The best of Kansai

The best of Kansai

23 May, 2016
Japan's Kobe and Kyoto
Where ancient and modern charms meet
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The idea of ecotourism started getting attention in Japan in the 1990s, long before many other parts of the developed world were familiar with the concept. Natural beauty abounds in Japan, whether it be Hokkaido’s deep powdery snowscapes or the delicate cherry blossoms of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.
 
For those seeking adventure, there is excellent scuba diving and snorkelling, mountain climbing, skiing and river rafting to be found. Looking for something a little less physical, we journeyed into the two most ancient cities of Japan, Kyoto and Kobe, for a walking tour of some of Japan’s most ancient shrines and temples and famed hot springs. Kyoto is a city nestled in a basin surrounded by mountain ranges, where some of the most ancient temples in Japan can be found. Once called Heiankyo, which means “the capital of peace and tranquility”, Kyoto has charming back streets perfect for leisurely bicycle tours. Temples and shrines are often found hidden in these winding streets. The Kiyomizu-dera temple is one of the most well known sites as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site, especially the pagoda, is particularly charming during cherry blossom season. Upon entering, visitors should wash their hands by scooping up water with a long wooden spoon from a traditional basin. To conserve water, automatic sensors have been installed. If you want a hint of your destiny, get an omikuji, a paper fortune, told. All’s well if you get a good fortune, but if not, you can tie the fortune on the metal bars at the temple’s entrance and pray for some luck. The temple offers good luck charms unique to your troubles – charms to cure headaches, charms for promotions in the workplace, and even driving safety charms can be found here.
 
Visitors to the temple cannot miss the Otowa waterfall; three streams of water fall into a pond and represent wisdom, health, and longevity successively. Close to Kobe is the Arima Onsen hotspring town. Made up of narrow streets and alleys, the entire town can easily be explored by walking. The town is dotted with serene Japanese gardens and pagodas. Soak in some of the most relaxing hot springs in Japan, either in a natural setting or at public bath houses and Japanese style inns called ryokan. These hot springs contain minerals and natural ingredients such as sulphur, which are said to alleviate skin problems as well as arthritis. Footbaths found along Arima Onsen’s streets are also welcome relief for visitors and locals alike.
 
Dry skin? Look for local products made with horse oil. High in unsaturated fatty acids and linoleic acids, it has been used here for centuries to sooth rough and dry skin. For those with oily hair, another Japanese secret is charcoal shampoo. With its natural absorbent properties, charcoal is used for a wide range of purposes in Japan, ranging from closet deodorizers to body care products. Japan takes especially good care of its water, such that even wastewater is clear. This attention to water management not only helps put Japan in a leading position as one of the world’s most environmentally conscious nations, but also makes it possible to take full advantage of the natural hot springs that pepper the region, with well-designed public bath facilities and pools.
 
Japan is a place that unfolds little by little for the visitor, as each region is quite different. Add to that four clearly defined and uniquely beautiful seasons, and you have a country that continuously changes before your eyes. We’ll have to come back!
 

By: Karry Lai
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