How much do we know about Kansai (関西, the West District of Japan)? Many people know that it’s home to cities such as Osaka and Kyoto. But in Japan, it’s seen as a much more significant place.
Kansai is located on the west coast of Japan’s Honshu Island and has served as both the cultural and political center of Japan for thousands of years. Kinki (近畿) is the name of the capital, and the three major cities in that area – Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe – are referred to as “Keihanshin” (京阪神). The people of Kansai speak a distinct dialect. They are rational and display their deepest emotions openly, which is very different from the culture of the Kanto (関東) region. In Kanto, people are quite idealistic and place a lot of significance on appearances. So, the two cultures have a strong sense of rivalry between them.
Kansai lost its status as the capital of Japan after the capital was moved to Tokyo, located at the heart of Kanto, through the Meiji Restoration. But it is still ranked second in Japan in terms of population and wealth. And that’s not all. Thanks to its history and location, its inherently traditional cuisine is very attractive as a gourmet getaway, even within Japan. Kansai’s baseball and soccer teams are also very popular throughout the country. It has well maintained transportation systems and you can easily access all subways and bus lines (with the exception of the JR). Plus, if you use the Kansai Thru Pass, you can experience the different cities in the region.
A rich history, a distinct culture, tons of food and easy travel – doesn’t this just hype you up for an extraordinary travel experience?
Some know it very well, while others have no clue about Kansai’s charm. So, let’s pave the way for your journey to Japan.
Chapter 1. Osaka: The City of Baseball?
Osaka is the city that comes to mind for most people when they think about Kansai.
Osaka castle and Universal Studios are located in Osaka, so this may be the reason why. Plus, many people think of the food from Osaka, such as Japanese pizza (okonomiyaki). However, PATH suggests that you should experience Osaka’s baseball to truly understand Osaka.
You might ask, “Osaka? Baseball?” But don’t be confused. Japan actually has the second largest professional baseball league on the planet and the longest history of baseball in Asia. The people here are so in love with baseball that they can hardly talk about its history without mentioning the Koshien or Hanshin Tigers baseball teams’ stories.
If you love baseball just as much as they do, the next place for you to visit would be Kobe. As one of the cities located in the heart of Hyogo prefecture, Kobe is the home of the Hanshin Tigers, the team that Korean baseball player Seung-Hwan Oh is a part of.
If you’re looking forward to watching the next season of professional baseball in Korea, then travelling to Kansai as recommended in Chapter 1 is perfect for you.
PATH’s recommendations for travelling to Kansai
Kyocera Dome Osaka – Mizuno Osaka Headquarters – Osaka Castle – Dotonbori – Denden Town – Hap Five – Umeda Sky Building – Hanshin Koshien Baseball Stadium – Koshien Museum – Kitano Ijinkan-gai Street – Sannomiya – Kobe Port Tower
Tip: Baseball in Japan
Professional baseball in Japan is broken into two groups – Group 1 and Group 2 – where Group 1 consists of the Central League and Pacific League. The major teams in the Central League are the Yomiuri Giants from Tokyo and the Hanshin Tigers from Osaka. The major team in the Pacific League is the Orix Buffaloes. The community teams, high school teams and other forms of baseball that people enjoy are definitely appreciated.
The Progress of the Professional League Season
Central League >> Climax Series >> Japan Series
Kyocera Dome Osaka
Kyocera Dome Osaka, which opened in 1994, was originally called the “Osaka Dome”. After it was sold in 2006 by Kyocera Inc., it received the name that still has today. This UFO-shaped dome baseball stadium is symbolic of the city of Kansai. The stadium, which has a 40,000 person capacity during games, is the home of the Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes. The Orix Buffaloes were the team that Korea’s Dae-Ho Lee originally belonged to when he moved to Japan in 2012. The stadium is also popular for being the home of Japan’s hero Ichiro, before he moved to the Mariners in the United States. Another interesting characteristic you can see about the stadium is its height-adjusting capabilities. The way that sound carries in the stadium changes as the height of the stadium changes, so when there’s no baseball games the stadium is morphed into a stage for other events such as concerts.
