Updated: January 16, 2020 (added: new eateries & sim card tip)
Updated: September 18, 2017 (added: “list of other places we’ve been”)
Updated: July 18, 2017 (added: more “things to do” and “places to eat”)
THINGS TO DO AND EAT IN KANSAI REGION:
I originally had most of these tips and eateries in the “Japan Guide” but I decided to separate the two regions we visited (Kantō and Kansai).
Continue reading and scroll down to the bottom of this post, to find the link to the Tokyo Guide. Or you can go to the “Destinations” tab above.
Here’s a few helpful tips and the places we went to in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe & Himeji:
(I will add more to this list periodically)
“Hyperdia” app – You can download it from the App Store or Google play store. It was a lifesaver when I needed to get from train station to train station.
Japan Rail Pass – Highly recommended if you plan on going across the country, and pays for itself when you take a round trip bullet train ride. It’s not necessary to buy a whole 14-day or 21-day pass, if you manage your time wisely. We only needed a 7-day pass even though our trip was longer than that. But, it also depends on how long your stay in Japan is and where you’re trying to go. You must order it within 3 months of your trip, not earlier! The voucher can be exchanged at a number of office locations, and you can even book your future bullet train rides there too. In the end, you can save lotsss if you plan on taking JR trains everywhere.
Pocket Wifi – You will need this, if you don’t plan on getting completely lost. Google Maps worked in most areas we were in, so we relied on pocket wifi for navigation. We purchased it along with our Japan Rail Pass and picked up the Pocket Wifi at the post office in the airport.
SIM Card – If you’d rather not carry a pocket wifi around, and don’t want the hassle of returning it at the end of your trip, a SIM card is another option! We opted for this during our last trip (Fall ’19). We ordered it online through the same website as the Japan Rail Pass, and had it shipped to us in the U.S. before our travel dates. When we got to the airport, all we needed to do was follow the instructions on the brochure that was sent along with it. Then, we were good to go! It was nice not having to rush and find a post office or kiosk, to return the pocket wifi. The SIM card is also available at any telecommunciations booth when you arrive at the airport!
Suica IC card – This is a pre-paid money card that’s used for getting around and shopping. Instead of buying a ticket at the vending machine every time, you can load this card and touch it to the ticket gate. The fare will automatically be deducted when you scan it again to leave. It can also be used for trains, subways, buses, and even to make purchases at some stores.
Things to do in Kansai Region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe & etc.):
Yamazaki Distillery Tour – 1000¥ (cash only and you pay when you get there)
This was one of the best distilleries that we’ve been to. The tasting at the end of the tour was set up so nicely and was very impressive! I highly recommend making a reservation ASAP, if it’s available because spots fill up quickly.
You can book directly here:
Dōtonbori – Japanese street food heaven
Cafe アウル / owl museum – This was one of our favorite things we did while we were in Kansai region. Here you can feed and play with real owls! This owl cafe/”museum” was in Nara, but you can find many others around Kansai and Tokyo!
Nara Park – Rain or shine, you can come here to feed the wild deer that roam throughout the city. We ended up going on our last day in Kansai, so it was wet and cold outside, but there were still plenty of deers roaming around. There are booths that sell crackers for you to feed them. Some will even bow for it!
Kuromon Ichiba Market – Seafood heaven! This area is known as “Gastronome” and “Osaka’s Kitchen” by the locals. You can find hundreds of stores and plenty of restaurants to dine at.
Himeji Castle – If you have the extra time, taking a bullet train ride from Osaka/Kyoto will take you about an hour and a half. Definitely try to go if you’re there during full bloom of cherry blossom season! I read that taking the tour inside wasn’t worth it because there were just multiple floors of empty rooms, so we explored the castle grounds outside instead. Along the way, you can also find many stores and vendors selling food and merchandise.
Fushimi Inari-taisha – A trip to this region wouldn’t be complete without taking a trip to the infamous shrines! Go early before it gets crowded with tourists.
Umeda Sky Building – If you want to see city views of Osaka, a trip to the observatory is where you need to go!
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – Famous for the endless trail of bamboo trees, this is also an obligatory place to go to. It’s best to go early here as well, because it tends to get crowded.
Other places we’ve been:
Places to eat in Kansai:
Ichiran Ramen in Osaka – It’s open 24 hours! You can also find this all around Tokyo.
Chao Chao Gyoza in Kyoto – best. gyoza. ever.
Ishida Steak in Kobe – Everyone here was amazing and so was the food! We were supposed to go to a different teppanyaki place for Kobe beef but ended up here. We didn’t have a reservation but they were able to squeeze us in as their last customers. The portions seem small in the pictures, but there’s several courses. You’ll definitely leave full and happy.
Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M – mMm Matsusaka beef! We decided on the Matsusaka beef dx platter and it did not disappoint! It comes with 6 different parts, along with a variety of grilled veggies. We went from the leanest cuts to the most marbled and had no regrets! Ours consisted of “ranichi” (thigh), one large sliced matsusaka, “haneshita” (loin / back), “maboroshi” (prime shoulder), “ohtoro karubi” (toro), and the best for last, “matsusaka marbled beef”. The matsusaka marbled beef sushi is another item on the menu you must try. Pair this all with a refreshing cup of Yamazaki highball and you got yourself the perfect meal!
You can find more locations and make reservations here:
Kichi Kichi in Kyoto – We felt like the omurice here was a little hype, but if you’ve never been, you should still try it at least once. The chef made it such a pleasant and fun experience. Be sure you book a reservation in advance!
You can book it directly here:
Nakatanidou Moji in Nara – If you’re heading to Nara Park, you can find this shop on the way. Here, you can watch them make fresh mochi! It’s a pretty intense and dramatic mochi pounding process.
Gindaco – My favorite takoyaki so far (we didn’t try many places). It’s crispy on the outside! If you prefer the soft, ooey gooey takoyaki, this isn’t the place. Gindaco can also be found in Tokyo.
Uncle Rikuro’s Cheesecake – If you’ve never had Japanese style cheesecakes before, it’s a must try! Uncle Rikuro’s is the softest, fluffiest, and bounciest cheesecake we’ve ever had. It’s semi-sweet and light, unlike the rich and dense cheesecakes we’re used to in America.
Coco Ichibanya – One of the most famous Japanese curry chains you can find. It’s located all over Japan, as well as many other countries. You can even get it in LA! We’re the type to still try it where it originated, just for comparison. Of course, original locations are always best! Customizable curry dishes that even let you select the heat/spice level. It’s a rich and savory dish, that will still leave you craving for more when you get back to the states.
Cremia – The best soft serve ice cream I’ve had in my entire life! It’s found everywhere in Japan, so definitely grab a cone if you spot it! It’s super silky and the cone is fantastic!
A Happy Pancake – If you’ve never tried Japanese pancakes before, you must try it at least once in your lifetime! The fluffy, jijggly, bites of clouds are delightful and definitely different than anything you’ve ever tried. Although the pancakes from here were nice, we agreed that the ones we tried at Gram Cafe were much better! We only tried the sweet ones here, and didn’t get to try the savory ones. Compared to Gram, these seemed a little more eggy in taste.
Onigiri Burger – We’ve had onigiri before, but as a sandwich? I don’t think we’ve ever had one before this! This was our first time and it was definitely tasty. We opted for the premium kobe beef burger and the fried large prawn with spam. The kobe beef was juicy, tender and sweet, and just melted in our mouths. The fried prawn was perfectly crispy and was juicy and sweet, as well. And the tartar sauce? So good! We’d definltey come back to try the other options.
Bake Cheesetart – We randomly came across this in one of the shopping centers, but it can be found all across Japan. What’s a cheesetart you ask? It’s basically a mini cheesecake, in a pastry tart crust. This creamy, cheesy filling inside of a buttery, flaky crust is surely something you shouldn’t miss! We enjoyed it both warm and freshly baked, as well as cold the following day.
Steak Otsuka – This restaurant has probably jumped up to one of our top favorite spots on our list! I planned to arrive as soon as they opened, so I could add our names to the queue. However, it took us a bit longer to arrive and we ended up on the second page of the wait list. No worries, it gave us plenty of time to explore the area, and we found a nice cafe nearby! We just had to make sure we made it back in time before they called our names, otherwise, we’d start right over at the bottom of the list. As you walk in, you can smell the aroma of the buttery A5 wagyu meat, as it sizzled on everyone’s hot plate. When our food came, we were so excited to finally dig in! We weren’t able to order the Murasawa Sirloin because only 80 beef cows are shipped annually, and they were sold out by this time of year. Instead, we ordered the other two A5 options, which were the Hirai Sirloin Steak and the Wagyu A5 Sirloin Steak, which was one step down. Both melted in your mouth, and left us speechless. Although both were divine, you can tell the difference between the two, and we’ll probably be sticking to the Hirai next time, unless the Murasawa is available. Definitely don’t miss this place! You won’t be disappointed.
Other places we’ve been:
Food: Ganko Tonkatsu とんかつ豬排店, Daily Yamazaki, Kushikatsu Daruma, Steak Otsuka, Coco Curry House, Ikinari Steak, Kuromon Ichiba Market, Coffee Shop Yamamoto, Kushikatsu Daruma,
Desserts: Gozasoro (red bean pastries), Mister Donut, Manneken (Belgian waffles), Kyozuan (upside down ice cream), Lord Stow’s Bakery (Portuguese egg tarts), Bake Cheese Tart, Yatsuhashi Cream Puff, Baskin Robbins (matcha tiramisu),
For more photos or places I haven’t listed, you can find it on IG under the hashtag #sherrytravelsjapan
You can find food and travel tips for Kanto Region (Tokyo, Kanagawa & etc) here.
Stay tuned and check back often for updates!