Kansai Region, Japan: Travel Guide To The Heart Of Japan
Centuries of trade and foreign influence – thanks to the ancient Silk Road – shaped Kansai Region into a booming economic bastion in Japan today. Yet the region and its people has remained steadfast to its roots paving way for an eclectic balance between heritage and technology, traditional and pop culture, the old and the new. Perhaps some sort of fusion that gave Kansai a character distinct from many other in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Japanese call Kansai Region the heart of Japan – and it beats to a rhythm of its own.
Kansai’s economic epicenter Osaka speaks two languages primarily: Kansai-ben and business. But for tourist, the bustling urban landscape doesn’t fall short on attractions that truly impress.
In Osaka’s hodgepodge of high-rises, the twin tower brainchild of Hiroshi Hara, the Umeda Sky Building, stands out for its eccentric space-aged design. Two 40-storey skyscrapers linked together at the top by a “Floating Garden Observatory, featuring an astonishing 360-degree panorama of Osaka – constructing this state-of-the-art megastructure was a monumental leap for Japanese engineering. Hiroshi Hara, the same man behind Kyōto Station, has once again soared to great heights in setting new standards for contemporary architecture and design.
Shinsaibashi Suji is a hotbed for the trendy and fashion-forward youth of Osaka. In fact, just anyone with a passion for fashion will be overwhelmed by the flurry of outlet stores, designer brands, thrift shops, and boutiques in the covered shopping arcade. Perhaps Amerikamura or Uniqlo would serve as the perfect place to start the shopping spree.
Not the shopping-type? Absolutely fine. Bars, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and a smorgasbord of Japanese street food delights – talking about legit takoyaki, okonomiyaki, ramen here – found in almost every corner of Dōtonbori keeps everyone entertained and 100% gastronomically satisfied. Heck, even just watching the mechanized ads and the buildings garbed in neon signs are amusements in itself.
Amusements never run out in Osaka – definitely not in Universal Studios Japan. From hair-raising rollercoaster rides, mind-bending movie experiences to electrifying street parties and vibrant parades, USJ offers a long list of world-class attractions to keep you bedazzled from day ’til night. Did I mention USJ is home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? And there’s that too.
Japan runs on high gear towards technological revolution but somehow, this never stirred Kyōto‘s rustic appeal. Here, time seems to crawl where kimono’s still trend and machiya’s (traditional wooden houses) still flank the narrow streets. Highly-revered traditions never faded in history. Centuries-old temples and shrines were never shook by the past. Kyōto – the “thousand-year capital”, the erstwhile seat of power – was as if it were encapsulated in time.
Kyoto captured the world’s eyes with its priceless heritage sites and has drawn travelers into the city. Fushimi Inari-Taisha (Fushimi Inari Shrine), for example, receives hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists daily. Some of them are businessmen and merchants who seek blessings from the kami of prosperity and success, Inari.
Spread throughout the slopes of Inari-san are pathways made from an array of wooden gates, or torii, clad in bright red-orange paint – a prominent feature of the Shinto shrine complex that never fails to fascinate visitors of all sorts.
Another widely-visited temple in Kyōto is a testament to the construction and design prowess by the Japanese. The Buddhist temple Kiyomizu-dera was built without using a single nail yet the 13-meter-high edifice – not to mention the massive main hall its pillars support, the Hondo – has withstood fires, earthquakes, wars, and the test of time in its 1,200-year history.
Because of the temple’s flawless architecture, impeccable beauty, and its religious and historical significance, this ancient engineering marvel nailed a spot in the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List in ’94.
High grade wagyu, or Japanese beef, comes from certain strains of meticulously monitored cattle, bred for only one purpose – to taste insanely delicious. Kansai produces three top-shelf varieties of finely-marbled wagyu and one of them is Shiga‘s homegrown omi-gyu (also written as ohmi-gyu) or omi beef. The “king” of wagyu‘s has been dominating the meat industry with its tenderness, juiciness and that rich umami goodness since the Shogun ruled Japan. Next time you think wagyu – think omi, think Shiga.
