Nart’s Travel Tips (Kansai region edition: Osaka-Kyoto-Nara)
I posted the Tokyo edition of this back in 2017, after 2 consecutive years of visiting Tokyo. Now I’ll be sharing with you tips on how to make the most out of your Kansai trip, after 2 consecutive years of visiting Osaka/Kyoto/Nara 😊
1. Remember the site “jorudan train finder.” It will give you EVERYTHING you need to navigate through the train networks running within and between Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara (and basically the whole of Japan).
2. It’s always great to have internet with you wherever you go. Either purchase a SIM card or rent a WiFi device. I always go with the latter, and it’s pretty affordable too. Be sure to book online because prices can get crazy once you rent a WiFi device at the airport itself.
3. Remember your magic words: sumimasen (sorry/excuse me), arigatou gozaimasu (thank you!), and *insert place here* wa doku desu ka (if you’re lost and trying to get somewhere).
(Osaka is another huge city, only second to Tokyo. It’s also known as Japan’s kitchen, so be sure to get all your food cravings here- ramen, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, sushi, etc)
1. No trip to Osaka is complete without visiting the Osaka Castle! There’s a mini observation deck at the topmost part of the castle, where you can see the immediate surrounding view, but you need to pay an entrance fee. Not willing to pay to get in? It’s alright! You can take a gorgeous upfront shot of the castle from the small park adjacent to the castle itself. Or you can climb up the stony steps of the castle wall/fortress to get a gorgeous side view/back view of the castle. From here, you can admire the castle moat too.
2. Dotonbori. The bustling place full of shops, food stalls, restaurants, and stores. It’s a shopping and food heaven, which really comes alive at nighttime. It’s reaaallly touristy though, and the restaurant queues can be long. But you can get the BEST takoyaki from any of the stalls here. There are stores/shops lining both sides of the alleys selling anything and everything from souvenirs to clothes and shoes to cosmetics and skincare items. Don’t forget to take a picture with the Glico Running Man on the huge LED screen!
3. Shinsekai. This is kind of similar to Dotonbori, but has more of an “old world” vibe to it. You can find food stores and shops along its alleyways. You can climb up Tsutenkaku tower (the “Eiffel tower of Osaka” for a fee) if you want a good view of Osaka.
4. Universal Studios Japan. If you opt to visit USJ, be sure to dedicate one whole day for this since there’s just so much to see and experience. I personally just really wanted to experience the Harry Potter attractions and events at USJ. Getting a butterbeer is a mandatory experience for potterheads 😉
5. Umeda. I wasn’t able to visit Umeda due to time constraints, but if you’re looking for the best observation deck in Osaka, go to Umeda Sky Building. Plus, the tunnel escalator here looks so cool and otherworldly 😍
6. Ramen hunt! You should definitely try ramen in Osaka. There’s just so much to choose from. Wherever you are, just google the nearest ramen store with good ratings, and you’re good to go 😋
7. Anime! If Tokyo has Akihabara and Nakano Broadway, Osaka has Nippombashi (Den Den town). You can find lotsssss of anime merchandises here, and they’re cheaper than the merch in Akihabara! Most merch are of currently popular anime (I see a lot of Haikyuu!!, shingeki no kyojin, boku no hero. But classic and forever-loved anime like naruto and one piece can also be found here)
Kyoto (my favorite place in the world):
1. Fushimi Inari-taisha: The shrine of ten thousand vermillion torii gates. I first saw these tunnel of torii gates when I watched the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”, and I fell in love with the sight instantly. I’ve been to Fushimi Inari three times, and trust me….it’s almost ALWAYS so crowded that you wouldn’t be able to breathe in and enjoy the wonders of this place. It’s also hard to take a decent photograph with tourists photobombing you at every angle. So my most important tip to enjoy the place and get gorgeous pictures- arrive at sunrise! Trains start operating before 5 am, and this place is just in front of Inari station (JR Nara line) and 2-3 minutes walking distance from Fushimi Inari station (Keihan main line). YOU WON’T REGRET WAKING UP VERY EARLY FOR THIS. When you arrive between 7-8 am, there are rarely people around. You can walk through the torii gates in peace, and it’s an ethereal experience ❤️ You can also take amazing pictures without people passing in the background. Alternatively, you can hike up amount Inari and back in 3-4 hours. Just follow the thousands of torii gates up the peak. You’ll thank me later for this tip 😉
