Kansai, Japan is a large region located on the western side of the main island of Honshu. It is also known as the Kinki District, which translates to "near the capital" due to the region covering the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto. Kansai has a wide variety of natural landscape and offers everything from tours of ancient castles to wild nights out on the town.
The climate throughout the region tends to be most comfortable in late spring and late fall when there tends to be less rain and temperatures stay in the mid to low 70's (Fahrenheit). Summers tend to be very hot and rainy, especially in June, and winters are fairly mild, but can get quite bitter.
With so many large and popular cities in the Kansai region, there are plenty of sights to see! In Kyoto, one of Japan's ancient capitals, you can explore the Imperial Palace and gardens. The gardens are at their best during cherry blossom season when everything seems to come to life. In Otsu, you can find Ishiyama-dera, a temple founded in 749 where Murasaki Shikibu wrote what is considered to be the world's first novel, the "Tale of Genji". For a more off the beaten track sight, head to Hikone to see the Hikone Castle who's castle tower is an official National Treasure.
The Kansai region has nine major cities, many of which are very well known, and all of them have their own unique sights. Hikone is a smaller city known for it's beautiful castle and gardens. It is a lesser known city and a good escape from the busier towns in the region. Himeji is another small city that is famous for it's incredible castle and is a popular filming location due to its Old-Japan look. In Ise, you'll find the Ise Shrine which is often considered the holiest Shinto shrine in Japan. Kobe is the landmark city of the famous Kobe beef and has been highly influenced by Western expats, which is evident in much of the architecture.
Kyoto is one of Japan's ancient capitals and UNESCO has named seventeen World Heritage Sites throughout the city. Nara is the even more ancient capital of Japan with impeccably preserved historical sites and incredible scenic views. Osaka is the major metropolis of Kansai and full of temples, scenic gardens, and a lot of fun nightlife. The city of Otsu is known for their famous Eight Views of Omi which have inspired countless poems and paintings. Finally, there is Takarazuka which is known primarily for their all female theater and home to the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum.
The Kansai region has a range of outdoor activities, from hiking Mount Koya to swimming in Lake Biwa. In Osaka, you'll find the ROR Comedy club which hosts weekly standup shows and is also home to Universal Studios Japan.
There are also plenty of annual festivals throughout the Kansai region, such as the Takarazuka Gala Fireworks Festival which is one of the oldest fireworks festivals in all of Japan. Nara hosts the Shuni-e, a Buddhist memorial service where priests run around carrying flaming torches, a tradition since 752 AD. And Kobe hoses the Kobe Luminarie, which is one of Japan's best light displays that also memorializes the lives lost in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.
Food and Dining
You'd be remiss to visit the Kansai region and not try Kobe beef! Though it will be a bit of a splurge, it is definitely worth trying this famous food in it's city of origin. The city of Kyoto is famous for their matcha (powdered green tea) that comes in all forms ranging from actual tea to matcha ice cream. The region is also famous for Omi beef, a 400-year-old tradition where the beef is fine, fatty, and melts in your mouth. Many cities have their own Omi beef specialists, in Hikone, you can find Omi at Sennari-tei.
Osaka is the place to go for nightlife, with plenty of bars and clubs that are frequented by both locals and tourists. Kyoto also has a wide range of bars, most of which cater to locals but gladly accommodate tourists. You'll also find that Kyoto has great sake, most of which comes from the Gekkeikan Brewery in Southern Kyoto.
This large region has plenty of Japan Rail stations as well as JR buses that run throughout the region. Most cities have public transport, making it easy and convenient to navigate no matter what city you are in. Although, you'll find most cities are small enough that you can walk or even bicycle your way around.
Looking for a hostel in Japan
? In search of a party in Tokyo
? Traveling alone to Osaka