Kansai is not just Central Japan, it is the heart of Japanese culture, tradition and history. Nowhere else in the country can you find such a magnificent and diverse array of sights that will tantalise your senses. From the cultural and former capital of Kyoto to the bustling metropolis of Japan's second largest city, Osaka, and the countryside and seascapes that surround them, Kansai is genuinely the Japan of your imagination. With Autumn just around the corner, the region is about to explode into a vibrant array of crimson reds, brilliant yellows, and splendid oranges and Kansai is the place to see the natural spectacle.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
I am sure you can recognise the Fushimi Inari Shrine from the photos, even if you do not know it by name, as it is one of the most visually iconic representations of Japan. The shrine, nestled in southern Kyoto, is the head shrine for the Shinto God of rice, sake and prosperity and patron of business. The shrine itself is not the most famous attraction though, that goes to the four-kilometre trail of Thousand Torii Gates that snake from the shrine through the forested landscape of the Sacred Inari Mountain and reaches a peak of 233m with views overlooking Kyoto. Each Torii gate was donated by a business who seeking good fortune and has their details written on one side of the gate. Despite the name, it is said to house over 10,000 gates throughout the grounds.
Ask anyone around where the best place to see the fiery colours of autumn are, and they will point you to Minoo Park, a forested valley on the outskirts of Osaka. A lot of autumn in Japan is centred around temples and shines, which makes the natural setting of Minoo Park charming. One of the leading natural attractions is the 33m tall Minoo Falls, which is perfectly framed by spirited red leaves in the fall. If they are selling Momiji tempura along the path, do not give up the opportunity; it is an unusual snack of maple leaves deep fried in batter.
Temple of the Blue Waves (Seiganto-ji)
Set amongst the dramatic backdrop of the tallest waterfall in Japan, the Nachi Falls, the spectacular three-story pagoda of Seigantoji Temple is a magnificent example of harmony between natural and spiritual synergy. The Buddhist temple is situated inside the Shinto Shrine and is the starting point for the Saigoku Pilgrimage, a journey that visits 33 temples dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, throughout the Kansai region. When one is standing in-front of it, it is hard not to be moved.
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)
There is no sight quite like the rising Golden Pavilion, its reflection gently rippling back and forth in the lake at its feet. Calming tranquillity washes over you, and you almost forget you are wall to wall with other tourists from across Japan and the world... almost. It is one of Kyoto's main attractions, and for a good reason, but try to get there when it opens if you want to admire the majestic gold-leafed pavilion and leave with your sanity. The current building is a complete replica of the 14th century that was set alight by monks more than once.
The Wedded Rocks (Meoto Iwa)
These are simply the cutest rocks in Japan! The small rocky stacks in the sea off Futami in the Mie Prefecture are said to represent the union of man and woman in marriage in Shinto tradition and are called either the Wedded Rocks or The Married Couple Rocks. The shimenawa rope that binds them together is a link between this world and the spiritual realm; it weighs over a tonne and is replaced three times a year in a beautiful ceremony.
Literally translated as Pure Water Temple, the Kiyomizudera is one of the most celebrated temples of all Japan. But on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in 780, the Temple is nestled in the wooded hills east of the old capital and gets its name from the fall's pure waters. The temple was initially associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. It was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1994. At night they illuminate the grounds, and it makes the autumn colours burst into bright fiery tones.
Hashigui Iwa Rocks
A collection of pinnacle-shaped coastal rock formations punctuate the coastline of the Kumano Sea, in the Wakayama Prefecture. Legend has it that Kobo Daishi (Kukai), the founder of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism, wanted to make a bridge over the sea to Oshima island in one night, but a demon hindered his success. All that was left were these pointy foundations to the bridge never finished. Whatever story you put behind them, they look spectacular at dusk.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
I left my personal favourite until last. I still have a very vivid memory of the first time I walked along the Bamboo groves in Arashiyama back in 2005. If you go there early, before the tourists arrive, it can be a haven; a peaceful and tranquil place. The towering bamboo on either side of you, the gentle rustle of the wind through the leaves the natural environment is sublime. I can honestly say this was one of the most unique and satisfying experiences I have ever had in my life.
If you enjoyed the images in this article and would like to learn how to take better photos in the magical surroundings of a Japanese Autumn, then we encourage you to join our Japan Autumn Workshop. We are visiting ALL of these sights, as well as Mt Fuji and more in our eight-day intensive photography workshop, led by Sony Alpha Award Winner Andy Yee, and myself, Alexander J.E. Bradley in November 2018.
2018 dates are SOLD OUT - stay tuned for 2019 information.
Author: Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours: professional photography guided tours, designed to help you get the best out of your camera whilst exploring wonderful cities with a local. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.
Photographer: Andy Yee
Sony Digital Imaging Advocate Andy Yee is a travel and tourism photographer with Aperture Tours. He is hosting our eleven-day intensive Japan Winter Workshop in February 2020. Places are limited, so act quickly if you want to be a part of this photographic journey.