Posted in Culture, Food, Photography, Travel

9 Mind-blowing Places in Kansai – Travelog #2: Beyond Kyoto

If you missed the first part on what to do in Kyoto, please see this post! For those who wish to take a day trip out from Kyoto or other cities in Kansai, here are some good options.

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Uji (宇治)

Apart from being known for as a city that produces excellent green tea, Uji is also home to Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部), the author of the great Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji. If you enjoyed the book, you will surely find the museum interesting! Exhibitions include scenes from the book and depictions of the Japanese way of life during that era.

Statue of Murasaki Shikibu along the Uji River.

Take a stroll around Byodo-in Temple, which is an example of Buddhist Pure Land architecture. Within the temple, the famous Phoenix Hall (on the back of a 10 yen coin) has survived since the Heian period, despite fires and natural disasters that have damaged other parts of the temple.

The Phoenix Hall, which houses the a statue of the Amida Buddha.

I had the best green tea soba and desert at Nakamura Tokichi Honten. This long-standing restaurant has several branches but this main one was relatively near Uji station and everyone knows this place so just ask if you get lost.

Cold soba set, love it!
Highly recommended! There’s ice cream, mochi, jelly and red bean paste.

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Nara  (奈良)

Most people have heard of Nara because of the deer that wander around the town. They are not afraid of humans at all and it can be pretty scary when you are trying to feed just one. There are small carts selling senbei (煎餅), which is what visitors feed the deer with.

Several deers will crowd around you when they see senbei in your hands!
You can even put your arms around them for a photo!

Apart from the deer, Naramachi is the old town area which still retains some of the old houses. Some have been converted into museums and cafes, such as the Nara Craft Museum, Naramachi Shiryōkan and the Koshi-no-ie Residence.

Interior of an adorable cafe along Naramachi.

Simply spend a relaxing day in Nara, stroll along the streets and chill at hipster cafes or shop for cute goods!

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Kurama & Kibune (鞍馬 & 貴船)

Approximately 30mins away from Kyoto by train lies Kurama, a rural town known for its hot spring and hiking trail. At the top of the mountain is the famous Kurama-dera Mountain Temple. Along the way, you will pass by Yuki Jinja (由岐神社), the patron shrine of the magnificent Kurama Fire Festival which is held every October.

An awesome statue of a Kurama Tengu!
A splash of colour among the greenery – Kurama Temple.

The trail continues to Kibune, which is another small town named after a goddess who travelled there in a yellow boat. Do dress properly for hiking as I wore Fit-Flips, which made climbing up and down the stairs a struggle lol.

Endless trail of steps and slopes connecting Kurama to Kibune.

The main attraction in Kibune is kawadoko (川床) or dining on a platform across the river. This is only available in summer as it offers a cool escape from the heat. Many restaurants offer this experience and serve kaiseki meals, ranging from 4000 yen to 12,000 per pax.

Diners enjoying their meal, accompanied by the sound of water flowing beneath the platform.

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Sakamoto (坂本)

We randomly picked Sakamoto town, located in Otsu (Shiga Prefecture), from the station map and decided to explore this place. The train there was so adorable, with cute girls decorating the exterior.

Sakamoto, let’s go!

After exploring Enryakuji Temple on Mount Hieizan, which offers a fantastic view of Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Biwa-ko, we stopped by a traditional soba restaurant for some authentic soba! It’s cheap, simple and really delicious!

Old, wooden building with a simple shop front.
Simplicity at its most delicious!

I recommend getting the Kansai Thru Pass so as to take more day trips. Then you can be spontaneous and alight at any station since there is unlimited travel.

Just like how we alighted to take this photo of the sunflowers! And waited 15mins for the next train oops!

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Mino Park (蓑面公園)

Travelling from Osaka to Mino Park takes approximately 25 minutes. Our goal was to visit the waterfall, situated up in the mountains. This hike is wayyy easier than the one from Kurama to Kibune, so most people should be able to complete it.

Take a break in front of the gorgeous Mino waterfall!
Snacks are available to fill your empty tummies!

Along the way, you can pop by the Mino Insect Museum to *ahem* be in touch with nature – like checking out the world’s rarest butterfly! This is a perfect day trip for families with children, as you can also prepare for a picnic.

Like this adorable family!

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Mount Rokko & Arima Onsen (六甲山 & 有馬温泉) in Kobe

Kobe is kinda big and there’s a lot to explore, but we decided to just visit these two places within a day. It was a good idea to get to Mount Rokko first, as it gets too warm later on.

You have to take the cable car up.

There’s a bus service to bring you around the sights, such as the Rokko Alpine Botanical Garden. We thought it’d be easy to hike but it is really a long way up.

A couple enjoying a sweet moment at this Rose Walk inside the botanical garden.

There weren’t many eating places around, as we only managed to spot this cafe called Yamagoya Cafe Edelweiss. Food is served in rather small portions so be prepared to bring some snacks!

Sausages and salad.

After hiking, why not soak away your tiredness in Arima Onsen? There is a rope-way down from Mount Rokko, so it’s really convenient. At the foot of the mountain, you can see countless shops selling traditional snacks, especially the famous Tansan Senbei (炭酸せんべい; carbonated cracker). They are good souvenirs to bring back! You can also consider buying a pair of hand-crafted leather shoes from nearby shops. They look pretty and are very comfortable!

Outside Kin-no-Yu (金の湯; Literally, Gold Bath), you can enjoy a free ashi-yu (足湯; foot onsen) to relieve your feet from all that walking.

Luckily the weather was cool, perfect for a warm soak!

It was drizzling on that day, so the foot onsen was especially amazing due to the cold weather!

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Wakayama (和歌山)

Slightly further away from Osaka is Wakayama, which is well-known for its mikan, chuuka soba, and fresh seafood! Getting there can be confusing as the train is divided into two halves, one goes to Wakayama and the other goes to Kansai International Airport! Please check VERY CAREFULLY to make sure you boarded the correct cabin!

Mikan everything!

We visited Kuroshio Ichiba Market to catch the tuna cutting show. The whole performance doesn’t take long, but you get there earlier to ‘chope’ the best view. Look forward to the fresh seafood dishes that you can try afterwards!

Huge tunaaaaaaaa!
THE BEST SEAFOOD DON THROUGHOUT MY TRIP!

That’s all I have for travelling in Kansai region of Japan. Hope you have enjoyed reading the posts so far!

(All photographs by the author)

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