For some people, getting completely lost is the best way to find themselves. For a traveller, getting completely lost is the best way to explore an area.
Most people would prefer to travel on a tight schedule or well-arranged itinerary. However, doing some unintended journey will be good as well if you want to get difference taste of experience.
When travelling to Kansai, Japan, there are some travelling options you can choose. Range from temples and ancient buildings to modern port and vibrant nightlife, Kansai offers you various attractions. Either on itinerary or just hitting the road, Kansai will never fail you as a traveller.Kansai covers famous areas in Japan such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara and so on. Also known as Kinki which literally means “near the capital”, Kansai is claimed as the heart of Japan.
Amidst the autumn
One of the best times to enjoy Kansai is during the autumn season on October to December. Autumn in Kansai is well known for its momiji, the Japanese maple trees that their leaves turn into red in autumn. Momiji can be found in the hill and other mountainous areas. However, in some parks in Japan, you can also find momiji, cheery trees and ginkgo trees with their beautiful yellow or red leaves.
One area in Kansai that full of momiji during autumn is Arashiyama. Arashiyama is located in the far west of Kyoto. You can reach this place by using Hankyu Railway Line from Umeda station in Osaka. Do not forget to use special tourist pass, which is cheaper than normal tickets. The Hankyu tourist pass will only cost you 700 yen ($7) a day and it gives you unlimited ride on all Hankyu Line trains (except Kobe Rapid Transit) in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe.
Not only momiji, Arashiyama also has the bamboo grove with its towering stalks that gives you feeling like being in another world. There are also some temples scattered in this place. This is why Arashiyama is said as a nationally designated historic site and place of scenic beauty.
Another spot to enjoy the autumn season is in the area of Kyoto’s Emperial Palace. There is an enormous park surrounding the palace, which is also full of autumn ambiance.
Street food adventure
No matter what the season is, go on a street food adventure when you are in Kansai. Treat yourself with Takoyaki (a snack ball filled with tako or octopus), Dorayaki (a two layer cake filled with red bean paste), Matcha (green tea) Ice Cream, Okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients), Tempura (deep-fried snacks) and other street foods. These snacks are very popular in Kansai. Even some of them, like takoyaki and okonomiyaki, are first popularized in Osaka.
You can easily find those street foods in the food stalls around Shinsaibashi and Dotomburi areas in Osaka. Dotomburi is also the birthplace of the gourmet culture known as “kuidaore” (eat till you drop) so this is the right place for a street food adventure.
The prices for street foods are varied. Normally they cost you around 200-400 yen ($2-4) each. Some of the food stalls are quite popular so many people are queuing for them. However, the taste of street foods in Kansai is relatively similar from one food stall to another. Do not bother to line up for the so-called famous food stall. Just go grab takoyaki or tempura in any food stall and you will not regret it.
There are no better ways to enjoy the street foods other than eating them by the river or along the way you are going. Even though they are street foods, they taste heavenly especially for seafood lover. As for the matcha ice cream, it will give you another hint of ice cream. You can also mix it with vanilla flavor if you like. The combination of matcha and vanilla will make you craving for another one in every bite.
Memoir of Geisha
Another attraction you cannot miss while in Kansai is Gion. This place is famous as the district of geisha or geiko in local term, which essentially means “a woman of art”. In Japanese culture, geisha is traditional female Japanese entertainers who are very skillful at various Japanese arts including classic music and dance.
The geisha performance is very expensive and only available for regular customers of an ochaya (teahouse). If you are a new costumer, you will need to be introduced by an existing customer. It is also quite hard to catch a glimpse of a geisha since they work at night (around 10pm). However, you will still able to meet fascinating people who dress in kimono or yukata (summer kimono) in Gion. Even if you are interested, you can rent a kimono or yukata and get your pictures taken by professional photographer. This will be a super nice souvenir when you back home.
If you are really keen on seeing a geisha performance, go to the Gion corner where they play a shorter version of Japanese traditional performing arts. You can also test your luck by walking around Gion and wishing to see a gorgeous geisha on their way to or from an engagement at an ochaya. However, if you are not that lucky, walking around Gion still give you a sensation like experiencing time travel because this district is full of ochaya and traditional Japanese buildings.
Do as the locals do
If you want to sightsee a little bit more, walking and cycling can be the other choices. Walking will give you more freedom to go to many places without hassle. All you need is just follow your intuition and go wherever you want to go. For cycling, bike rentals are available in almost every corner of train stations in Kansai. You can simply rent a bike in one bike rental and return it to the other branches once you have finished.
Some rentals require you to provide deposit, photo identification and the details of your accommodation. Rental fees range from 100 yen per hour and 700 yen for 24 hours. Helmet is not included in the rental fees because using helmet is optional so the rentals rarely provide helmets.
Walking and cycling are very popular in Kansai. Many locals travel around by foot or by bike. Bicycle lanes are also available throughout the area. If you would prefer these options, it is a good idea to download local applications for map and directions to help you since some of the road signs are in Japanese.
However, even if you are totally lost, you can ask the locals for some directions. Japanese are generally helpful though some of them may not speak English very well. They will be more than just happy to help you. So, do not be afraid to get lost and make the most of your stay in Kansai, Japan.
*another version of this article was published here Indonesia Travel Magazine