Let’s chase the cherry blossoms of Kansai! Kansai or Western Japan is an area that includes Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Mie. In spring, the region transforms into this beautiful destination filled with a sea of cherry blossom trees awash with all shades of pink. Besides cherry blossom viewing, our itinerary also included other attractions in each city we passed by. We skipped Kyoto for this trip, mainly because we’ve been there several times, but if you haven’t been to Kyoto, I strongly suggest you add it to your itinerary. Here’s how you can make the most of your Kansai Pass and save money on your travel budget. https://youtu.be/jG4XbmFMv0I Cherry Blossom Kansai Series:
• Kansai, Japan Itinerary! Exploring Osaka, Nara & Mie using the Kintetsu Railway Pass! • Visit The Best Cherry Blossom Spot in Japan! (Mt. Yoshino & Nara Park Itinerary) • Nabano No Sato: Flower Park and Winter Illumination Guide! Watch Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Sakura Season in Kansai (Vlog)
Day 1: OSAKA Accommodation: Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka (Freetime) Visit Osaka Castle & dinner at Dotunburi Day 2: NARA 8:45 Meet up at hotel lobby 9:05 Leave Osaka Uehonmachi (take the rapid express train) 9:40 Reach Kintetsu Nara Station VISIT: Nara Park, Todaiji temple, Kasuga Taisha (Kasuga Grand Shrine), Lunch 14:05 Leave Kintetsu Nara Station (take the express train) 15:26 Reach Yoshino Station VISIT: Yoshino Mountain Sakura, Dinner 18:34 Leave Yoshino Station (take the limited express train) 19:54 Reach Osaka Abenobashi Station Accommodation at Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka Day 3: MIE 10:20 Meet up at hotel lobby 10:43 Leave Osaka Uehonmachi Station (take the limited express train Shimakaze) Having Shimakaze bento in the train 12:31 Reach Toba Station VISIT: Toba Aquarium 14:50 Leave Toba Station (take the CAN Bus) 15:07 Reach Meotoiwa VISIT: Meotoiwa (rocks of the married couple) 16:46 Leave Meotoiwa (take the CAN Bus) 16:58 Reach Toba Bus Centre 17:10 Leave Toba Station (take the limited express train) 17:39 Reach Kashikojima, Dinner Accommodation at Prime Resort Kashikojima DAY 4: MIE 10:00 Meet up at the hotel lobby 10:15 Leave Kashikojima (take the normal train) 10:21 Reach Ugata Station VISIT: Yokoyama Observatory, Lunch 12:35 Leave Ugata Station (take the limited express train) 15:15 Reach Nagashima Station (take the Mie Kotsu Bus) 15:25 Reach Nabana No Sato VISIT: Nabana No Sato (sakura, tulip), Dinner 19:25 Leave Nabana No Sato (take the Mie Kotsu Bus) 19:35 Reach Nagashima Station 21:47 Reach Osaka Uehonmachi Station Accommodation at Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka DAY 5: OSAKA Flight back to Manila
DAY 1: EXPLORE OSAKA (Free time) From Kansai International Airport, we rode the Limousine Bus (Y1550) that took us directly to Kintetsu Uehommachi where our Hotel Sheraton Miyako is located. (It takes 50 minutes and arrives at the hotel entrance on 1F.)
Visiting Osaka would not be complete without a trip to Osaka Castle! Considered as one of the three best castles in Japan, the castle is one of the top spots for cherry blossom viewing! The Castle Park is a spacious ground surrounding the castle where you’ll find around 300 sakura trees!
