I’m a little bit obsessed with the Kansai region of Japan. #sorrynotsorry
Last year I got to spend a week in Kansai on a blogger trip and although it was probably the busiest week of my entire life, every second of it was an absolute joy. Thirteen years after I left Osaka (I lived in Osaka and Nara for two years, teaching English), I returned with massively high expectations, but it was even better than I remembered.
Fortunately, my four main destinations for this week exploring Kansai were all nearby, so although every moment was full, you could turn some of this into your itinerary for Japan as well – simply adding in the more famous Kyoto and Nara, also so very close nearby.
Sentimental days in Osaka
Oh, Osaka! Call me way over-sentimental but in brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the joy I had returning here. I remembered it as a bustling, colourful city, and it still is; in fact in many ways it seemed completely unchanged from the time I lived there.
If you go to Osaka, then one of the best things to do is just eat non-stop. Walk from restaurant to restaurant and try ALL THE FOOD! But if you must stop eating, then Osaka Castle is a must-see in my opinion, and shopping in Shinsaibashi, and seeing the Dotonbori Bridge (and the Glico Man) all lit up in the evening. Osaka is such a vast city that seeing it from somewhere up high is essential too, and whether you pick the Umeda Sky Building (my sentimental favourite), or Tsutenkaku, or the new Abeno Harukas 300 building, you will have some idea of just how many people make up Osaka’s population.
Western influence in Kobe
The city of Kobe (not technically Kansai, but so close) has always seemed quite different to me, but of course it’s still very typically Japanese, just with a bent towards the exotic – being a port city it has always had more influence from abroad. It also has a lot of much newer parts, as a lot of rebuilding was required after the terrible earthquake in 1995.
Many of my favourite parts of Kobe can be seen on foot, with the exception of getting up into the mountains which hem the city in – you can take a cable car up Mount Rokko and there is so much to see and do up there too, lots of it quirky (which I love) – and in Kobe city itself, explore the harbour area and although it might sound a bit distressing, I heartily recommend the Earthquake Memorial Museum.
Surprises in Sakai
I knew of the city of Sakai when I lived in Osaka, but didn’t know that it was full of treasures! All I knew back then was it was south of the main city of Osaka. Now I know WAY more.
If you visit Sakai then there is much to recommend but my favourite spot was the Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko, mostly for its very visitor-friendly tea ceremony sessions but also for the care they are taking in preserving several aspects of Japanese culture. Sakai souvenirs are all about blades though … knives, scissors and so on – I was given a pair of Sakai nail clippers and whenever I use them I’m transported back to Japan!
Fun times in Universal Studios Japan
Not only was I so grateful to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka for instigating the whole trip, but I was excited to return. It had opened just before I moved to Japan back in 2001, and I’d had several hilarious USJ trips with Japanese friends – and then I got to go back again!
I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to rides but the Harry Potter ride was just right for me – as was the whole of the Wizarding World, actually. I love all the characters you bump into across Universal Studios and being in Japan, I got to meet and have my photo with Hello Kitty, which was the absolute highlight of my day (don’t judge!).
A week (or more) in Kansai?
Fitting all this into a week-long schedule was a bit hectic – and if you are coming to Kansai, then you really must include time in Kyoto and Nara too. The good part is that each of these cities are less than an hour from Osaka – and the Japanese train system is so fabulous that it’s easy to find your way. (If not, just look lost for half a minute and a super-helpful Japanese person will come to your rescue, guaranteed!)
If you’re into slower travel, then you could very easily spend a month exploring just this part of Japan. There is seriously a ridiculous amount of stuff to see and do around here. (And eat!)
Got questions? Want to know what will suit your interests or travelling style? If you’re stuck with any aspect of planning a trip to the Kansai region, yell in the comments and I’ll help you out.