There’s So Much More To Japan’s Kansai Region Beyond Kyoto
Kansai is a region of Japan made up of seven prefectures, and is home to some of the most historically and culturally important (as well as some of the most beautiful) cities in Japan. Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara are the Kansai heavyweights, and it’s these cities where most tourists flock to when making their way “west of the border”.
Kyoto, for all its beauty, can be very busy with tourists. Ditto Osaka et al. So, to remedy that, we’ve put together a little list of things you can do in Kansai if you love immersing yourself in culture, and absolutely hate crowds.
Discover hidden Hyogo
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The Hyogo region of Japan rarely makes the top of anyone’s itinerary, but this somewhat hidden gem is well worth some exploration. Home to the attractive port city of Kobe, the nostalgic Himeji, and the relaxing and picturesque onsen town of Kinosaki, Hyogo has something to suit every type of traveller.
It’s also a great place to experience some hands-on crafty workshops as Hyogo is where some of the finest leather products in Japan are produced, with many small boutiques such as Daisho, offering travellers the opportunity to work with their hands to create their own unique souvenir made from real high quality Hyogo leather.
Retro gaming with a view at Sumaura Ropeway
Located just outside of Kobe, this aerial lift line runs up Mount Hachibuse. The views from the cable car are great, but the viewing platforms at the top are where things truly get spectacular – showcasing Kobe city in all its glory, as well as the more distant Osaka, and the natural landscapes of Hyogo and surrounds.
While these views are incredible, it’s when you venture inside the building at the top that you’re met with somewhat of a surprise. There’s a crazy retro arcade hiding inside that’s filled with games that’ll take you way back. It’s a great nostalgia trip with even greater views, and the perfect spot to relive a few memories from your 12th birthday.
Create your own mini Japanese Garden with Ueyakato Landscape
Japanese gardens have a reputation for being some of the most beautiful in the world. This isn’t by accident. Creating a Japanese garden is an art form; one which can be seen for all its true beauty and variations in the old capital of Kyoto. Though why just marvel at them when you could make one of your own?
The Ueyakato Landscape company has been taking care of the garden of the prestigious Nanzen-ji Temple since 1848, and offers visitors the chance to create their own miniature worlds made of moss, trees, and stones. It’s a great way to learn the intricacies and principles of Japanese landscape gardens whilst also exploring your own creativity. The image above shows one I prepared earlier, the white bit is meant to be a river bed (don’t ask me where all the water goes once it gets to the middle).
Learn the ancient art of “incense listening”
Incense listening is known as Kōdō in Japanese, and is renowned as one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement, along with Kadō (flower arrangement), and Chadō (the tea ceremony).
When it comes to incense, Kyoto’s Yamada-Matsu are the masters. Based in the city where the art of incense listening was first developed, they now offer visitors the chance to learn and try it for themselves. This immersive experience is the perfect addition to any Kyoto itinerary if you’re looking to experience a truly authentic hands on experience in Japan’s cultural capital.
Explore Kyoto’s famed Shijo Street
This is one of Kyoto’s finest shopping streets, and the perfect spot to let loose and reward yourself with some ultra retail therapy at one of the hundreds of chic boutiques that line the street. And while this street is home to some major players in the giant-department-store game, it’s the small boutiques that are worth getting lost in.
Many of these, such as the insanely popular indie bag manufacturer Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, began decades ago as family ran artisanal workshops, with their tradition of hand made quality and attention to detail unwavering to this day.
Before you go, don’t forget to pop down the road and pick up some sweet high quality umeshu from Ousunosato Gion. These guys are more than happy to provide you with a vast array of taste testing so you can find the type of plum liquor that’s right for you – or that lucky someone you bring this great Kansai souvenir back for.
(Lead image: Alek Auddy / Pixabay. All other images unless otherwise stated: David Allegretti)