Once a prayer for maritime safety and a bountiful catch, the puppet theatre of Awaji Island, Hyogo Prefecture has over some 500 years evolved into a truly defining art. At its peak, over 40 troupes numbering over 1000 actors toured the country, performing village-to-village, town-to-town. The war hit the tradition hard and for years its popularity fell, but some 50 years ago a permanent company was founded and today you can still enjoy this incredible and unique display.
First built in Hyogo Prefecture's south in 1333, Himeji Castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of original Japanese castle architecture and it's not hard to see why; the castle is also known as 'Hakuro-jō' or 'Shirasagi-jō' (白鷺城, "White Heron Castle") due to its beautiful white exterior said to resemble a bird taking flight.
Welcome to Hyogo Prefecture! The Port Tower in the prefectural capital of Kobe is one of both the city’s and the prefecture’s instantly recognisable landmarks and is a splendid sight at night alongside the many other illuminated structures on the Harborland waterfront.
Almost "floating" just off of Lake Biwa's southwestern shore in the prefectural capital of Ōtsu, Mangetsu-ji Temple's Ukimidō Hall is one of the Eight Views of Ōmi (modern-day Shiga Prefecture) as depicted by the world-renowned artist Hiroshige in his print, 'The wild geese returning home at Katata'.
Together with neighbouring Iga, Kōga in southern Shiga Prefecture was once the home of the ninja during Japan's warring states period of the 15th and 16th centuries. Discover the history of this band of secret fighters and even try your hand at throwing the infamous 'shuriken' (手裏剣, throwing star) at a throwing range!
Established way back in 741, Shiga’s Kongorinji Temple and its rows and rows of ‘jizo’ guardian statues enchant visitors all year round. Its main hall, built in 1288, miraculously survived attacks in 1573 and is now a National Treasure, whilst the 500-year old gardens are a designated Place of Scenic Beauty. During peak autumn, take the Koto Sanzan shuttle bus running between the three Koto Sanzan temples in the area and Hikone and Yokaichi stations for access to more of Shiga’s historic wonders.
One of only 12 Japanese castles with the original keep, Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture offers a glimpse into the past world of feudal lords and battle. The castle combines a unique mix of architectural styles and is surrounded by the stunning colours of different flowers and leaves all year round.
Welcome to Shiga! Shiga is synonymous with Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake and 1/6 of Shiga Prefecture's total area! For stunning panoramic views of Lake Biwa and its colourful surroundings why not take a ride on the Biwako Valley ropeway?
Need a pick-me-up? "Wagashi" (和菓子) are the perfect sugary treat - made from sweet beans and carefully crafted into beautiful shapes that reflect the seasons, wagashi sweets are great on their own, and especially good with some bitter matcha tea - a classic Kyoto combo.
The narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops of the Higashiyama District in western Kyoto (city) possess a charm utterly unique to the city. Top all that off with a stunning view of the main pagoda of nearby Kiyomizu-dera Temple and you can confidently say you've witnessed a true Kyoto sight.
Get lost in the green glow and tranquility of the Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, western Kyoto (city). The forest is officially designated as one of the "100 Soundscapes of Japan" by the Japanese Ministry of Environment.
For an even more unique floral experience head to Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture's north west between mid-Apil and mid-May. During this one month period, Shiizaki-Inari Shrine is enveloped by the deep purple hue of blooming azaleas. There's even a row of ascending torii gates for the perfect picture!
If it's tradition that you're after then why not venture into Kyoto Prefecture's northwest? Ine's 230 "funaya" (舟屋, wooden fishing houses) stood one after the other are testament to the local fishing and farming industries that have sustained the Wakasa Bay's inhabitants for generations.
Welcome to Kyoto! Kyoto is the other of Japan’s two “fu” (府, urban prefecture) having served as the capital almost uninterrupted from 794-1868, thus earning it the nickname, “the thousand-year capital” (千年の都, sen nen no miyako). The city is famed for its preservation of traditional Japanese culture, from geisha in kimono to “kaiseki ryōri” (会席料理, traditional Japanese multi-course cuisine) and the tea ceremony to the city’s many temples.
The Tempozan Ferris Wheel in Osaka Bay is one of the world's largest, standing an impressive 112m tall with a diameter of 100m. Its vibrant lights have become one of Osaka's defining attractions and a welcome sign for those flying into the region's neaby Kansai International Airport (KIX).
Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most recognisable landmarks and famously played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 16th century. The castle is surrounded by a large moat and is a wonderful sight all year round.
Danjiri Matsuri are festivals in which large wooden carts in the shape of a shrine or temple are pulled by teams of men. The largest and most famous is considered to be the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri (岸和田だんじり祭り) held in Kishiwada, southern Osaka Prefecture since 1703. 34 teams, one representing each of Kishiwada's neighbourhoods compete by pulling their 4-ton danjiri through the city's streets.