Kansai has plenty of attractions that draw millions of tourists in each year, but perhaps you’re looking for something a little less obvious than the many castles, temples, and parks that can be seen in its cities. Fear not, for there is plenty to see and visit that will give you that “only in Kansai” experience. Here’s a selection of highlights.
For a proper quirky and informative experience, visit the Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka. Named after the inventor of ramen, Momofuku Ando, who created chicken ramen and instant noodles in the 1950s, you can learn all about the history of this staple of the diet of Japanese and students as well as take part in interactive activities. The museum includes replica chicken ramen and cup noodle factories, quizzes, interactive theater, and a noodle tunnel where you can learn about every type of instant noodle created. For just 300 yen, you can develop a personalized cup of noodles including choosing the flavors and ingredients and designing the cup.
If you’re looking for something slightly artsier than a spot of traditional Japanese puppet theater might be your thing. Located in Osaka, the National Bunraku Theatre offers performances of “bunraku” puppetry, which is a performing art listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2008. The giant puppets are skillfully operated by three puppeteers, while a narrator tells the story from the sidelines accompanied by a musician playing a shamisen (3-stringed Japanese lute). Headphones are available for English-speakers that translate the tales into English. Recommended unless you’re fluent in Japanese or aren’t too fussed about following the story.
One of the most astonishing architectural sights in the world, the Gate Tower Building looks like something that could have only been designed in Japan. It’s a 16-story office building in Osaka, which is nothing unusual in itself. What sets the Gate Tower Building apart is that it has an expressway running through it. The Hanshin Expressway, which runs through Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, passes through the 5th, 6th, and 7th floors. It’s the result of a double-booking in planning, with both the office property and the expressway permitted in the early 1980s. Following lengthy negotiations and some creative thinking, a compromise was reached. Office walls are specially noise-proofed to cut out traffic and the building elevator, which travels on the outside of the expressway, misses out floors 5-7.
Address: 5-4-21 Fukushima, Osaka
Arima Onsen is a little town in Kobe and one of the oldest hot spring towns in Japan. Popular with residents across Kansai as well as tourists, the town is small enough to be explored purely on foot and consists of quaint narrow lanes and wooden buildings as well as the hot springs. There are two types of hot spring water used for their health and healing properties. Kinsen (gold water), said to be good for the skin, and Ginsen (silver water) that soothes muscle pains.
For an unusual dining experience, how about grabbing a coffee or snack in the company of owls? This is what’s on offer at the Owl’s Forest Cafe in Kyoto. Customers can stroke the various breeds on display, which have all been tamed, have their photo taken with the creatures or simply watch them while sipping a cappuccino. Admission for adults is 680 yen.
Address: 556 Nakanocho (Shinkyogokudori), Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 648-042