We checked in at Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka which was conveniently just a stop from Osaka Castle and two stops from Dōtonbori by train. Nico and I chose to walk to the castle that’s just 25-minutes away as calculated by Google maps. Well, it turned out to be a very bad idea since it was a gloomy day, and a heavy downpour just came out of nowhere. But there was a bright side: the rain clouds disappeared, and we got this amazing photo of the castle with no one around. 🙂 The Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka is a world-famous high-class hotel that fuses Western-style comfort and Japanese-style tranquility. We stayed in this hotel mainly because of its location that offers easy access to Namba and Nara via its direct connection to the Kintetsu Osaka Uehonmachi station. We loved the very comfortable beds, and I could honestly say that it was hard to wake up for our early call time the next day. 🙁 Sheraton Miyako is one place where you can enjoy a luxurious breakfast buffet in Osaka. The complimentary breakfast in ‘eu’ was a treat! It offered a mix of Western and Japanese cuisines that was perfect for our group since I preferred eating Japanese-style dishes while Nico filled his plate mostly with Western breakfast items. You can also opt to eat at the Japanese Restaurant ‘Uemachi’ for a traditional Japanese breakfast experience consisting of grilled salmon, miso soup, rice and vegetables dishes. SHERATON MIYAKO OSAKA 〒 543-0001 6-1-55 Uehonmachi, Tennoji-ku, Osaka website: www.miyakohotels.ne.jp
Day 2: NARA DEER PARK & TODAI-JI TEMPLE How To Get There: 35 minutes from the Osaka-Uehommachi to Kintetsu Nara. (Y560/person) Note: I prefer using the Kintetsu line because it’ll just take a quick 5-minute walk to reach the park. Free if you use your Kintetsu Rail Pass. (Online Purchase: www.kintetsu.affiliates.veltra.com) Meet the Sacred Deer of Nara Park! It’s enchanting to visit Nara in spring. With the cherry blossoms plus the deers roaming around, it almost feels like a fairytale! Many people visit Nara for the lovable bowing deers that wander freely in the park, alongside the shrines, temples and ruins that are collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The deers here are sacred animals believed to be messengers of the Shinto Gods. They are so used to being fed that once you hold a cracker in your hand, the deers will automatically bow their head! Sugoi! But don’t be surprised when a feeding frenzy happens, and all the deers flock to you! It’s not uncommon for a deer to chase and bump you when it gets frustrated when it doesn’t get fed. There are numerous vendors throughout the park that sell deer cracker for ¥150. When they hear the word Nara, most visitors think of the deer roaming in Nara Park. But Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Nara National Museum and the Shosoin are all located inside the park. Among the temples in Nara, it is the 8th century Todai-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is the most popular attraction. It houses the massive bronze sitting Buddha statue that weighs 500 tons! There are so many shrines in Nara Park it will take up your whole day to visit all of them. In our case, we had to cut it short so we could still go to Mt. Yoshino. Read more: Visit The Best Cherry Blossom Spot in Japan! (Mt. Yoshino & Nara Park Itinerary)
Day 2: EDOGAWA NARAMACHI (LUNCH) Premium Japanese beef Sukiyaki Set Meal (￥4500): Japanese beef Sukiyaki, Salmon Sashimi, Assorted Tepura, Side Disg, Eel rice box (2 slices) For lunch, we went to Edogawa Naramachi that’s just a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. Edogawa, a chain restaurant specializing in unagi or freshwater eel, is located in a 150-year-old traditional Japanese house with a view of a beautiful garden. To prepare the eel, they cut an opening along the back, grill, steam then grill again, making the eel very fluffy. Edogawa Naramachi 43 Shimomikadochō, Nara-shi, Nara-ken 630-8365, Japan Opening Hours: 11:00-21:30
Day 2: MT. YOSHINO HOW TO GET THERE: NARA -> MT. YOSHINO 1 hour and 39 minutes from Kintetsu-Nara to Yoshino. (Y850) Note: There are two transfers between Nara and Yoshino Station. Free if you use your Kintetsu Rail Pass. (Online Purchase: www.kintetsu.affiliates.veltra.com) Mt. Yoshino—Japan’s best Cherry blossom spot? If you want to chase sakura wonderland, be ready to leave the crowded cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Mount Yoshino in the Nara prefecture has been Japan’s most famous cherry blossom spot. About 1,300 years ago, 30,000 cherry blossom trees of different varieties were planted alongside the slope of the mountain, creating this beautiful pink sea of flowers. We found out that Mt. Yoshino, surprisingly, has the oldest cable car in Japan. Although walking is more preferable to take in the sights, I suggest you do both! It was raining when we visited, so we opted to ride the cable car instead. (Cable car ¥450) The site has four sections with the lower levels blooming first and the upper levels blooming last because of the cooler temperature. The whole mountain is a World Heritage Site complete with cafes and souvenir shops that offer pink-themed cherry blossom snacks with drinks and a gorgeous window view of the valley to boot. The snacks