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Things to Do in Kansai Prefecture - page 4

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Kiyotaki River

The crystal-clear waters of the Kiyotaki River make its banks one of the most scenic walking trails in the Kyoto area. Alighting from the bus at the Takao stop that heads west out of Kyoto and then on to Ninnaji Temple, it’s just a short walk down to the banks of the Kiyotaki River.

The river’s waters are impossibly clear, and within them lives the giant Japanese salamander. Measuring up to 1.5 meters long, the world's largest amphibian is sometimes referred to as the “living fossil” on account of the spices not altering much in 30 million years. The gentle walking trail along the river continues on to the village of Kiyotaki. From there, you can catch a bus to Arashiyama or else turn back and retrace your steps along the river.

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Taiyo Park
2 Tours and Activities

At Taiyo Park in Himeji, visitors can tour of some of the world’s most famous monuments without leaving Japan. The park contains smaller replicas of such iconic attractions as the Giza pyramids, the Statue of Liberty, and China’s Terracotta Warriors. Don’t miss the 3D trick-art gallery inside the replica of Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle.

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Danjo Garan Temple
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5 Tours and Activities

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.

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Hosen-in Temple
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A 700-year-old pine tree welcomes visitors to Hosen-in Temple, a lodging site for Buddhist pilgrims since the 11th century. Inside the quiet temple, visitors sip on traditional Japanese green tea while meditating on the ancient tree and gardens seen through the windows. Outside, visitors place their ears to a pair of bamboo tubes that stretch down into the ground from a small wooden terrace. It's said that the sounds heard from water dripping into a water basin symbolize harmony in the universe.

The serenity can only be disrupted by blood-spattered ceilings, a result of a gruesome Samurai battle that took place in the area in the 1600s. Temple keepers salvaged the wood in Fushimi Castle, where the battle was fought and lost, and affixed it to the temple's ceiling as a way of remembering the history and the lives of those in the battle.

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Myoshin-ji Temple

It’s not every day that an Emperor abdicates his throne and abandons secular pleasures to become a monk. But that’s just what Japanese Emperor Hanazono did in the early 14th century. In 1342 he donated his palace to found a temple. Myoshinji Temple resulted from his religious pursuits, a large complex that houses the main temple, as well as 50 sub-temples. Nearly all of the temple buildings were destroyed in a war in the 15th century; they were rebuilt over the next 150 years, and the reconstructions still stand today.

Entering Myoshinji through one of two gates – north and south – visitors walk along winding paths flanked by high stone walls. Many of the temple buildings are closed to the public, and others offer entrance through guided tours. Inside Hatto Hall, cultural treasures such as a bell dating back to the 7th century, can be seen. Outside, Myoshinji’s temple gardens have been designated as a national place of scenic beauty. Myoshinji is the head temple of the Myoshinji school of Buddhim, which boasts 3,500 affiliated temples across Japan, and has declared itself the largest of all Zen Buddhist branches.

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Kamigamo Shrine

It’s impossible to miss the larger-than-life red shrine gate at the entrance to Kamigamo, one of Japan’s oldest shrines. Built in the year 678, it pre-dates Kyoto’s reign as capitol of Japan by over a century. Its longevity lends a hand to Kamigamo’s regard as one of the country’s most sacred and divine shrines: it housed and played host to four Emperors between the 8th and 18th centuries. Kamigamo’s esteemed history is celebrated every year during Aoi Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s three biggest festivals, when a large procession dressed in Imperial garb from the days of the Heian period marches to the shrine.

Kamigamo and its sister-shrine, Shimogamo, are situated in the ancient Tadasu no Mori, a preserved forest with trees over 600 years old. Visitors flock to two sand cones that rest in front of the shrine’s main building. These structures are said to protect and purify the grounds. Of the shrine buildings, the worship hall is the most famous.

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Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Toei Uzumasa Eigamura)

Step back in time to the Edo period in Japan at Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Toei Uzumasa Eigamura), the only theme park in Japan that’s also an open-air film set for period drama (jidaigeki) films. Visitors can watch exciting performances, dress up in period costume, learn fun skills, and enjoy a number of other entertaining attractions.

