Monday, August 11, 2014

Japan: Where to go in Japan?

Kansai is the southern region of Honshu island in Japan. It includes prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga which is why the main airport in Osaka is called Kansai International Airport. I will be covering Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo because I only traveled to these prefectures.

Map of cities I have covered in the region.

I stayed in Japan for merely 3 weeks in September 2013 so I cannot say that I have lived like the locals. You have to stay here for a couple of years to really experience Japan like a local. One word of advise is do not visit Japan in September because the typhoon was horrible. During that time, news about more radiation leakage also caused quite a stir. So why did I stay there for a longer time than most tourists do? It's because I followed my husband on a business trip.

Therefore I won't blog with the usual format like Day1, Day2 and so on but will write on an overview like this post, a guide on riding JR, places I have visited according to cities and of course food and shopping. All budget and costs listed in this blog will be my personal expenses because the company my husband works for only pays for their employees. Also take note that most hotels and hostels in Japan count by head so accommodation was all on me.

Budget for 1 pax
Flight : Cathay Pacific return ticket RM2,600
*Economy Save only costs RM1,789 but mine was Economy Core because booked by corporate and has many flexibility.

Japan Rail (JR): estimated ¥9,770 per person.
*This amount is based on the ticket photos I have taken. The actual amount might be more. It will also be more expensive if you plan on riding shinkansen (bullet train). Read How to ride a train in Japan for guides and examples.

Hankyu: ¥270 from Itami to Kobe
*Price may vary according to your destination. We tried one way to Kobe. It's a bit cheaper than JR but slower has a lot of stops.

Kyoto City Subway: ¥210 from Rokujizo to Daigo
*We used this only to get to Daigo-ji. Kyoto subway only has 2 lines so we travel mostly by bus and JR.

Kyoto City Bus: ¥250 per ride
*Recommended to buy the one-day pass which costs ¥500 from Kyoto Station.
Walk: Priceless!

*We walked the whole time in Itami while hubby took Itami City Bus to work and I think he was subsidized. Basically we walked for up to 12 hours on a full day tour and our feet and muscles hurt like hell.
 Itami City Hotel also known as Itami Dai-ichi Hotel
  • ¥8000 per person per night on weekdays and  ¥12,000 on weekends
  • No breakfast included but more expensive rooms might include it.
  • Personal bathroom.

 Ground floor restaurant. There's a revolving restaurant at the top.

 Our room



  • ¥3,700 per person per night for our economy twin.
  • No breakfast included.
  • Shared bathroom but some rooms have personal bathroom.
 Our tatami room. No, we're not filming anything lol.

 Public washroom

We would opt for better hotel or even the same hotel but with attached bathroom but we had no choice because it was  Respect For The Aged day (Sept 15) and everything was sold out.
 Tourist Pass

Price: ¥2,300
The name has changed to Osaka Amazing Pass 2014 this year. We bought Osaka Unlimited 1-day Pass because it has a lot of benefits like unlimited subway ride (not free for JR though) and a lot of free coupons for entrance fees and cruise rides. We used it for entrance to Floating Garden Observatory at Umeda Sky Tower, Tsutenkaku Tower, Osaka Castle Museum, ride Tombori River Cruise and many more. You can click on the link to learn more about the pass like what is free, what is discounted, time limit and other rules.

Entrance fees
Refer to the attractions grouped by cities below. We used Osaka Unlimited pass so entrance for all attractions we went in Osaka is free except the ¥300 for traditional costume rental in Osaka Castle. For Kyoto we had to pay for everything because we did not buy any pass and I don't recall there's an attraction pass to buy.
We had a budget of ¥1200 per person per day for food. Normal meal like above usually costs ¥600 - ¥800. At times we spent ¥2,300 for a meal but it was only once or twice. Expensive foods are like kaiseki, seafood and Kobe beef. Also do try out yummy desserts, sandwich, onigiri, instant noodle and other snacks in their convenience store like Lawson and Family Mart.

Shopping and souvenir
This depends on individual. We brought only about RM300 per person to spare coz I'm not a huge shopper. Some must buy items are KitKat and Glico products but I won't touch on this now coz there's another post about food and shopping.