are a bit pricey though at ¥600+, but how can you argue with a view like this? Besides the cherry blossoms, you can also visit Kinpusenji Temple and other shrines along the pathway. The Kinpusenji is the main branch of Shugendo, a religion that worships the mountains and combines both Shinto and Buddhism practices. The 1,300-year-old temple, claiming to be the second largest wooden structure in Japan next to Nara’s Todaiji Temple, is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can enjoy being surrounded by the pink and white scenery and revel in the cultural and spiritual significance of the area. When To Visit: The best time to visit is in late March until mid-April. Make sure to check the sakura forecast because blooming time varies each year depending on the weather. Aside from the cherry blossom season, another best time to visit is during fall—with the breathtaking colourful autumn foliage—when the leaves begin to turn crimson and yellow. Mt. Yoshino–The World Heritage National Park 2430 Yoshinoyama Yoshino-cho Yoshino-gun Nara-Pref JAPAN 639-3115 landline: 0746-32-1007 website: www.yoshinoyama-sakura.jp
DAY 3: SHIMAKAZE TRAIN RIDE This is Japan’s #1 Train that everyone dreams of riding! All aboard the luxurious Sightseeing Limited Express Shimakaze heading from Osaka to Mie (Ise-Shima)! Fun Fact: Did you know that the Shimakaze limited express seats on the VIP section cost 1M Yen to make? This feels like the business class of train rides! Each seat is made of genuine leather complete with electrical reclining buttons, massage chair features, inflatable cushions and ample leg room. The comfortable seats virtually enveloped us in complete ease. No wonder it’s regarded as the best train ride in Japan! The otaku in me got even more excited when we ordered the bento box from the train’s cafe! OMG, it feels like I’m in an Anime! The train also features luggage lockers, private cabins, cafes and food and beverage service where you can get snacks, coffee and beer! Premium Express Shimakaze website: www.kintetsu.co.jp/foreign/english/shimakaze/
Day 3: TOBA AQUARIUM (MIE) How To Get There: 1 hour and 48 minutes from Osaka-Uehonmmachi to Toba. (Total fare Y4680/person) The Regular fare is free if you use your Kintetsu Rail Pass, but you need to add an additional Y2,640 for the Limited Express Fare. (Online Purchase: www.kintetsu.affiliates.veltra.com) For the kids or kids at heart, why not visit one of Japan’s largest aquariums? Toba Aquarium boasts the greatest number of species being bred in Japan, with approximately 1,200 sea creatures divided in 12 zones depending on their species and habitat. You can also find Japan’s only dugong (sea cow) donated by the Philippines! The aquarium hosts hourly feeding sessions and animal shows! Some of the most spectacular shows and exhibits we loved were the sea lion show and the sea otters feeding session. TOBA AQUARIUM Toba City, Mie-Prefecture 517-8517, Japan website: www.aquarium.co.jp/en/ As if we haven’t seen enough cherry blossoms already! We took a quick side trip to Shiroyama Park that’s just a 5-minute walk away from the Toba Aquarium. We were lucky to find a quiet spot overlooking the harbor, with only a few locals around. This was my favorite spot by the stairs. Kawaii!
Day 3: MEOTOIWA (MIE) How To Get There: The Regular fare and the bus fare is also free from Toba Aquarium to Meotoiwa if you use your Kintetsu Rail Pass. The mystical Meotoiwa located in the Mie Prefecture is where couples visit to pray for a happy marriage. The name Meotoiwa is roughly translated as meoto meaning “married couple” plus iwa meaning “rocks.” The rock that is 9m tall is considered to be the husband, and the 4m tall rock is the wife. They are connected by a thick rope that weighs nearly a ton. This connection symbolizes a holy union that created the spirits of the world in the Shinto faith. Due to the strong waves, the rope’s condition deteriorates. It is replaced once a year during a special matsuri festival. Meoto Iwa is also near the Futami Okiyama Shrine in which frogs are an important symbol. So apart from the strong waves, visitors are also surrounded by these curious looking statues. Meotoiwa 伊勢市二見町江 二見興玉神社内 website: www.kankomie.or.jp Entrance: Free
Day 4: MIYAKO RESORT SHIMA BAYSIDE TERRACE How To Get There: 29 minutes from Toba to Kashikojima. (Total fare Y980/person) The Regular fare is free if you use your Kintetsu Rail Pass, but you need to add an additional (Y510) for the Limited Express Fare. (Online Purchase: www.kintetsu.affiliates.veltra.com) MIYAKO RESORT SHIMA BAYSIDE TERRACE is one of the classy resorts located along the coast lines of Ago Bay. Besides it’s eye-catching Spanish-style architecture that stands out from the rest of Ise, the resort also offers private villas, pools and gorgeous panoramic views of Ago Bay. Nothing is more luxurious than a room with a view. Our western-style rooms played with the hues of grey, turquoise and yellow by echoing these throughout the interiors. Though the view was the star, you can’t help but relax in the interesting resort vibe. If you bought the package that includes complimentary dinner, you’ll find fresh seafood caught from the local seas as part of their scrumptious menu. Shima is known for its pearls and other treasures of the sea, including the