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Nights in Japan - Kansai and Beyond

Updated on September 4, 2016
CYong74 profile image

Japanophile Cedric survived 10 solo trips to Japan. His visits now focus on discovering the country’s lesser known attractions.

Dotonburi, heart of Osaka

The large neon signs of Osaka's Dotonbori area, and its signature "Glico Man."
The large neon signs of Osaka's Dotonbori area, and its signature "Glico Man." | Source
In your face promotion. Osaka style.
In your face promotion. Osaka style. | Source
Dotonburi. Another view.
Dotonburi. Another view. | Source

Other than Tokyo, Kansai (関西) is the area most visited by tourists, and this is no surprise given Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara are all in this densely populated region. Among these famous cities, Osaka beckons proudly with its castle, food, shopping, and oh-so-outrageous signboards. You must have seen some of these Dōtonbori area (道頓堀) signboards before, in magazines or in movies. The Glico Man. The moving crab. The swaying fugu ... ... They continue to entertain endless throes of tourists and revelers night after night. They are sure to delight you too.

Ancient Kyoto

Kiyomizu Temple pagoda during early evening.
Kiyomizu Temple pagoda during early evening. | Source
Entrance to Kiyomizu Temple.
Entrance to Kiyomizu Temple. | Source
The world famous wooden platform of Kiyomizu Temple, with Kyoto city in the background.
The world famous wooden platform of Kiyomizu Temple, with Kyoto city in the background. | Source

Kansai is a delightful area to visit because it has such a vast variety of sights. Just 20 minutes by express train from bustling Osaka is the ancient capital of Kyoto, famous for its hundreds of historical shrines, temples and gardens. Nearly all of these cultural sights close at sunset, but several times a year, they are lit up for special night time visits. Such as the twice yearly Kyoto Hanatoro (花灯路) festivals, and various temple illuminations during the Sakura and Autumn Leaves season. The pictures above were taken at Kyoto's famous Kiyomizu temple (清水寺) during the Sakura season in 2015. Is the classic elegance a stark contrast to Osaka's cheery bawdiness? Both are just 20 minutes apart by train.

Meriken Park, Kobe

Kobe's Meriken Park.
Kobe's Meriken Park. | Source

Kobe, the third major city of the Kansai area, has long been a western port of entry. In 1995, it suffered a devastating earthquake but have in recent years recovered completely. You wouldn't find as many sights in Kobe, compared to Osaka or Kyoto, but that's not to say it's not worthy of at least a day of visit. The Meriken Park port area, with its iconic tower, is a breezy and romantic location perfect for an evening of carefree strolling and shopping. There's also plenty of food choices here, and best of all, it tends to be less crowded than downtown Osaka and Kyoto.

Other Japanese cities during night time

Nagoya Station Towers.
Nagoya Station Towers. | Source
Nagano Station Square.
Nagano Station Square. | Source
Traditional teahouses in Kanazawa.
Traditional teahouses in Kanazawa. | Source
Sunset at Miyazaki City.
Sunset at Miyazaki City. | Source
The famous Otaru Canal in the heart of Winter.
The famous Otaru Canal in the heart of Winter. | Source

Japan is not a large country. But it is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and so it has a plethora of well connected and unique cities. There are the economic powerhouses, such as Nagoya, home of the Toyota brand. There are the resort cities and the cultural cities, such as Nagano and Kanazawa. There are also the tranquil ones at the fringe of the country, like Miyazaki City all the way down south. Finally, there are the cities that are showcases of their trade heritage, such as Otaru in cold, northern Hokkaido. These cities come alive with lights in a different way each night, to the delight of visitors and photographers. If you take the effort to go beyond Tokyo and Kansai in search of them, you too would be charmed.

The Top Three

View of Kikuseidai from Mount Maya, Kobe.
View of Kikuseidai from Mount Maya, Kobe. | Source
Nagasaki at sunset.
Nagasaki at sunset. | Source
Hakodate's famous night view, with fireworks.
Hakodate's famous night view, with fireworks. | Source

Japan has plenty of rankings when it comes to domestic tourism. The "three best" views of Japan. The "top 3" onsens. Etc. There is of course a "top 3" night views of Japan too, and these three cities are Kobe, Nagasaki, and Hakodate. All three enjoy a gorgeous spread of lights at the foot of their hills, fringed by gentle port waters. At that moment of sunset, when the illuminations take over the role of the sun, it gets absolutely magical. Without a doubt, the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing in Japan.

show route and directions
A markerDotonbori, Osaka -
Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0071, Japan
get directions

B markerKiyomizu Temple, Kyoto -
294 Kiyomizu 1-chōme, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 605-0862, Japan
get directions

C markerKobe Meriken Park, Kobe -
Meriken Park, 2 Hatobachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0042, Japan
get directions

D markerNagoya -
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
get directions

E markerNagano -
Nagano, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
get directions

F markerKanazawa -
Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan
get directions

G markerMiyazaki City -
Miyazaki, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan
get directions

H markerOtaru -
Otaru, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
get directions

I markerNagasaki CIty -
Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan
get directions

J markerHakodate -
Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
get directions

Which of the mentioned Japanese cities have you visited?

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    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 20 months ago from Singapore

      Thanks for commenting, AliciaC. Japan is worth at least one visit. Do try to make a trip.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 20 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The descriptions and photos are very interesting. I appreciate the virtual tour, since I'm unlikely to visit Japan in real life. Exploring the country would certainly be enjoyable!