Our guest columnist today is Abby Whitmer. Abby is a free-spirited blogger who wants to “see the whole world”. When she’s not blogging, she’s training for the Appalachian Trail (check it out). As a lover of Asia and Japan, Abby was the obvious choice to cover the wonderful city of Osaka for WeSwap.
Osaka is proof that not all places with millions of residents is chaotic. This glistening city is blessed with utterly helpful and disciplined locals, great infrastructures, stylish hotels, delicious restaurants, affordable shops, and amazingly spotless streets!
As this post proves, Osaka isn’t all about 21st century living either; Juxtaposed with city madness is a tranquil countryside filled with ancient temples and communities. And the best part is that trips and experiences away from the city lights are all achievable in a day, or less. Here’s my top 10.
With a wealth of attractions and things to do, Kyoto is considered by many to be Japan’s top city for travellers – even before Tokyo. It is the best place in Japan to immerse yourself in the history and experience traditional temples, shrines, gardens, geisha, shops, restaurants, and festivals.
If you’re pressed for time, make a list of the following and cross as many off as you can… Kiyomizudera Temple, Nishiki Market, Ginkakuji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Gion, Inari Fushimi Shrine.
Getting there: JR Kyoto Line operates between Osaka Station and Kyoto Station. On the Special Rapid Line, it will take only 30 minutes. The Rapid Line will take 40 minutes while the Local Line will take about 45 minutes.
- Mount Kōya
Located in a peaceful wooded area of Wakayama Prefecture, Mount Koya is one of Japan’s most magical destinations, and the perfect place to spend a night at a Buddhist temple in shukubo temple lodgings. Aside from the chance to stay in a shukubo Mount Koya’s most famous landmark is the otherworldly Okunoin Cemetery – one of Japan’s most sacred sites. From there, you can also walk through Torodo Hall, which houses more than 10,000 eternally-lit lanterns.
You may also find time to visit Kongobuji Temple where you will find exquisitely-painted gilded sliding doors adorned with cranes and plum blossoms. Also located within the temple complex is the Banryutei Rock Garden – Japan’s largest rock garden.
Getting there: Hop on the Nankai Kōya Line from either Namba Station or Osaka Station to the terminus, Gokurakubashi Station. From Gokurakubashi Station, take the cable car up the mountain and then transfer to a bus to get into Mount Kōya’s town center. The total journey takes about 2 hours.
Kobe is one of the most popular sightseeing conurbations in Japan. The ancient city amalgams natural beauty with modern architecture and vaunts a flourishing culture influenced by its bustling International Port. But Kobe, Japan is well-known for its eponymous beef and Arima hot springs.
History buffs, check out the Earthquake Museum, which was built to commemorate the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Kobe. At Meriken Park, you will see some post-earthquake debris left deliberately on the river bank as a reminder of the quake.
Getting there: Take the JR Special Rapid Service Line from Osaka station to JR Sannomiya station. The journey will only take about 20 minutes.
Often times, when thinking about Nara, people will think of a town with wild deer running everywhere and play with people. This place is commonly bypassed by tourists heading straight to Kyoto, but Japan’s first permanent capital Nara is a town definitely not to be missed!
Nara Park consists of many gardens and parks that offer rewarding sights during different seasons. Key attractions and activities at Nara Park include mainly deer feeding, visiting Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Nara National Museum and enjoying the lush gardens throughout the park.
Getting there: JR Yamatoji Line’s rapid trains run every hour between JR Osaka Station and JR Nara Station and takes 45 minutes.
- Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is the largest and the most visited castle in Japan. It considered Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds. Its clean, all-white facade is a sight to behold, and the 6-story wooden interiors are as fascinating.
Walk through the castle gardens and also into the castle itself to gain insight into what living in a Japanese castle was like for the daimyos and samurais.
Getting there: From the Osaka Station, board the JR Railway Line heading towards Himeji. Since it takes about an hour to get there, you can actually take a nap during the train ride. And before you know it, voila. You’re there.
- Mount Yoshino
Mt. Yoshino is known to be one of the best places in Japan to spot cherry blossoms. It is believed that over 1300 years ago the first few cherry blossom trees were planted there. Mt. Yoshino is actually divided into four areas: the Shimo Senbon (lower 1000 trees) at the base of the mountain, Naka Senbon (middle 1000 trees), Kami Senbon (upper 1000 trees) and Oku Senbon (inner 1000 trees) at the top of the mountain.
