So if you listened to me last time, you’ve used your two week JR Pass to take a nice quick ride to Kyoto. If you’re not planning on staying in Kyoto, don’t worry, all four cities are rougly 30 minutes from each other. Tha being said, Kyoto or Osaka are probably the best choices. Kyoto is the crown jewel of Kansai, it is a city so great that the secretary of state of America chose it to be the only city not to be bombed in World War 2. Those who are looking for just a traditional experience would probably need 5 days, but for all you normal people with time constraints, we’re going to get it done in two days.
Kyoto can be described as being in four parts and the morning of the day when you have the most time should be spent hitting up the eastern side of Kyoto. Depending on how much you like temples should determine which temples and how many you’ll hit up but in order of most recommended the east side would be:
- Kiyomizudera – Huge temple uphill and one of the most quintessential Kyoto shots.
- Kodaiji – Small temple with great grounds and a zen garden. Really Peaceful.
- Sanjusangendo – A hall full of Kannon (buddha) statues, all original.
- Ginkakuji – Arguably better than the hugely overtalked Kinkakuji, has a better garden.
- Heian Jingu – At a time the favorite shrine of the emperor, pretty amazing grounds.
- Nanzenji – Located in a huge park with other temples and a beautiful aqueduct.
From there, my recommendation would be to hit up the northern spots of Kyoto which would are far more spread out and a bit more sparse.
- Arashiyama – Kyoto’s bamboo forest, the surrounding areas has so much to just explore as well.
- Ryoanji – A larger temple with a zen garden.
- Kinkakuji – It’s a golden temple, you’re either dying to see it or deeply uninterested.
Don’t forget to go to the downtown Kawaramachi area of Kyoto for the night life, it’s truly the best.
Next day, it’s time to pick up the rest of what Kyoto has to offer. In the centre of the city we have Nijo Castle, the vacation castle of the Shogun which was more for showing off than anything. If you made a reservation, you can also probably enjoy a Kyoto Gosho tour, a tour of the old imperial villa which is far better than the Tokyo palace.
The real important part of the second day however, is to get to Fushimi and Uji. Fushimi holds Fushimi Inari Taisha which is one of the most important sights in all of Japan, even though the amount of tourists is upsetting. Uji holds Byodo-in which is a famous temple that you’ve seen any time you use money in Japan because it’s on the back of the ten yen coin. On top of that, Fushimi is well known for its large amount of sake breweries, and Uji is well known for green tea. Depending on which of those is more exciting to you, exploring both or either of those areas should be well rewarding.
The next day will be time for Osaka, out with all that traditional temple stuff and in with all that modern city stuff. Exploring Dotonbori, Umeda, and Namba seem to be really rewarding for most people and more than specific sights, Osaka is about atmosphere and food. Specifically takoyaki (the balls of dough and octopus) and okonomiyaki (basically a cabbage pancake with amazing sauce). You could always hit up Osaka castle, but it’s as real as Cinderella’s Castle in Disney. You could also check out Shinsekai if you want to see the dirtier side of things, as well as eat kushikatsu (fried anything on sticks). Don’t let the brevity seem like it’s not recommended, if you have friends to hang out with or want to make your own fun, Osaka is really the city to do it.
Hope it’s not a hot day, because it’s time to get back in the swing of temple watching in Nara. Nara is the oldest permanent capital in Japan and almost everything you want to see is concentrated in Nara Park. One large recommended exception is Horyuji, the oldest standing wooden temple in the world. It’s only a few stops away and shouldn’t be too much of a detour. Everything in Nara Park is great, but you should make sure not to miss Todaiji which houses my personal favorite Buddha statue. Don’t feed the deer, I know you will, but don’t do it.
The final day is the day for Kobe and Himeji. Himeji castle is truly the only castle that any tourist needs to see, it’s quintessential and can probably sate anyone who’s not as obsessed about history as myself. It’s a while from the city of Kobe itself, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue. After that, return to the city of Kobe, if you’re up for it you can check out the Iijinkan in the northern part of the city. It should be noted that most Europeans and Americans don’t see the appeal of the area as it looks very “un-Japanese” to most. Besides that, Kobe is laid out very straightforward with most if not all things being located in a straight line from Sannomiya to Motomachi. Kobe’s well known for it’s cafe food, chinatown, expensive stores, seafood, pretty good nightlife, and of course Kobe beef.
If there is any extra time, it is worth mentioning that Kanazawa isn’t very far from Kyoto and is awesome. Just a thought. But for the purposes of this tour, it’s on to Hiroshima.