2. Kiyomizu-dera and Higashiyama district. Kiyomizu-dera is a temple that’s worth visiting, and is popular for it’s wooden stage. (Note: the wooden stage is under construction as of December 2019). Its best to visit during fall and spring. Higashiyama is a district that has preserved its traditional structures, and has an overall traditional vibe to it- wooden townhouses (machiya) turned into shops, stone pavements, street lamps, no electrical wires. The shops here sell souvenirs (albeit a bit pricey), traditional Japanese sweets, and there are kimono rental stores here. If there’s one place in Kyoto you should rent a kimono, it’s in Higashiyama. Also, the world’s prettiest Starbucks is located in Higashiyama! It’s housed in a hundred-year old machiya, complete with Japanese zen gardens outside and tatami rooms inside. Try to find the Hozenji temple (aka Yasaka pagoda; not to be confused with the Yasaka shrine!) and get that classic Kyoto picture that’s seen on travel magazines and tourism sites! 😍 Take the bus at D1 or D2 in Kyoto station, and stop at either Kiyomizu gojo or Kiyomizu michi.
3. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion). You need to visit this golden (literally made of gold) temple at least once in your lifetime 😍 It’s gorgeous, and one of the must-visit places in Kyoto.
4. Arashiyama bamboo grove. Walking through the bamboo forest is a different experience. It’s as if you’re in another dimension, with all the towering lush bamboo stalks. It’s best to take a picture of the bamboo forest when the sun is high up, for optimal lighting conditions. But if you don’t want crowds, better go early in the morning, just after sunrise. It’s open 24/7 anyway. In the summertime, there may be mosquitoes, so bring a mosquito repellent lotion with you. In the winter, there’s a winter illumination wherein the bamboo forest is lit up. And it makes everything 100x more magical and otherworldly ❤️
5. Gion. The geisha district. It’s best to start your walk around Gion district at sundown. The place comes to life at nighttime. Be warned that there are certain alleys and places in Gion where photography is banned (there are signs everywhere that you won’t miss) because of tourists being rowdy and harassing geisha. If you’re lucky enough, you can spot geisha/geiko and maiko making their way to their engagements within Gion. They’re pretty rare to see, so I was lucky enough to spot 2 geiko and 3 maiko during my visit in Kyoto 😍 it’s best to admire them from afar.
6. Ramen hunting! There’s an entire floor full of ramen stores at the 10th floor of Kyoto station.
1. Todaiji temple: Home to the largest bronze statue of Buddha in Japan. While you’re there, you can get your omikuji (paper fortunes) and omamori (amulets and charms) for a small fee. It’s good to get omikuji here since there’s an English translation. The one I got at Fushimi Inari in 2018 has no English translations. I collect both omikuji and omamori yearly. As previously stated in my Tokyo edition, once you get an omikuji, look to see if the fortune is good or bad. You keep the good fortune, and tie the bad fortune in one of the racks and rods located at the temple. You can get omamori for any occasion (travel safety, success and wealth, academic achievements, love, etc).
2. Feed the deer in Nara park. The pack of 10 deer biscuits cost ¥200. There are thousands of deer loitering and chilling around Nara park. They’re tame and friendly, but once they see you have food, they’ll try to eat them out of your hand! 😂 They’ll also try to snoop into your bags and pockets and purses, so be mindful of your things. Feeding the deer is a one-of-a-kind activity in Nara City. If you’re lucky enough, they may even pose with you for a selfie 😊
Japan will always be an amazing country to visit regardless of the season. There will always be something new to explore and discover. And the people are always so nice and helpful and polite. I hope this list will be of help to anyone planning a visit to Kansai ❤️
Nart and misstheatricality (Nart’s travel buddy)