Discover timelessness in Kansai

ENDURING CHARM: In the district of Gion in Kyoto, you can wander through a maze of narrow streets lined with traditional wooden machiya shophouses, and maybe catch a glimpse of a geiko or maiko.


    Feb 26, 2014

    Discover timelessness in Kansai

    IF ONLY one word could be used to describe the region of Kansai in Japan, "timeless" would be it.

    Kansai, also called the Kinki region, occupies the southern-central part of Japan's main island of Honshu.

    The cultural and historical heart of Japan includes major prefectures such as Kyoto and Osaka.

    And it remains a destination unrivalled in heritage and cultural assets.

    Ancient abandoned capitals loom up in stark contrast alongside bustling cityscapes, and each prefecture is peppered with temples, shrines and castles.

    Head north to Kyoto and you would be in the former capital of Japan - still the country's culture centre.

    In the city centre, be sure to visit Gion - possibly the most famous geisha district in Japan.

    Here, wander through a maze of narrow streets lined with traditional wooden machiya shophouses, and maybe catch a glimpse of a geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) or maiko (geisha apprentice) shuffling between teahouses in their exquisite kimono. Better yet, watch them perform traditional dances at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre in April.

    If you need some retail therapy, the neighbouring Osaka, historically Japan's centre of mercantilism, has some excellent shopping.

    Mega shopping malls dominate the city of Osaka, such as the nine-storey Namba Parks, which has a large rooftop garden overlooking the city, as well as the Hankyu Department Store, one of Japan's largest.

    Fans of fantasy series Harry Potter will be glad to know that a new theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, debuts in Universal Studios Japan in Osaka later this year. It will be the first such park to be located outside of the United States, and will feature multiple attractions, such as Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade.

    For a dose of nature, head to GrandBerry farm for strawberry picking (available only from December to late May).

    Once there, opt for a half-hour all-you-can-eat session (reservation required) to savour the sweet-smelling and juicy Akihime strawberries.

    For a peep into the life of a ninja, head to the Iga-ryu Ninja Village in the city of Iga in Mie Prefecture.

    A guide there will take you on a tour of a seemingly banal Ninja House residence. There, you will discover secrets: Escape routes, hidden doors, set traps, and fake hallways.

    You will also get to watch ninjas battle it out in a live rip-roaring show, complete with swords and whizzing blades.

    In the eastern part of Mie lies the renowned Mikimoto Pearl Island, the world's first successful pearl-cultivation site.

    The island, in Toba City, gives visitors insights into pearl cultivation and offers hourly performances by female pearl divers, known as ama.

    These divers, who can dive to depths up to 30m without oxygen tanks, are a sight not to be missed.

    Lovers of the lustrous gem can purchase various pearl jewellery at the Pearl Shop.

    Visit Japan at Natas Travel 2014 at Singapore Expo Hall 3 (Booth 3H74) from Friday to Sunday. Visitors can look forward to on-stage performances and photo-taking opportunities with Hello Kitty. Proudly brought to you by the Japan National Tourism Organisation and Singapore Airlines.