In total I spent about RM8,000 for this long trip and it was worth every penny with #noregrets.

Itami, Hyogo

Itami is my base ground because I stayed here most of the time. I only moved to Osaka on my last remaining days in Japan. Honestly there's nothing much to see in this town.

Places of attractions:
*My favourite place of all is AEON Mall. It's the only place we hang out in Itami everyday. It's as huge as Queensbay Mall for such a small town.

Entrance fee: None.
Opening hours: 9:00am - 11:00pm
How to get there: Just outside of Itami JR station but it takes 12 mins from hotel. Below is the route we walked from hotel.

 A MOS burger outlet at Viva Itami. You must try MOS burger in Japan.

 *It is a shopping street in Itami that mostly sells groceries, poultry, seafood and veges.

Entrance Fee: None
Opening Hours: Most stores open from 9:00am - 8:00pm
How to get there: 2 mins walk from our hotel. The long stretch of roof in the map below is the whole shopping street. Cool huh?

* Hankyu is a rival company of JR. This station has like 2 connecting supermarkets.

Entrance Fee: None
Opening Hours: All the time but supermarkets observe standard opening hours between 9:00am - 11:00pm
How to get there: 10 mins walk from our hotel.

Other attractions:
Besides the mall and surrounding shops that we usually go, there are other places to visit such as Itami Sky Park, Aramaki Rose Garden, Koyaike Park and a few museums. I will not include pictures from Google in my blog so you can check them out in Tripadvisor site.

Kobe, Hyogo

We only visited Kobe after hubby finished working at 5pm so there's not much to see however I urge you to spend 2-3 full days in this beautiful city. I find it has a lot in common with our home, Georgetown. It has an iconic tower like Komtar and a peak with a million dollar view like Penang Hill. Ironically Kobe seems to have more skyscrapers than other cities in this region despite frequently getting earthquakes. There's an earthquake museum with a simulator if you want to experience one.

Places of attractions:
*This is rated as one of the most beautiful Starbucks in the world by tourists.

Entrance fee: None but drinks are not free.
Opening hours: 8:00am - 10:00pm
How to get there: Walk across the street then straight upwards from Sannomiya Hankyu station and you will see it on your left.

*Great place for a clear port view and dining. It is a bit similar to Asiatique, Bangkok.

Entrance fee: None.
Opening hours: 9:00am - 10:00pm. The amusement park closes by 9pm.
How to get there: Just across of Kobe JR station. Don't worry, there's an underpass for you to cross the street.

*There is a row of shopping malls, hotels, Anpanman Children's Museum and Hard Rock Cafe (I think so coz I saw an Elvis statue outside).

Entrance fee: None.
Opening hours: 9:00am - 10:00pm.
How to get there: Same route as Mosaic Garden.

Other attractions:


Osaka is just 15minutes train ride from our hotel at Itami so after hubby returned from work we would go downtown to have dinner and shop around. The attractions here are mainly modern Japan and less cultural stuff. I would suggest a 3-4 full days in Osaka to explore.

Places of attractions:
*There's a new section called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but we just saw the construction. It would take days to completely ride all the facilities because waiting time could go for hours. If you have free time can buy 2 day pass or if you live in Osaka should buy the whole year pass.

Entrance fees: ¥6,980 for 1 day pass (tax included). It was ¥6,600 when I went there in 2013.
Opening hours: 9:00am - 9:00pm (weekdays), 9:00am - 10:00pm (weekends)
How to get there: Ride JR on Osaka Loop line to Nishikujo station then transfer to Sakurajima line (also known as Yumesaki line) and final stop at Universal City station.

*The exterior of the castle looks legit but the interior is not original at all. I was expecting more traditional. A lot of stories about their dynasty and war. Besides the one and only castle, there is also Nishinomaru Park. The castle ground is very huge so need a bit of walking. There are also food stalls inside. Osaka Unlimited Pass can be used for entrance to castle museum and Nishinomaru Park.

