15 Magical Faces of Japan’s Kansai Region After Sunset

Updated on May 3, 2019
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Yong is a Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. His visits now focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.

The magical nights of Japan’s Kansai region.
The magical nights of Japan’s Kansai region.

The name “Kansai region” (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 beloved and comical, but it is also largely erroneous because what’s shown is actually the Japanese stereotype of Osaka residents. Describe Kyoto folks that way, and rest assured, they would more than insist on having a word.

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 and diverse regions to have a holiday in, a harmonious gem home to everything Japan is beloved for. This gem is especially mesmerizing after sunset, when the cities of the region transforms into fascinating, mesmerizing photography wonderlands.

1. The Celebrated

The famous Glico Running Man of Osaka.
The famous Glico Running Man of Osaka.

In 1935, 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, but 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 the spirited champion.

2. The Outrageous

The Japanese God of Prosperity himself welcomes you to this restaurant, and the Kansai region.
The Japanese God of Prosperity himself welcomes you to this restaurant, and the Kansai region.

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

Nighttime Osaka Castle during Hanami i.e. Sakura-viewing season.
Nighttime Osaka Castle during Hanami i.e. Sakura-viewing season.

Though it is a reconstruction of the original, few sights nowadays are as representative of Japan as majestic Osaka Castle. When viewed under the evening sky, few sights express “Welcome to Japan!” as grandly as the beloved symbol too.

4. The Delicious

An Okonomiyaki with Takoyaki platter. (It’s a plastic food sample, of course)
An Okonomiyaki with Takoyaki platter. (It’s a plastic food sample, of course)

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

The Majestic Sanmon Gate of Chionin Temple in Kyoto.
The Majestic Sanmon Gate of Chionin Temple in Kyoto.

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 night photographers.

6.The Playful

Spring Hanatouro at Kyoto’s Higashiyama District
Spring Hanatouro at Kyoto’s Higashiyama District

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

Kiyomizu Temple terrace during early evening. One of the spectacular sights in the Kansai region.
Kiyomizu Temple terrace during early evening. One of the spectacular sights in the Kansai region.

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 harmoniously co-exist.

8. The Graceful

Kyoto Style traditional Japanese dance.
Kyoto Style traditional Japanese dance.

Elegance is synonymous with Kyoto, and when there, you can have 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

The Karamon Gate of Kyoto’s Nijo Castle during the 2018 Flowers illumination event.
The Karamon Gate of Kyoto’s Nijo Castle during the 2018 Flowers illumination event.

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 The Awe Inspiring

Nara’s Mount Wakakusa is set ablaze every fourth Saturday of January.
Nara’s Mount Wakakusa is set ablaze every fourth Saturday of January. | Source

There are many spectacular festivals and celebrations in the Kansai region. Among these, the most thrilling and awe inspiring 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

Late evening Kobe Meriken Park.
Late evening Kobe Meriken Park.

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 located there is still arguably weird, the area does projects a certain futuristic feel. Depending on your mood, the area could be romantic, evocative, or even invigorating.

12. The Gleaming

Evening view of Kobe Port from Mount Rokko.
Evening view of Kobe Port from Mount Rokko.

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

“Starlight hour” at Universal Studios Japan, Osaka.
“Starlight hour” at Universal Studios Japan, Osaka.

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

Spectacular Himeji Castle at midnight. The castle is also known as the White Egret.
Spectacular Himeji Castle at midnight. The castle is also known as the White Egret.

Because of its location on the fringes of the Keihanshin Metropolis, it is often 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 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 will still leave you awe-struck and inspired. It is a sight one would remember for many years to come.

15. The Welcoming

Osaka Winter Illumination 2018.
Osaka Winter Illumination 2018.

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?

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Kuan Leong Yong

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      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        8 months ago from Singapore

        You must! The interesting thing is, although they are just three hours apart by Bullet Train, Kyoto and Osaka are quite different from Tokyo. So I heard, Osaka and Tokyo makes it a point to be different.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        8 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        I have only been to Tokyo so I plan to visit Kyoto and Osaka next time I am in Japan.

      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        8 months ago from Singapore

        I still stay for a few days in Kansai whenever I'm in Japan. The region is so lively and full of things to do!

      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        8 months ago from Singapore

        I'm glad to do so. Thanks!

      • poppyr profile image

        Poppy 

        8 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

        What great photos! I love Kansai, the people there are so friendly and the food is amazing. It's a region everybody should visit at least once in their lives.

      • Elyn MacInnis profile image

        Elyn MacInnis 

        8 months ago from Shanghai, China

        There are so many things to see in Japan, and I love visiting there. You have given me some new ideas! Thanks!

      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        8 months ago from Singapore

        Hi Eurofie! Thanks for commenting. I'm thrilled you enjoyed this rewrite of mine.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        8 months ago from UK

        The illustrations accompanying this article are amazing. This is a really interesting and inspiring hub.

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