For an authentic wagyu experience, try Jiku Kappo Sara in Yasu, Shiga.
West Japan Railways
Kansai Region is strung together by a vast network of railway system operated by West Japan Railways, or JR-West. Its unblemished track record for punctuality, cleanliness, and safety makes traveling by train an ideal and cost-efficient way to see Kansai’s promising destinations. Tip? Purchasing a JR-West’s Kansai Area Pass saves you some extra and cash and the gut-wrenching effort to calculate (and convert) fares. Privileges include unlimited rides and allows card holders to breeze past gates in a flash.
Umeda Sky Building (Osaka)
Shinsaibashi Suji & Dōtonbori (Osaka)
Universal Studios Japan (Osaka)
Fushimi Inari-Taisha (Kyōto)
Omi-gyu in Jiku Kappu Sara (Shiga)
West Japan Railways (Kansai)
1.Cebu Pacific is the only Philippine low-cost carrier flying between Manila and Osaka. Flights are five times weekly with lowest year-round fares starting from PHP6,399. Cebu Pacific also flies from Manila to Tokyo (Narita), Nagoya and Fukuoka, as well as from Cebu to Tokyo (Narita). Book through http://bit.ly/CEBOsakaflights or (+632)7020888, or follow its Facebook or Twitter pages for the latest seat sales.
2.Umeda Sky Building is located at Ōsaka, Kita-ku, Oyodonaka 1-1-88. You can go to Umeda Sky Building via train – Umeda Station. Entrance fee costs P350/person (¥500) approx . Umeda Sky Building is open from 1000 to 2230.
3. Directions, passes, attractions, opening hours – all about Universal Studios Japan on Osaka, Japan: Fun, Frolic, & Festivals in Universal Studios Japan
4. Directions from Osaka to Kyoto: Take the JR Kyoto Line via Special Rapid service in Osaka Station. Travel time is 29 minutes. Fare is P260.00 (¥500) approx, or use your JR-West Rail Pass
5. Directions to Fushimi Inari-Taisha: The shrine complex is right in front of the JR-Inari Station. From Kyoto Station, take the JR-Nara Line and get off at the next stop. Fare is around P70.00 (¥140) approx or you could use your JR-West Rail Pass
6. Entrance Fee at Fushimi Inari Taisha is free
7. Directions to Kiyomizu-dera: From Kyoto Sation, take Kyoto City Bus 100 or 206 and get-off at Kiyomizu-michi Bus Stop. It’s a 10-min walk from up there.
8. Entrance Fee at Kiyomizu-dera is P150.00 (¥300) .
9. Kiyomizu-dera is open from 0600 – 1800 depending on season.
8. If you want to avoid the crowd in Fushimi Inari-Taisha and Kiyomizu-dera,don’t go on holidays or weekdays. Try going early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
9. Directions to Jiku Kappo Sara in Yasu, Shiga: Take the train from Kyoto via Biwako Line and get off after 9 stops at Yasu Station.
10. Jiku Kappo Sara is located at 940 Koshinohara, Yasu-shi, Shiga-ken 520-2331 Japan. For reservations and more inquiries, call 077-587-3131 / 077-587-3815.
11. Try the Omi Beef Steak set meal in Jiku Kappo Sara. A meal includes 100 grams of omi beef, chawanmushi, sushi, sashimi, rice, and miso soup and it costs around P2,100.00 (¥4600). It’s fine dining my friend, and the taste, the experience worth your every peso or yen.
12.Prices for JR-West Rail Pass vary depending on how many days of usage from 1-day passes which cost P1,100 ( ¥2300) to 5-day passes which cost P3,900 (¥4600). Thus if purchasing your JR Pass, you should plan your itinerary very well.
13.Check out JR-West Website to know more about the deals and passes.
14. This trip was sponsored by Cebu Pacific, JG Summit Holdings Inc. & Universal Studios Japan. Maraming salamat!
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