Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Planning for your trip to Osaka Kyoto and Kobe in Japan

Planning your own trip to Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe could be quite rewarding because the Kansai area is of close proximity of three major cities in west Japan, Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. Kansai offers great experiences in modernity in Osaka, history in Kyoto, and exquisite cuisine in Kobe. While many visitors tend to have strong desires to stay within Kyoto due the vast number of shrines and temples, I will always recommend having a mixture of the Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe flavors to enrich your diverse Kansai experiences.
Bustling Osaka provides easy access to both Kyoto and Kobe

-To read about my recommendations of affordable and reasonable hotels in Osaka, visit: Osaka Reasonable Affordable Hotels
-To read about my recommendations of affordable and reasonable hotels in Tokyo, visit: Tokyo Affordable Cheap Reasonable Hotels
-To read about planning your trip in Tokyo, visit: Planning your trip to Tokyo Japan

How many days for Osaka Kyoto and Kobe
I would recommend a minimum of 4 to 5 days in the Kansai area; however, I would always recommend travelers to maximize their time in the Kansai area due to the shear volume of interesting sightseeing spots in the region. Consider planning 2 days in Kyoto, 1 day in Osaka, and 1 day in Kobe. I recommend staying at a hotel in Osaka because Osaka is in the center of the Kansai area. Train ride to Kobe and Kyoto will be about 20 to 30 minutes, costing only 400 to 600 yen.

Sightseeing Spots
Doutonbori; Tsutenkaku and Shinsekai; Osaka Castle; Tenma Shopping Arcade; Nipponbashi otaku street; Universal Studio Japan; Sumiyoshi Taisha; Umeda Sky Building; Tsurubashi Yakiniku street; Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum; Koshien Baseball Stadium
Kiyomizu dera; Golden Pavilion; Gion; Pontocho; Nijo Castle; Kyoto station; Arashiyama; Bamboo forest; Fushimi Inari; Yasaka Shrine; Ninenzaka; Nishiki market; Nanzenji; Kyoto Imperial Palace 
Sagano Scenic Railway near Kyoto Arashiyama

Kobe beef in Kobe; Kobe Nankinmachi Chinatown; Arima Onsen; Rokko Mountain Night View; Kobe Harbor; Kitano ijinkan; Tetsujin 28 statue; Ikuta Shrine; Kobe Port Tower; UCC Coffee Museum; Nada Sake Brewery District; Kobe Fruit Flower Park.

Planing process

Similar to how I recommend travelers to plan their trips to Tokyo, I would recommend travelers to divide their days from 8am to 10pm into 4 parts: Morning, Early afternoon, Evening, and Night time. Fit in the visits for temples, shrines, and castles for the morning and early afternoon. Schedule bustling areas such as shopping or night view spots in the Evening and Night time slots. Theme park like Universal Studio could take up the entire day; Day trip or overnight trip to Arima Onsen will also take up the entire day. Getting between sightseeing spots in Kyoto might be challenging and time consuming due to Kyoto's complicated bus transportation system. Side trip to Nara and Uji are also great options for traveler who are spending more than 5 days in the Kansai area. There are no rules on how people should plan their trip, having a schedule or itinerary is a good way to organize sightseeing spots of interest.

Sample Itinerary/Schedule
From 1 day, 3 day, 5 day Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe trip and beyond.

Day 1
Morning: Osaka Castle
Early Afternoon: Sumiyoshi Taisha
Evening: Doutobori Food Paradise
Night Time: Umeda Sky Building Night View
Osaka Castle

Day 2
Morning: Kyoto Kiyomizu Temple and Ninenzaka
Early Afternoon: Golden Pavillion
Evening: Gion Geisha Spotting
Night Time: Pontocho bar area
Kiyomizu Dera in Kyoto

Day 3
Morning: Kitano Ijinkan area
Early Afternoon: Nada Sake Brewery District
Evening: Kobe Beef in Kobe, Nankinmachi Chinatown, and Kobe Harbor area
Night Time: Kobe Rokkosan Night View
Kobe Port Tower

Day 4
Morning: Kyoto Fushimi Inari
Early Afternoon: Arashiyama area and Bamboo Forest
Evening: Nishiki Market
Night Time: Kyoto Tower
Thousands of Torii at Kyoto Fushimi Inari

Day 5
Morning: Osaka Kuromon Ichiba Morning Market
Early Afternoon: Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum
Evening: Tenma Shopping Arcade
Night Time: Tsutenkaku Tower and Shinsekai area
Bustling Food Paradise at Osaka Shinsekai Tsutenkaku Tennoji area

Experiences such as baseball game, cooking, tea ceremony and Kyoto kimono cosplay can be easily arranged by local tour companies such as Viator Tours. These specialty tours can easily take up half to full day.
Tourists transform themselves into Kimono ladies in Kyoto. Thanks to Kimono rental shops

Food in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe

Aside from numerous sushi and ramen shops, Osaka is known for its delicious Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, and Kushikatsu. While good restaurants are everywhere, Doutonbori is perhaps one of the best area for Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki; Shinsekai area is known for having high concentration of Kushikatsu restaurants.
Takoyaki from Doutonbori street food vendor

Okonomiyaki Japanese Assorted Pancake at Osaka Chibo franchise restaurant

Kushikatsu Deep Fried Goods in Osaka Shinsekai area. Never double dip!

Kyoto is known for its classy gourmet Tofu dishes and Kaiseki style meals. Arashiyama is an area with high concentration of gourmet Tofu restaurants. Gion area has high concentration of Kaiseki style restaurants.
Gourmet Tofu meal set in Kyoto

Aside from amazing Kobe Beef Teppanyaki experience, cheese cake and other western style pastry are also famous in Kobe area. 
Kobe Beef Teppanyaki in Kobe

Cheese cake at Kobe Kannoya main restaurant

Check Weather Forecast
Look up weather channel or other website for weather forecast of Kansai area a few days before you get to Osaka. Plan outdoor activities such as Osaka Castle, baseball game and Universal Studio on sunny days and plan indoor activities such as shopping on days when there is a high probability of raining.

Sample Itinerary from my own 14-day JR pass Trip
Consider looking at the Kansai portion of my 14 day itinerary (day 4 to Day 9); I stayed at a hotel in Osaka area and made day trips to many sightseeing spots in Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, and even Nagoya/Gifu.
Japan Rail Pass Route: The JR Pass Journey 2010
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