20 Half-day Outings in Kansai
March 11, 2008 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Taught English in Japan (Kyoto) for 2 years. I haven't been back for a while. Family wedding in Osaka. Will be there all May. What did I miss the first time around?

When I used to live in Kyoto I was pretty touristy, but there's still tons of stuff I didn't get around to seeing/doing, or even know about at all. Here is some info that might help you help me:

This trip will be me and my wife. My Japanese is passable. She is Japanese, so we can assume hers is perfect. We can also assume that she has her own ideas of what we'll be using our free time for, I'm hoping to use your suggestions to stimulate discussion so that we can both do what we want on this trip.

If I assume that almost every evening and weekend will be spent with friends and family then that still leaves around 20 weekdays. Some of that will be spent shopping, but there is still a lot of time to do the things I missed or put off when I lived there.

We will be staying at her parents' place in Osaka (Hirakata). We'll have access to a car, but will be taking public transit to most places. So we're talking about things in Kansai.

I like temples and shrines a lot. I've been to many of them, but that still leaves a couple thousand I haven't been to.

Hiking/long walks are good. If they can be combined with something else (temple, onsen, special restaurant) even better. Ditto for nice train rides.

When we travel to other countries we always make the time for museums and art galleries but have never done that in Japan. What are we missing?

Can I see any superflat art (either by Murakami or someone else)?

We plan on eating out a lot. Help me find an amazing oyakodon (or other dish) to make me temporarily waive my no-meat policy.

What cool new buildings/malls/complexes have come up in the last 3 years?

I was fairly Kyoto-centric when I lived there, so if it is outside Kyoto there is a better chance that I haven't been there.

I have a pretty good idea of some things I want to do but that's part of the problem. I need YOUR ideas so that I can say "wow, I never even thought of that, what a great idea". Or I might not. We'll never know until we try.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Travel & Transportation around Osaka, Japan (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite out-of-the-way temple in Kyoto was Honen-in on the Tetsugaku no michi--the gardens were absolutely perfect. I'd also recommend visiting some of the temples around Biwa-ko if you didn't get the chance the first time. For shrines, the hike up Fushimi-Inari just southeast of Kyoto takes the better part of a day but is well worth it.
If you make it up to Tokyo, get up at 5am and go check out Tsukiji, it's absolutely worth it. And try sushi-ko in the ginza for great, affordable sushi.
posted by njgo at 2:06 AM on March 11, 2008

Best answer: These kind of destinations are not on your list, but if you want to see another side of Japan, I would check out the red light district at Tobita Shinchi in Osaka and the slums around Nishinari-ku police station. Both are within walking distance of one another and the famous temple complex Tennoji. The Tennoji park itself has an extensive homeless encampment. Also, the red light district at Gojorakuen in Kyoto is also something special, if you have an interest in yakuza. These red light districts are old-style yukaku and operate unlike anything you'll see anywhere outside of Kansai. All of these places are off the beaten track and almost never mentioned, much less shown, to foreigners.
posted by vincele at 4:36 AM on March 11, 2008

Best answer: Some of these I've been to, some of them I haven't, but they were all recommended by my Kobe-based friends:

Hiking/long walks are good: This is all hiking and long walks:
  • Takakuradai: 30 minutes by cable car from Suma, also walkable from Suma; 15 minutes outside Kobe)
  • Namaze: 1 hour from Kobe, 6 km hiking along a discontinued railroad line
  • Awaji Island: 20 minutes boat from Akashi, or take the long bridge (which apparently has an expensive toll). Cycling and walking. Known for dairy products and onions.

    If they can be combined with something else... onsen
    Have you considered the Arima hot springs? Maybe halfway between Kyoto and Kobe. I'm bad with maps, but they're in that area. Different types of onsen and a bit of walking between them and small-town-ness.

    We plan on eating out a lot.
    I went to a great little kushikatsu place in Osaka run by a little old lady who swears she remembers everyone who eats at her restaurant and will talk your ear off if you let her. Little tiny local place. Delicious. name is 串べえ, if you go to Exit 7 of 千日前 at 野田阪神 and just go to the right and then straight, it's pretty close. It's in a businessy area, so should be open during lunch.

  • posted by whatzit at 5:00 AM on March 11, 2008

    Also, if you spend a day or so in Kobe, you can enjoy a great walk through the herb and flower garden to a temple at the top of the hill (there's a hostel there! wow!) which has a wonderful view of the city.

    You can follow it up with a visit to Kitano (touristy) and the Meistergarden (desserts, free samples), and then end up in Sannomiya and eventually at the Harbor, all of which have -fan-tas-tic- shopping opportunities. Sannomiya has probably been around a while, but the Harbor area malls all seem newer than three years.

    Can you tell I love this city?? Some people are born New Yorkers, I think I was meant for Kobe :-) If only it were commuting distance from my job...
    posted by whatzit at 5:07 AM on March 11, 2008

    Oh and I'll assume you've been there already, but have you considered a visit to Arashiyama?

    I promise to stop posting now.
    posted by whatzit at 5:10 AM on March 11, 2008

    Best answer: Otagi Nenbutsu-ji in Arashiyama. Period.

    Seriously, awesome place. Quirkyjapan.or.tv has a page on it and how to get there. You won't regret the trip.
    posted by DoctorFedora at 6:47 AM on March 11, 2008

    Response by poster: Thanks for the answers (but keep more coming)

    vincele - how does Nishinaru compare to Shinsekai? (I've heard that's also a pretty slummy area). Also, apparently I've walked through Gojorakuen many times without picking up on the red-light part of it - just seemed a nice neighbourhood.

    whatzit - Is there new stuff besides Harborland and the big Daiei attached to it? (That being said, the rube goldberg machine in the Daiei mall might merit a return visit)

    New factor for recommendations: I love Rube Goldberg machines, if you know of any in Kansai let me know!

    DoctorFedora - that is one place I always meant on going to while I was there, but forgot about until your answer. Thanks!
    posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:28 AM on March 11, 2008

    There's a Rube Goldberg machine inside of this one mall in Kobe. The name of the mall eludes me, though I recall that it was on the waterfront (with an additional outdoor shopping area outside) and had a Hankyu department store right near the kinetic sculpture installation.
    posted by DoctorFedora at 8:10 AM on March 11, 2008

    Best answer: If you lived in kansai you probably already went to Nara and saw the Todaiji if not you should absolutely see it. Photos doesn't do it justice, it's the biggest wooden building in the world on top of being a shrine.
    It can be done in a day from Osaka or Kyoto.
    The other thing you can't miss if you're into temple is Koyasan, this is the birth place of shingon buddhism and where Kukai is supposedly buried.
    It's not very far from Osaka either but you probably want to spend the night there as the temples closes early. One way to do that is to sleep at a temple, the problem is, it's kinda expensive (about a 100$ a night) and you're put on monk schedule, which means waking up very early. The food is vegetarian and is supposed to be excellent.
    When i went there i didn't have that kind of money to spend on a single night so i went to the hostel. It's way cheaper, the food is not that great but you can wake up later and hand around in the evening with other tourists.
    posted by SageLeVoid at 10:41 AM on March 11, 2008

    Best answer: The mall Doctor Fedora's talking about is Kobe Harborland.

    Incidentally, one of my most favorite bakeries in Japan is in Kobe: Boulangerie Comme-Chinois.
    posted by armage at 6:12 PM on March 11, 2008

    Response by poster: SageLeVoid - we're debating between Koyasan and the Kumano-kodo

    armage - I have a love-hate relationship with bakeries in Japan. This one seems interesting though, if we make it to Kobe we will check it out.
    posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:03 AM on March 12, 2008

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