Entrance fees: ¥600 for castle, ¥300 for costume rental
Opening hours: 9:00am - 5:00pm
How to get there: There are a lot of gates and a lot of stations to enter but I chose Morinomiya subway station via Chuo line because I was using the 1-day subway pass.

* Shop till you drop! I was so amazed with this shopping district because I have never seen such a long shopping street. There's also a parallel shopping street underground. Both of them built beside Dotonbori canal.

Entrance fees: free to walk but shop at your own risk
Opening hours: 11:00am - 10:00pm but may vary according to shops
How to get there: Stop at Shinsaibashi subway station via Midosuji line. Other subway station that can access Shinsaibashi is Namba. Just use any exit will do because they are all connected.

* This food haven is just adjacent to Shinsaibashi. We thought we would visit Dotonbori other day but as we walked and walked we reached here unintentionally. You can savour on Osaka delicacies such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki. We ride Dotobori cruise here for free using the unlimited pass but normal price would be ¥700. Boarding and drop off pier is in front of Don Quijote Ferris Wheel which is a unique one of its kind ellipse Ferris wheel.

Entrance fees: free to walk but dine at your own risk
Opening hours: 11:00am - 10:00pm but may vary according to shops
How to get there: Same as Shinsaibashi. Recommended to use subway.

 * Namba Walk is an underground shopping street just below Shinsaibashi which runs along Dotonbori canal. It's also connected to Ebisubashi, another endless shopping street which we found ourselves walking without realizing. You may also find yourselves walking till Nipponbashi. It's insane!

Entrance fees: free to walk but shop at your own risk
Opening hours: 11:00am - 10:00pm but may vary according to shops
How to get there: Same as Shinsaibashi. Recommended to use subway.

* This is the main JR station in Osaka. Hankyu and subway are also connected to this station. It has many confusing lines that we got stuck looking at the signboards for 10 minutes so I will teach you how to ride the train and read the signs in next post. I know its just a station but it is a tourist attraction too with 5 - 6 connecting malls like Grand Front Osaka, Daimaru Umeda, Lucua, Mitsukoshi Isetan, Eki Marche Osaka and Yodobashi Umeda an electronic mall like Low Yat across the street. There are 6 plazas, a Japanese garden and a farm which we did not explore but just found out through their website.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: All the time
How to get there: It lies on the Osaka JR loop line

* It's a waste of time for me though I love Pokemon. There are just a few panel displays of Pokemon with limited info and lots of plushies all over the store (yes I said store coz it just sells merchandise) and about 3 machines in the arcade with adult...I mean old folks playing games, seriously. I expected more like a museum with statues and a theater playing episodes of the animation.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: 10:00am - 8:00pm
How to get there: It is on the 13th floor of Daimaru Umeda which is connected to Osaka JR station.

* This is a very old tower built in 1912. Its design is inspired by Eiffel Tower just like Tokyo Tower. An amusement park used to be surrounding it and the only way up the tower is by a cable car but it has later been rebuilt. You can have a nice view of Osaka from the top. There are lots of Biliken statues inside so do read the brochure to know more.

Entrance fees: ¥600
Opening hours: 9:00am - 9:00pm
How to get there: Get up from Ebisucho subway station which is on Sakaisuji line.

* It was unfortunate that we came here on a very very bad typhoon that it was all over the news so we could not get clear city view. Otherwise here would be a prominent place for a bird's eye view of Osaka. I know I mentioned this thousand of times but I kinda flew away with my umbrella that day and I cried my ass off. The outdoor observatory has very nice luminance floor and a love corner where couples can place locks. I brought two heavy locks but too bad the stairs leading to the lock section was closed. Another special thing about this place is you can see "the ring" from the ground. There is also a very very long, high and scary escalator which spans from one tower to another hanging dunno how many feet from the ground.

Entrance fees: ¥700
Opening hours: 10:00am - 10:00pm
How to get there: Walk from Osaka JR station according to the map below. There's an underground passage for pedestrians.

