If you are traveling to a country as massive as Japan, the Kansai region should be at the top of your itinerary. Lying in the southern-central region of Honshū, the Kansai region covers the prefectures of Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Shiga, Mie, Hyōgo, and Wakayama. With its labyrinth of islands, temples, and cities existing side by side, the Kansai region simultaneously exudes mystery and celebrates its cosmopolitan qualities. If you’ve already conquered the metropolis, you can retreat to the serenity of nature and lose yourself in the most picturesque towns in the Kansai region.
Omi Hachiman in Shiga
Omi Hachiman, a small castle town in Shiga Prefecture, is imbued with a rich history. Built in 1585 on the Nakasendo highway that stretches from Tokyo to Kyoto, Omi Hachiman became a hub for canal transportation that ships goods and people to Kyoto.
You’ll be in awe of the biggest Shinto shrine in Omi-Hachiman, the Himure Hachimangu Shrine, located beside the Hachiman-bori moat. Wander through the Shin-machi Dori Street, where former merchants lived, such as Nishikawa Riemon. You can visit his family’s late 17th century house to get a glimpse of the lifestyle of wealthy families in rural Japan. Learn about the local history of Omi-Hachiman at the Omihachiman City Museum and peek at the different Japanese tiles at the Kawara Museum, or Tile Museum. Hop on the Hachimanyama Ropeway and view Lake Biwa 160 meters off the ground.
Shikaragi in Shiga
Have you heard of Shigaraki ware? It’s a popular product from Shikaragi built through stoneware pottery, which uses the orange sandy clay from the bed of Lake Biwa. As you stroll in the ceramic town of Koga City, you’ll stumble upon Shigaraki raccoon dog ceramics. To better understand the craft, visit the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. It has several museums, ceramic ware halls, and cultural spaces, like the Exhibition Hall of Industrial Ceramics and the Institute of Ceramic Studies. If you’re here in summer, you can witness the Ceramics Festival.
Nagashima in Mie
Soak in the riverside farm scenery in the town of Nagashima, quietly nestled in the northeastern part of Mie in a delta area buoyed by the Kiso-gawa, Nagara-gawa, and Ibi-gawa rivers. You’ll see paddy field boats and high furrows, built by farmers through the process called ‘taka-une zukuri.’ Nagashima is also known for its hot spring waters that reach a temperature of up to 60 degrees Celsius. Among the modern structures that slipped into this town are the Jazz Dream Nagashima, the largest outlet shopping mall in the Tokai region, and the theme park for flowers and gourmet Nabana-no-sato.
Yoshino in Nara
If you want to see the famous cherry blossom trees of Japan, head to Yoshino, a town beating at the center of Nara Prefecture. At the Yoshino Mountain, thousands of cherry blossom trees are scattered throughout different zones and altitudes so they can bloom at different times during spring. This kingdom of beauty is a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the “Sacred sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”
Shimamoto in Osaka
To taste authentic Japanese whiskey, head to the town of Shimamoto, which consists the entirety of the Mishima District. Shimamoto is where you’ll find the oldest whiskey distillery in Japan, Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery. Learn more about Japanese liquor at the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum, see the Minase Shrine, and the Sewaritei park, known for its cherry blossom tunnel.
Asuka in Nara
Ride a bicycle as you discover the rich history and lush scenery of Asuka. Marvel at the first temples, monuments, and shrines of Japan scattered throughout the town. Asuka served as the heart of politics, arts, and religion in Japan during the 5th and 6th centuries. It was during the Asuka period when Buddhism arrived from China and inspired many cultural developments. The most interesting places to visit in Asuka are the burial mounds, Ishibutai Burial Mound, or the Stone Stage, and the Takamatsuzaka Kofun.
Nachi-Katsuura-machi Town in Wakayama
From being a pilgrims’ inn town for the worshipers of Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine, Nachi-Katsuura-machi Town turned into a base for the fishery in Wakayama Prefecture. The town lies in the southeast of Wakayama, facing the Katsuura Bay, so you won’t run out of water adventures and seafood feast. You can cruise through different islets in the Katsuura Bay, dip in hot springs like the Boki-do Hot Spring inside a natural cave, or watch whales and dolphins from a boat.
Shirahama in Wakayama
Take a refreshing dip or sunbathe on the beaches of Shirahama. Located in the Nishimuro District, the resort town of Shirahama has been known for its white sand, with some of it from Australia due to typhoons that washed away the sand in the 1980s. You can also unwind in hot springs or watch fireworks on the beach during summer.
Traveling to the Kansai region? Get easy, unlimited access to rails and bus networks using Japan Kansai WIDE Area Pass.
*Featured image sourced from Shiga Tourism Official Website