1. Wakasa (Fukui)
Wakasa, Fukui is practically located in the center of Japan, and is rich in history and nature. With the opening of the Maizuru Wakasa Expressway in 2014, the area became much more accessible from the Kanto region, and there is now all the more reason to explore this off-the-beaten-path location!
The best place to enjoy a traditional townscape is Kumagawa-Juku on the Wakasa Kaido, an old road that was used to transport goods between Fukui and Kyoto, and was designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings. You would think that this picturesque town would be brimming with tourists, but it is still relatively unknown and quiet, making it the perfect place to take in the historic Japanese atmosphere and snap the perfect photos!
When you are ready to get away and immerse yourself in some nature, head over to the Rainbow Line scenic toll road. The observation point and summit park offer spectacular views of the Sea of Japan as well as the five stunning Mikatagoko Lakes, which are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. There is a cable car and lift available to take you to the summit from the parking lot, but there is also a walking path for those who would rather enjoy the exercise to the top.
The Rainbow Line also offers a variety of facilities that allow visitors to leisurely relax and take in the sights. These include five terraces and cafes where you can look out upon the Mikatagoko Lakes, and the Mihama Terrace even has foot baths where you can soak your feet while also soaking in the views! Feel free to rock away your fatigue at the hammock space nearby, gently swaying under a canopy of trees above the rolling mountains.
Wakasa Bay produces many delicious types of seafood, as it is where warm and cold currents from the Sea of Japan meet. The area is covered with restaurants serving mouthwatering seafood dishes, including sashimi, kaisen-don (rice bowl dishes with seafood), shellfish, and more! Local specialties include “saba” (mackerel), and winter in Fukui means that crab and pufferfish are in season, so it is an ideal time to enjoy these local delicacies. Fukui Prefecture is particularly famous for its crab, so do not miss this gastronomic experience whenever you are visiting the prefecture!
|Name||Wakasa Saba-kaido Kumagawa-juku|
|Address||Kumagawa, Wakasa, Mikatakaminaka-gun, Fukui|
|Access||Take the Thunderbird Limited Express or the Kosei Line from Osaka or Kyoto Station and disembark at Omi-Imazu Station (approx. 50 minutes). Take the JR bus headed for Obama or Omi-Imazu and disembark at Wakasa Kumakawa bus stop (approx. 30 minutes).|
*Note that there is a limited number of Thunderbird trains that stop at Omi-Imazu Station
|Address||18-2-2 Kiyama, Wakasa-cho, Mikatakaminaka-gun, Fukui|
*The Rainbow Line Summit Park is located atop the Mikata Goko Rainbow Line
|Access||(By car) Take Japan National Route 27 from Meishin (Maihara JC) / Hokuriku Expressway (Tsuruga IC) to Mihama.|
(By public transport) From Osaka Station, take the Kosei Line to Kyoto Station. From Kyoto Station, change to the Obama Line, take the train bound for Tsuruga Station, and disembark at Mihama Station.
2. Kinosaki Onsen (Hyogo)
Time moves a little slower at Kinosaki Onsen, a beloved hot spring village located in northern Hyogo Prefecture. The area is concentrated around seven natural hot springs, dating back over 1,300 years!
The townscape is covered with quaint Japanese-style buildings that house onsen, shops, cafes, and restaurants. There is plenty to entertain yourself with at Kinosaki Onsen, making your relaxing weekend fly by before you even know. Of course, as you are visiting an onsen town, you should certainly immerse yourself in the traditional onsen experience by adorning yourself in comfortable “yukata” (simple robes) and “geta” (wooden shoes) and flitting to and from each luxurious onsen the village has to offer.
All seven of the baths at Kinosaki Onsen are within walking distance of each other. The mineral-rich onsen waters are known for their calming effects, making you want to soak the day and all your troubles away while enjoying the relaxing atmosphere. Each bath is also associated with its own properties and myths, from ensuring happiness to marriages to protecting one from fires, so taking the time to enjoy the “onsen meguri” (onsen pilgrimage) and be sure to visit each hot spring in the village. And if you are inked, rejoice! The Kinosaki Onsen hot springs are all tattoo-friendly, so you do not need to worry about the restrictions that most onsen in Japan commonly have for tattooed patrons.
