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Things to Do in Kansai Prefecture

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Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha)
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132 Tours and Activities

Dedicated to the gods of sake and rice, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. Five shrines dot the forested temple grounds, and the arched red lines of torii gates straddling the pathway leading up to Inari Mountain are a truly iconic sight. You’ll also see plenty of stone foxes at this temple, another symbol of Shinto.

A lovely place for a stroll in rural surrounds, there are fine views of Kyoto from the top of the torii gate pathway up the mountain. Stop off for a sustaining bowl of tofu soup at the small restaurants along the way.

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Gion Corner
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124 Tours and Activities
The refined traditional arts of Japan are highlighted for visitors at Gion Corner, an entertaining and informative nightspot. From tea ceremony to the twang of the Koto, Ikebana floral arranging to puppet plays, Gion Corner dramatizes and explains the ins and outs of the esoteric world of Japanese traditions. There are two performances each evening, plus an on-site photo gallery and the opportunity to experience tea house hospitality at a traditional Kyoto banquet, hosted by geisha.
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Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
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112 Tours and Activities

The Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku-ji, is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, and a major highlight of any visit to the city. The three-story pagoda gleams with gold leaf, though it is a 1955 replica of the original 1397 temple, which was destroyed by fire in 1950.

The beautiful temple hovers over a lake, surrounded by twisted pines and forests. The image of its reflection captured in the mirror-like water is a Kyoto symbol, and a must-have photo opportunity. The classic stone and water gardens are another highlight for a stroll.

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Osaka Castle (Osaka-jo)
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One of Japan's most famous castles, Osaka Castle played a major role in unifying Japan in the sixteenth century. First built in 1583 by one of Japan’s most fabled warlords, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, succeeded in ending century-long wars and using Osaka Castle as his stronghold. The castle was built on about one square kilometer (less than a mile squared) of land, with two raised platforms supported by sheer walls of cut rock and surrounded by a moat. The central building is five stories outside, and eight stories on the inside. The thirteen structures that make up the castle have be designated as Important Cultural Assets by the Japanese government.

Osaka Castle was nearly destroyed during WWII, when used as one of the largest military armories. A full restoration started in 1995, and by 1997, had been completely restored to it's Edo-era days. The current castle is a concrete reproduction of the original castle, with a modern museum within.

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Nishiki Market
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61 Tours and Activities

From sushi fish to kitchen knives, you’ll find everything under the sun relating to food at Nishiki Market. The covered market is a foodie's wonderland, and provides fascinating glimpses into the shopping and eating habits of Kyoto's locals, chefs and families. Pick up produce to prepare in your hotel/apartment if you’re self-catering, or choose from a staggering array of ready-to-eat snacks, sweets and drinks. This is a great place to pick up a Kyoto souvenir with a difference, from authentic cooking equipment to green tea or photographs of this colorful market.

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Dotonbori
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The most famous entertainment neighborhood in Osaka, Dotonbori (also called Dotombori) boasts a rich history, an exciting nightlife, and cultural gems. Situated along the Dotomborigawa River, Dotonbori stretches down a single street in in the city’s Minami area. Formerly a pleasure district, geishas once flocked to Dotonbori as the go-to place to entertain their customers. Today remnants of that lively history can be felt and seen in the numerous small restaurants and bars that dot the river. In fact, Dotonbori is Osaka’s best neighborhood for both domestic and foreign food. In addition to drinking and dining, Dotonbori has excellent shopping.

At night, Dotonbori comes to life with hundreds of neon lights. The most iconic images of the neighborhood are the larger-than-life neon “Guriko” sign – an image of a running man – and the Kani Doraku crab sign, an advertisement for a popular restaurant that features a moving crab.

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Arashiyama Park
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86 Tours and Activities

For classic Kyoto in a nutshell, head to Arashiyama Park. The perennially popular area is rich in temples and a riot of fall colors in November, with pink cherry blossoms in April.

The park area embraces several major sights, including Tenryu-ji Temple, founded in 1339. The main temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, Tenryu-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by tranquil Zen gardens and bamboo forest. There are many other temples in Arashiyama, including the Gio-ji, Jojakko-ji and Daikaku-ji temples. Another highlight is walking across the Moon Crossing Bridge, with views over to Mt Arashiyama.

