Visit Kansai: The Heart of Japan

When you ask people about the places they know in Japan, more often than not all the places they would mention would be part of Kansai.
Located in the heart of the country, Kansai has always been at the heart of the economic and cultural development of the nation.

Get to Know the Kansai Region

The Kansai Region is also known as the Kinki Region or the Kinki Chiho. In English, Kansai translates to “west of the border.”  The Kansai Region includes seven prefectures of Japan namely Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, and Shiga. In this prefectures are some of Japan’s famous cities such as Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Kobe.

During the olden times the Kansai Region was famously known as the Kinki Region, however, in the present day, Kansai is more commonly used but both Kansai and Kinki Region are widely accepted as the name of the area. The origins of the name Kansai dates back to as early as when the country of Japan came about. Kinki, the term to which the region was initially called used to identify the Yamato, Yamashiro, Kawachi, Settsu, and Izumi provinces. In the present day, Kinki area now only covers Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto. Kansai on the other hand only covered all of the seven prefectures mentioned above during Edo period.

Nara City, which can be found in Kansai Region, is the very first capital of Japan. Kansai also is Japan’s region that has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the whole of Japan. If there are must visit places in the Kansai Region of Japan then it would be these UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites that can be found in Kansai includes the following:

Kyoto Horyu-ji
By 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area:

The Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area can be found in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, Japan. The whole site consists of 21 monuments that are located in the Horyu-ji East Temple, 9 in the West Temple, plus 17 convents that survived the early ages. This UNESCO World Heritage Site show the deep history of the Buddhist impact and how it came about in the lives of the Japanese people in the past. These Buddhist Monuments are also considered as one of the National Treasures of Japan.

Himeji Castle:

Himeji Castle is undoubtedly Japan’s most famous castle ever built. It is also Japan’s largest castle to date. It is located on top of a hill in  Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Himeji Castle is also known as Hakuro-jo or Shirasagi-jo in the Japanese language. It English, it means “White Heron Castle.” This well-preserved grand castle consists of over 80 buildings in its compound that dates back to 1333 when it was built by Akamatsu Norimura before it was overhauled to the castle it is now. In fact, some of the builds in the Himeji Castle compound are also considered as Japan’s National Treasure. The Himeji Castle was built on strong foundations and it clearly shows as this 400-year-old castle impressively survived the bombings in World War II and the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 among other war casualties and other calamities that struck in the hundreds of years that it stood tall. Himeji Castle became one of Japan’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and is also one of Japan’s three premier castles.It is recommended to visit this castle during the month of April when it is not so cool nor is it too hot.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto:

The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto includes 17 location in Kyoto City, Japan and its neighboring areas Uji City and Otsu City. The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. It includes 13 Buddhist temples, three Shinto shrines, and the Nijo Castle which is the lone castle structure in included. Some of the structures of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto are also considered as Important Cultural Properties, Special Places of Scenic Beauty, and National Treasures of Japan.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara:

The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1998. It includes eight locations in Nara Prefecture, Japan. It includes five Buddhist temples, one Shinto shrine, the Imperial Palace, and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. Same as the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, some places in the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara are also considered as Important Cultural Properties, Special Places of Scenic Beauty, and National Treasures of Japan.

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range:

The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range can be found in Kii Peninsula, Japan overlooking the Pacific Ocean. These sites include the Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan sacred sites which date back the early 9th century. These sites show the influence of the Shinto and Buddhism practices in Japan. These sacred sites welcome about 15 million visitors every year. These visitors hike up to the sacred sites, which are surrounded by rivers and waterfalls.

Get Access to Kansai Region: The Difference Rail Passes such as Kansai Area Pass and Kansai Wide Area Pass

The Kansai area of Japan is one of the best places to go and visit. It has most of the popular attractions of Japan, which includes Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. All the locations within the region are very well-connected as the system of railways is very dense with over 12 different companies serving the whole area. This has resulted in multiple options for tourists on a budget. Looking at the list of passes available can be daunting for first-time visitors. In order to simplify the search for the perfect Kansai pass for a specific trip, all that needs to be done is to identify the destinations. It is always best to consider your options in advance in order to not waste any time or money. It is also good to note that as much as possible avoid using taxis and renting cars as these are very expensive and are generally not worth the price. The following list contains key destinations and the corresponding passes.

