Articles on Japan / Travel

My Definitive Guide to Kansai (quickly-ish made – but if don’t stop now I never will)

Topics covered: Ways to get around, shrines, temples, historical sites, famous/iconic spots, shopping, misc., and food

Intro (aka skip this to get straight to the list): I wrote this for my cousin when she went to Japan for a week, and besides this intro it is pretty much replicated word for word here.  She has not studied Japanese or Japanese culture very much and is currently teaching abroad in Korea, so it’s written with that in mind.  She stayed with my boyfriend in Hirakata-shi, so all directions/time estimates/day trips are suggested from that perspective.  Still, as it’s mainly written in regards to Osaka and Kyoto, there may be some people who find it useful.  There’s plenty more than made the list, obviously.  I was there for six months and explored whenever I got the chance.  Hopefully I will get the time (and motivation) to write some blogs that go into these items more in depth and focus specifically on items that made the list, and those that didn’t.

I think this can be used as a starting point for some of you trying to figure out where to visit though – maybe you’ll find a few gems here that you haven’t found in your Lonely Planet guide-book, or maybe you’ll tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and missed the actual point of Japan and all it’s samurai-fied Godzilla-fearing glory.

Either way, I would love to hear if you know of any other places in Kansai, or if you want me to write a blog about any of the specific points I mentioned.  That would definitely give me more motivation to write!

Tips for getting around as a visitor:

I didn’t know this, but apparently there’s a special Osaka pass you can get for a day or two that gives you unlimited transportation and entrance into certain museums/temples/etc!  Info:  http://www.osaka-info.jp/osp/en/

If you’re foreign and plan ahead you can buy a JR Pass, but I believe you can only buy it before you come to Japan.  My aunt and uncle bought one for me the first time I went to Japan six years ago, and it was amazing.  However, it is pretty expensive, so only worth it if you’re going to travel a LOT.  Especially if you’re going to use the Shinkansen more than once in the a week or two – then it’s probably worth your while.  Shinkansen’s hella expensive.

Onto the good stuff!

Shrines

Fushimi Inari: I’ve been here five times.  You could probably call me a fan.  I made everyone I was close to go.  Even Yuuki who used to live really close by and had never gone!  It’s super pretty and unique, and huge.  Every time I went I took a different path.  It has hundred of torii’s (those Japanese-style gate thingys) all in a row.  Also climb at least half-way up so you can see the beautiful view.  You’ll know when you’re there because of the view, and it’s very clearly a resting place with a couple shops and benches.  Gorgeous!  There isn’t much of a view from the very top though, which is kinda lame.  There are more cool mini-shrines and interesting flavored rock candies if you continue though.  It’s a temple to Inari, which many people, including Japanese people, think is a fox god.  It’s not, it’s actually an old man who uses the fox as a messenger.  You won’t be able to tell though, as there is no old man anywhere but fox statues are everywhere, holding either  scroll or a key (I didn’t know what it was at first, all I knew was it looked cool) to the rice store-house.  Also make sure to get your fortune told!  Tell Yuuki you want an o-mikuji.  Well you can do that at pretty much any temple or shrine, actually.  And if it’s bad you tie it to a tree to get rid of the bad fortune!  Okay, I’ll shut up about it now.  I like it too much.  So many memories.

Yasaka Jinjya: It’s pretty famous, and I believe near Kiyomizu Dera and that souvenir shopping street.  It’s purty.

Iwashimizu Hachimangu: Pretty cool, though it’s in Yawata-shi, which is kind of the country side of Kyoto.  It’s where I got my cool archery charm (that now broke T_T).  The most interesting thing about it is that Thomas Edison got the bamboo he used as the filament in his first light bulb was from Yawata.  And they are proud of it.  There’s a statue of a light bulb filament in the middle of the city, there’s an old-American style “Candle-light Cafe,” and there’s even prayer plates with his face and/or his quote “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

– There’s also another shrine in Yawata apparently that sells the rare ‘plane safety’ charm.  I didn’t make it there though.  There’s charms in a lot of shrines for transportation, but it’s rare to find one specifically for flights.

Kitano Tachimangu:  Great for plum blossom viewings!!  Super pretty.  I had a misadventure trying to go there, but it was worth it when I got there.  Thought I would also mention it’s famous for its charms to help with studies.

