15 Magical Faces of Japan’s Kansai Region After Sunset
The name Kansai (関西) often means different things to different people, even among the Japanese.
Geographically, it is the common name for Japan’s Kinki region (近畿) and consists of seven prefectures surrounding the immense Keihanshin (京阪神) metropolis. For tourists, the name typically represents the “must-do” cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, as well as one of Japan’s major points of entry, Kansai Airport.
In Japanese popular entertainment, particularly Anime, the name is frequently used to depict a certain stereotype—that of a loud, rough-speaking, food-loving, and often vivacious individual. This stereotype is many ways comical. It is also erroneous because it is actually the Japanese stereotype of Osaka residents. Kyoto folks would insist on having a word if you thought of them that way.
What I’m saying here is there’s no easy way to define the Kansai region simply because it is so many things at the same time. With regards to tourism, all that can be said is that Kansai is one of Japan’s most magical regions to have a holiday in. It is a harmonious gem containing everything Japan is beloved for, and one that glitters majestically after sunset.
1. The Celebrated
In 1935, the Japanese confectioner Glico erected a huge billboard in the heart of Osaka’s downtown Dotonbori District, and the rest is history. The immense display has since undergone many modifications and upgrades, with the latest edition utilizing LED animation. What has not changed is its status as the face of Osaka tourism. Every day, numerous tourists can still be seen enthusiastically snapping pictures in front of it.
2. The Outrageous
While animated or 3D signs are found throughout Japan, none are as outrageous or as eye-catching as the ones in Osaka. A major tourist attraction nowadays, particularly at Dotonbori and Shinsekai, these unbelievable signs also remind tourists that Osaka is celebrated as the gourmet capital of Japan. The city is the so-called kitchen of the nation.
3. The Majestic
Though it is a reconstruction of the original, few sights nowadays are as representative of Japan as majestic Osaka Castle, and when viewed under the evening sky, few sights express “Welcome to Japan!” as grandly as the beloved symbol.
4. The Delicious
Coming back to food, do you know that Osaka is the birthplace of several famous Japanese dishes? When visiting Osaka, it is considered a must to sample Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, and Kushiyaki. Osaka residents would consider it a tragedy if you did not do so.
5. The Solemn
As the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, Kyoto is a treasure trove of historical and cultural landmarks. Many of these are wonderfully illuminated in the night, making the ancient capital a paradise for nighttime photographers.
Twice a year, leading Kyoto tourist districts host Hanatouro (花灯路), during which major temples and shopping streets are atmospherically illuminated in the evening. If you’re looking for a brief time-traveling journey while in Japan, do not miss these festive light-ups. To complete the experience, consider dressing up in traditional Japanese wear too.
7. The Harmonious
Given its status as Kyoto’s most beloved and famous attraction, it is rare for Kyoto’s Kiyomizu Temple not to be full of visitors. Despite the crowds, one can still experience a certain serenity when gazing at the famed terrace, especially when it’s lit during festive seasons. The backdrop of modern Kyoto is also symbolic of what the Kansai region is—a land where the past and present co-exist harmoniously.
8. The Graceful
Elegance is synonymous with Kyoto. When there, you can get a taste of the city’s timeless beauty by attending Kyo Odori, or Kyoto dance. Most performances are scheduled in the daytime, but at Gion Corner, there are nightly performances of Kyoto dance and other Japanese traditional arts. Touristy as this might sound, the performance is often a must for first-time visitors to the ancient capital.
9. The Fantastical
Japan is renowned for its art-projection creativity and technology. During peak tourism seasons such as Hanami (the cherry-blossom festival) and autumn, it is common for leading companies to host fantastical night shows at renowned landmarks. These magical presentations transform such landmarks into totally new visiting experiences.
10. The Breathtaking
There are many spectacular festivals and celebrations in the Kansai region. Among these, the most thrilling and breathtaking is undoubtedly Nara’s Wakakusa Yamayaki. Translated literally as the mountain burning of Mount Wakakusa, the mountainside is set alight every fourth Saturday of January. Because of the size of the mountain and its elevation over Nara, the fiery spectacle can be seen from anywhere in Nara city.
11. The Futuristic
Like Tokyo, the Kansai region has its share of questionably designed modern structures. Fortunately, Kobe’s seaside Meriken Park isn’t one of them. While the mish-mash of post-modern structures there is still arguably weird, the area projects a certain futuristic feel. Depending on your mood, the area could be romantic, evocative, or even invigorating.
12. The Gleaming
Just as the Internet is fond of Top-10 listicles, Japan loves to rank its best attractions with a “Top-3” system. Among the most famous of these rankings is the top 3 nighttime panoramic views, one of which is conveniently located just outside of Central Kobe. On a clear evening, the sea of lights that is modern Kobe will take your breath away.
13. The Wonderland
Japanese theme parks can often be a travel nightmare, thanks to unbelievable crowds throughout the year. In the evening, though, following the departure of tour groups, even major parks like Universal Studios Japan feel far more serene and manageable. At the right spot, these make-believe lands can even deliver the illusion of a personal wonderland.
14. The Spectacular
Because of its location on the fringes of the Keihanshin Metropolis, it is sometimes forgotten that Hyogo Prefecture is also part of the Kansai region. The showpiece of Hyogo is undoubtedly immense Himeji Castle, the finest example of Japanese castle architecture and one of the nation’s most cherished historical treasures. With thousands of visitors flocking to it each day, it is sometimes also necessary to consider appreciating the castle under different circumstances, for example, during the late evening. While you wouldn’t be able to enter the castle grounds, the beauty of the White Egret under the silver moon would still leave you awe-struck and inspired. It is a sight one would remember for many years to come.
15. The Welcoming
To be clear, Kansai-region tourism isn’t all about mesmerizing night attractions. Daytime is equally fun! If you’re heading to Japan soon, are you already considering an extended stay here?
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© 2019 Kuan Leong Yong