* This is a shopping district like Shnsaibashi but less happening coz it mainly sells electronic, second hand stuff, games, comics and lots and lots of porn. If you are lucky, you can see cosplay parade on the streets. We went during typhoon so most of the shops were closed. As a typical girly girl I'm not interested in this place. Oh I almost forgot you can also find lots of maid cafes here but please read reviews first or you will be cheated. I heard some will have cover charge when you enter and some charge when you have a chat with the "maids". The food is also more expensive than usual.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: 10:00am - 10:00pm
How to get there: Although there's a subway station called Nipponbashi it is advisable to get up from Ebisucho.

Other attractions:


* You will find lots of places ending with "-ji" because Kyoto is a very cultural and traditional city much different from Osaka. Ji means temple and there are hundreds of them here.

Places of attractions:
* Kinkaku-ji is a zen temple completely covered in gold leaf. It was a retiremet villa of a Japanese shogun before converted into a temple. Most visitors will just look at the golden pavilion because it is the most stunning attraction in the area. However there are also other things to see like a mini waterfall, a tea garden and a temple somewhere on the hill called Fudo Hall. There are signs to guide you which way to walk. Tourists cannot enter the golden pavillion.

Entrance fees: ¥400
Opening hours: 9:00am - 5:00pm
How to get there: Stop at Kitaoji subway station via Karasuma line and take a bus (101,102,204 or 205) to Kinkakuji michi.

* Kiyomizu-dera means pure water temple but I only know mizu means water. It was built like almost a thousand years ago. There were constructions going on when I was there. This is also one of the world famous UNESCO heritage site. I think it is a Buddhist temple because I saw a Buddha statue. The legend goes when someone jumps down from the stage and ends up alive their wish would come true but don't ever ever try that. 

Anyway, it's quite a long walk uphill from the bus stop so be prepared to walk...also be prepared to shop because there are lots of souvenir shops along the way and it's the most crowded place I've seen in Kyoto. Besides the main wooden temple, there are many other shrines and pagoda around such as Jishu Shrine dedicated to god of love and if you successfully walk from one stone to another with your eyes shut you will find your love. Otowa waterfall is located at the base and it contributed to the name of this temple. There are 3 streams you can drink from, each has different benefit like longevity, success and love life.

Entrance fees: ¥300
Opening hours: 6:00am - 6:00pm
How to get there: You can get off at Gojozaka or Kiyomizu michi bus stop via bus number 100 or 206 then walk uphill for 10 minutes. If you come from Gion you can walk through a beautiful path called Higashiyama.

* I categorized this as a sub of Kiyomizu-dera because it is located near it. I accidentally stumbled upon this street when I was exploring on Google Map on how to walk up to Kiyomizu-dera. The whole street is filled with traditional shop houses which is very pretty omg. Yeah I practically went omg omg omg! It's so unreal! As you walk further you will see Ryozen Kannon which is a war memorial that has a very huge Guan Yin statue. You will also see the beautiful Kodai-ji which is a zen temple. In the end you will come to Maruyama park at Gion.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: All the time. Shops and temples might observe different opening hours so do click on the links for details.
How to get there: If you come down from Kiyomizu-dera just stick to the right and you will see a small lane with stairs going downhill like the first picture above. If you come from Gion, there's a back lane just before the pond at Maruyama Park and it will take 15 - 20 minutes.

* I found out about Arashiyama when I was searching for the bamboo forest. This is definitely a must go place you wont regret. It is ideal to relax, ride bicycle or trishaw and enjoy the nature. It is also less touristy. It is located at the east side of Kyoto far from the city center. There are a few spots I have visited which are Sagano Romantic Train, Sagano Bamboo Forest, Tenryu-ji and Togetsukyo Bridge. These leisure boats are available for rides but unfortunately we did not do so because of time and weather. Total time spent will take you from half a day to the whole day depending on your pace. I know I walked fast and ignored the shops so it took me about 4 hours.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: All the time.
How to get there: You can take JR via Sagano line (also known as Sanin line) to Saga-Arashiyama station. However we took JR to Kameoka area because we wanted to ride the scenic train.

