying the nation. Today the reconstructed castle houses a museum filled with artifacts from the history of Japan and from the castle’s creator, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The main tower provides a nice view over urban Osaka.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of Japan’s oldest and most eye-catching Buddhist temples. Its classic red pagoda has been influential to Japanese architecture for centuries. Located on a hilltop, Kiyomizu-dera Temple is also worth visiting for its sweeping views over Kyoto.
One of the largest public aquariums in the world, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is home to various species from the Pacific Ring of Fire and aquatic environments around the globe. Learn about local species such as Asian otters and giant spider crabs, and see other creatures, including sea turtles, sharks, penguins, and a host of tropical fish.
With more than 100 shops, stalls, and vendors selling everything from fresh-off-the-boat fish and seafood, to tasty sweets and sushi takeaway, Nishiki Food Market is a wonderland of culinary delights. Kyoto’s biggest and most popular food market is a local institution and a popular attraction for traveling foodies.
For classic Kyoto in a nutshell, head to Arashiyama Park. The perennially popular area is rich in temples and a riot of fall colors in November, with pink cherry blossoms in April.
The park area embraces several major sights, including Tenryu-ji Temple, founded in 1339. The main temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, Tenryu-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by tranquil Zen gardens and bamboo forest.
There are many other temples in Arashiyama, including the Gio-ji, Jojakko-ji and Daikaku-ji temples. Another highlight is walking across the Moon Crossing Bridge, with views over to Mt Arashiyama.
Built in the 6th century by Prince Shotoku—a cultural hero who helped to bring Buddhism to the country—Shitenno-ji is one of Japan’s oldest temples. The complex includes a multi-tiered tower, pagoda, lecture hall, and gate. Though most of the current structures are from the 1963 rebuilding, they still reflect the 6th century design.
Dotonbori (also called Dotombori) is a bustling nightlife district in Osaka’s Minami area. It stretches along the Dtomborigawa River, with a multitude of small restaurants, bars, and neon lights that come alive after nightfall. An entertainment neighborhood, Dotonbori is famous for its varied cuisine and huge animated signs.
More Things to Do in Kansai Prefecture
Established in the late 19th century, the Nara National Museum is a well-respected exhibitor of Japanese Buddhist art. In addition to the original French Renaissance–style building, a newer wing also displays temporary exhibits. In both wings, visitors can admire predominantly Japanese Buddhist statues, paintings, scrolls, and ceremonial objects.
Located in the heart of Nara City, Nara Park (Nara Koen) is famous for the more than 1,000 semi-wild sika deer that roam its grounds. Spanning 1,631 acres (660 hectares), the scenic public park is also home to several popular attractions, including the Todai-ji Temple, the Isuien Garden, and the Nara National Museum.
Often mistaken for the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, Sagano expands north of the Togetsukyo Bridge in Kyoto. The tranquil area encompasses some of Kyoto’s most stunning landscapes. With rural residential areas, mountains dotting the horizon, fields ablaze with color and a famous bamboo forest, Sagano may just be one of Japan’s prettiest (and lesser known) spots.
By far, Sagano is best known for its bamboo groves. Walking trails wind through the forest, with thin, tall bamboos lining either side. Sun light filters through the narrow trunks, casting shadows along the path. Beyond the grove, one of the best ways to experience Sagano is on bicycle. In addition to the bamboo groves, there are numerous temples to explore, as well as the river and the well-traveled bridge. This idyllic nook on the outskirts of Kyoto should not be missed.
The Japanese royal family lived in Kyoto Imperial Palace(Kyoto Gosho) until 1868, when the capital moved to Tokyo. It’s located within the Kyoto Imperial Park, which also houses other palaces and shrines. This must-visit attraction allows visitors to gain a greater understanding of Japan’s rich history and culture while enjoying landscaped gardens.
If you only have time for one day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, make it Himeji Castle (Himeji-Jo), renowned as Japan’s most beautiful historic citadel. Also known as White Heron Castle, the UNESCO-listed hilltop structure was built in 1580 and features a five-story central tower with surrounding moats, walls, and pagodas.
At 984 feet (300 meters) tall, Abeno Harukas (Osaka Harukas) takes the coveted superlative of Japan's highest skyscraper, narrowly rising above the former title holder, the Yokohama Landmark Tower. Part of the sprawling Abenobashi Terminal Building, it stands atop the Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station and houses a department store, art museum, five-star hotel, and observation deck.
UNESCO World Heritage Site Nijo-jo Castle, a fortified complex dating from 1603, was the official residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun. Walk in the pretty gardens or visit Ninomaru Palace to see fine Japanese artworks. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto, a city already full of must-visit attractions.
