With its ancient castles and its flower-filled parks, Osaka is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan, but the surrounding Kansai region deserves your attention as well. Visit the historic sites in Kyoto or Kurashiki, learn about the tradition of making washi paper at the Echizen Washi Village, or pay a visit to the Itsukushima Shrine. If you want to relax, spend some time in the thermal springs of Arima Onsen Town or Kinosaki Onsen. Whether you're traveling by car or by bullet train, here are the best day trips you can take from Osaka. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Arima Onsen Town
Appearing in recorded history as long ago as 631 A.D., Arima Onsen Town is one of the oldest and most famous hot spring resort towns in Japan. There are several public baths to choose from, but all the bathhouses in town get their water from the same two sources: The mineral-rich Gold Spring and the clear but slightly radioactive Silver Spring, both of which are believed to have health benefits. The town also hosts many festivals throughout the year, and if you're lucky enough to be here while one is happening, you'll likely get to see a geisha performance.
Arimacho, Kita-ku, Kita, Kobe 651-1401, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, Phone: +81-78-9-04-07-08
Sitting in the Seto Inland Sea off the coast of Shikoku, Awaji Island is connected to the city of Kobe by a suspension bridge. Legend has it that it was the first Japanese island to be formed, and regardless of whether or not this is true, it's certainly a beautiful place that embodies many of the best things about Japan. It's long been an important agricultural center, and it's still known for being a foodie's paradise and for its colorful flowers that bloom year-round. Other attractions include the many hot springs, the beautiful beaches, and the massive vortex off its coast.
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3.Echizen Washi Village
Traditional Japanese washi paper has been an important part of the country's culture for more than 1,500 years, and the Echizen Washi Village is widely regarded as the tradition's spiritual home. The town's fascinating Paper and Culture Museum introduces visitors to the history of washi paper, while the Paper and Craft museum features a reconstructed papermaker's house from the Edo era, which is the only place in Japan where you can see the entire traditional process from start to finish. If you want a more hands-on experience, you can also visit the Papyrus House to make your own washi paper to bring home.
8-44 Shinzaike, Echizen City Fukui 9150232 Japan, Phone: +81-77-8-42-13-63
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Fukui is one of the least-visited cities in Japan, but those who make the effort to come here will be pleasantly surprised to find that it's a true hidden gem. Located on Honshu Island, it's surrounded by wonderful attractions like the ancient Maruoka Castle, the unique and breathtaking Tojinbo Cliffs, and the Eiheiji temple complex, an important center of Zen Buddhism. The area is also known for the incredible number of dinosaur fossils that have been found here, and if you're interested in this aspect of its history, the Dinosaur Museum is a must-see as well.
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Also known as the White Heron Castle, Himeji Castle is an elegant castle complex perched on top of a hill in the city of Himeji. The complex consists of more than 80 buildings connected by a network of meandering paths, and after paying the admission fee, visitors are welcome to climb up to the top of the six-story main keep, look out from the viewpoints on the top floor, and admire the beautiful Edo period-style gardens. The grounds are also a wonderful place to see cherry blossoms in early April, but be aware that there are often long line-ups during this time.
68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0012, Japan
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Hiroshima is known worldwide as the target of a tragic atomic bomb during World War II, and although it's not possible to visit the city without taking some time to reflect on its heartbreaking past, there are plenty of other things for visitors to see and do as well. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park certainly deserves a spot on your itinerary, but you can also visit the historic landscape garden Shukkei-en, stop by Hiroshima Castle, or marvel at the artwork in the Hiroshima Museum of Art. If you have some extra time, it's also worth heading out to Miyajima Island to see the Itsukushima Shrine.
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Created in 2004 by merging Ueno City with a few of the surrounding towns, the city of Iga is most famous for being one of the two major areas where ninjas were trained during the feudal area. Today, the biggest tourist attraction here is the Ninja Museum, which features both informative exhibits and live demonstrations. Other attractions worth seeing include the beautifully reconstructed Ueno Castle, the birthplace of the famous poet Matsuo Basho, and the Sukodo Former School, where the children of samurai were educated until the building was badly damaged by an earthquake until 1854.
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8.Ise Grand Shrine
Dating all the way back to the 3rd century, the Ise Grand Shrine is the most sacred Shinto Shrine in the country. Dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, it consists of two principal parts: The Naiku Inner Shrine and the Geku Outer Shrine. The architectural style of the buildings resembles the style used to construct ancient rice granaries, but both the inner and outer shrines are fairly new, as Shinto tradition requires that they be rebuilt from scratch every 20 years. Visitors are welcome on the grounds between sunrise and sunset, and small English guidebooks are available free of charge.
