Japan. It's the kind of place that conjures up distinct images in your mind, even if you've never been. Whether the bright neon of Harajuku or the serene peak of Mt. Fuji or the various emojis that integrated Japanese culture into American mainstream.
Of course during my first visit to Japan, I saw neither. Instead, I went to Kansai, eating and shopping and exploring the picturesque cities in the region.
THE BUSTLING CITY
Osaka is known to be the foodie city of Japan (and some say, of the world). I like to think of it as the Los Angeles to Tokyo's New York City. Sure, it's not the prettiest city. But it more than compensates in the nonstop energy of the food scene and long stretches of shopping arcades that you can easily waste days in. It's easy to see why Osaka is a popular destination for tourists from neighboring Asian countries. It's like one big shopping mall. And in the middle of it all (kinda..the city is huge) is a 16th century seafoam green roofed castle.
THE PRESERVED TRADITION
Kyoto is the pretty one. As the saying goes, the people of Kyoto spend all their money on clothes and the people of Osaka spend all their money on food. Maybe not so surprising that it is where geisha culture originated. Kyoto is home of over 1600 temples, several of which are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is rooted in its history and has beautifully preserved the rich tradition to this day.
THE COMMERCIAL PORT CITY
If you've heard of Kobe (which I hadn't, prior to my trip) it's probably for the beef (Kobe beef is a premium delicacy known for the tender marbled meat). The 6th biggest city in Japan is also known for hot springs (Arima Onsen) as a relaxing getaway in the mountains. Kobe is very much a port city. It has a tradition of cosmopolitanism and today continues to be a center for international fashion and shopping. The most iconic landmark is the Kobe Port Tower: a red steel structure that lights up the waterfront at night.
For more information about my 2016 trip to Kansai, check out my blog post highlighting the trip.
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