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Kansai (Kinki) 関西 (近畿)

Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto.

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The Kansai region, also referred to as Kinki, make up 11% of Japan's land area, and is composed of the prefectures of Hyōgo, Kyōto, Ōsaka, Nara, Wakayama, Mie and Shiga. 24 million people live in Kansai, approximately one fifth of the country's population.

The Kinki region lies at the historical heart of the Japanese civilization (note that "Kinki" means "near the capital").


It is in the plains of Yamato (大和) in modern Nara prefecture that Japan first came to be unified as a country. From the 3rd century CE, the Yamato people, originally from Korea, progressively subdued all other peoples, and the name Yamato became associated with the whole of Japan.

In 710, Nara, then called Heijō-kyō (平城京 "peaceful fortified capital"), became the first permanent capital of Japan. In 794, the capital moved to present-day Kyōto, then known as Heian-kyō (平安京 "peaceful capital"). The name 'Kyōto' (literally "capital city") appeared around 1185, when the first shōgunate established itself at Kamakura.

Ōsaka acted as Kyōto's port and commercial hub during most of the country's history. Ōsaka had long been the economic centre of Japan before Edo (now Tōkyō) overtook it in the 18th century.

Things to see

It is no wonder that with this rich history the Kansai should be the number one tourist destination in Japan. Most of Japan's World Heritage Sites are to be found around Kyōto and Nara (including Hōryū-ji Temple , the world's oldest extant wooden building).

Ōsaka, Japan's second economic pole after the Greater Tokyo, is a bustling city famous for its business-minded people and okonomiyaki restaurants. Its local dialect, Ōsaka-ben, is sharp, melodic and rich in colourful expressions, and is widely used by comedians and anime characters. Ōsaka boasts more museums than any other Japanese city but Tōkyō, possesses Japan's second largest aquarium (after Okinawa's Churaumi Aquarium) and is home to Universal Studios Japan.

What Yokohama is to Tōkyō, Kōbe is to Ōsaka. The two cities have coalesced into one great metropolis. Like its eastern sister, Kōbe was a treaty port and has retained substantial Western and Chinese communities. In the margin of Kōbe and Ōsaka lies Ashiya, the city in Japan with the highest average income, often referred to as the Beverly Hills of Japan.

On the other side of Mount Rokkō from Kōbe, Arima Onsen is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan, already mentioned in the 8th-century Nihon Shoki. Its popularity hasn't faded since thanks to its strongly ferruginous kinsen (golden spring) and its radium-rich ginsen (silver spring).

Nearly opposite Kōbe, the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge (or pearl Bridge) links the Kansai to Awaji-shima Island, en route to Shikoku. It is the longest suspension bridge on earth with a central span of 1,991 m (6,532 ft) and a total length of 3,911 m.

Himeji Castle, Japan's most outstanding castle, is an hour's train ride from Kōbe. The much smaller Hikone Castle is the Kinki's only other original castle.

Travellers in search of adventure and mystic experiences will head for the Kii Peninsula, where three UNESCO World Heritage Sites have been designated : Kōyasan (a huge monastic complex and headquarters of Shingon Buddhism), Yoshino-Ōmine (sacred mountain banned to women, serving as training ground for the mountain ascetic hermits), and Kumano Sanzan (three sacred shrines set amidst Japan's most spectacular gorge).

Ise Jingu, in Mie prefecture, is isolated enough to put off quite a few tourists, but is worth the detour if you are interested in Japan's religious heritage, as it is the only shrine dedicated to Sun goddess Amaterasu, the supreme deity in the Shintoist pantheon. The sanctuary in the middle of the woods is still considered sacred, as all Japanese emperors (including the current one) are said to receive their power from their mythological ancestor, Sun goddess Amaterasu.

Ninja lovers will be able to learn everything about ninjutsu at Iga Ueno's outstanding ninja museum. The town was one of Japan's two leading ninja schools in feudal times. It also happens to be the birthplace of Japan's most famous haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō.