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Chionji Temple (Hyakumanben Chionji Temple)

In the sleepy and still-functioning Chionji Temple (Hyakumanben Chionji Temple), in north-central Kyoto, it’s possible to see monks praying with incense at an interior alter and long strings of giant juzu beads hanging in the rafters. Also called Hyakumanben Chionji and not to be confused with the Chion-in Temple north of the city and on the sea, the wing-roofed temple has a small garden, wooden statues and bells that clang during important ceremonies.

Chionji is accessed by a long cement walkway surrounded by dusty grounds that come alive, jam-packed with vendors, for an all-day flea market on the 15th of each month. It’s one of the largest gatherings of local artisans in Kyoto and has colorful stalls selling locally-crafted hand-painted items, children’s toys, leatherwork, furniture, ceramics and clothing; there are also several fortune-telling booths, food stalls and coffee tents.

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Teramachi Street

Teramachi Street, a covered pedestrian shopping arcade in Kyoto, brims with shops and boutiques – a favorite shopping destination for Kyoto’s university students in particular. The name of the street translates to Temple Town, reflecting the many temples and shrines that occupied the area during the sixteenth century.

Today, it’s dominated by casual clothing shops and stores selling green tea, accessories, books and souvenirs. Hungry shoppers will find a few traditional Japanese confectioneries, as well as a variety of restaurants and cafes specializing in Japanese and international flavors.

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Kyoto National Museum

The sprawling Kyoto National Museum campus, an homage to Japanese art and history, includes outdoor gardens featuring The Thinker sculpture by Auguste Rodin, a wing (new in 2014) housing permanent collection pieces, an older building showing a rotating slate of special exhibits and its own traditional Japanese tea house.

Similar in its permanent collections to the Tokyo National Museum, the Kyoto National Museum houses ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, archeological relics, intricate kimonos and more, but the special exhibitions and rotating showcases are where the museum really shines. Past displays have featured the art of Zen; photos, swords and artwork illustrating life and times of Sakamoto Ryoma (who helped usher in the modern Meiji government in the 1800s); vivid scrolls of humans and animals from the Kosan-ji temple; Buddhist art; and a feature exhibition on the work of Edo-period painter and poet Yosa Buson. Most items feature full signage in both Japanese and English.

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More Things to Do in Kansai Prefecture

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower

1 Tour and Activity

The tallest structure in a city known for its traditional architecture and ancient temples, Kyoto Tower rises 430 feet (131 meters). Take in the panoramic city views from the observation deck, located 328 feet (100 meters) off the ground and then browse the shopping and dining options at Kyoto Tower Building.

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Isshin-ji Temple

Isshin-ji Temple

Dating back to 1185, it's said that the Buddhist Isshin-ji Temple was founded by Honen, a Pure Land Buddhist (a type of Buddhism based on Mahayana Buddhism).

Guests can see the temple's many urns and mausoleums set around the property, which house the ashes of Buddhists from around the country. In 1887, a priest commissioned a sculptor to create statues of Amida (the principle Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism) by mixing the ashes of the deceased with resin to preserve their remains. Although six of these statues were destroyed in a World War II bombing near the temple, a seventh was later built from the remains of the others and today contains the ashes of nearly 220,000 people.

Additionally, the temple’s contemporary gate is an eye-catcher, made of glass, steel and concrete instead of traditional wood. Accompanying the gate is the Hiso-den building, which was built to resemble a church. Both structures were planned and designed by the current head priest, who also happens to be an architect.

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Museum of Oriental Ceramics

Museum of Oriental Ceramics

The finest ceramics from the Orient – Japan, China and Korea – are all gathered under the roof of Osaka’s Museum of Oriental Ceramics, and the collection is considered to be the best ceramic collection in the world.

The museum collects, studies and conserves all the pieces in their collection and aims to share their knowledge with visitors through the museum's modern facility such as earthquake shock-absorbent platforms, natural and artificial lighting techniques and even display cases that efficiently rotate to provide the best view possible.

