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Exploring Japan’s Kansai Region: JR Pass Hidden Gems!

Japan’s Kansai region is home to country’s most beautiful attractions. And while Kyoto and Osaka are great places to visit, there’s so much you can explore with a quick train ride. Here are hidden gems you can easily visit with your JR West Kansai Area Pass!

JR West Kansai Area Pass

Most travelers explore Kyoto and Osaka during their Japan trip. Accommodations here are typically cheaper, and both cities give you easy access to other scenic towns in the area. Purchase the JR West Kansai Area Pass (choose from 1, 2, 3, or 4 days) to get unlimited rides on the world-class JR trains and save both time and money. Book now with KKday, and get your pass at an exclusive discount (READ: A Guide to Purchasing Your JR Pass)

Himeji

Himeji Castle

JR West Kansai Area Pass Attractions
Kansai Region Hidden Gems: Himeji Castle

Built all the way back in 1333, Himeji Castle hardly looks its age. This grand hilltop castle is the largest and grandest in Japan, and has managed to survive wars, earthquakes, and fires over the centuries.

Himeji Castle has been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its feudal-aged architecture and advanced defense mechanisms. It’s distinct white exterior has earned it the name, ‘White Heron Castle’. Within the castle complex are

83 buildings, three moats, and 33 wells, that have easily made Himeji Castle the subject of many Japanese folktales and legends.

How to get there from Kyoto:

Take the JR Special Rapid Train (Shin-Kaisoku) from Kyoto Station to Himeji Station (90 minutes).

How to get there from Osaka:

  1. Take the JR Special Rapid Train (Shin-Kaisoku) from Osakar Station to Himeji Station (90 minutes).

Okayama

Koraku-en Gardens

JR West Kansai Area Pass Attractions
Kansai Region Hidden Gems: Korakuen Gardens of Okayama

Japan’s Kansai region is full of spectacular landscapes that often go overlooked as travelers flock to the temple towns. Take the opportunity to see the Koraku-en Garden in Okayama, one of the country’s most beautiful landscaped gardens filled with stunning, colorful flowers come spring.

How to Get There from Kyoto:

  1. Take the JR Special Rapid Service (For Banshu-Ako) from Kyoto Station to Aioi Station (110 minutes).
  2. From Aioi station, take the Local TRain of Sanyo Line (for Mihara) until the Okayama Station (60 minutes)
  3. The gardens are a 15 minute walk away.

How to Get there from Osaka:

  1. Take the JR Special Rapid Service (For Banshu-Ako) from Osaka Station to Aioi Station (80 minutes).
  2. From Aioi station, take the Local TRain of Sanyo Line (for Mihara) until the Okayama Station (60 minutes)
  3. The gardens are a 15 minute walk away.

Kurashiki Town

JR West Kansai Area Pass Attractions: Kurashiki Town in Okayama
Kansai Region Hidden Gems: Kurashiki Town 

Just a 15 minute bus ride away from Okayama is Kurashiki. This small historic town sits by the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. At the heart of the town is the Bikan historical area, the old merchant quarter that’s been preserved to keep its Edo-period appearance. Roam through the narrow alleyways lined with Edo style homes, store houses, and shops of handmade crafts. A can’t miss on this short trip: the Kurashiki Sake Brewery.

Kobe

Mount Rokko

JR West Kansai Area Pass Attractions: Mount Rokko in Kobe
Kansai Region Hidden Gems: Mount Rokko in Kobe

Apart from the world-famous Kobe beef, this spall port town is home to some of Japan’s most stunning natural wonders. The Rokko mountain range grants Kobe one of the most dramatic natural sights in all of Japan. Take the Mount Rokko cablecar to the peak, and drink in the stunning panoramic view of Kobe and Osaka, before heading inside Rokko Garden Terrace for filling lunch. Afterwards, head over to the Arima Onsen which is easily accessible from the Mount Rokko cablecar and ropeway.

How to Get there from Kyoto:

  1. Take the direct JR Rapid Train on the JR Banshu-Ako Line from Kyoto Station to Sannomiya Station in central Kobe (51 minutes).

How to Get there from Osaka:

  1. Take the direct JR Rapid Service Train on the JR Kobe Line from Osaka Station to Sannomiya Station in central Kobe (27 minutes)

From Sannomiya Station to the Shin-Kobe Ropeway:

  1. Take the Hankyu Kobe Line to Rokko Station (7 minutes)
  2. Take Bus Number 16, until the base station of the Rokko Cablecar (10 minutes)

Arima Onsen

JR West Kansai Area Pass Attractions: Arima Onsen in Kobe
Kansai Region Hidden Gems: Arima Onsen in Kobe

For over a thousand years, Arima Onsen’s hot spring waters have blessed visitors with its natural healing. The Kinsen (‘gold water’) spring is brown and rich with iron deposits that aid skin ailments and muscle pain. The Ginsen (‘silver water’) spring, on the other hand, is clear and laced with radium and carbonate for joint ailments. After detoxing in the spring, tour the town village nearby and explore the temples, shrines, and hot spring museum.

Through the Rokko Arima Ropeway:

  1. From Mount Rokko, take the circular bus line to the top of the Rokko Arima Ropeway (12 minutes). Get down to Arima Onsen.

Nara

Kofun Tombs

JR West Kansai Area Attractions: Giant Kofun in Nara
Kansai Region Hidden Gems: Giant Kofun in Nara (image Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism)

The ‘Kofun’ (which translates to ‘ancient grave’) of Nara is one of Japan’s best kept secrets. These funerary burial mounds that form the shape of keyholes contain the graves of the first chiefs and emperors of Japan. The largest, the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, is twice as large as the pyramid of Giza. Due to strict Japan laws guarding against excavations, most of the tombs remain sealed and intact—leaving travelers left to ponder on this archeological mystery.

Despite the mystery, the Giant Kofun of Nara are still worth the visit; the grounds are scenic and full of lush greenery. Still curious? Head over to the Nara Museum where some tombs have been excavated and displayed for visitors to see.

How to Get there from Kyoto:

  1. Take the JR Miyakoji Rapid Service  Kyoto Station to JR Nara Station in (45 minutes). The tombs are within walking distance.

How to Get There from Osaka:

  1. Take the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service from Osaka Station to JR Nara Station (53 minutes).  The tombs are within walking distance.

Iga-Ueno

Ninja Museum of Igaryu

JR West Kansai Area Attractions: Ninja Museum of Iga-Ueno
Kansai Area Hidden Gemes: Ninja Museum of Igaryu

Enter the world of ancient Japanese espionage with a trip to the Iga School of Ninjitsu. Learn about the Japanese art of stealth and sabotage on a guided tour as you visit a preserved ninja residence built with all sorts of revolving walls, trap doors, and hidden compartments. See a display of ninja weapons and fighting techniques at the exhibition hall, before sitting down for a spectacular live exhibition show. And yes, the weapons used are real!

How to Get There from Kyoto:

  1. Take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto to Kizu (35 minutes). Then transfer to the Kamo Station.
  2. Switch to the JR Kansai Line, and ride it from the Kamo Station to Iga-Ueno Station (45 minutes).
  3. Switch to the Iga Railway, and ride it from Iga-Ueno Station to Ueno-shi (5 minutes).

From Osaka:

  1. Take the JR Yamatoji Line from central Osaka to Kamo Station (50 minutes). Then transfer to the Kamo Station.
  2. Switch to the JR Kansai Line, and ride it from the Kamo Station to Iga-Ueno Station (45 minutes).
  3. Switch to the Iga Railway, and ride it from Iga-Ueno Station to Ueno-shi (5 minutes).
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