 * This scenic train goes on both ways from Arashiyama to Kameoka and vice versa.  I don't know if it's a waste of time because I don't find this interesting. My advise is to go during peak of spring (March) or autumn (November) and sit at the semi-open air cabin instead of the ones with windows. And also sit on the right side to enjoy the view. If you are more adventurous you can try the Hozugawa river cruise which goes only one way from Kameoka to Arashiyama due to river flow. It is also quite expensive which is about ¥4,100.

Entrance fees: ¥620 per way
Opening hours: Please check schedule here. 30 minutes per ride.
How to get there: You can stop JR Saga-Arashiyama then ride scenic train from Saga Torokko all the way to Kameoka and back. I took JR to Umahori station then rode the scenic train at Torokko Kameoka to Torokko Arashiyama and explored the bamboo forest because it is just beside the station.

* You get to see this place often in wallpapers and backgrounds. It is a very relaxing place to walk and ride bicycle but do be careful of taxis like the 2nd picture above. We thought the small lane was only for pedestrians, bicycles and trishaws. Other than adoring the beauty of bamboos surrounding you, there is nothing much to do. There is a shrine somewhere in the middle of the forest.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: All the time
How to get there: If you choose to ride the scenic train you can follow my way as above but if you choose to skip that you can ride JR to Saga-Arashiyama station and walk for about 10mins.

* Nonomiya Shrine is a Shinto shrine situated in the middle of Sagano Bamboo Forest. I ain't sure what the believers pray to but I saw a lot of kitsune (fox spirit) statues. It was a beautiful small shrine. We did the usual ritual that the locals do which is washing hands at the temizu (basin) and ring the huge bell after making donation. You can also make a wish on wooden plates and hang them at specific place.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: All the time
How to get there: You could somehow bump into this place when you walk in the bamboo forest. It is exactly in the middle of the forest. As long as you don't walk out of path you don't have to worry about getting lost.
* We did not explore much of this temple as we fear we might be running out of time. This zen temple is another UNESCO's heritage site. There's a beautiful lily pond before entering and there's another pond inside the temple grounds with a beautiful garden maintained in its original form like when it was first built.

Entrance fees: ¥500
Opening hours: 8:30am - 5:30pm
How to get there: Keifuku Arashiyama station is very near but we never tried them. Keifuku also known as randen is actually tram service. We just walked towards Togetsukyo Bridge from the bamboo forest and saw this temple.
* Togetsukyo is a half tar+concrete half wooden bridge which crosses Hozu and Katsura river. I am not sure if it was originally an all wooden bridge but it is very very old. It is known as the "moon crossing" bridge. This bridge offers a fantastic view of the mountain and river. It is surrounded by a park and tourist shops. A very good place to cycle and ride on trishaw. If not mistaken the trishaws normally take you around this area up to the bamboo forest but do ask for the pricing first.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: All the time
How to get there: If you are coming from other area, you can either walk from Keifuku (Randen) Arashiyama or Hankyu Arashiyama station. We walked from Tenryu-ji because we wander around Arashiyama for half a day.

Other attractions at Arashiyama:

* Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine and  is one of the hottest place for tourists. It is famous for the endless rows of vermilion torii gates and also filming site for Memoirs of a Geisha. It is situated at the base of Inari mountain and the gates reach up to the top of the mountain of about 233m high. So unless you are prepped to go up to the top and back which could take 3 hours then it is wise to turn back when you feel like doing. The torii gates are donations from individual and ompanies. Each small gate costs ¥400,000 and the large one could go over ¥1mil.

Entrance fees: None
Opening hours: All the time
How to get there: This is like the only attraction where the JR station is right n front. Just take JR via Nara line and stop at Inari station.

* It is also known as Nijo-jo. "Jo" means castle like Osaka-jo. What's so special about here is the architecture. The area is much smaller than Osaka castle but the garden is beautiful. Among the highlights are the Karamon gate, Ninomaru palace, Niomaru garden and Honmaru. It is most beautiful during spring with blooming cherry bossoms.

Entrance fees: ¥600
Opening hours: 8:45am - 5:00pm
How to get there: Take subway via Tozai line and stop at Nijojo-mae station. You will see the castle wall from across the street.