The focus of the permanent collection is the Chinese and Korean ceramics of the Ataka Collection, and Korean ceramics of the Rhee Byung-Chang Collection. More than 2,700 pieces make up the collection, including specially lit cabinets of exquisite Nara ceramics, green-glazed ware from Korea and Tang-dynasty celadon ware from China.

Blue and white porcelain from Vietnam is highly prized, along with Japanese Edo-period figurines. The museum also displays special exhibitions from time to time, focusing on specific eras and styles.

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Spa World

Spa World

While Japan is famous for its hot springs, very few naturally occur in the Osaka area. Luckily, visitors looking for a little relaxation of the soaking variety can find it—seven floors of it—at Spa World. One of the world’s largest hot springs complexes, Spa World bills itself as a sort of theme park, with onsen (hot springs pools) and saunas from around the world.

The complex is divided into various themed areas. The onsen occupy two floors and two different areas: the European Zone, with pools fashioned in styles of ancient Greece and Rome, Italy, Spain and Finland; and the Asian Zone, featuring Japanese, Indonesian, Persian and Middle Eastern-style baths. Another floor houses eight themed saunas, while yet another floor contains an indoor water park complete with three slides.

Visitors will also find a hotel with Western and Japanese-style accommodations, a food court, full-service spa, gym, gift shop, arcade and TV room within the complex.

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Saiho-ji Temple

Saiho-ji Temple

In 1339 the Buddhist monk Muso Soseki accepted an opportunity to restore a dilapidated temple into a deeply religious one surrounded by a zen garden. Using rocks, sand, and 120 types of moss, he designed a tranquil garden that resembles a lush, green carpet where pilgrims and visitors can meditate and contemplate life. The temple and its spectacular garden, designated a special place of scenic beauty in Japan, is one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

A visit to Saiho-ji Temple is a uniquely Buddhist experience. Every visitor is asked to chant and write Buddhist scriptures – or sutra. A monk leads the chanting, and non-Japanese speakers and writers are offered a sheet on which to trace the characters. After, a stroll through the moss and rock gardens complete the experience.

Saiho-ji Temple is more commonly known as “Kokedera,” which translates to “Moss Temple.”

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Uji Bridge (Uji-bashi)

Uji Bridge (Uji-bashi)

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Few landmarks in Japan have figured so prominently in Japanese literature and art as Uji-bashi Bridge. Spanning the Uji River in the town of Uji just outside of Kyoto, it is one of the oldest bridges in Japan. It was originally built in 646 and has witnessed plenty of history, including battles in 1180, 1184 and 1221. During the Edo period, the bridge was an early point along the tea caravan carrying Uji tea to the capital.

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Mimuroto-ji Temple

Mimuroto-ji Temple

Known as the "flower temple," Mimuroto Temple in Uji City near Kyoto showcases a vast array of seasonal flowers. Starting in early April, Japan's famous cherry trees show off their pink blossoms for a short time around the grounds. From late April to early May, 20,000 azaleas bloom, and more than 10,000 hydrangeas open up in June. Lotus plants complement the bright summer months of July and August, and autumn foliage colors blossom in late November.

The foliage-laden grounds surround the deeply religious temple, originally constructed in the early 1800s and an honor head temple of the Honzan-Shugen-shu sect of Buddhism. The temple houses an image of a thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva, a deity and Buddhist symbol of wisdom and compassion. A three-tiered pagoda rests on temple grounds, as well. Touching the statues outside of the temple's main hall is believed to grant wishes and give good luck.

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Amami Onsen Nanten-En

Amami Onsen Nanten-En

Watch snow fall and cling to tree branches along the mountainside while relaxing in the natural hot springs at Amami Onsen Nanten-En. Onsens are said to have healing powers from the mineral content in the natural flowing water. In addition to the healing water, Amami Onsen is a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan. The inn is nestled in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture, a mere hour train ride from Osaka. The sights and sound of the city give way to tranquility and picturesque views along the route, which concludes near the remote Onsen.

Amami Onsen features a 10,000 square meter Japanese-style garden. From the cherry blossoms that burst to life in the spring to the crimson, orange, and gold fall foliage all the way to the fairy tale winter wonderland, the garden is one of Amami Onsen's best attractions. The Onsen can be enjoyed on a day trip from Osaka, but to get the full experience, guests should consider staying at least one night. Along with lounging in traditional Japanese robes, sleeping on plush bedding and calming the nerves in the hot springs, guests enjoy traditional home-cooked meals made with seasonal ingredients.

