I admit – I was a Japan novice, we all were (except maybe my dad). We knew nothing, heard nothing about Kansai, and it was only when we booked our airline tickets that we started digging. All we knew is that this is the 'Land of the Rising Sun'.
Our trip was a mix of DIY and bookings made via VIATOR and GO VOYAGIN, both online aggregators for local tours and activities around the world. I chose a mix of group tours and private tours depending on which area interests the whole family.
IN THE KNOW
Before I go on describing what we did, it is best to understand first Japan, geographically and historically. This helps when planning where to go and what to do. The country has 47 prefectures and is divided into eight (8) regions: Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kinki, Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu-Okinawa. For our travel, we visited Kinki or Kansai Region located in the southern-central region of Japan’s main island Honshu. The region is composed of 7 prefectures namely: Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga.
When I did our travel plans, all I keyed in were best places to visit in Kansai and poof – tons of recommendations from the World Wide Web. But which one to choose? The answer depends on 3 things:
Weather – we traveled in July (2016) which meant hot, humid, and rainy outlook
Physical Capabilities - long walks are not ideal
Interests - cultural and historical + food
Given that we were travelling with my elderly parents and a toddler – walking for long hours didn’t sound appealing. Hiking was out of the question too, so were theme parks (aaaww). So I asked my parents what they would look forward to in our Japan visit. I also asked our daddy adventurer who was the birthday boy if he had special interests. We had 5 days on our hands, and here’s what we recommend for families travelling to Japan’s Kansai region.
Getting there, we travelled with Cebu Pacific Airlines via Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 and arrived at Kansai International Airport (KIX) in four (4) hours. Note that Osaka prefecture in Japan is one (1) hour ahead of Manila, Philippines.
OUR JAPAN ITINERARY
Day 0: Manila – Kansai (KIX)
3:00 pm Sayonara Manila
8:00 pm Arigato Kansai, Japan
Use Airport Express
Check in Airbnb at Taka's Room Airbnb Namba 1Min Designer Residence 801 (no longer available)
We recommend you to use Japan’s very efficient train systems as they are much cheaper than private car hires or taxis. My mother was initially hesitant, but she gave in given the P25,000 difference.
Day 1: Osaka (Pokemon Center, Osaka Castle, Cruise, Osaka Kaiyukan, Dotonburi)
Meet Yumi, our tour guide at Osaka Station which was a 7min walk from our Airbnb
9:00 am Go to Pokemon Center
10:00 am See the sea creatures at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
12:00 Lunch at Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho
2:00 pm Visit the Osaka Castle (our first Japanese temple, woohoo!)
4:00 pm Ride on Osaka Water Bus
5:30 pm Walk around Dotonburi, a famous shopping district filled with many restaurants
Have Dinner at Dotonburi
Stay in Namba, Osaka Airbnb
Day 2: Kyoto + Kobe (Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu Temple, Arashiyama Bamboo Garden) + (Arima Onsen, Kobe Beef Dinner)
Today, we’re having an early bird private tour c/o Niall to beat hordes of big bus tourists
7:00 am Start at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, thousands of red gates heading up to the hillside
8:00 am Head on to a Buddhist temple Kiyomizu-dera Temple
9:00 Take the train to see the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Garden
11:00 Have Lunch
Return to Namba, Osaka Airbnb
For the rest of the afternoon, we made our way to Kobe for the hot springs and its famous beef.
3:00 pm Head to Arima Onsen for a hot springs experience
5:00 pm Stroll along Kobe Esplanade
6:00 Have the famous (and expensive) Kobe Beef Dinner at Sakura
7:30 pm Return to Namba, Osaka Airbnb
Day 3: Kyoto + Nara (Nijo Castle, Kinka-kuji Temple, Golden Pavilion, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine) + (Todai-iji Temple, Nara Deer Park, Nara Nagomikan)
9:00 am Visit the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
10:00 am See how golden the Golden Pavillion is
11:00 am Go see the Todai-iji Temple
1:30 pm Bow with the deers at Nara Deer Park
3:30 pm Buy Japanese goodies at Nara Nagomikan
4:00 pm Visit the Kasuga Grand Shrine
In the evening, we witnessed the Gion Matsuri Festival which is one of Japan’s famous festivals that happens every July. Since the water procession was taking place in Dotonburi near our Airbnb, we made it a point to have dinner here to witness this festivity.
Day 4: Himeji (Himeji Castle, Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, Maiko Marine Promenade)
9:00 am Ride Shinkansen for the first time! Woohoo!
10:30 am Visit the White Heron castle called, Himeji Castle
2:00 pm Visit the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (partially damaged by Typhoon Jebi last 2018)
3:00 pm Stroll along Maiko Marine Promenade
Dinner nearby our Airbnb
Return to Namba, Osaka Airbnb
Day 5: Osaka Market, Cooking Lessons & Depart for Manila
6:00 am Early marketing of produce at Osaka Central Market
9:00 am Learn how to cook authentic Japanese food with Toki, our host (sushi, sashimi, wasabi making)
Rest and head back to Airbnb to get luggage
8:00 pm Depart Kansai going to Manila
AGUIVENTURE FAMILY TRAVEL TIPS
Due to the language barrier, we recommend downloading a translator app. But Japanese people are one of the kindest lots you will ever meet. They will go out of their way to help a person in need.
Download any Japanese train app for directions and schedules. We used Google Maps which showed directions and train schedules.
If wifi is important for you as food is, Ninja Wifi Rental is one of the most convenient pocket wifi we have used.
Japan is all about walking and trains. Be prepared for this and make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
If travelling with kids, I recommend having an umbrella type stroller with you. It’s a life saver!
Respect personal space in Japan. When on trains, never forget to give way to elderly, pregnant women and people with disabilities (this should apply to any country!)
When on escalators, stand on the left side and leave the right side clear for other people to go up or down.
Bring a light parka or umbrella if travelling to Japan in summer months. It sometimes drizzles here and there.
Packing light is the best – there’s always Uniqlo if you need additional clothes and it’s relatively cheap.
When in a restaurant, paying for the bill means you standing up and going to the cashier. It’s not customary for waiters to hand you the bill.
Kyoto is also home to Universal Studios Japan – but because my parents were not fans of theme parks, we deferred visiting. But if you have kids, I say go for it!
We LOVE LOVE LOVE Japan! There is something magical about Japan that makes us want to go back. Its people, its history and its culture - everything! It was also one of our challenging trips since three generations were travelling together. But with team work and proper planning, our Japan trip was one of the best ever. We hope to be back soon and hopefully visit Tokyo, Mt Fuji and Shirakawa-go.
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