Finally, the northern sweep of the Kinki harbours one of Japan's three famous scenic views, the sand bar of Amanohashidate.


Attractions are listed by order of interest (although those with the same rating could be interchangeable).

Maiko in the streets of Kyoto
Best of Asia If there is one place where history resides more than anywhere else in Japan, it is in Kyōto (pop. 1,465,000). Capital of Japan from 794 to 1867, Kyōto totalize no less than 17 sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, 24 museums....Read more
Port of Kōbe
outstanding Kōbe (pop. 1,533,000) is Japan's 6th largest city, and a part of the Keihanshin metropolitan region (Ōsaka-Kōbe-Kyōto) totalling 18.5 million inhabitants. Kōbe is to Ōsaka what Yokohama is to Tōkyō. Both are the extension of ...Read more
Kii Peninsula
Buddhist monks at the Koya-san temple complex
outstanding The pilgrimage routes of the Kii Mountain Range in the centre of Kii Peninsula, Japan's largest peninsula, have been designated UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. The area is important to both followers of Shintō and Buddhism...Read more
Iga Ueno
Iga Ueno Castle (photo by T@ka at ja.wikipedia - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
very good The small castle town of Ueno (pop. 60,000) in Mie prefecture is well-known for being the birthplace of Japan's most famous haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō. The region is known as Iga, and the city is often called Iga Ueno to differentiate...Read more
Todai-ji Temple, Nara
must-see Prior to Tokyo and Kyoto, the very first permanent capital of Japan was Nara (pop. 364,000), a town occupying the northern part of the Yamato plain, at the foor of Mount Wakakusa. As the birthplace of the Japanese civilisation...Read more
Night view of Osaka
outstanding Osaka is synonymous with business. People in Osaka greet each others with "Moo kari makka ?", which in the local dialect means "Are you making any money ?". This gives the mood for the city, which indeed has a vibrant economy...Read more
Hōryū-ji Temple
Hōryū-ji Temple
outstanding Hōryū-ji Temple is the oldest temple in Japan. Its main hall, central gate and five-story pagoda are the most ancient wooden buildings in the world, dating from the late 7th century. The temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site...Read more
very good Amanohashidate is reputed as one of Japan's three great views (along with Miyajima and Matsushima). Its name literally means "standing celestial bridge", although the bridge is in fact a 3.6 km arm of woody sand...Read more
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
outstanding Himeji-jō Castle is praised as Japan's most beautiful feudal castle. It should be on top of your list if you only have time to visit one castle in Japan. Often compared to a white egret, Himeji Castle captures perfectly the spirit of the samurai...Read more
Byōdō-in Temple
outstanding Situated 12 km south of Kyōto station, Uji is a popular day-trip for tourists staying in the former capital. Its main attractions are the illustrious Byōdō-in Temple, the old Ujigami-jinja Shrine, and the extensive Mampuku-ji, head temple...Read more
Ise-jingu Shrine
Todai-ji Temple, Nara
outstanding Ise Jingu is the only of Japan's 100.000 shrines dedicated to the Sun Goddess and Supreme Shintō Deity Amaterasu. Kept out of the way of tourists deep into Mie prefecture, Japan's most sacred sanctuary attracts nevertheless 7 million...Read more
Hikone Castle (photo by 663highland - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
good The small town of Hikone (pop. 110,000), on the east shore of Lake Biwa, is known mostly for its medieval castle, one of the 12 authentic castles remaining in Japan...Read more

Wa-pedia's Rating System

Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

good : moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
very good : recommended - to visit if you have time
outstanding : outstanding place - really deserves to be seen
must-see : best of the country - shouldn't be missed
best in Europe : one of the world's great cities (beyond rating)

Natural attractions

good : interesting
very good : recommended
outstanding : highly recommended
must-see : world-class
※ : UNESCO World Heritage site UNESCO

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