Kansai, Japan’s Three Sacred Mountains: Explore World Heritage Sites Through Japanese Sake and Tea
This is a story of Japanese sake, tea, and railroads in the Kansai region.
One of the great things about the Kansai Area is that no matter how many times you visit the area, there’s always something new to discover.
Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Wakayama, and Shiga. If you’re someone who visits Japan and the Kansai Area regularly, we’re sure you’re well aware of these areas. However, this time we’re going to change your perspective a little, and put the spotlight on some lesser known topics such as Japanese tea, Sake, and World Heritage sites.
This series of articles sees us visiting 3 different areas using 3 different railways, enjoying unique food, doing unique activities, experiencing new things, and many more!
We are very excited to share this journey with our Japan-loving fans!
We’re sure many of our Kansai chan Guide readers have been missing Japan and can’t wait to travel here again! Follow us on this journey and let us alleviate those needs!
A Luxurious Trip with Uji Tea and World Heritage Sites Feat. the Keihan Electric Railway
(Uji, Kyoto / Otsu, Shiga)
―What kind of place is Uji?
It’s impossible to talk about Kyoto without mentioning Japanese tea. Many of you may associate Uji with Matcha, but did you know that Uji which is located in the southern part of Kyoto, is actually Japan’s true birthplace of Japanese green tea?
Around the World Heritage Site, Byodoin Temple, you’ll find many tea houses within which you can enjoy not only tea but also confectionary such as dango dumplings and matcha sweets as well.
The cultivation of Uji Tea is said to have begun in the 13th century during the Kamakura period (1185-1333 CE), with green tea gaining rapid popularity similar to the level of that today during the 18th century or the Edo Period.
Within Uji, a type of cultivation known as cover cropping is used which is said to help grow fresher leaves and bring out a sweeter and tastier flavor.
Japanese tea is also rich in various minerals such as catechin, vitamin C, and more! This means that it can help with the prevention of the common cold, and even decrease the chances and risk of death from diseases such as cancer.
Within these minerals, theanine that can be found within Uji Tea is said to increase the flavor of the tea, and ensure minimal bitterness. This highly renowned ingredient is typically used within powdered green tea (“Tencha” in Japanese) or Gyokuro (High-quality green tea).
Where can you experience all of these foods, sweets, and more tea-related items, you might ask?
The holy land of tea; Uji, of course!
Uji Tea, which has recently been registered as a trademark, is making its way to becoming a World Cultural Heritage. Which is why it is something you should not miss out on!
―What kind of place is Otsu?
Otsu is located on the north and south side of Japan’s largest lake; Lake Biwa.
Approximately 1,350 years ago, Emperor Tenji had the capital moved, building temples and shrines that are currently registered as World Heritage Sites such as Enryakuji Temple (shown above), Hiyoshi-Taisha Shrine (shown Below), Omi-jingu Shrine, and more Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
If you visit Otsu in Shiga Prefecture, don’t forget to take some snapshots of Lake Biwa.
At Biwako Hotel, all rooms have a view of the lake, which allows you a personal look at Japan’s largest lake. How spectacular!
You’re also able to visit the observation deck on the 13th floor of the hotel to see a panoramic view of the lake from up high.
Address：2-40 Hamamachi, Otsu, Shiga
Access：5-minute walk from Biwako-Hamaōtsu Station (Keihan Railway)
It would be a waste if you came all the way to Kansai to try only one thing and leave!
In fact, Shiga Prefecture is well known for its fine teas since the ancient times. Thanks to its climate and terrain which are prefect for tea cultivation, high quality Sencha are grown all over the prefecture.
“Asamicha”, considered one of the five greatest Japanese tea, and Tsuchiyama Tea, which is awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, are two signature Shiga-born tea.
In addition, in Sakamoto of Otsu there is the Yoshi Tea Garden which is said to be oldest tea garden in Japan and the birthplace of Japanese tea.
If you want to choose a great souvenir to send to your friends or family, then you’re going to want to pick up some universally loved tea from Nakagawa Seisei-do Tea House which was founded in 1858. It’s only a short 10 minute walk from Biwako Hotel!
With over a 100 different types of green tea alone, you have no choice but to try some!
📍Nakagawa Seisei-do Tea House
Address：3 Chome-1-35 Chuo, Otsu, Shiga
Holidays：Sunday, Public Holidays
Access：12-minute walk from Keihan Shimanoseki Station
Cheers to Beautiful Cherry Blossom Sights and Japanese Sake Feat. Kintetsu Railway (Abenohashi, Osaka / Yoshino, Nara)
―What kind of place is Yoshino?
Yoshino is a town with a 100-year-old traditional Japanese inn and a World Heritage Site! The Kintetsu Railway connects Osaka and Nara, and we used it to visit the World Heritage Site and one of Japan’s sacred mountains; Mount Yoshino!
