It feels like home to me every time I go back to Japan. This was my third visit to the Land of the Rising Sun, and the Kinki Region, more commonly known as Kansai, was my home for six days earlier this year in May. The transition from Spring to Summer prompted me and my friends to explore more of the outdoors and the historical side of Osaka and Kyoto, as the weather was neither too hot or too cold.
Kyoto is known as the second best city to visit in Japan, followed by Osaka in 12th spot (as voted in the 31st annual Readers’’ Choice Awards survey of Condé Nast Traveler last year). Osaka owns an exciting and vibrant nightlife thanks to Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi, and there are plenty of shopping centres like the 24- hour Don Quijote (biggest discount store in Japan) and famous landmark, Osaka Castle, where you can enjoy panoramic views from an observation deck.
Kyoto is the old imperial capital and cultural heart of Japan, and you will spot tons of temples an shrines, making it a favourite destination for travellers looking to immerse themselves in traditional Japanese culture. If you are a firsttimer, this city will charm you with attractions like the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves and Fushimi Inari Tasha. But if you are more adventurous, there are other great options to seek out:
Minoo park, Osaka
Before beginning your hiking journey towards the Minoo waterfall, make a stop at the Minoo Takido Street and grab a pack of Momiji (Maple Leaf) tempura. It’s a delightful snack to treat yourself after the 45-minute hike up.
Along the trail, you will encounter several temples such as Ryuanji Temple, buildings and a rest stop for you to make a quick pit stop. The park is easy to access from Osaka or Umeda Station via the Hanky- Takarazuka line which makes it a great escape from the city.
For more information, visit www.japan.travel/en/spot/1080/.
Ninen-zaka and Sannenzaka, Kyoto
Located in the Higashiyama district, Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka will amaze you will endless stone steps that you need to climb to get to the Kiyomizudera Temple. These iconic alleys are a unique experience because there are countless visitors, and most of them wear traditional Japanese garb, the Kimono and Yukata. It’s a must-do because the streets are full of traditional wooden houses that make it picture perfect! Look closer and you’ll find that each of the houses is either a souvenir shop, tea house or Japanese restaurant.
If you are a fan of Japanese sweets, do look for Yatsuhashi, a triangle mochi-like dessert made with mochiko (sweet rice flour), sugar and cinnamon. A famous brand, Yuuko Nikki, is situated near the temple and sells tons of modern flavours including strawberry, mango and soda.
Kyoto Sagano romantic train
After doing all the endless walking and hiking, take a break on the Sagano Romantic Train in Kyoto! It doesn’t matter what season you are visiting Japan, the train is an exhilarating recreational ride with an open window view.
There are four stations that you can start the 7.3km journey along the Hozugawa River – Saga, Arashiyama, Hozukyo and Kameoka. If you are coming from the bamboo forest, Arashiyama is your starting point, and after 23- minutes, the wagon-style train will stop at the last station, Kamaeoka Station if you’ve bought a one-way ticket.
Don’t expect a bullet train experience here! This one travels at a much more leisurely pace, but gives you time to savour the beautiful river and mountain views. If you’re looking for an alternative way to come down again, try the Hozugawa River Boat Ride on your way back to the first station. When we looked at the boat ride from the train, it seemed like a peaceful journey. It must have been a memorable ride for the travellers who got to enjoy the clean and clear spray of Hozu River while listening to the exciting stories of the boatman.
For more information about Sagano Romantic Train, visit www.sagano-kanko.co.jp.
Photos by Nuriy Arisa & Aqalili Azizan