Temples

Kiyomizu Dera:  One, if not the, most famous temple in Kyoto.  If you tell a Japanese person you like temples, they will inevitably ask you if you’ve been here.  I went the first time I went to Japan so it’s been about 5/6 years and I don’t remember it all that well, but I do remember it was super pretty.

Kinkaku-ji:  Beautiful, golden pavilon, as it’s usually translated.  Really pretty and it’s fun seeing   it on postcards everywhere and being able to say you’ve been there, and there’s interesting history with it too (a Buddhist monk tried to burn it down in the    60’s).  However, I was a little disappointed that you can’t enter the golden part and it just feels touristy.  But it’s worth seeing.

Arashiyama:  Never been, but by all accounts it’s absolutely gorgeous and I regret not going.  Another one of Yuuki’s suggestions.

Byodou-in:  beautiful, gardens, and it’s on the back of the 10-yen coin!  So you’ll always get      to look at the coin and know you’ve been there, which is pretty cool, in my opinion.  However, got the ‘this-is-no-longer-an-actual-place-of-worship-but-a-museum’ feeling like I did at Kinkaku-ji…there is an actual small museum inside too, I think.

Mampukuji:  in the same smaller city of Kyoto (Uji) as Byoudo-in.  Far less famous, but I enjoyed it more.  Byodou-in was gorgeous and it was cool to look at and compare with the coin, but it feels like a tourist temple.   Mampukuji…maybe it was because there were only two other visitors than me, it’s free to enter (I believe), and I got to see monks doing a service that wasn’t a performance, as well as see them actually walking around the shrine, it just felt like a spiritual place.

– Note about shrines and temples:  There aren’t nearly as many huge, famous shrines as there are temples.  Many Japanese people couldn’t tell you the difference between temples and shrines and would probably tell you they’re the same thing, but they’re not.  Shrines are Shinto, sometimes called the native religion of Japan, but that’s disputed.  Either way they tend to be small, put where ever there’s room, and other buildings, from businesses to houses, are literally built around them.   I love when I find a small shrine between skyscrapers!  Temples are Buddhist and also quite beautiful, they feel much more planned out and grand, and serious.  Even if many Japanese people don’t know the difference, I think they feel distinctly different.  I read somewhere too that you will always find a small Buddhist temple in a Shinto shrine, and vice versa.  I haven’t researched it though.

Historical Sites/Museums

Osaka Museum of Housing and Living:  Never been but the description sounds awesome, despite the title sounding super     boring.  Also, I guess they let you wear a yukata while walking around for free!  That would be sweet.

– Osaka Museum of History: Never been but has good ratings, as long as you buy the English guide so you can understand what is going on.

– Tezukayama Ancient Tomb: (Never been – 3/5 star rating)

– Naniwagu Site: (Never been – 3/5 star rating)

Famous/Iconic Spots

Glico Man: Both this and the moving crab are pretty much in Shinsaibashi (though Glico is technically in Namba I think, they’re right next to each other.  Not really that special (if you’ve seen a giant neon picture on a building, and if Google a picture of him now, put two and two together and…) but he shows up on a lot of Osaka merchandise, so if you’re in the area you might as well see it.  Also, on that bridge are a lot of hosts! Although I think I also saw a prostitute there, which made me really depressed on my walk back through Shinsaibashi.  Namba’s apparently famous for having Yakuza there too, but I never saw any (that I’m aware of) and they’ll leave you alone anyway.  It’s such a populated area it’s not dangerous, and I hear they don’t care about foreigners anyway (except for that one that gave me candy…).

– The moving crab!

Shopping

– Shinsaibashi:  THE shopping area in Osaka.  I thought it was really fun, and you can find some cool stuff.  There’s a couple cheap lolita/cosplay stores (but you can’t try anything on =/) and a 300 yen store with some cute clothes and accessories, and just some cool fashion all-around.  Fun to people watch there as well.