When you are ready to spend some time out of the water, you can walk through the other attractions at Kinosaki Onsen, including a temple, museums, and nature activities such as hiking and cycling.
|Address||Yushima, Kinosaki-cho, Toyooka-shi, Hyogo|
|Access||From Osaka: Take the JR Kounotori Limited Express from Shin-Osaka or Osaka Stations to Kinosaki Onsen Station (2 hours 45 minutes).|
From Kyoto: Take the JR Limited Express Kinosaki from Kyoto Station to Kinosaki Onsen Station OR take the JR Limited Express Hashidate from Kyoto to Fukuchiyama Station and the JR Kounotori Limited Express From Fukuchiyama Station to Kinosaki Onsen Station (2.5 hours).
From other Kansai areas: Take the Limited Express Hamakaze from Osaka, Sannomiya, Kobe, or Himeji Stations to Kinosaki Onsen Station (2 hours 50 minutes).
5-minute walk from Kinosaki Onsen Station to the town center.
3. The Ine Boathouses (Kyoto)
While boathouses may be seen across the coasts of Japan, there is nowhere else in Japan that has so many concentrated in one place. The breathtaking scenery of the Ine “funaya” (boathouses) has attracted many to this quaint little town, and there are many ways to enjoy your time while here.
There are several ways to take in the charming beauty of the funaya quietly floating atop the water. You can observe and explore them on land by foot, which is the perfect way to see them up close. There is even a funaya that you can investigate the inside of! This boathouse, called Koyomaru, still houses a fishing boat and equipment that local fishermen would take with them out to sea, and the interior gives you a glimpse into the life of the fishermen.
However, arguably the most stunning view of the Ine funaya is from the water, where you can gaze upon the row of wooden boathouses stretching along the coast. If you really want to participate in every experience this scenic town has to offer, let one of the local fishermen drive you around the bay on his boat, and listen to all the insider knowledge he has to offer!
Of course, being a fishing village, Ine offers spectacular seafood that can be enjoyed at one of the several local restaurants. As the area with the Ine funaya is rather small, it is the perfect place to spend a few days exploring every nook and cranny, or as a supplementary destination. If stopping by and then moving on is not enough for you, there are several boat-houses-turned-lodges where you can rest for the night. What is dreamier than falling asleep and waking up to the sound of waves gently rolling outside your window?
|Name||Ine Funaya Boathouses|
|Address||77, Hirata, Ine-cho, Yoza-gun, Kyoto|
|Access||Take the JR Limited Express Hashidate from JR Kyoto Station to Amanohashidate Station (approx. 2 hours 10 minutes). You can also take the JR Limited Express Kinosaki from JR Kyoto Station or the JR Kounotori Limited Express from JR Osaka Station to Fukuchiyama Station and take the Limited Express Tango Relay or Hashidate from Fukuchiyama Station to Amanohashidate Station (approx. 2 hours 10 minutes). From Amanohashidate Station take the Tango Kairiku Kotsu bus bound for Ukawa Onsen Yoshino no Sato, Kamanyu, or Ine Yubinkyoku-mae, and disembark at Ine bus stop (1 hour).|
4. Kurayoshi (Tottori)
Although Tottori is most well-known for the breathtaking Tottori Sand Dunes, only a 1-hour drive or 2-hour train ride away is Kurayoshi, a castle town that boasts historic scenery that will make you feel as though you have been transported back to the samurai era. There are streets lined with traditional white-walled storehouses that date back to the Edo period, many of which have been renovated and now house delightful cafes and shops. Waterways flow along the side of the streets, with koi (carp) slowly swimming in them.
There are also several temples and museums tucked away among the picturesque buildings, including the Kurayoshi Line Train Memorial Museum that displays information and artifacts pertaining to the local railway history. You can even see steam locomotive cars that are dozens of years old!
