Tour of Japan: Kansai Region

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The Kansai region (関西地方, Kansai-chihō)  The Kansai region (a/k/a Kinki region) lies in the southern-central region of Japan’s main island Honshū.  It is the historical heart of Japan, with 20% of the nation’s land area, 33,124.82 km2, and 24.27 million people as of 2019.  It is also Japan’s spiritual and cultural capital.  Seven Prefectures make up the Kansai region:  Hyōgo Prefecture, Nara Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, Shiga Prefecture, and Wakayama Prefecture, Ōsaka Prefecture and Kyōto Prefecture. 

Kyōto (京都Kyōto)  Kyōto Prefecture is located in the west-central area of the main Island of Honshū.  It is surrounded by mountains on three sides in the scenic valley of the Kamo River.  August is the hottest month in Kyōto with an average temperature of 83°F, and the coldest month is January with an average temperature of 40°F.  Kyōto is known worldwide for its festivals.  The three major festivals of Kyōto are the Aoi-matsuri Festival in early summer; the Gion-matsuri Festival in mid-summer; and, the Jidai-matsuri Festival in fall.  Kyōto is famous for:  Kimono; Geisha; Nijo Castle – built by Tokugawa leyasu, the 1st Shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867); Pilgrimages along the Kii Path; Takoyaki (octopus dipped in batter and grilled); Buddhist vegetarian delicacies (albino potatoes, shogun Kabul turnips, kamo nasu eggplants, and shogoin radish); Amazing street food; and, Green tea treats.

Nara (奈良県, Nara-ken) Nara Prefecture is a landlocked prefecture located on the east-central area of Honshū in the middle of the Kii Peninsula .  It is part of the Kansai region of Japan. Its historical name is Heiankyō and dates back to 794.  This region is considered to be the cradle of Japanese civilization since it has been in existence for thousands of years.  Historically, it was known as Yamato-no-kuni or Yamato Province.  Many early Japanese emperors built their palaces in this prefecture.  In 1720 Heijō-kyō (Nara City) became Japan’s first permanent capital.  Today it has a population of 1.3 million people and a land mass of 3,691 km2.  It is bordered by Kyōto, Ōsaka, Wakayama, and Mie Prefectures.  There are three World Heritage sites in Nara.  The warmest month is August with an average maximum temperature of 92°F, and the coldest month is January with an average maximum temperature of 49°F.   Nara is famous for:  Tōdau-ji – Buddhist temple complex with a 500-ton, 16-meter high, bronze statue of Buddha (Nara Daibutsu), largest Buddha statue in the world; The Tōdau-ji bronze statue of Buddha  housed in the largest wooden building in the world; Isui-en Garden; Naramachi – Edo Period merchant quarter of shops, homes, cafes and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns); Traditional Rice Porridge; Nara Green Tea Rice; Persimmon Leaf Sushi / Magnolia Leaf Sushi; Mehari Rice Balls; Somen Noodles / Boiled Noodles; and Vinegar Persimmon.

Ōsaka (大阪, Ōsaka) Ōsaka Prefecture is located in the Kansai region on the main Island of Honshū.  Three sides of Ōsaka Prefecture are surrounded by mountains, and the western area faces the arc-shaped Ōsaka Bay.  Ōsaka means:  large hill or large slope.  Its historical name is Naniwa.  Ōsaka’s best-known historical site is the 16th century Ōsaka Castle in Chūō-ku.   It is Ōsaka Prefecture’s first World Heritage Site.  Hokoku Shrine is located in the Ōsaka Castle Park and is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms in the springtime.  Ōsaka’s average winter temperature is 40º F, and its average summer temperature is 80º F.  Ōsaka’s two most famous dishes are okonomiyai, a grilled batter containing cabbage, egg, pork or seafood; and, takoyaki, grilled octopus balls.  Another delicacy is a savory pancake-like food called negiyaki.  It is also famous for Bunraku – the old art of Japanese Puppet Theatre; Hospitality and friendliness of the people of Ōsaka; Fabulous animal prints worn by Ōsaka grandmas; Tigers Baseball; Ōsaka Tower; Amerikamura (liveliest nightlife in the Kansai area); Tempozan Ferris Wheel; and Fugu (blowfish).

