There is something so appealing, so intriguing, so very wonderful about this Land of the Rising Sun that has aroused the curiosity of visitors from all over the globe ever since Japan opened up its shores for foreign visitors. Though being one of the highly advanced nations of the world, you can find culture and homage to tradition in every aspect of Japanese life, even in the biggest of their cities. Kyoto is one of those big cities that is ideal for a tourist looking to explore Japan thoroughly. It is at such a convenient location that makes it very simple to explore the near-by areas in a single day too.
If you plan on travelling around in Japan a lot consider purchasing the Japan Rail Pass (JRP) that is expressly meant for foreign visitors travelling to Japan. Passes come in 2 sections ordinary and superior Green class. You can buy a 7-day, 14-day or a 21-day pass that will allow you to travel within Japan on any of the associated railways, buses and ferries. For details refer the official website of Japan Railways Group.
Now that you are armed with this information there is nothing that can stop you from enjoying a stupendous day trip from Kyoto:
1. Himeji: City Of The White Heron Castle
Himeji is the very city which is home to probably Japan’s most famous attraction the Himeji Castle. The regal structure has survived all wars and is now a UNESCO Heritage Site. Another popular landmark is the Engyo-ji Temple which was featured in the Hollywood film ‘The Last Samurai’ starring Tom Cruise. Because of its history, one can find a number of people dressed up as Samurais and Ninjas near the castle on weekends and holidays.
Time to reach: 2 Hours by Car|| 55 Minutes by Bullet Train
Transportation: Car and Bullet Train available.
- Nada no Kenka Matsuri (October 14 - October 15): It is one of the most popular festivals in Japan and also probably the riskiest. Large portable shrines are held on shoulders by Japanese men and made to collide with each other. Though dangerous, it is a splendid sight to see and attracts people of Japan as well as several tourists.
2. Kobe: The World's Tastiest Steak
Kobe is one of those places that has become more famous for its cuisine rather than the city itself! Almost everyone has heard about the deliciously yummy, succulent Kobe Beef. The meat is soft, melts like butter and cooked to perfection by the specially trained chefs of the city. Owing to its great connectivity, Kobe is perfect for a one day trip from Kyoto.
Time to reach: 1.25 Hours by Car||1.5 Hours by Train
Transportation: Car and Train (Hankyu Kobe-sannomiya Station) available.
- Kobe Festival (May 20 - May 21): Catch a glimpse of people dressed up in colorful costumes, performing exciting dance forms like Samba and Danjiri through the streets of Kobe.
3. Hiroshima: City Of Peace
Though the first thoughts that come to the mind when you hear about Hiroshima are the ghastly World War 2 atomic bombings, this fascinating city shows the indomitable spirit of Japan and how it rebounded after the horrors of war. Many people head to Miyajima Island for a sight of its floating gates and to interact with the wild deer that roam about freely.
Time to reach: 1.5 Hours by Bullet Train
Transportation: Car, Train and Bullet Train available
- Hiroshima Flower Festival (May 3 - May 5): Exotic flowers, lush greenery as far as the eyes can go and music all around. Need we give more reasons for you to visit Hiroshima during the Flower Festival?
4. Kanazawa: Land Of Samurai & Geishas
Kanazawa is one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Japan. With a rich history, tons of colors and beautiful architecture all around, it is easy to see what attracts countless visitors each year. Kanazawa boasts of one of the best gardens in Japan, has a Samurai district, some of the oldest tea houses and is also famous for traditional Japanese entertainers called Geishas. And probably the best part is that it can be covered on a day trip from Kyoto!
Time to reach: 3.5 Hours by Car||2.5 Hours by Train
Transportation: Car and Train (Kanazawa Station) available.
- Kanazawa Hyakumangoku Festival (First Friday, Saturday & Sunday of June): Celebrating Lord Maeda’s entry into Kanazawa Castle, the Hyakumangoku Festival sees almost 10,000 people participating in the celebratory parade. Another beautiful attraction is the thousands of lit candles that are floated down the Asanogawa River.
5. Mount Koya: A Spiritual Retreat
Mount Koya is considered to be one of the most sacred places for Buddhists in Japan, especially those belonging to the Shingon sect. There are several Buddhist temples on the mountain where visitors can even spend a couple of nights. Though Mount Koya can be visited as a day trip from Kyoto, it is highly recommended to spend some time at the monasteries, learning, meditating and interacting with the wise monks of these temples.
Time to reach: 2.5 Hours by Car||3 Hours by Train
Transportation: Car and Train (Koyasan Station) available.
- Aoba-san Matsuri (June 15): This festival marks and celebrates the birth anniversary of Kobo Daishi with lots of singing and dancing. A small altar is also carried all over the mountain and then brought back to the temple.
6. Kurashiki: Venice Of Japan
It is a relatively unknown fact that just like Venice, many cities in Japan too were inundated with canals that boosted up transportation of goods and people. Unlike the other cities, Kurashiki has still held onto its heritage. Some of the must-see sights in Kurashiki are the Ohara Museum of Art, Achi Shrine, Tsurugatayama Park and the flat boat tour in the Takahashi River.