Mizuno Osaka Headquarters
There is a major brand of sports equipment that’s being sold all over the world: that brand is Mizuno. Mizuno produces sporting goods for various types of sports including baseball, golf and football, but they specialise in baseball. A large number of professional league players in Japan use this brand. Mizuno is headquartered in Osaka, Chuo Borough, next to Yodobashi Station. The headquarters building consists of 9 floors and if you go to the 4th and 5th floors you’ll encounter the baseball supplies. There are baseball uniforms, shoes and other types of baseball equipment on the 4th floor, while the 5th floor mostly sells Mizuno gloves, which Mizuno proudly presents. There are so many gloves on the 5th floor that it’s certainly no exaggeration to say that the floor is entirely gloves. You can find a large variety of gloves, so be sure to set aside plenty of time to check out each and every one, and enjoy! Mizuno introduced its products to Korea in 2013 as the 4th largest retailer in Asia. There’s quite a difference in price between the products sold in Korea and those sold in Japan, and the headquarters has specific items that are only sold in Japan. So, if you’re a baseball fan then you should definitely consider shopping here.
From the headquarters, you can find lovely attractions in practically any direction; to the east, south and north. The next location is Hanshin Koshien Stadium. The stadium is located in the furthest western part of Osaka, so it’s practically the same as leaving Osaka. But before leaving Osaka’s central area, make sure that you visit all of its attractions.
Osaka Castle (大阪城)
Osaka Castle is one of the 3 most renowned castles in Japan. It was built in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who united Japan. Only 1/5 of the castle remains, but even that portion is outstanding. The Osaka City Museum, Toyokuni Shrine and the place where Doyotomi’s son Hideyori committed suicide by stabbing himself can all be found inside Osaka Castle. The most well-known structure is the 8-story tall Tenshukaku building. Tenshukaku (天守閣) is a symbolic piece of Osaka Castle’s architecture that also serves as a watch tower. Osaka Castle’s Tenshukaku is famous for its beautiful colours, with its white outer walls and light-green roofs. In the springtime, the cherry blossom leaves cover the castle like a blanket of pink. To fully experience this beautiful scene, we recommend going up the tower to view the scenery or traversing through the castle gardens.
(For an additional uploaded photo of Osaka Castle:
Main Street (道頓堀, Dotonbori)
There is a whole range of things to enjoy in Osaka’s southern district, from huge shopping centres to adorable Japanese souvenir shops and all varieties of food. Among them is Dotonbori’s widely renowned food alley. Here you can find takoyaki, okonomiyaki, ramen and Japanese deserts, all of which are said to originally come from Osaka. You’ll be able to experience the taste of Osaka that you’ve always dreamed of. Another Dotonbori landmark that you can’t afford to miss is Glico’s Running Man. This sign was originally installed back in 1935 by the Glico Company, which is headquartered in Osaka, and was set up in order to market their confectionary. It has been there for several decades and has now become a popular landmark in Osaka. You will always find people taking pictures in front of the sign while imitating the Running Man pose. It’s the best place to take a picture to prove that you travelled to Osaka.
A quick tip: Today’s Running Man was remodelled in 2014, which was actually the sixth time it’s been remodelled. Since the first day it was installed in 1935, the sign has been gradually updated in accordance with Japan’s economic development and generational changes. This sixth-generation Running Man is even more exciting, because the LED lighting allows various symbols of Japan to serve as the backdrop, such as Osaka Castle and Mount Fuji.
Denden-town’s massive electronics market makes it very similar to Korea’s Yongsan Electronics Market. Although well known for its electronics, other intriguing features for the area are the manga, anime and action figures which represent Japan’s “Otaku Culture”. Wherever you go, the streets will be lined with shops and you’ll feel as if you’re in a world of toys. This is what captivates travellers that visit the area. From bookstores that seem to carry every single manga in Japan, to Gundam models that look like they’re going to spring to life at any given moment, and charming action figures, Denden-town is so full of things to see that you’ll feel like a kid again.