Hyōgo Prefecture (兵庫県Hyōgo-kenHyōgo Prefecture is located in the Kansai region of Honshū Island that stretches from the Seto Island Sea to the Sea of Japan.  It has a population of 5,469,762 (2019) and comprises 8,400 km2.  Hyōgo Prefecture borders Kyoto Prefecture to the east; Osaka Prefecture to the southeast; and Okayama Prefecture and Tottori Prefecture to the west. Hyōgo Prefecture has 134 kilometers of ski slopes and 81 ski lifts.  It is also known for onsen (natural hot springs that are fueled by volcanic activity), resorts and ryokan (traditional Japanese Inns).  Hyōgo’s coldest month is January with an average maximum temperature of 9°C (48°F), and its warmest month is August with an average temperature of 89°F.  Hyōgo Prefecture’s famous Himeji Castle dates back to 1333 and is the best surviving example of a hilltop Japanese castle.  The castle is known as Hakuro-jō (“White Egret Castle”) or Shirasagi-jō (“White Heron Castle”) because the exterior walls are a brilliant white and supposedly resemble a bird taking flight.  Hyōgo Prefecture is famous for:  Yukata – worn for use in onsen resorts or ryokan inns; Kobe beef – beef from the Tajima strain of Japanese black cattle that is only raised in the Hyōgo Prefecture; Nada district, Kobe – Japan’s top sake producing region; Nofukuji Temple – home to one of the three largest statues of Buddha in Japan; The Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge – the longest suspension bridge in the world, measuring  282.8 meters high and 3,911 meters long; Akashiyaki – a dumpling made with octopus;  and, Butaman – Steamed Pork Buns.

 Mie Prefecture (三重県, Mie-ken)  Mie Prefecture is located in the Kansai region in the middle of the Honshū Island Pacific coastline.  It has a population of 1.8 million people (2019) and has a geographic area of 5,774 km2.  The temperature is warm and temperate with a significant amount of yearly rain.   Its capital city is Tsu.  Human habitation dates back 10,000 in Mie.  It is home to Ise Shrine, Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine; the birthplace of the ancient poet Basho; and, free-diving pearl hunters.  It is famous for Matsusaka Beef, Yokkaichi Pork Steak, Tsu Gyoza and Akafuku Rice Cake .

 Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県, Shiga-ken) is a prefecture of Japan located in the Kansai region of Honshū. Shiga Prefecture has a population of 1,412,916 (1 October 2015) and has a geographic area of 4,017 km2.   Like Mie Prefecture, Shiga climate is warm and temperate with a significant amount of yearly rain.  Its capital city is Ōtsu.   It is famous for Omi beef, Ayu Sweetfish, and Red Konjac Jelly.  It is home to Hikolne Castle that was constructed by Ieyasu Tokugawa 400 years ago.         


The city of Iga in Mie Prefecture and the city of Koga (Koka) in Shiga Prefecture are known as the heartland of ninjutsu during the Sengoku  Period (1467-1568).  During this period ninja were known as “shinobi-no-mono” or simply “shinobi,” meaning those who act in stealth.  Ninja were assassins, experts in espionage and unconventional warfare, and did jobs that were considered too dishonorable for the elite samurai.  Mia Prefecture ninja were the Iga ninja, and the most famous of these ninja, was Hattori Hanzo who saved the life of Ieyasu Tokugawa.   Rivaling the Iga ninja were the Koga ninja in Shiga Prefecture.  They were experts in stealth and deception.  In 2018 Mia University began offering a two-year master’s degree in ninja studies, the first of its kind. The Koka Ninja Village contains displays of ninja artifacts as well as a ninja house with trap doors, false walls and hidden rooms.  The Ninjutsu Museum displays 1676 manuals from the Bansenshukai (Book of Ninja).

Wakayama  Prefecture ( 和歌山県)  Wakayama Prefecture is located in the Kansai region of Honshū.  It is located on the western coast of the Kii Peninsula on the Kii Channel, connecting the Pacific Ocean and Seto Inland Sea.  Wakayama Prefecture has a population of 944,320 and has a geographic area of 4,724 km2.  Wakayama City is its capital.  Wakayama Prefecture has a mild climate and a thriving fruit industry.  It is the leading producer of the juicy, sweet tangerine called mikan in Japan.  It is famous for Wakayama Castle, built in 1586 by Toyotomi Hidenaga.   Nachi Falls is the tallest falls in Japan and provide a beautiful backdrop for the magnificent Seigantoji Pagoda.  Mt. Koyasan is the heart of Shingon Buddhism introduced to Japan in 805 AD by Buddhist monk Kukai.  It is an excellent place for a temple stay with over half of the 100 temples on the streets of Mt. Koya offering this unique experience to pilgrims and visitors.  On November 21, 2021 the female giant panda baby, Fuhin, celebrated her first birthday at the Adventure Zoo in the city of Sharahama.  She is one of 7 giant pandas housed at this zoo.

Wakayama Prefecture is also famous for:  The Nachi-no-Ogi Festival where participants carrying large burning torches  from the path of the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine to the sacred waterfall to purify the route; Mikan mochi candy made out of steamed and peeled tangerines served on glutinous rice;  The birthplace of soy sauce in Japan;   Wakayama Chuka Soba (ramen) with pork or seafood; Kujira no tatsuta-age (deep fried whale meat; and, Kishu Plum Sauce for chicken skewers or beef steaks.