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple
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102 Tours and Activities
The Kiyomizu Temple is an ancient institution, dating back to 798 AD and the days of Nara, which has inspired temple architecture for centuries. This Kyoto landmark provides fabulous views over the city and is surrounded by gardens and shrines. Climb the steeply inclining steps leading up to the temple where You’ll find pavilion teahouses and restaurants in the grounds and the main hall jutting out over the hillside.
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Shitenno-ji Temple
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Built in the 6th century by Prince Shotoku—a cultural hero who helped to bring Buddhism to the country—Shitenno-ji is one of Japan’s oldest temples. The complex includes a multi-tiered tower, pagoda, lecture hall, and gate. Though most of the current structures are from the 1963 rebuilding, they still reflect the 6th century design.
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Abeno Harukas (Osaka Harukas)
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At 984 feet (300 meters) tall, Abeno Harukas (Osaka Harukas) takes the coveted superlative of Japan's highest skyscraper, narrowly rising above the former title holder, the Yokohama Landmark Tower. Part of the sprawling Abenobashi Terminal Building, it stands atop the Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station and houses a department store, art museum, five-star hotel, and observation deck.
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More Things to Do in Kansai Prefecture

Sagano

Sagano

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Often mistaken for the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, Sagano expands north of the Togetsukyo Bridge in Kyoto. The tranquil area encompasses some of Kyoto’s most stunning landscapes. With rural residential areas, mountains dotting the horizon, fields ablaze with color and a famous bamboo forest, Sagano may just be one of Japan’s prettiest (and lesser known) spots.

By far, Sagano is best known for its bamboo groves. Walking trails wind through the forest, with thin, tall bamboos lining either side. Sun light filters through the narrow trunks, casting shadows along the path. Beyond the grove, one of the best ways to experience Sagano is on bicycle. In addition to the bamboo groves, there are numerous temples to explore, as well as the river and the well-traveled bridge. This idyllic nook on the outskirts of Kyoto should not be missed.
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Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho)

Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho)

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Japan's royal family no longer live in Kyoto Imperial Palace, but the imperial furnishings have been preserved. The immaculate parkland surrounding the palace is one of Kyoto’s favorite public gardens.

The palace has been empty since 1868, when the Emperor moved into the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. You need to book ahead to take a palace tour led by the Imperial Household Agency. Tours highlight the ceremonial halls, Imperial Library, the Empress quarters and throne room. The lovely parklands are filled with flowering trees and grassed areas, carp ponds and cherry blossom trees. Pack a picnic and come for the day.

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Himeji Castle (Himeji-Jo)

Himeji Castle (Himeji-Jo)

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If you take a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, make it Himeji. The famous many-tiered white castle at Himeji is acclaimed as Japan’s most beautiful and complete historic citadel. Known as the White Egret, the hilltop castle was built in 1580. The main features are its five-story central tower and surrounding moats, walls and pagodas. From its mountain-top eerie, the castle appears to float on a sea of Japanese pine trees.

Take an organized tour to discover the castle’s history and many nuances, such as the many openings in the defensive walls that were used for pouring boiling oil onto intruders. The castle grounds are flanked by the ponds and tea rooms of Koko-en Gardens, a welcome retreat for a stroll or lunchtime stop.

Himeji Castle recently underwent a full renovation and reopened to the public in March 2015.

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Nijo-jo Castle

Nijo-jo Castle

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77 Tours and Activities
Nijō Castle was built in 1603 as the official residence of the first Tokugawa shogun. With its moats, walls, secret passageways and hidden chambers, the heavily fortified castle stands as a defiant symbol of the shogun's power. Entered through an elaborate main gate, the castle complex includes two palaces, Ninomaru and Honmaru. A visit to Ninomaru Palace reveals spectacular artworks, including painted screens and intricate gold leaf ceilings. Known as 'nightingale' floors, the squeaking floorboards were designed to alert the shogun’s bodyguards to the presence of intruders.
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Nara Park (Nara Koen)

Nara Park (Nara Koen)

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Deer Park (Nara Park) sits at the heart of Nara, a city of great historical importance and the birthplace of modern Japanese culture, located 19 miles (31 km) outside of Osaka. A majority of Nara’s top attractions, including Kasuga Shrine, Todaji and the Nara National Museum, are located in Deer Park, making it a popular day trip destination from both Osaka and Kyoto.