Time to reach: 3 Hours by Car||2 Hours by Train
Transportation: Car and Train (Kurashiki Station) available.
- Kurashiki Autumn Festival (October 3rd Week): The whole town comes out to take a procession and some families even invite people into their homes to display their traditional folding screens.
7. Nara: The Ancient City
Nara was one of Japan’s capital in the past era and a very busy town, though now it has mellowed down considerably. Highlights of the city include majestic temples, a 49-foot-tall Buddha statue made of bronze and the main attraction the sacred deer that roams all over the town. The deer is special because it bows down to people when it wants a deer biscuit treat! The best part is probably that is just a short trip away from Kyoto.
Time to reach: 1 Hour
Transportation: Car and Train (Shin-Omiya Station) available.
- Mantoro Lantern Festival (February 3, August 14 and August 15): One of the most popular festivals of Nara, the Kasuga-Taisha Shrine is decorated with thousands of lanterns. Many other parts of the town are also lit up and the overall effect is simply magical.
8. Osaka: City Of Business
Japan’s third largest city, Osaka, is also a center of innovation, shopping avenues, economic activities and mouthwatering cuisine. Check out marvelous attractions like the Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan, Nakanoshima Park, Osaka Aquarium and Tsutenkaku. Dotonbori Street has several interesting food stalls where you can taste the wackiest and yummiest cuisine in Japan.
Time to reach: 1 Hour by Car and Train|| 30 Minutes by Special Train||15 Minutes by Bullet Train
Transportation: Car, Train (Yodoyabashi Station) and Bullet Train available.
- Tenjin Matsuri (July 24 - June 25): One of the biggest festivals of Japan. It is a festival of Tenmangu Shrine in which a River and Land Procession is taken out accompanied by fireworks.
- Aizen Matsuri (June 30 - July 2): A festival of the summer, Aizen Matsuri is highlighted by all the people of Osaka coming out to have a great time. There are street shops, games and people dressed in traditional garbs.
9. Mount Hiei: Home Of The Monks
Perfect for a single day trip from Kyoto, Mount Hiei is a famous mountain in Japan that is most popular for its temples and legends associated with it. Enryaku-ji is the most well-known temple in the area. It houses temples from the 9th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site now. The renowned ‘Marathon Monks’ are also located here.
Time to reach: 45 Minutes by Car||1.25 Hours by Train
Transportation: Car and Train (Till Sakomoto Station and then by cable car to Mount Hiei)
10. Iga Ueno: The Ninja Town
The most famous aspect of Iga Ueno is the fact that during the feudal period in Japan, 2 of the most reputed Ninjutsu Schools were located here. It is the ideal place for Ninja buffs as they can learn more about their heroes from the Ninja Museum and would love to roam in the streets where many people move around dressed as Ninjas. The reputation of the town is such that it is now popularly called Ninja Town!
Time to reach: 1.5 Hours by Car||2.5 Hours by Train
Transportation: Bus and Train (Uenoshi Station) available.
- Iga Ueno Ninja Festa (April 1 - May 6): Everyone in the town is dressed up as Ninjas and can participate in events, competitions and workshops based on that theme.
11. Okayama: Hometown Of Momotaro
In Okayama, you can pay a visit to one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens called the Korakuen Garden, which is full of delightful flowers, the majestic Okayama Castle, Yumeji Art Museum and Kibitsu Shrine. The best part about Okayama is that though the city itself is modern, the nearby areas still remind one of feudal Japan with its ancient shrines and agriculture fields.
Time to reach: 1.5 Hours
Transportation: Car and Train (Okayama Station) available.
- Okayama Momotaro Matsuri (Variable dates): This 2-day festival is actually made up of 3 different events including the famous Uraja Parade in which participants dress up as Ogres of Japanese Mythology.
- Hadaka Matsuri (February 18): Popularly known as the Naked Man Festival, Hadaka Matsuri is famous world over for its practice of people wearing only loincloths and venturing out in the freezing cold for a lucky year.
12. Nagahama: A Gift Of Nature
Nagahama is a treat to visit in the spring and summer months, when one can make full use of the Lake Biwa, appreciate the exquisite cherry blossoms and go on a sightseeing tour of quaint attractions like the Nagahama Castle, Hikiyama Museum and Jinshouji Temple. The fact that it is just a short trip from Kyoto makes Nagahama all the more perfect for a visit!
Time to reach: 1.5 Hours
Transportation: Car and Train (Nagahama Station) available.
- Nagahama Bonbai Festival (January 10 - March 10): Combine the beauty of flowering plum trees with the remarkable Japanese art of miniaturizing trees in the Nagaham Bonbai Festival.
- Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri (April 15): Get ready to be blown away with a Kabuki performance by young boys of the age group 5 to 12 years.
Know any other places where you can head to for a day long trip from Kyoto? Do tell us by writing in the comments section below!
*Note: Approximate timings are given. Timings may vary depending on traffic and season.
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