The Kurayoshi area stretches out into the mountains, covering areas of lush nature that are perfect if you are looking to get away from people. Mt. Higashidaizan, located at the southwest edge of Kurayoshi, is home to a gorgeous ravine and scenery with flora that changes throughout the seasons. We recommend visiting the mountain area in autumn when the trees are set aflame with the vivid autumn foliage!
|Access||Take the Super Hakuto Limited Express from Osaka or Kyoto Station, disembark at Kurayoshi Station (3 to 3.5 hours).|
|Name||Kurayoshi Line Train Memorial Museum|
|Address||1012-7, Meijimachi, Kurayoshi-shi, Tottori|
|Opening Hours||9:00 am – 5:00 pm|
|Closing Days||Open all year|
|Access||From Kurayoshi Station: Take the bus from the station to Akagawara/Shirakabe Dozo bus stop and walk 5 minutes, or 10-minute drive or 50-minute walk|
5. Harima Area (Hyogo)
The Harima area encompasses a large area in southern Hyogo, but if you are looking for a quiet, charming place to relax for a few days, venture down to southern Hyogo to the Ako area. Sakoshi is a port town in Ako that is lined with traditional Japanese buildings. Being surrounded by traditional wooden structures and retro-style landmarks such as mailboxes will make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to the Taisho period (1912 – 1926), which is especially magnified due to the lack of bustling tourists! If you are in Sakoshi, you cannot leave without trying Sakoshi oysters, a local specialty! These oysters are grown by local fishermen in Sakoshi Bay, and are juicy and succulent.
After you are finished exploring the charming buildings in Sakoshi, head over to the Ako Misaki cape to catch a spectacular view of the sun setting over the water! Ako Misaki is also known as a holy ground for lovers, a big part of it due to the breathtaking scenery. Ako Misaki and Sakoshi are only a 10-minute drive away from each other, so you do not need to worry about rushing or meeting heavy traffic. You can also take your time and walk for about 1-hour straight, or walk at your own leisure and stop at the cafes, shops, and museums along the way.
When you are ready to move away from the water, a 30-minute car ride or 1.5 hour-long journey north via public transportation will bring you to Kikyo Hayamitsu Japanese Sword Factory, the workshop of a Japanese welder who specializes in crafting the traditional Bizen style of Japanese swords. Here, you can watch the master at work, buy an expertly-made blade, or even try your own hand at metalworking!
|Address||Sakoshi, Ako-shi, Hyogo|
|Access||Take the JR Kobe Line from Osaka Station straight to Sakoshi Station, or disembark at Himeji Station and transfer to the Sanyo Line bound for Ako (1 hour 50 minutes). You can also take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Kyoto Station, disembark at Himeji Station (45 minutes). Take the Sanyo Line from Himeji Station to Sakoshi Station (30 minutes).|
|Name||Kikyo Hayamitsu Japanese Sword Factory|
|Address||Rakan no Sato, 28, Uryu, Yano-cho, Aioi-shi, Hyogo|
|Opening Hours||9:00 am – 5:00 pm|
|Closing Days||Open all year|
|Access||From Aioi Station: 15-minute drive, OR take the bus and disembark at Uryu Higashi or Uryu bus stop and walk for 15 minutes|
Extra: Hit Multiple Locations on the San’in Kaigan Geopark Trail!
We have already introduced several spots in the Kansai area that are rich with history and nature, but we would also like to add a great option for enjoying the Kansai nature while staying active. If you are the type who does not like to stay still for an entire weekend yet would still like to get away for a few days, the San’in Kaigan Geopark Trail spanning from Tottori to Hyogo Prefectures is the perfect way to stay active in tandem with nature. It follows hiking and walking paths, but also allows you to explore Kansai at your own pace, making for an ideal weekend trip!
The San’in Kaigan Geopark Trail is a 230km-long trail that spans Tottori, Hyogo, and Kyoto Prefectures along the coast of the Sea of Japan, enabling you to soak in the wonders of the San’in Kaigan UNESCO Global Geopark and the surrounding areas as you walk. The trail is broken up into 27 “courses,” varying from 3 to 21 km. By walking along this trail, you can see sand dunes, fishing ports, spectacular geological formations, and more, all while you are exploring the coast of the Sea of Japan. There is also plenty to do along the way, including eating, shopping, and learning about local Japanese tradition, culture, and topography.
|Name||San’in Kaigan Geopark Trail|
Get Away to Kansai and Refresh Your Mind and Body
Everyone needs to get away and relax sometimes, and there are many charming, quiet locations in Kansai that can easily cater to those living in the region, or even those who live further out. As they have yet to be discovered by most overseas tourists, these places maintain their quaint atmospheres and are the perfect places to leisurely spend the weekend. Why not take your time and spend a few days becoming familiar with one place, or even visit a couple that fit your fancy?
The Kansai region is filled with all sorts of fascinating locations! Check out these links to find out everything the area has to offer:
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.