Besides the cultural and historical attractions found on the grounds of the park, it’s also famous for the wild (but very tame) deer that roam the grounds grazing on grass and hoping the passing tourist will feed them some deer crackers (for sale throughout the park). The park covers an area of about 1,300 acres (520 hectares) and requires about three hours to explore, particularly if you plan to stop at the temples and shrines.

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Kuromon Ichiba Market

Kuromon Ichiba Market

49 Tours and Activities
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Nara National Museum

Nara National Museum

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Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine)

Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine)

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Host to Japan’s most famous festival, Gion Matsuri, Yasaka Shrine is located in the heart of Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine dates back to the 7th century, when it was known as Gion Shrine for its location near the Gion district, famous for the geisha that live and work there. The shrine consists of several buildings. The main hall houses an inner sanctuary and a secondary hall. One of the most prominent features of the shrine is a large stage out front lined with hundreds of lanterns. One of the most popular times to visit the shrine is in the evening or at night, when the lanterns light the stage. The annual Gion Matsuri festival began more than 1,100 years ago at Yasaka Shrine. In modern times, it takes place every July. Originally, the festival sought to expunge the city of illnesses. Today, the festival celebrates craftwork. Intricate fabrics, textiles, and sculptures adorn floats that men carry through town. Music, costumes, and street food contribute to the festive atmosphere.

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Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple

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Ranked number one of Kyoto's five great temples, Tenryu-ji celebrates a history dating back to 1339 and stands in dedication and memory to an ancient emperor. Many of the temple buildings have been destroyed over the centuries, but the temple's landscape garden remains much the same today as it did in the 14th century.

The garden boasts a clever and unique design that marries imperial taste with zen aesthetics. Lush foliage lines a shimmering pond, and as visitors walk from one end of the pond to the other, it appears as though the seasons change in front of their eyes. Intricate stonework on one hill represents a mountain stream cascading into the pond, while in another area stones appear to be carp fish. Visitors seek out the garden to be transported to another time.

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Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

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The Silver Pavilion temple in Kyoto’s eastern mountains has no silver on it at all. Legend has it that when Shogun – or military ruler – Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa in 1482 on the grounds where Ginkaku-ji stands today, he grandly stated he wanted the entire pavilion covered with silver to imitate the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), built by his grandfather. The villa was converted to a Buddhist temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, and the shining nickname persists today. The circular route around the Silver Pavilion begins in a dry sand garden, named the “Sea of Silver Sand,” where a cone-like representation of Mt. Fuji has been dubbed the “Moon Viewing Platform.” The grounds open up to a moss garden featuring ponds with islands and short bridges, streams, and a variety of foliage. The path snakes up a hill leading to a viewing point of the entire temple grounds and the city beyond. The path comes full circle with up-close views of the Silver Pavilion itself.

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Mt. Kurama

Mt. Kurama

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Danjo Garan Temple

Danjo Garan Temple

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The Danjo Garan is the central temple complex of Japan's sacred Mt Koya temple town, and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex is comprised of about 20 buildings, including several temples, the ceremonial Kondo Hall, and a 147-foot (49-meter) red pagoda housing five statues of the seated Buddha. The massive pagoda, called The Great Stupa, has been home to practicing monks for over 1,000 years, and the Danjo Garan as a whole is revered as the center of Shingon Buddhism. While Mt Koya was once a hard-to-reach destination, today you can visit the sacred location and its temples on a day trip or overnight visit from Osaka. To get the most out of your visit, consider touring Danjo Garan Temple and Okunoin graveyard on a two-day trip that includes an overnight stay in a temple with a hot spring.

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Togetsu-kyo Bridge

Togetsu-kyo Bridge

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Once a destination for nobles, the Arashiyama district of Kyoto boasts small-town charm and beautiful mountainside views. Today, the popular neighborhood attracts tourists and nature lovers. The scenic neighborhood’s iconic landmark, Togetsukyo Bridge spans the Katsura River and provides panoramic views of lush mountainside foliage, gentle river swells, and local fisherman navigating the shoreline. The bridge’s history extends back 400 years and has been featured in many historical films.

Crossing Togetsukyo Bridge is a highlight of any visit to Arashiyama. From feeding carp fish over the railing to enjoying the splendor of cherry blossoms in the spring and fall foliage, the bridge is a gateway to a simple, stunningly scenic way of life. Another popular way to see the bridge is by a boat ride along the river.

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Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley

19 Tours and Activities
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