1 Ujitachicho, Ise, Mie 516-0023, Japan, Phone: +81-59-6-24-11-11
Fondly known as "Little Kyoto", the charming city of Kanazawa is known for its well-preserved Edo-era districts, its colorful silk and pottery, and its superb art museums. The Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art is one of the best places to see beautiful regional handicrafts, while the historic Eastern Chaya district, also known as the teahouse district, was one of the most popular places for wealthy lords to watch geisha performances during the Edo Period. However, the best-known attraction in the city is the spectacular Kenroku-en, a 25-acre landscape garden dotted with fountains, bridges, and blooming flowers.
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If you're looking for a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the day, consider making a trip to Kinosaki Onsen, another one of Japan's best hot spring towns. The best thing to do here is simply soak in the therapeutic water, and there are seven public bathhouses to choose from, some of which feature special touches like steam rooms, hot and cold saunas, and outdoor baths with waterfalls. Aside from the bathhouses, other popular activities include trying to spot the endangered Oriental White Storks in the area, cycling alongside the beautiful Maruyama River, and taking a traditional calligraphy class.
Kinosakicho Yushima, Toyooka, Hyogo 669-6101, Japan
Although it's best known as the home of the world-renowned Kobe beef, Kobe also happens to be one of the largest and most beautiful cities in Japan. The Rokko mountain range serves as a picturesque backdrop, and if you want a truly spectacular view of the city and the surrounding area, you can take an ancient cable car up Mt. Rokko. In the city itself, attractions include the Sorakuen Garden, the sake breweries in the Nada district, and the Kobe City Museum. Of course, you'll also likely want to visit a local teppanyaki restaurant to enjoy a few pieces of grilled Kobe beef.
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Hidden away in the mountains of the Kansai region, Koyasan is a secluded Shingon Buddhist community that was established in 819 A.D. by the famous monk Kobo Daishi Kukai. Visitors often come here to spend the night in one of the Buddhist temple-style lodgings, where they can get a taste of the typical monk's lifestyle, but it makes a wonderful day trip as well. There are several temples, mausoleums, and walking trails for visitors to explore, and those who are interested can also take part in a traditional Jukai Ceremony, join an Ajikan Meditation session, or practice copying out Buddhist sutras.
Set on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea, Kurashiki is one of the most important industrial centers in Western Japan, but it's also an incredibly picturesque town known for its historic buildings and its peaceful canals. Most of the major tourist attractions are found in the Bikan Historical Quarter, including the 1796 Ohashi House, the Ohara Museum of Art, and the Japanese Folk Toys Museum, and there are also plenty of wonderful restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and souvenir shops. If you have enough time, you can also take an old-fashioned boat ride down the canal.
As the former capital of Japan, Kyoto is one of the Japanese cities that certainly shouldn't be missed, and it boasts an incredible number of things for visitors to do. Many of the most beautiful and significant temples and shrines can be found along the Philosopher’s Walk, and the peaceful Arashiyama bamboo forest is the perfect place to escape the busyness of the city. Foodies should visit the Fushimi Sake District or the Nishiki Market, and if you can manage to be here in the evening, watch a geisha performance in the Gion district or indulge in an elaborate formal kaiseki dining experience.
Named for its resemblance to the shape of a traditional Japanese instrument called a biwa, Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in the country. It boasts more approximately 145 miles of shoreline for visitors to enjoy, and there are plenty of things to do both on and off the water. If you want to get in the water, the white sand Omimaiko Beach is a popular place for swimming and windsurfing. Small cruise ships take visitors around the south end of the lake several times a day, and you can also take a boat out to Chikubu Island to see the many shrines.
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Home to the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima Island is one of the most picturesque places in Japan. The first thing you'll notice when approaching the island is the iconic orange Great Torii Gate built over the water, which marks the entrance to the shrine, but once on land you'll also see sights like the Buddhist temple Daishoin, the Toyokuni Shrine, and the Chinese-influenced five-story pagoda. There are also plenty of walking paths that lead around the island and up Mount Misen, and it's not uncommon for visitors to spot wild deer wandering around on the trails.
Located in the Aichi Prefecture on Honshu Island, Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city. Aside from the beautiful 17th-century Nagoya Castle and the Atsuta-jingu shrine, which houses a sacred 2,000-year-old sword, most of the top attractions are fairly modern. Visitors can marvel at the enormous planetarium at the Science Museum, learn about the history of Toyota at the Toyota Techno Museum, or ride the train simulators at the Railway Museum. Families with kids might also want to make time for Legoland and the Nagashima Resort, both of which offer fun activities for people of all ages.
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With its island sunshine and its sandy beaches, Naoshima Island has a surprisingly Mediterranean feel, but it's better known for its vibrant art scene. The Benesse House Museum has a wonderful collection of contemporary sculptures and paintings, while the Chichu Art Museum boasts lush gardens and a handful of Monet paintings. Some of the abandoned houses throughout the town have been converted into art installations, and even the traditional Japanese activity of soaking in the bathhouse has an artistic bent to it here; the I Love Yu bathhouse was designed by artist Otake Shinro, and it allows visitors to bathe while surrounded by original artwork.