Yoshino itself is extremely famous for its cherry blossom trees, so much so that people will probably think of Yoshino when just mentioning cherry blossoms. However, that’s not the only thing that this amazing location has to offer.
There’s a chance to relax, avoid the crowds, and see some amazing sights and discover untold secrets if you visit in the off season.
Mount Yoshino is actually split into 4 areas, Shimo Senbon, Naka Senbon, Kami Senbon, and Oku Senbon. The mountain itself is registered under the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
There’re some other World Heritage Sites on or close by to the mountain a well such as the Kinpusen-ji Temple which is worth a visit!
While the air here is pure and fresh, it’s not the only delicious item on the menu!
At lunch time in Yoshino, the Kakinoha-zushi (persimmon leaf sushi) is a must-try. Salted Japanese salmon and mackerel, are placed over a luxurious bed of delicious white rice, then they are wrapped in permission leaf to avoid drying out.
It’s the perfect harmony of flavors that leaves you wanting more after every bite!
If you’re still not satisfied with everything you’ve done thus far, it might be the perfect opportunity to stay at one of the local Japanese inns, visitor’s or pilgrims’ lodgings, or guesthouse during your stay.
If you choose the Scenic Inn Hounkan which opened its doors in 1754, you’ll find a huge collection of mouth-watering seasonal & traditional Japanese meals brought in courses to try.
As you’re eating, your eyes may be drawn to the multicolored bottles of Japanese sake (which we bought at Miyoshino Sake Brewery at the foot of Mount Yoshino). With such combination of delicious food and delicious drinks, the night is surely going to be a fun one!
From Japan’s Town of Blade Artisans to the Holy Land of Buddhism Feat. Nankai Electric Railway (Sakai, Osaka / Koya, Wakayama)
―What kind of place is Sakai?
Sakai has really great access from Namba Station. It’s a mere 10-minute ride, which transforms your surroundings and atmosphere into a more calming and relaxed feel.
Sakai is often known as Osaka’s commuter town, with various keywords you shouldn’t forget when visiting such as Tea Saint; Sen no Rikyū!
Starting off with making knives to cut the leaves of tobacco plants, Sakai Blades have come to be known as some of the best in the world. These knives can be found not only in Japanese households, but in the kitchens of chefs worldwide!
If you head to the second floor of the Sakai City Traditional Crafts Museum, you’ll find the Sakaihamono Museum “CUT” where you can learn about the history of these amazing tools.
If you head to the nearby Wada Shōten you can even try making your very own knives (although professional artisans will make 80% of it for you).
This is a town where you can truly enjoy a side-by-side experience with the craftsmen and women that work there!
📍Sakai Traditional Crafts Museum
Address：1-chōme-1-30 Zaimokuchōnishi, Sakai Ward, Sakai, Osaka
Holidays：every 3rd Tuesday（the following day in the event Tuesday is a public holiday）, 12/29-01/03, May have shortened business hours）
Access：15-minute walk from Nankai Sakai Station ※Planned for renewal and re-opening at the end of March, 2022.
Address：1-chōme-1-1 Shinmeichōhigashi, Sakai Ward, Sakai, Osaka
Holidays：Sundays and public holidays – (experiences can be reserved on Sundays and public holidays)
Access：18-minute walk from Nankai Sakai Station
―What kind of place is Koya?
Koya is the home of Mount Koya, the holy land of Japanese Buddhists with over 1,200 years of history.
In 2004 it was registered under the UNESCO Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range as a World Heritage Site alongside Mount Yoshino.
It sees not only many believers in the faith but also a large number of foreign and local sightseers who come to visit.
At the summit of the mountain, you’ll find the Buddhist Temple Kongobuji, as well as visitor’s or pilgrims’ lodgings, temples dedicated to Japanese warlords.
You’ll also find Japanese gardens, and temples where you can enjoy vegetarian Buddhist meals. It’s fun to pick a lodging that suits how you want to expereince staying in this amazing spot.
Mornings are quite early in temples, so make sure to get some sleep and participate in the morning service!
After finishing breakfast and leaving the lodging, it was still just 9:00am. Hearing that there was some goma dofu (tofu-like dish made with ground sesame paste) which is so popular it always sells out at noon, we headed to the historic 100-year-old store Hamadaya.
Eating goma dofu which is high in protein, minerals, and vitamins was perfect alongside the vegetarian Buddhist meals. This will ensure that we’re fit and healthy not only on the outside, but on the inside as well!
Address：444 Kōyasan, Koya, Ito District, Wakayama
Business Hours：09:00～17:00（closes once all products sold）
Great Value Tickets For Your Journey in Kansai
Here are some great value tickets and rail passes for your journey around Kansai. Make sure to check all of the details on the various homepages listed below!
- JR-West Kansai WIDE Area Excursion Pass A limited Time Offer Available to Foreign Residents of Japan
- 5 Best things to do in ISESHIMA
- Off the Beaten Path in Western Japan