Japan Kansai Koyo (and Shikoku) self tour – Part 1 in Kansai
The lovely shades of yellow and red always keep me returning to Japan during the koyo season. Between Nov 21 to Dec 5, 2018, we returned to Kansai and Shikoku for the lovely autumn leaves and the serene sceneries of Skikoku. In Part 1 of my 2 parts post, I like to share our experiences touring in Kansai area covering major towns of Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, Okayama and Kurashiki. For our lovely experience in tranquil Shikoku, please refer to Part 2 of this series.
Our Key notes:
- self drive car needed to explore the more rural areas, or (hire a small van with local driver?)
- rent a small compact car (smallest or one or two models higher only- width no wider than say 1.7m; e.g. we rented a Toyota Vitz which is roomy for 2, OK for 4, boot can take 1 large and l small suitcase.). If youŕe offered a BMW or Mercedes premium car at the cheapest price, turn it down! Believe me, you don want it (not even a standard family car) as rural roads in Shinkoku (and in fact most of rural Japan) are narrow with frequent sharp bends and hairpins, and cars travelling in opposite direction may need to reverse into the nearest passing bays. Driving in Japan (English system, steer wheel on RHS) is otherwise straight-forward, and local drivers are very polite and tolerant.
- bring or get Japanese yens from local ATM (available in many local convenience stores such as 7-11, Lawson), use cash, much easier as there are still many places (other than hotels and their restaurants) that only accept cash.
- most local folks cannot communicate in any languages other than Japanese. Large hotels and tourist restaurants may have one or two who speaks a few broken English phrases, try Putonghua instead, there may be a higher chance that there may be a couple of staff who speaks PTH. But we could get by adding gestures, and some broken phrases.
- If you understand English, you can pronounce the place names, etc and the locals should understand. If you know Chinese characters, then you should understand at least some 80% of the meaning.
- If you book Air BnB or BnB, note the check in time. If you find a good deal with check in time after 7PM (some 11PM), then theyŕe most likely love hotels which operate as hour-rentals and hence want to maximize their patronage during the day. They are of great value, clean and efficient, but you should know what youŕe booking into for the night.
- An accommodation which says they have private bath and does not mention a private toilet specifically often means your room only has a bathroom, but no toilet!- Yes, this is not uncommon.
- See my reviews of the sights, etc in Google Maps
Our itinerary (2018)
Nov 21 – Takamatsu, fast trains to Kyoto, night koyo at Umekoji Park. Airbnb stay at Kyoto near Enmachi train station.
Nov 22 – Kyoto visit Ryoan Temple and Jokoaji, stay at Kyoto
Nov 23 – Train to Osaka, tour Castle, Airbnb stay at Osaka
Nov 24 – train to Himeji, tour Castle and adjacent lovely garden, stay at 100 year+ traditional Airbnb house
Nov 25- train to Kurashiki, tour historic town and art gallery, then evening train to Takamatsu, stay at Takamatsu (near Kawaramachi Train station)
Mode of Transport – 5 days in Kansai via Kansai Wide Area JR Pass.
Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, Okayama, Kurashiki, Takamatsu
The Kansai Wide Area JR Pass is of excellent value considering that it covers most trains including the fast bullet trains (apart from a few such as the Shinkensen Takamatsu to Tokyo), You can still ride up to ShinOsaka, then change to the non-Shinkensen trains to Kyoto. Within Kyoto and Osaka, you can still ride free on the JR trains; however such may not be most efficient as the local trains/subways sometimes can be much faster and more direct. We traveled a round loop from Takamatsu to Kyoto and then back, stopping at Osaka, Himeji, Kurashiki, and reckoned that we save some 40,000 yens each in train tickets. But a better plan would be to fly in to Kansai airport, and leave from Takamatsu.
In Kyoto, we loved the´fifty’ shades of red in the Jokokaji Temple 常寂光寺 (in Arashiyama area) during the day, and the amazing reflections of koyo in the night at Umekoji Park 梅小路公園 (just 15 min walk from Kyoto Station) which we reckoned are the best (and we have been to Kyoto for quite a few times for koyo). Note that most koyo sights would vacate visitors around 5:30PM or so, such that the night session would start needing new tickets. Kyoto is always our favorite town for koyo and temples, in our previous trips, we ride the small train in Arashiyama which was amazing too, other sites for lovely koyo we love too (from previous visits) surely include Byodoin-平等院, Tofuku-ji , Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kinkaku-ji (in that order).
In Osaka, there wasn´t much to see for us (although youngsters would favor the Universal Studio, etc), but we always return to the Osaka Castle for a leisure walk which is always nice and welcoming right when leaving the train station- allow a couple of hours to enjoy the long but easy walk to the Castle, we didn’t enter the Castle this time. We also love a fantastic Okinomiyaki place (Okonomiyaki Chitose-ちとせ) for a full satisfying meal of great value. But prepare to wait for around 20 minutes at least.
Himeji- 姫路 is a lovely town which has not got the hustles and buzz like Osaka and Kyoto, the famous castle is a must if you have not been there. But my favorite is the garden ground (Ho gu Yuen) next to the Castle which has an amazing water feature surrounded by trees of various shades of red and yellow, there are also several other excellently designed small gardens and provide lovely photo opps both day and night when lit up.
Kurashki- 倉敷 (near Okayama) is quaint historic town with a river where you can ride (punting in) a long boat, there is also a a very nice art gallery with lovely collections including good works by Impressionists. Kids and those lovers of little animals (like us) would also enjoy visiting the little places with doggies, cats, and owls, where you can pet them and take photos with them.
Credit and Sources
Contributions by Calvin Lam. (2018). Contributions by Calvin Lam. Retrieved 6 December 2018, from https://email@example.com,2.6892544,3z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m3!8m2!3m1!1e1?hl=en-JP
Google search and google maps