You definitely can’t miss Umeda Station. This is where the JR and Hanshin rail lines run, which go throughout the whole of the Kwanseo region. Here you can also find the Hankyu rail line. All the trains depart from Umeda Station and travel to Kobe. Before you get on the train to leave Osaka, you have to check out the last of what Osaka has to offer. A special feature of the commercial complex Hep Five, which is located at Umeda Station, is the large red ferris wheel located on the rooftop of the shopping centre. When you enter the building, the first thing you’ll see is a huge red whale. From there, take the elevator to the seventh floor where you’ll be able to ride the ferris wheel. It takes roughly 15 minutes to go around once. Your view of the city, which changes according to how high you are on the wheel, makes for the perfect experience. What makes for an even more entertaining experience is the fact that there’s a speaker installed in each car of the ferris wheel. If you connect your phone to the speaker, you’ll be able to listen to music as you enjoy the Osaka scenery. Experience the magical moment of feeling like the city is so close that you can actually touch it by just reaching your hand out, just like a scene from a film.
Umeda Sky Building
If you want to experience a full 360 degree view of Osaka’s landscape and feel the breeze then follow us to Umeda Sky Building’s floating garden. The floating garden, which appears to have been placed in between two 40-story buildings, is popular because you can feel the cool wind and see all of Osaka with just your two eyes. The buildings that stand on either side of the floating garden are 170 metres tall. The way to the top is nothing short of amazing. You’ll take an elevator all the way up that actually goes through a hole in the middle of the floating garden. Here, you’ll be the dizziest you’ll ever be on your Osaka travels. During the day if the weather permits you can see all the way to Awazishima with the naked eye. It’s also a place that many people adore because of the glamorous night views of Osaka.
Hanshin Koshien Stadium (阪神甲子園球場)
This stadium was built in 1924 and is located on the road leading from Osaka to Kobe. The name “Koshien” is read as “Kapchawon” in Korean texts. The building was built in the year of the rat (“kapcha”), which is where its name comes from. Despite being built over 90 years ago, through consistent repair and maintenance it is still well-known today as a stadium in Japan. It is also the home stadium for Kansai’s Hanshin Tigers. In short, it is the like a shrine for Japan’s high school baseball leagues. The national high school baseball championships are held at this stadium each year, and they are loved by Japanese people as much as professional baseball is. The Hanshin Tigers even let high school students play their games in the stadium each year, in the spring and summer seasons ,during the high school championships. The Tigers even allowing the rising stars to play when the Tigers are playing away games, which serves as an example of how much Japanese people love baseball and how much they support high school baseball players.
If you would like to take a more in-depth look at Hanshin Koshien Stadium, then we recommend the stadium tour. The tour lasts roughly 50 minutes and allows you to see each and every corner of the stadium, something that’s difficult for regular visitors to experience. You can book your tour in advance on the Museum of Hanshin Koshien Stadium’s website or by phone. If tickets aren’t sold out then you may also purchase them on-site.
The Museum Of Hanshin Koshien Stadium (甲子圓 歷史館)
There is a baseball museum inside Hanshin Koshien Stadium called the “Museum of Hanshin Koshien Stadium”. While it is hard to see it as a typical baseball museum, if you’re a fan that wants to see the history of Japanese high school baseball and the Hanshin Tigers, one of Japan’s professional baseball teams with a deep history all the way from its inception to the current day, then it’s a must-see. Hanshin was originally named after its company’s name. The name “Hanshin” is a combination of the words “han” (“Osaka”) and “shin” (“Kobe”). The people of Kansai, especially those in Osaka, love the name. Seung-Hwan Oh from Korea also plays here. Be sure to check your schedule before you make your trip so that you can have an opportunity to see some fabulous athletes close-up.