– Ame-mura (or – American Town!):  I only went here once, for a Miyavi concert, so I didn’t get to look around much.  It       has pretty average ratings on trip advisor, so I guess not too much to see.  There is, however, a Burger King!  And probably some other American shops other than the McDonald’s, SubWay, or Denny’s (I don’t know about Korea, but those are the only three from America that are common in Japan).  Also a lot of gangsta-type clothes, and probably pretty interesting to people watch.  Most likely a good place to see some crazeh Gyaru(the girls who tan orange, dye hair blond, and wear RIDICULOUS fake eyelashes and make-up).  I know there’s also a Krispy Kreme somewhere in Kyoto and somewhere in Osaka, but I forget where.

– Gion Shijo/Kawaramachi: It leads up to Yasaka Shrine and I think Kiyomizu-Dera…it’s much more traditional/souvenir type shopping…painted chopsticks, teddy bears with Japanese designs on them, fancy chocolates with green   tea flavoring, etc.

– Cosplay shop: Yuuki’s addition, haha, but I’m sure you can find one in Shinsaibashi.

– Kuzuha Mall: A.k.a the poor man’s Shinsaibashi.  Just kidding, mostly.  It’s an actual mall, rather than a street like Shinsaibashi.  I went there a lot on weekends with my friends to hang out.  It’s cute, and there’s this store we loooooved called Axes Femme.  I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s pretty cool.  Kind of Lolita-esque but (mostly) wearable.  Expensive though.  There’s also a really good food court and usually a juggler hanging out outside of it.

– Aeon Mall: It’s super close to Yuuki’s house.  Not too special but I’ve been there a lot.  There’s an anime store at the very top, and a yummy crepe shop at the very bottom, with some interesting stuff in between.  Sometimes you can find some neat stuff (Like a cute kitty planner and Russian matroshka dolls painted to be Halloween themed).

Other

– Karaoke!!: anywhere, anytime.  I don’t know if they have it the same in Korea with the tiny rooms or not but it’s really fun and it’d be a great way to hang out with peeps.

– Kansai Gaidai: The school I went to/Yuuki goes to, lots of foreigners!  Don’t know if you’re     interested or not (you don’t have to go just to please me), but I think it’s interesting to learn about colleges in foreign countries.  Also, lots of people who speak English.

– Maid Cafe: Kinda creepy, yes.  I blushed the whole time I went.  But it’s so unique, I think it’s worth going once.  You’re blond so they will most likely ask for  a picture with you.

-Umeda Sky Building – a free place to view the whole city.  You can go up to a ridiculously high    level and it’s a gorgeous view.  The building itself looks really cool and at night it looks like the diamond ring effect.  Also, even though I’ve been there three times, I was unaware that the basement was made to look like 1920-30’s Japan!  Sweet.  There’s also a lot of strange festivals there – it’s where I went to the Mexican fiesta and the German Christmas.

– Hot springs: Feel sooooooo good.  They often have unique baths like banana scented, or ones with wine in them, or part of it outdoors.  They can be awkward, (especially as a foreigner – the old ladies don’t really care but the younger girls tend to) and I’ve never gone alone.

– Arcade: Yuuki’s addition, speaks for itself!  Definitely have to do Puri-kura (the photo booth    stickers!!  SO FUN!).  They’re everywhere, usually on the top floors of malls.  There   are a couple in Shinsaibashi and a small one on the top of the mall in Hirakata-shi (where Yuuki lives).

– Pachinko: Gambling is illegal in Japan, so this is the solution…it’s essentially gambling.  You play this game with tiny balls, win a prize depending on how many you have at the end, and then sell back the prize.  It’s where the seedy types hang out, and even if         you don’t go into one, you will notice it.  They are very neon and loud.  I always wanted to try it though, and never did.

– Osaka Aquarium: Really pretty, has a small whale in it, and obviously quite a few other animals you wouldn’t see in Wisconsin (or anywhere in America, for that matter).

– Osaka Tempozan Special Gallery: never been

– Universal Studios Japan: Pretty much a theme park with Back to Future and Jurassic Park rides and stuff.  Machines and stuff I’m terrified of.  Kind of expensive, but if you like theme parks I guess it’s worth it.  I never went though.