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Kyoto Handicraft Center

Kyoto Handicraft Center

For handmade goods by local craftsmen in Kyoto, nothing beats the Kyoto Handicraft Center. This three-floor building is jam-packed with handicrafts, as the name implies, and souvenirs. The local cooperative showcases the best work from local artisans and encourages visitors to try their own hand at making a souvenir to take home. Visitors are also invited to step into observation studios where they can watch local artisans at work.

The Kyoto Handicraft Center focuses on traditional Japanese goods. These include pottery, kimonos, jewelry, dolls, carvings, decorative fans, and more. It may be the best place in all of Kyoto to find handicraft goods of all varieties in one place.

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Kinshi Masamune Horino Memorial Museum

Kinshi Masamune Horino Memorial Museum

The Kinshi Masamune Horino Memorial Museum is about more than tasting sake. This traditional sake-brewing house in Kyoto honors the legacy of Machiya culture, a style of wooden townhouse best exemplified in Kyoto. The house formerly belonged to the Horino family, founders of the craft beer company Kinshi Masamune, but has since been converted into a museum that is open to visitors interested in learning about the history of Japanese architecture and sake brewing.

Visiting the Horino Memorial Museum provides a unique look into the art of brewing sake. The museum has an exhibit on sake brewing tools, and travelers are invited to taste three different kinds of Japanese sake, all made with water from a well on the premises. The well-water is still used today to make beer. and visitors get the chance to make their own label for a bottle of sake to take as a souvenir.

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Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail

The ancient pilgrimage to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano spans as far back as 1,000 years ago and still continues today. The pilgrimage routes that crisscross Kii, Japan’s largest peninsula have become known as the Kumano KodoPilgrimage Trail. Pilgrims and tourists, alike, take on the route to reach Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. Throughout history, retired emperors, high-ranking officials, and other determined pilgrims have completed the pilgrimage.

Today, the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The route spans through the Kii mountain range, making for an arduous journey. Though challenging, the paths wind through verdant forests and pass by and over cascading waterfalls and streams. In addition to providing a path between the shrines, the Kumano Kodo links Kyoto to the mountainous Kii region.

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Mt. Kurama

Mt. Kurama

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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.

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Asahi Beer Suita Factory

Asahi Beer Suita Factory

What are the "hops" in beer? What purpose does the barley serve? See the manufacturing process of the most ubiquitous name in Japanese beer, Asahi, at the Asahi Beer Factory. Located just outside of Osaka city in Suita, Asahi offers daily tours every 30 minutes. On the tour, guests see, smell, and touch the hops and barley, along with other ingredients that go into brewing some of the world's most famous beer.

The in-depth tour lasts a solid 90 minutes. Don't get bogged down in the science, though; the last 20 minutes are reserved for tasting the brews. Guests are offered sampling glasses, and for the time allotted, they are bottomless. That's right, guests can taste until they have had their fill. While sipping on different beers, guests can enjoy an expansive garden, as well as Asahi's "World Can Collection," an enormous display of more than 3,000 beer cans from all over the world. Before leaving, guests have an opportunity to visit the Asahi gift shop.

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Amanohashidate

Amanohashidate

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One of Japan's Three Scenic Views, Amanohashidate is a sandbar that connects the two sides of Miyazu Bay. Amanohashidate, translated as "bridge in heaven," got its name for its beauty, poetically described as a pathway between heaven and earth. The sandbar spans 3.3 kilometers (about 2 miles), and nearly 7,000 pine trees decorate the strip The panoramic view includes the bay on either side of the famous sandbar, as well as snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Nestled between the pine trees on the sandbar, Isoshimizu fresh water well is an attraction on its own, having been held in high regard since the Heian Period. Japan's Environmental Agency designated the well as one of the country's 100 best springs and rivers in 1985. Weather walking across the Amanohashidate sandbar or viewing it from above, this view is one of the most celebrated in Japan.

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