Universal Studios Japan—Asia’s first Universal Studios theme park—is second only to the Tokyo Disney Resort as Japan’s most visited amusement park. Beloved characters like Shrek, Hello Kitty, and Spiderman are in attendance, and a spectacular variety of rides, movie simulators, and parades keep all ages entertained.
The Danjo Garan is the central temple complex of Japan's sacred Mt Koya temple town, and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex is comprised of about 20 buildings, including several temples, the ceremonial Kondo Hall, and a 147-foot (49-meter) red pagoda housing five statues of the seated Buddha. The massive pagoda, called The Great Stupa, has been home to practicing monks for over 1,000 years, and the Danjo Garan as a whole is revered as the center of Shingon Buddhism.
While Mt Koya was once a hard-to-reach destination, today you can visit the sacred location and its temples on a day trip or overnight visit from Osaka. To get the most out of your visit, consider touring Danjo Garan Temple and Okunoin graveyard on a two-day trip that includes an overnight stay in a temple with a hot spring.
A large covered market selling fresh and cooked food, Kuromon Ichiba Market is nicknamed “Osaka’s kitchen,” because many chefs and home cooks come here for supplies. It has since branched out from purely seafood options, and is typically bustling with locals and visitors hoping to get an inside look at local ingredients and cuisine.
Vintage fun comes to Osaka in the shape of the Tsutenkaku, Osaka’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. Tsutenkaku, translated into "tower reaching heaven," reaches 338 feet (103 meters) high, making it one of the tallest buildings in Asia when it was built in 1912.
Beautifully illuminated and outlined in neon by night, the tower has a decidedly kitsch but cute 1950s futuristic look. Take the elevator to the observation deck on the summit’s fifth level to visit the popular good luck symbol, Billiken, the God of Happiness. A popular American doll in the early 1900s, Billiken was enshrined in the nearby Luna Park, but went missing when the park closed in 1923. To revive the tower and park, a replica was put in the tower and is considered a good luck symbol. Each year thousands of visitors place a coin in his donation box and rub the soles of his feet to make their wishes come true.
Tsutenkaku also boasts some other cool features. The neon lights at the top of the tower are also a weather vane and will predict the next day's forecast. And the clock located on the east side of the building is huge - 18 feet (5.5 meters) across and weighing about 55lbs (25kg). There is also a theater and a few toy museums located within!
The Silver Pavilion temple in Kyoto’s eastern mountains has no silver on it at all. Legend has it that when Shogun – or military ruler – Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa in 1482 on the grounds where Ginkaku-ji stands today, he grandly stated he wanted the entire pavilion covered with silver to imitate the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), built by his grandfather. The villa was converted to a Buddhist temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, and the shining nickname persists today.
The circular route around the Silver Pavilion begins in a dry sand garden, named the “Sea of Silver Sand,” where a cone-like representation of Mt. Fuji has been dubbed the “Moon Viewing Platform.” The grounds open up to a moss garden featuring ponds with islands and short bridges, streams, and a variety of foliage. The path snakes up a hill leading to a viewing point of the entire temple grounds and the city beyond. The path comes full circle with up-close views of the Silver Pavilion itself. Unlike some of Kyoto’s famous temples, none of the buildings at the Silver Pavilion can be viewed from the inside.
Folklore says that Sojobo, an ancient mythological king who rules over minor deities, inhabits Kurama, a rural temple town in nestled in the northern Kyoto mountains. In the 11th century, Sojobo taught swordsmanship and magic to a famous Japanese general. Although the famous stories are still told, today Mt. Kurama is most famous for its natural hot springs, temples, and nature trails.
Visitors to the area flock to Kurama-dera, a Buddhist temple resting on a steep mountainside above the town. To reach it involves a 30-45 minute hike that can be cut in half by taking a cable car halfway up the mountain. A Shinto Shrine provides respite along the way; it has become famous for an annual Fire Festival that takes place in October. Nature enthusiasts can continue hiking past the temple to several others along a route to the small town of Kibune.
Once a destination for nobles, the Arashiyama district of Kyoto boasts small-town charm and beautiful mountainside views. Today, the popular neighborhood attracts tourists and nature lovers. The scenic neighborhood’s iconic landmark, Togetsu-kyo Bridge spans the Katsura River and provides panoramic views of lush mountainside foliage, gentle river swells, and local fisherman navigating the shoreline. The bridge’s history extends back 400 years and has been featured in many historical films.
Crossing Togetsu-kyo Bridge is a highlight of any visit to Arashiyama. From feeding carp fish over the railing to enjoying the splendor of cherry blossoms in the spring and fall foliage, the bridge is a gateway to a simple, stunningly scenic way of life. Another popular way to see the bridge is by a boat ride along the river.
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