If you haven’t been to Japan, you really should try to make a trip soon. Japan is an interesting country – so advanced yet retaining its age-old culture and tradition. There is always something for everyone – delicious food, shopping, history, nature… which makes it an ideal location for a family trip.
While Tokyo might be the first city to come to your mind, we’ll highly-recommend making a trip to the Kansai region for a family trip. Why? That’s because a short 1-week trip here means lots of things to see and do, and the short distance between these two cities means you do not have to come back twice to see them separately. It’ll also leave you with a comfortable pace to visit both cities without rushing.
Before you go
Being unable to speak Japanese can be a bit of a hassle when you are in Japan, and with their complicated train passes, you’ll want to check things out properly before you go. For a start, find out how to get from the airport to Osaka.
The Kansai airport is located some 40 km away from central Osaka. There are a number of trains to bring you to central Osaka. Obviously, you’ll want to find a train that can connect you to your hotel. You can find more information on the different types of train available here.
Another good thing about this itinerary is that there is no need to get the expensive JR pass. There are trains that can bring you to Kyoto, Osaka and Nara that are pretty straight-forward without it being too expensive.
Since Nara is relatively small, it can be a day-trip from either Kyoto or Osaka. If you prefer to take your time, you can also choose to stay one night there, but there really isn’t much to do there at night.
Depending on whether you are going to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka:
From Osaka – It takes less than an hour to travel from Osaka to Nara park, and the best one is probably via the Kintetsu Railway. You do not need a JR pass for this and you can walk from the Kintetsu-Nara station to Nara Park in about 15 minutes. You can find out more about the different trains and how much the tickets cost here.
From Kyoto – Similarly, you can take the Kintetsu Railway to Nara from Kyoto. The journey to Nara will take between 35-50 minutes depending on whether you hop on the limited express or rapid express train.
If you’re travelling with family, you’d save even more with a family plan. Our family plan covers you, your spouse and children together under an annual or single trip policy. You can include up to 4 children.
- What to do in Osaka.
Dotonburi is Osaka’s famous food district. It’s basically your answer to Taiwan’s night food market. You’ll get to try many of the famous Japanese cuisine, especially those that originate from Osaka. Have your fill of okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ramen and gyoza. Highly-recommended to have your dinner here!
Also, remember to take a picture of the iconic Glico man there!
2. Osaka Castle
An icon of Osaka, the castle is steeped in historic significance. The castle tower is surrounded by secondary citadels, gates, impressive stone walls and moats.
The entire Osaka Castle Park covers about two square kilometres with lots of greenery and is a popular spot to see sakura blooms. While you’d need to pay 600 yen to enter the castle, the surrounding park is free.
The closest JR station to Osaka Castle is Osakajokoen Station on the JR Loop Line.
3. Universal Studio Japan
For lovers of theme parks and fans of Harry Potter, the Universal Studios in Osaka is an attraction you shouldn’t miss! And as we all know about the long queues for tickets and rides, the best way to save time is to purchase your tickets online.
The theme park has nine zones and there are plenty of rides and attractions for kids as well as adults. These are:
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Highly recommended to spend a full day here.
You can buy your tickets online via Klook and it costs around $90.
4. Kuromon Ichiba Market
Japan is well-loved for its food market where you can find lots of fresh sashimi and seafood at great prices. In Osaka, the Kuromon Ichiba market is one that foodies should not miss. Some of the food you shouldn’t miss include preserved vegetables, takoyaki, grilled seafood, oden and sushi.
Take the Subway to Nippombashi Station, take Exit 2, and walk for about 2 minutes, veering to the left, and you’ll be at the market. It’s a day market so it’d be safe to go anytime between 9 am to 2 pm where most of the shops will be open.
For the shopaholics, don’t miss out shopping at Shinsaibashi and Tenjinbashi Suji in Osaka. While the former is more like our Orchard Road with mega malls and chain shops, the latter is a little like our Bugis Village equivalent. The 2.6-km line of small shops make up this roofed shopping street, and you’ll find all sorts of clothes, household items, souvenirs and knick-knacks. You will also find numerous movie theatres and game centres so it’ll keep the rest of your entourage busy while you shop.
- What to do in Nara
The star of the show is definitely the hundreds of deer waiting for you at Nara Park. There are street vendors all around the park selling “deer crackers” so get yourself a pack and have fun feeding them and taking pictures.
Of course, a walk around the parks also brings you to lovely peaceful temples and the impressive Todai-ji, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest wooden structure in the world and houses a huge bronze seated Buddha statue weighing 500 tonnes.
Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple was originally built in 778 and it’s one of the most popular tourist sights in Kyoto. The temple is known for the main hall with a large wooden terrace with a great overlook view of Kyoto city. All along the stairs going up to the temple, you’ll come across lots of lovely shops.
Be sure to take your time and enjoy the magnificent view at the temple. The temple charges at 400 yen entrance fee.
We’ve all seen photos of the Bamboo Grove in Kyoto. While it is touristy, it’s still a sight not to be missed. Don’t be fooled by the pictures though, it is so crowded! Go real early if you want to enjoy the place in peace.
Other than the Bamboo Grove, you can also walk across the Togetsukyo Bridge and visit the Tenryuji Temple which is in the same area.
Nearby, there’s also the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Here, you can find wild Japanese macaque monkeys swinging and moving freely.
One of the most fascinating landmarks of Japan is this golden temple in Kyoto “Kinkakuji. The temple is one of 17 locations of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and the temple displays astonishing scenery collaborating with the beautiful nature of Kyoto across each season.
4. Nishiki market
Nishiki Market is Kyoto’s largest traditional food market. The market looks pretty traditional and you’ll be able to find the main ingredients used in kyoto cuisine – Japanese pickles, fresh tofu, seafood, seaweed and tea.
5. Gion District
Walking in Gion feels like a step back in time…in a good way. The historic buildings, the red lanterns and the presence of geishas bring about a sense of serenity and authenticity in the area despite the presence of tourists. Highly recommended to go around evening time to walk around and eat in one of the many restaurants in the area.
6. Fushimi Inari Shrine
Any visit to Kyoto wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. A morning visit is best – there’s nothing like seeing rays of sunlight peak through the rows of torii gates.
So this marks the end of our suggested itinerary for the Kansai region of Japan! It’ll make for an unforgettable family trip with interesting sights for everyone. Our family plans caters for varying family units – not only do kids get covered for free under our family plans, a child is defined as one who is unemployed and between 15 days and 18 years old or unmarried and in full-time tertiary education and up to 24 years old. Remember to check out our travel insurance before you go to cover all your bases!