But it was said that nowadays Yoshino has about 30,000 sakura trees. Most of them are yamazakura, the most common wild cherry tree variety, distinctive because of its rust-colored leaves. Aside from the blooms, Yoshino is also a famous pilgrimage route for its several religious destinations.
Getting there: Mount Yoshino can be easily reached by public transportation using the Kintetsu or Ltd. Express, roughly 2 hours from Osaka.
- Kinosaki Onsen
Kinosaki Onsen is an idyllic town known for its seven public hot springs or soto-yu. This picturesque old-fashioned town is rated as one of the top destinations of the Kansai Region. This place is simply captivating! It’s one of those places in Japan that make you feel like you were in a different era.
The inns are the guest rooms, the hot springs are the baths, and the roads are the hallways. When you’re here, you can relax in a cotton kimono (yukuta) and wooden clogs (geta) even when outside because the whole town is like one big traditional Japanese inn.
Getting there: The one way trip from Osaka Station to Kinosaki Station on JR Kōnotori Line (Limited Express) takes about 2.5 hours.
- Iga City
Famous as the birthplace of the Iga-ryu, the Iga school of Ninjutsu, Iga City is home to the magnificent Ninja Museum. Aside from that, the region is also renowned across Japan for local products including rice, beef and sake, and for its traditional crafts: Iga Yakimono, or ceramic ware, is highly valued for tea ceremony utensils; and Iga Kumihimo are braided silk cords which are often used as sashes in kimono and coats. The city fully embraces its Ninja heritage. People paint murals on their own shutters like garages and storewalls.
Getting there: Getting to Iga City takes dedicated effort. The JR Yamatoji Line from central Osaka Station to Kamo Station will require 45 to 60 minutes. At Kamo Station, transfer to the JR Kansai Line and alight at Iga-Ueno Station. This will take another 35 minutes. Finally, change to the Iga Railway and travel for about 5 minutes to Ueno-shi Station.
Ise is a small city and home to the well-known Edo Wonderland and to Japan’s most sacred shinto shrines. Edo Wonderland is a samurai-themed park that recreates the buildings and customs of a bygone period of Japanese history. Also known as Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura, the theme park is built like a small castle town and replicates many of the buildings and architecture seen in the samurai-ruled town in the past, including the true-to-size Azuchi Castle.
Meanwhile, Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine – Ise Grand Shrine – is considered to be the spiritual home of the Japanese and its national religion Shinto. Visitors can explore both the Inner Shrine and the Outer Shrine, and there’s a museum within the vicinity for those who are eager to learn more.
Getting there: Take the Kintetsu Railway from Namba Station or Uehonmachi Station to Ise-shi Station. The Express trains take 2.5 hours. Those who would like to get there faster can consider taking the Limited Express trains that will bring you from Osaka to Ise in under 2 hours. It costs few thousand yen more.
- Hiroshima and Miyajima
Hiroshima, as a significant post-war city, is a definite must-visit. The main sites are all clustered together in and around the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park or the Atomic Bomb Dome or Genbaku Dome. This site is one of Japan’s most important landmarks. Today, the park is almost always packed with tourists from all over the world, wanting to know the whole story behind this very dark part of history.
The experience will be quite inexplicable, especially the part where you could interview the survivors about the tragedy that they witnessed with their own eyes. After a poignant walk in Hiroshima’s town center, take a short ferry ride to the nearby island of Miyajima. The lovely Itsukushima Shrine is a beautiful spot viewing the sunset.
Getting there: The journey from Osaka to Hiroshima will require a ride on a bullet train. Unless you are travelling on the JR Pass, budget travellers should probably consider other locations apart from Hiroshima for a day trip from Osaka. Hiroshima Station can be reached from Shin-Osaka Station on the JR Sanyo Shinkansen. Nozomi and Mizuho trains take about 80 minutes, while Sakura require a few minutes more.
Thanks to Abby for her pearls of Osaka wisdom. If you do fancy a trip to Japan anytime soon (and we strongly recommend it) then it’s worth considering WeSwap for your Japanese Yen. We’re up to 90% cheaper than alternative options and signing up is free and easy.