While many people, even from Japan, think that Koshien Stadium is in Osaka, it’s actually geographically located inside the Hyogo prefecture. For that reason, it would be a loss to come all the way to Koshien and come face-to-face with Kobe without checking it out. Kobe, which is famous for its delicious beef and awesome harbour views, was ranked 9th among the spots in Japan that Japanese people want to travel to, according to a study conducted by Japan’s Arukikata website in 2012. Thanks to having been Japan’s representative international trade harbour in the past, this cultural mix of the exotic colours from the east and west would be a great place to end our Kansai trip.
Foreigner House Street (Kitano Ijinkan-gai, 北野異人館街)
When translated literally, Kitano Ijinkan-gai means “street filled with foreigners’ houses”. During the modern Meiji era when trade flourished, there were many foreigners passing through the Port of Kobe who settled down here, giving the area its name. The majority of the houses were built using Western architectural styles, so the architecture is very different to other areas in Japan. If you take a stroll between the charming and attractive buildings you may wonder whether you’re in Japan or in Europe. Each building has its own distinct features. Therefore, you can take pictures from anywhere and they will still come out looking gorgeous. If you want to take a peek at more houses then you can purchase a ticket for a tour showing various themes inside the structures, garnished in a French or British style.
Tip: Variety of Sakura (桜) Goods
Japan can be called, “The Country of Limited Editions,” because it regularly produces limited edition products on a seasonal basis. The cherry blossom is the most loved flower by Japanese and by travellers from all around the world. This is the reason why so many sakura goods are prepared for the spring season, when cherry blossoms flourish. We strongly recommend buying souvenirs since the sakura goods produced in the spring are so scarce. Starbucks’ sakura products are also popular and make great presents. The Starbucks on Foreigner House Street was built inside of a cultural building that has been remodelled, so if you come to Kobe then you certainly cannot leave without stopping by here. (The photo was added.)
The influence of Western culture didn’t stop at buildings – it also brought changes to Kobe cuisine. In terms of food, you must try out Kobe’s bakeries, which produce the best desserts in Japan. Along the street beside Sannomiya station, you can visit any café and experience some of the tastiest cakes and breads. We recommended the well-known “A La Campagne”, a tart made from seasonal fresh fruits.
Tip: Kobe Gyu
Japan also boasts of its Kobe Gyu, which is the name of the beef that has been selected as one of three official Japanese beefs. It is produced in the Hyogo prefecture and is only considered “Kobe Gyu” if the meat passes Tajima beef standards. Restaurants that sell Kobe Gyu post a separate sign to let people know that they carry it. (Kobe Gyu picture addition. Can you by chance include a separate picture of Kobe beef on a plate? ㅠㅠ)
Kobe Port Tower (神戸ポートタワー)
Another unique construction in Kobe is the slim-waisted Kobe Port Tower. The outside of the tower, which looks as if it’s wrapped with red string, stands out in comparison to other buildings in the area which don’t have any distinctive colours. As the world’s first pipe building, it stands 108 metres tall. It is also the ideal spot to experience night views of Kobe. One of the very unique things you can do here is attend an event that’s held in the observatory on the top floor and exhibits the seasonal changes in the constellations. Inside you can find a restaurant, shop and an observatory.
From baseball, to the Port of Kobe’s beautiful night sky, you have finally concluded your Chapter 1 Kansai trip. Though it is not the standard course to travel, you were able to experience a different side of Kansai. Next week in Chapter 2 we will take you to Kyoto and Nara under the theme of “Japanese history”. Kyoto carries some of Japan’s oldest cultural traditions, while Nara has traces of Korea’s Baekje Kingdom. PATH’s new travel to Kansai will continue… Next week, let’s begin the journey to Kyoto and Nara to search for the face of Japan’s past.
Kyocera Dome Osaka
550-0023 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Nishi-ku, Chiyozaki, 3 Chome−中２−1
541-0041 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Kitahama, 4
1-82 Koshiencho, Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture 663-8152
1-82 Koshiencho, Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture 663-8152
Osaka Castle (大阪城)
1-1 Osakajo, Chūō-ku, Osaka Prefecture 540-0002
South – Minami Station
5 Chome-1 Nanba, Chūō-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0076
North – Umeda Station
Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0001