Nara became the country's first permanent capital in 710 A.D., and although it only remained the capital for 74 years, it still boasts plenty of gorgeous temples and historic artwork left over from this time period. Many of the most significant temples are found in Nara Park, including the Kofuku-ji temple and the Todai-ji temple, and the park is also where you'll find the Kasuga Taisha shrine, which boasts more than 3,000 lanterns. There are plenty of naturally beautiful areas for visitors to explore in and around the city as well, including the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, the Isuien garden, and Mount Wakakusayama.
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The city of Okayama is a significant transportation hub, but considering how easy it is to get here, it's surprisingly off the radar of most foreign visitors. Don't let the lack of crowds fool you; the city boasts an excellent collection of attractions, the most notable of which are the 16th-century Okayama Castle and the spectacular Korakuen landscape garden. In addition to those highlights, art lovers can appreciate the wonderful collections at the Hayashibara Museum of Art, nature lovers can cycle through the charming Kibi Plain, and visitors with an interest in religion can head to the magnificent Kibitsu-jinja Shrine.
Stretching for more than a third of a mile along the Izu Peninsula, Shirahama Beach is known for its sparkling white sand and its picturesque turquoise waters. Bring an umbrella and spend the day lounging in the sand, jump in the water to surf, snorkel, or swim, or stroll down the beach to the Shirahama Jinja shrine on the far end. July and August are the best months to visit the beach itself, but if you happen to be coming during the colder months, you can still enjoy the scenery while relaxing in one of the two thermal baths on the shore.
Shirahama, Shimoda, Shizuoka 415-0012, Japan, Phone: +81-55-8-22-39-13
Perched on top of an 1,160-foot mountain peak, Takeda Castle is a ruined castle that was originally constructed in 1411. It's often surrounded by a sea of clouds in the early mornings, which has led to it being given nicknames like the "castle floating in the sky", but it's a wondrous sight even on clear days. There are plenty of excellent viewing points in the mountains surrounding the castle, with the most popular being the Ritsuunkyo Parking Lot and the hiking trails that start here, but visitors can also explore the castle foundation by walking along a well-marked trail.
169 Wadayamacho Takeda, Asago 669-5252, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, Phone: +81-79-6-72-40-03
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Many visitors think of Tokushima City as nothing more than the gateway to Shikoku Island, but it's also a pleasant city to visit in its own right. There are plenty of peaceful parks to explore, and you can also learn about the art of indigo dyeing at the House of Indigo or visit the Tokushima Modern Art Museum. The city is at its best in August, when the incredible Awa Odori Dance Festival takes place, but you can learn about the history of the festival and watch live dance demonstrations at the Awa Odori Kaikan museum no matter what the time of year.
Situated on Wakayama Bay, Wakayama City is a sprawling metropolis with plenty of unique attractions. Tour the striking Wakayama Castle, take a ferry out to the atmospheric Tomogashima islands, or spend some time Porto Europa, a theme park designed to look like a European town. The city is also filled with plenty of treats for foodies, whether you choose to sample fresh fish at the Kuroshio Market or travel to the nearby town of Yuasa, the birthplace of soy sauce, where you can tour a production plant and taste a bit of soy sauce for yourself.
24 Best Day Trips & Small Towns in Japan
- Arima Onsen Town, Photo: Puripat/stock.adobe.com
- Awaji Island, Photo: yoshihiro/stock.adobe.com
- Echizen Washi Village, Photo: Damien/stock.adobe.com
- Fukui, Photo: kurutanx/stock.adobe.com
- Himeji Castle, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Hiroshima, Photo: arthit k./stock.adobe.com
- Iga, Photo: sam1124/stock.adobe.com
- Ise Grand Shrine, Photo: Sanga/stock.adobe.com
- Kanazawa, Photo: Scirocco340/stock.adobe.com
- Kinosaki Onsen, Photo: jeafish/stock.adobe.com
- Kobe, Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
- Koyasan, Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
- Kurashiki, Photo: clin0000/stock.adobe.com
- Kyoto, Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Biwa, Photo: Sanga/stock.adobe.com
- Miyajima Island, Photo: sabino.parente/stock.adobe.com
- Nagoya, Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
- Naoshima Island, Photo: otent/stock.adobe.com
- Nara, Photo: Tupungato/stock.adobe.com
- Okayama, Photo: Sanga/stock.adobe.com
- Shirahama Beach, Photo: amenohi/stock.adobe.com
- Takeda Castle, Photo: MyPixelDiaries/stock.adobe.com
- Tokushima City, Photo: Enken/stock.adobe.com
- Wakayama City, Photo: leungchopan/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
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