famed Ise lobster (aka) Japanese Spiny Lobster. Because of the nutrient-rich Kuroshio Current that flows in the Shima coast, the Ise lobsters caught here are specially sought after for their rich flavor. Nico and I both had the grilled and sashimi lobster. The sashimi was such a treat! We especially loved the sweet and melt-in-your-mouth goodness. A must try! Oishi! With long antennaes, the Ise-ebi is regarded as a sign of longevity, making it a must have dish on most festive occasions in Japan. The complimentary dinner was part of our room package deal when we stayed at the Miyako Resort Shima Bayside Terrace. Breakfast was also something you can look forward to! The spread includes freshly squeezed juices, homemade jams, fresh salads and cold cuts that go along with their freshly baked breads. Hotel room rates start at $129 for one person. Miyako Resort Shima Bayside Terrace 3618-33, Ugata, Ago-cho, Shima City, Mie 517-0501 website: www.miyakohotels.ne.jp/bayside-terrace/english/
Day 4: YOKOYAMA OBSERVATORY (MIE) How To Get There: 5 minutes from Kashikojima to Ugata. (Total fare Y230/person) The Regular fare is free if you use your Kintetsu Rail Pass. (Online Purchase: www.kintetsu.affiliates.veltra.com) Yokoyama Observatory is a great place to take an easy hike with the perfect view of the iconic Ago Bay! The observatory offers a panorama of the peninsula from an altitude of 203m. The scenery, created by a rugged coastline and approximately 60 islands, is so spectacular that it has earned a star in Michelin Green Guide Japan. Doesn’t Ago Bay remind you of the Philippine islands? Better take a cab to reach the peak of Mt. Ise-Shima or opt to add a little exercise to your day by taking an easy 20-minute hike, perfect for anyone who wants to take in nature. Yokoyama Observatory 875-24 Ugata, Ago-cho, Shima City, Mie Prefecture website: www.kankomie.or.jp
Day 4: NABANO NO SATO (MIE) How To Get There: 2 hours and 3 minutes from Ugata to Kintetetsu Nagashima (Total fare Y230/person). Then take a 10-minute bus ride using the Mie Kotsu Bus to Nabano no Sato. The Regular fare is free if you use your Kintetsu Rail Pass. Bus fare is also free from Kintetsu Nagashima to Nabana no Sato. (Online Purchase: www.kintetsu.affiliates.veltra.com) Japan has one of the most dazzling light displays, transforming their garden and cities into dazzling dreamlands adorned with thousands of colorful lights and larger-than-life cosmic illuminations. But did you know that a place near the city of Nagoya holds the biggest illumination display in all of Japan? Nabano No Sato is a botanical garden plus theme park located in the Mie Prefecture. People from all over the world flock to this garden to witness the variety of vegetation and the fields of gorgeous flowers! But what everybody’s excited about is when, come nighttime, the 8 million LED bulbs light up and transform the gardens into a twinkling wonderland complete with magical light tunnels and animated light shows. In the flower area, you can find cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, tulips, roses, azaleas and more. Lucky for us, we were just in time for the cherry blossom and tulip season! I was surprised by Nabano No Sato’s never-ending field of tulips. Go up the observatory, and you’ll find that the tulips are planted in an order forming several images. Did you find Mt. Fuji? The park grew busier with most of the people flocking directly to the light tunnel to the main illumination area first. (After watching the light show, we went back inside the tunnel to get a solo shot. My advice? Be patient for that perfect moment when no one is around.) The main attraction of the Nabana no Sato—the animated light show! The entire field was filled with lights and a large animated illumination wall that changed colors to show different moving scenes. A must watch…Sugoi! It’s a fantastic side trip from Nagoya or Osaka. The best time to visit is in spring where you can both enjoy the field of flowers and the winter illuminations at the same time! Nabano No Sato 駒江漆畑-270 長島町 Kuwana, Mie 511-1144, Japan Opening hours: 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM Website: www.nagashima-onsen.co.jp Read More: Nabano No Sato: Flower Park and Winter Illumination!
We grabbed the Kintetsu Rail Pass that allowed us to head easily to the best spots in Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Mie and Nagayo! Get unlimited rides on the Kintetsu Railway and Nara Kotsu Bus Lines within your selected time frame. You can choose from 1-day, 2-day or 5-day value tickets according to what’s best for your itinerary.
I heard it’s cheaper if you buy online outside of Japan. (Where to Buy: www.kintetsu.affiliates.veltra.com) Here’s a breakdown of our total spending:
• Kansai, Japan Itinerary! Exploring Osaka, Nara & Mie using the Kintetsu Railway Pass! • Visit The Best Cherry Blossom Spot in Japan! (Mt. Yoshino & Nara Park Itinerary) • Nabano No Sato: Flower Park and Winter Illumination Guide!
Live an Awesome Life, ABI of Team Our Awesome Planet Disclosure: We were media guests of Kintetsu. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights. P.S. Basically, all train rides are free except “limited express.” The bus fare is also free from Toba Aquarium to Meotoiwa, and Kintetsu Nagashima to Nabana no Sato.