Home to the country’s first capital, many of Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines and a hinterland adorned with holy mountains, the region of Kansai not only marks the geographical centre of Japan but also stands as a cultural and historical heartland for the nation. Among its greatest treasures is Kyoto, which served as the imperial capital of Japan from the eighth to the 19th century, and is now renowned for its temples, geishas and gardens. Today, Kyoto remains as enchanting as ever, with ancient alleyways still evoking a picture-book Japan reminiscent of samurai and shoguns.
Kyoto has a counterpoint nearby in Osaka — a stridently modern metropolis with a future-facing philosophy. This cutting-edge outlook is especially evident as Osaka prepares to host the Expo 2025, organised by the Bureau International des Expositions. An estimated 28 million people are expected to travel to the artificial island of Osaka Bay during the six-month event. During this time, Kansai will showcase its commitment to designing a future centred around innovative solutions.
Journeying westward from Osaka leads travellers to Hyogo Prefecture, home to the modern city of Kobe. Travelling northeast from Osaka brings you to Shiga, a prefecture encircling the serene shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest. Located in the south of Shiga is the Kii Peninsula which holds the prefectures of Mie, Nara, and Wakayama — a green expanse that’s home to sites held sacred in both Shintoism and Buddhism. Tokushima Prefecture faces the Kii Peninsula on the eastern shore of the island of Shikoku. Tokushima is a place of pilgrimage, drawing countless souls to the forest trails and its 88 renowned temples.
While Kansai is home to many world-famous attractions, the region also offers opportunities for visitors to explore beyond the well-trodden paths. Take, for instance, Fukui and Tottori Prefectures, neighbouring regions situated along the Sea of Japan. Despite their captivating coastal landscapes, both receive fewer tourists than the rest of Kansai.
Kansai offers a chance to experience the best of Japan within a relatively small area. Train travel is an excellent way to unlock this region’s wealth of destinations and is a greener way to get around. Whether navigating urban metros or taking the leisurely rural branch lines, riding the rails is, in its own right, an essential Japanese experience.
1. JR West Travel the lesser-known areas of Kansai
Upon arrival in Japan, many visitors encounter the Kansai-Airport Express HARUKA. This train shuttles passengers from Kansai International Airport to Osaka and Kyoto. Distinguished by its Hello Kitty-themed livery, it is operated by the West Japan Railway Company, also known as JR West — the main railway
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