The Kansai region has long been central to the enduring history and deep culture of Japan. Home to the original Japanese capitals, Nara from 710, and then Kyoto from around 794 until 1869, it has 1400 years of history, supporting the various traditional cultures that remain alive across the region. In fact, in 2017, the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs commenced shifting its headquarters from Tokyo to Kyoto, further underlying the importance of the region and its valued historical and cultural treasures.
The Kansai area was the center of politics during the Sengoku, or Warring States period and as such is dotted with samurai castles that once protected the various domains of the daimyo warlords. Among the must-see castles are the National Treasure and UNESCO World Heritage listed Himeji Castle, the best preserved of the military and governmental installations in operation during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The elegant keep of Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture, alongside Lake Biwa is another one of just five castles deemed a National Treasure. Kyoto’s Nijo Castle contains the National Treasure and World Heritage listed Ninomaru Goten Palace, where the last Shogun announced his resignation and the restoration of Imperial rule．Osaka Castle, the symbol of the city of Osaka, retains its extensive stone walls, the highest in Japan.
Six of Japan’s 23 World Cultural Heritage listed sites are located within in the Kansai area, and these sites were recognized in the early stages of Japan’s World Cultural Heritage push, testament to their historical and cultural value.
Nara’s Horyu-ji Temple, the world’s oldest existing wooden structure, along with the Todai-ji Temple and its Great Buddha, and the Kofuku-ji Temple are all World Heritage registered. Himeji Castle, the finest, most extant, of all samurai castles is also in Kansai. Seventeen temples, shrines and gardens form Kyoto City’s, World Heritage list, including the stunning Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion and the Ryoan-ji Temple’s tranquil stone Zen garden. Wakayama Prefecture’s Koyasan is a holy mountain with a mystical atmosphere. Another World Heritage site is the Kumano Kodo, an ancient stone-paved pilgrimage route winding its way through ancient forests, across the mountains and rivers of Mie and Wakayama, linking Kyoto and the Great Shrine of Ise, and three other highly venerated shrines. These and many more sites are representative of the Kansai region’s collective cultural importance.