Day Trips/Overnight Trips to Nearby Cities

– Nara

~ Yama no be no Michi!!!!  You might be able to tell I’ve been there.  You might also be able to tell I enjoyed it.  A lot.  It’s the oldest (or one of the oldest, but I think oldest) roads in Japan, and it’s huge.  I went twice because it was so long.  There’s nothing specific to say ‘you must see this’ but it’s beautiful, there’s old burial mounds and tiny shrines everywhere…it’s one of those places foreign tourists don’t usually go to, usually only Japanese people.  We stopped at a tiny restaurant proclaiming the best udon, and the old lady working there said we were only the third group of foreigners to stop there  in 7 years, took a picture with us, and gave us delicious persimmons (which are also in abundance to buy on the road via the honor system).

~ Largest Buddha statue in Japan     Never been to it – though by most accounts I’ve read since this one is in a building of a temple it’s not quite as impressive as the second largest (which I have seen, but it’s in Kamakura, near Tokyo) but I’m sure this      one’s pretty sweet too.

– Kobe

          ~ China Town: pretty fun

          ~ Kobe Beef: never got to try it, would love to one day.

– Himeji

~ Himeji Castle – Went here on my first trip to Japan and always listed it as my favorite   place I went to, since I love castles and by all accounts it’s the best one in Japan (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  However, it might still be under construction.  =(  There are a couple other small interesting things in Himeji and I know a family there, but still…if the castle is under construction still it’s not really worth it.

-Awaji Island: never been, would like to go.

– Hiroshima (farther than the others – if you went here you’d definitely have to stay a night – but these two things are well worth seeing, I think everyone in the world should see the peace museum)

          ~ Peace Park

          ~ Miyajima (Famous floating Torii – friendly deer – gorgeous mountain)

FOOOOOOOOOOOOD (for the seafood-hating, lactose intolerant weirdos (like my cousin))

– Tofu ice cream that won’t fall out of your cone at Fushimi Inari!

– Katsudon

– Okonomiyaki

– Yakisoba

– Kushikatsu

– Oyakodon

– Curry (Co-co’s build your own – choose your own toppings and spice level!)

– Onigiri – those rice balls I always thought were donuts in Pokemon!  They’re delicious and there’s a billion flavors.  Just tell Yuuki you want one that’s not fish.

– Bento box

Delicious snacks/candy

– Alfort chocolate

– Maccha Kit-Kats

– Okay, every kind of Kit-Kat you can find.  In Kyoto there’s also Houjicha flavor (roasted tea) and cinnamon (tastes like Teddy Grahams!).  In Kobe there’s pudding flavored.  I once found a cheese flavored one in a 100 yen store.  It was gross, but interesting.  There’s also a maccha sakura latte one sometimes in convenience stores – so look out for that!  it’s different than the regular maccha one, though I like the regular maccha better.

– Otoko ume, it means ‘plums for men’ haha, it’s one of Yuuki’s favorites.  It’s pretty good if you’re okay with sour.

– These potato chips that taste like french fries…delicious

Drinks!!  Oh how I love them!!!

– Milk teaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa – especially pungency.  I drank it every day.  That’s a lie but my love for it is not.

– Calpis

– Cafe Ore!

– Melon soda

– Cassis ginger ale – which I was just told they stop making =(   But I love anything with cassis in it, although Yuuki doesn’t like it.  It’s black currants.  Sour but delicious.

If you’re feeling adventurous in regards to seafood (OMGHOWCANYOUNOTLOVESEAFOODITSSODELICIOUS)

– Takoyaki – Osaka is famous for this!!!  And it’s super good.  Costs twice as much in Tokyo and   tastes half as good.  So if you can work up the courage to try octopus…

– SUSHIIIIIIIIIIIIII  awwww it’s so good.  And you can go to Sushi-ro where they have BASIL CHEESE SALMON.  Best thing evar.  or Kappa-zushi, both those are super cheap, 100 yen a plate (which only comes with two pieces or so, but still…you’ll be full after 5  or …unless you’re my friend whose record is about 24  O_o)

And that’s it for now.

In the edition I made for my cousin I also included a list of festivals and flea markets.  Obviously, now they’ve happened already so including them seemed rather pointless.  BUT I would definitely recommend going to any and all you can.  I’ve never regretted any and they’re some of my best memories.  I hope to write about them in the future.

Hope you discovered something you didn’t know about!  じゃね。

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