The Soul Of Japanese Culture: Kansai

The Kansai region of Japan, a Far Eastern country with its own unique character, is a whole different world with its culture, architecture, natural beauty and rich cuisine.

Osaka is the regional capital, and Kansai Airport is its gateway to the world. Situated on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, the airport reflects the genius of Japanese engineering.

The underground is at least as busy as the area above ground here. You can easily get anywhere you want to go on the metro. Bearing in mind our luggage and weariness after a long flight, we opt to take the bus to our hotel. Our awe upon seeing Osaka commences with that brief bus journey. Modern skyscrapers dominate the city’s skyline, and the broad, orderly avenues where traffic moves quietly and in harmony strike us at first glance. Despite its gargantuan population, there is no trace of the chaos of the modern city in Osaka. The spaces created between buildings, and the trees and greenery that line the long avenues as far as the eye can see afford both the city and its people a breath of fresh air. Japanese cultural values are also in evidence in Osaka. Our first stop after casting off our travel weariness is Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum with its fine collection of traditional Japanese painting. When it’s time for lunch, we’re faced with a tough choice, because Osaka is a gastronomic city in the true sense of the word where the blessings of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan are served up in a visual feast. All the cities of the Kansai region are showcases for traditional Japanese cuisine, and incredible dishes either appear on your table or materialize suddenly out of thin air. Besides authentic Japanese cuisine, there are also scores of establishments serving fusion menus. You can be sure that just trying these dishes and their artistic presentations is reason enough to go to Kansai.

Osaka’s Namba and Dotombori districts are abuzz day and night. And you must definitely visit the shopping malls of Osaka, a city that never sleeps. I particularly recommend the basements, where you will find remarkable shopping, friendly people and extraordinary flavors all in one place.

One of the classiest cities of the Kansai region, Kyoto is calm, quiet and orderly. Endless lovely examples of old Japanese architecture dot the emerald green mountain landscape. We get to know Japanese culture even better as we stroll through these peaceful spots in harmony with nature. Our sense of awe is further enhanced by each new one we see. Zen gardens are a quintessential element of traditional Japanese architecture. Every stone has significance here. Nothing is random and the place of everything has been thought out down to the smallest detail. Even the designs and inscriptions on the plates on which your food is served have been juxtaposed with a purpose, as I learn one fine spring day during lunch. Wind, cloud and rain were inscribed on the three plates on which I was served. Modernity has not trampled on Japanese culture. The secret of creating refreshing, peaceful and unique venues out of natural materials such as bamboo, straw, paper and wood constitutes the essence of the refined and minimalist Japanese cultural aesthetic.

We stay the night in Kyoto at a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese accommodation outside the usual hotel concept. Our destination the next morning is Koyasan, the mystical heart of the Kansai region. Koyasan with its centuries-old Japanese temples is ensconced high up in mountainous terrain. The authentic buildings amidst the giant cedars transport us back to the past. After spending the night here and waking up to the chirping of birds, we tour the city of Kudoyama before visiting a workshop that produces traditional Japanese paper. At the end of the day we find ourselves in Kobe, another city in Kansai. Following a pleasant train ride, we arrive in Kobe, a business and financial center with a sizable number of westerners. Kobe’s sweets are at least as important as its beef, and it is not uncommon for lines to form outside its scores of patisseries for the famous Kobe confections and pastries. Our feverish exploration of Kobe is crowned with a pleasant surprise: We find several spa hotels in this city rich in geothermal springs. Varied in color and mineral composition, the waters of these spas are good for a number of different ailments. We relax at a spa here and start our return to Osaka recharged and raring to go.

The streets of Osaka buzz by night as well. We spend the evening shopping in the city’s glittering markets because we’ll soon need to set out on our three-hour journey to Kushimoto, the last stop before our return. This small fishing town in the south of Kansai has significance for Turks. The Ertuğrul, a ship that visited Japan during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, was caught in a typhoon here and sank, claiming the lives of close to six hundred Turkish seamen. Over time, this tragic incident strengthened Turkish-Japanese friendship and rapprochement. As we tour the Turkish Museum that opened thousands of kilometers from Turkey in 1974, and the nearby Turkish Cemetery, we are overcome with emotion and pray for the souls of our forefathers who rest here. Kansai with its unique qualities is truly a land of elegance. And the warmth, nobility and heartfelt friendship of the Japanese people are the single most important impression our long visit leaves on us. A friendly, smiling face is the most common sight here, and the most commonly heard words Arigato gozaimasu: Thank you!

Kansai guide

Historic Monuments at Nara
The historic monuments and temples at Nara, a major city in the Kansai region, are on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. One of Japan’s ancient capitals, Nara in 2010 celebrated its 1,300th anniversary of becoming the capital.

Katana Japanese Sword
Made by special traditional techniques, Japanese steel is one of the strongest in the world. You can find Japanese swords and knives made of this steel in Kyoto and Osaka.
You’ll find the absolute latest in electronic equipment in Nippombashi, Osaka’s “electronic town”. This is also an ideal place to observe the new popular culture that has grown up around technology.

Kuromon Ichiba
The market of choice with Osaka residents, Kuromon boasts close to two hundred shops selling fish, fruits, vegetables and spices.

Dotombori is one of Osaka’s most vibrant and bustling centers. Hundreds of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops make this one of the city’s most appealing spots.

Umeda Sky Building
You can get a bird’s-eye view of Osaka and a panoramic shot of the cityscape from this building’s viewing terrace, which joins two skyscrapers at 170 meters above the ground.