Osaka Castle
  1. Kyoto/Osaka:
    If the trip is limited to a visit to only the city of Kyoto or Osaka, buying a regional pass will be a waste of money. The use of an IC card will yield the most economical results if accompanied with a well-made transportation plan. There are also day passes that can be utilized effectively should one go to many locations in the city. Should visitors land at the Kansai Airport, the Icoca and Haruka Ticket is also of great value. IC cards are prepaid cards that can be used on virtually all fares of public transportation and can be used anywhere even outside Kansai such as Tokyo. There is a special version of the IC card, called the Kansai One Pass, that is only available to foreign nationals and will allow them certain discounts at various locations.
  2. Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe:
    It is very feasible for one to visit all 4 of these cities in one trip as they are all within an hour’s travel from each other. These cities area also interconnected by cheap local trains, which makes regional passes not an economical choice. Therefore, an IC card or Day Pass would be the most economical.
  3. Himeji:
    The best choice when visiting Himeji would have to be the 1 day JR Kansai Area Pass or the Kansai Thru Pass as this city is far enough from the others that a regional pass is considered to be economical. These can be bought as a foreigner who presents their passport at the information office in the international airports. The Kansai Thru Pass costs 4000 yen for two days and 5200 yen for 5 days while the price of the JR Kansai Area Pass starts at 2300 yen and as much as 6500 yen. The Kansai Thru Pass serves most train lines that do not belong to the  JR-West railway company and the JR Kansai Area only serves JR lines.
  4. Kinosaki, Amanohashidate, or Kumano:
    The best choice for a side trip to these areas would have to be the JR Kansai Area Pass as these locations are far from the cities. 
  5. Ise Shrines:
    A visit to the world famous Ise Shrines would make the Kintetsu Rail Pass a good buy if you are coming from a major city such as Kyoto or Osaka.

It is also good to note that for foreigners, it is much cheaper to reserve a pass online rather than buying them within Japan. The trains in the Kansai area, as with all trains of Japan, are very clean and spacious. Seating will not be a problem for longer journeys and they arrive on time. Planning a trip to the Kansai region is a cinch with the Japanese public transport system.

Recommended Hot Springs in Kansai Area

In Japan, hot springs are everywhere and pop up all year round. Hot springs in Japan are also known as onsen. For a long time, Japanese individuals have delighted in them primarily for its medical benefits and health reasons. But nowadays a lot Japanese and tourists go to onsens for leisure, relaxation, and exploration. Experiencing an onsen is a different but incredible approach to appreciating Japan. It is not simply to experience the different approach in bathing of the Japanese or to experience the rumored helpful physical benefits but also to make the most of the peacefulness it offers and to experience the ambiance and beauty of nature that is alive in areas where onsens are abundant. Hot springs in Japan are known to be located in some of the most beautiful views you can get in Japan. You may likewise be astounded to find that onsen waters come in various hues, green or dark, for example; numerous such waters are thought to help smooth the skin or alleviate back agony. Thus, regardless of whether you've never attempted onsen or are now an aficionado, it's an affair not to be missed and one that you're probably going to appreciate. See the list below of the recommended onsen in Japan:

  1. Arima Hot Springs:
    Arima Onsen is known to be one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. It is located in the center of Mount Rokko. Thus, you are assured to have a wonderful ambiance in this hot springs. You can get to Arima Onsen via a train from Kobe Sannomiya, which will take about 30 minutes travel time. The weather here is much cooler than when you are in the cities. Thus, this is a popular travel destination during the summer from visitors who would want to de-stress away from the summer heat of the city.
  2. Kinosaki Hot Springs:
    Kinosaki Hot Springs was said to be built 1,300 years ago. This onsen traverses wide along the edge of Otanigawa River that passes through the town, thus, giving you a truly magnificent view. In this place, it is usual for people (even visitors) to stroll around and explore the town in yukatas. This is really a perfect place for tourists who would want to discover Japan in traditional Japanese clothing.
  3. Ako Hot Springs:
    Ako is a place known to be a producer of salt. Thus, it is no surprise that the hot springs here in Ako yield high salt substance. One of the Ako Hot Springs has a view of the Seto Inland Sea. Some would say that the best view of the sea is offered by the onsen. After your session, you may also enjoy a fresh seafood from the abovementioned sea. This is also the best and nearest onsen to go to after a visit to Himeji Castle, one of Japan’s premier castle.
  4. Yumura Hot Springs:
    Yumura Onsen did not start as a hot spring destination as early as Arima and Kinosaki Hot Springs. But Yumura still dates back over 800 years ago. The Yumura Onsen is known to make your skin smooth and supple. Even if it takes about four hours to get here from Osaka, locals and foreigners still visit the hot springs town of Yamura.
  5. Totsukawa Hot Springs:
    Totsukawa Onsen is found somewhere down in the mountains of Kii Peninsula. It is an extremely celebrated hot spring region, however, coming here is not that simple. It will take around 30 minutes to reach this Onsen by  taking the Kintetsu Limited Express to Yagi station from Osaka Namba station. At Yagi station, you'll need to board a bus and the ride will take another 4 hours. Do not worry! Kumano Kodo is within the area and this area alone will keep your itinerary full.

This region is dense with so much history that just a mere train ride away would bring you to a new aspect of Japanese culture. From the grand shrines of Ise to the towering buildings of Osaka, Kansai offers visitors so much in such a little space.