* Gion was known as one of the most famous geisha district. However it is rare to see a real geisha or maiko (trainee geisha) walking on the streets. Behind this gate is Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park. We waited for a long time to take an empty picture of this. Normally there will be a huge crowd. It is also less people due to the rainy weather.
    Entrance fees: None
    Opening hours: All the time
    How to get there: Take bus number 100 or 206 and it will stop in front of this place. The Hankyu and subway stations are quite far. Alternatively if you are coming from Kiyomizudera its recommended to walk about 15 - 20mins through beautiful narrow streets of Higashiyama as I have explained above.

     * Lonely duck swimming by the pond. The view is just relaxing. Best time to come here is spring for hanami (cherry blossoms viewing).

    Entrance fees:None
    Opening hours: All the time
    How to get there: It is just beside Yasaka Shrine in Gion.
    * Yasaka shrine is well known for its white lanterns. Every year in July there will be a summer festival called Gion Matsuri. There is a wooden dance stage with hundreds of white lanterns in front of the main hall.

    Entrance fees: None
    Opening hours: All the time
    How to get there: Located inside Gion beside Maruyama Park.
    * This street is just across Gion and it is famous for Geisha sighting. Ideal time to spot for geisha would be around 5:00pm - 6:30pm. Usually their cab drops them directly in front of the ochaya (teahouse) so they do not walk much but when they do they walk very quick. Do not point your camera directly to them as this is disrespectful and their bodyguards will warn you.

    Entrance fees: None
    Opening hours: Shops might observe standard opening hours while restaurants might operate till late night.
    How to get there: Walk across the street from Yasaka shrine and keep to your left.

    * It was not in my itinerary but hubby insisted to visit last minute after he saw beautiful wallpaper pictures online just like the bamboo forest. It was quite hard to get there as the subway station was far. We had to hike up passing graveyard and housing estates. When we finally got there all we felt was total silence and peace. The only tourists around were us. Every now and then you will see a batch of devotees dressed in white brought to this place by a bus. The most famous landmark here is the Bentendo Hall and Shimo Daigo 5 storey pagoda. The original temple grounds called Kami Daigo is around the top of the mountain which will take 1 hour of climb.
    Entrance fees: ¥600
    Opening hours: 9:00am - 5:00pm
    How to get there: Take subway via Tozai line and stop at Daigo station. We went there from Fushimi Inari so we had to transit at JR Kyoto station to JR Yamashina station the to subway. From Daigo subway station you can either walk for 15 minutes or wait for a bus which comes at every 20 minutes but since we were the only humans there and got scared even in broad daylight, we decided to walk.

    * Kyoto tower reminds me of Namsan Tower and our KL Tower. It has a hotel, sky lounge, restaurants, souvenir shops and observation deck. Apart from all the traditional structures in Kyoto, the tower and main station across it created a controversial stir since before it was built. Like the Eiffel tower, the municipal counsel has come up with regulations that the tower is the only tallest man-made structure in the city.

    Entrance fees: ¥770
    Opening hours: 9:00am - 9:00pm
    How to get there: It is just opposite of JR Kyoto station.

    Other attractions:
    Other places we wish to visit in this region are Nara, Wakayama and Himeji. Nara is just below Kyoto. You can ride Jr via ara line to Nara station. Famous attractions include deer park, Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji. Wakayama has the amazing Nachi falls. I kept seeing the waterfall on their tourism channel in my hotel room. Himeji castle is said to be the most beautiful castle in Japan. The design and architecture is similar to Osaka castle but Himeji is pure white and larger.

    It is a very very long post so I hope you find this helpful if not interesting. You are most welcomed to share this article to anyone who plans to go to Japan or has no idea where to go in Japan.


    1. Very cool post. I was born in Penang, but grew up in Canada, and lived for 5 years in Kansai. My fiancee is also a Kansai girl, and I fell in love with her at a spot visible in one of your photos! Thank you for bringing back such precious memories. (^^)

      1. Hi there fellow Penangnite,
        Wow it sounds so romantic. So glad one of the places above plays a huge part in your life. You have a nice day


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