Exploring West of Japan with JR West Rail Pass is a bliss!
The Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass is a rail pass available exclusively for foreign tourists, providing five consecutive days of unlimited rides on designated train and bus lines (including non-reserved seats on Shinkansen) in Kansai area, along the Sanyo Coast till Hiroshima. The pass also entitled holders to discounts with the participating merchants.
It is recommended to start your journey from Hiroshima and end with Kansai so that you can fully maximize your time and have more exploration.
The Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass can be purchased online from selected travel agencies outside of Japan, online on JR West website at (http://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/) and at major railway stations in the covered areas.
Please note that if you purchase the rail pass outside of Japan or online, a voucher will be issued and you have to exchange for the actual pass when you arrive in Japan at the station in the covered area. Purchasing of the rail pass in Japan is slightly more expensive and limit to one purchase per person and stay.
In Hiroshima, there are 2 iconic places of interest to check out. Itsukushima Shrine, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that we adored.
Best known for its “floating” Otorii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine was built to worship the mystical power of the island given by the goddesses that many Japanese had felt.
When you visit, remember to take plenty of pictures, play with the deers and help yourself to a delicious oysters that Hiroshima is famous for.
JR West Rail Pass entitled us to reach Itsukushima Shrine with free ferry ride from JR Miyajima Guchi Station after we alighted, a useful privilege for the pass holder.
Another UNESCO Site to visit in Hiroshima is Atomic Bomb Dome. The ruin of the dome serves as a memorial to the people who were killed in the atomic bombing to Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.
Hiroshima Orizuru Tower (Origami Crane)(http://www.orizurutower.jp/en/) is built at the area to pray for good fortune to the Japanese as the crane symbolizes longevity and represents hope with strong belief that folding orizuru can be rewarded with health, happiness, and peace. This was said to be a tradition from Sadako Sasaki, who was a victim of the atomic bombing too.
The rail pass holder can get discount to the admission of Orizuru Tower, which can sight The Peace Memorial Park, The Atomic Bomb Dome, Mt. Misen of Miyajima and catch the beautiful sunset which the place is also famous for.
Proceed to Orizuru Square in the tower where you fold Orizuru & drop your ‘wishes’ into the transparent wall, a distinct feature of the tower that are filled with prayers from all around the world.
I stayed in Hotel Granvia Hiroshima, (http://www.hgh.co.jp/english/) which has direct connection from Hiroshima Station. The hotel is runs by the JR West Group and has a newly built area connecting the hotel to the station, making the stay at Hotel Granvia Hiroshima convenient no matter rain or shine.
Their Japanese breakfast is very authentic and lovely with ingredients sourced fresh locally. Another highlight of the hotel is their May Flower Main Bar where the Handsome Top Bartender will impress you with his flair of art in cocktail. Must try his signature Grilled Apple Martini that tasted uniquely like an alcoholic apple pie to me. Refreshing.
Proceed to Okayama next day from Hiroshima and check out their super cute Hello Kitty Shinkansen (https://www.jr-hellokittyshinkansen.jp/en/) launched in Jun 18. With JR West Rail Pass, which is covering Shinkansen line between Shin – Osaka and Hakata for free at no extra charge.
The first 2 cabin of the Shinkansen are paraded with everything Hello Kitty and friends, in local specialities, delicacies, limited edition souvenirs and a photo booth which passengers can enjoy and buy. Kids area for simulated driving can be found in cabin 8!
There will be around 10 mins stop at Fukuyama Station and you must take this opportunity to have photos taken with the famous Fukuyama Castle and exterior of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen.
You can also stop at Kurashiki Station to check out the area which is also known as the Venice of Japan. A European style village constructed in the 19th century located by the Kurashiki River, the white painted houses with black tiles were actually warehouses in this district. Spam photo taking of the beautiful sceneries and shop at Kurashiki Denim Street for merchandises made with denim. This is also the birth place of the famous Edwin Jeans!
I like a sweet shop with name Kurashiki Momoko (http://www.kurashikimomoko.jp) that specializes in momo peach products and seasonal parfaits. I tried their seasonal ichigo parfait that came layered with creme brulee custard and strawberry ice cream that is really delicious, fresh and not cloying sweet.
There are many interesting spots in Kurashiki, and one of it is the Momotaro Karakuri Hakubutsukan Museum with fascinating trick eyes magic and mystical exhibits. JR West Rail Pass holder gets special discount for the admission to this museum!
Check in to Hotel Granvia Okayama (https://translation2.j-server.com/LUCHGOKA/ns/tl.cgi/https://granvia-oka.co.jp/?SLANG=ja&TLANG=en&XMODE=0&XJSID=0) for their newly revamped comfort. This JR West Group Hotel Granvia Okayama is beside Okayama Station, where the major shopping malls such as Takashimaya, Don Quijote, Aeon Mall and Okayama Korakuen Garden, one of the top 3 garden listed to visit in Japan.
I’ve enjoyed their really comfortable hotel room, sakura shochu cocktail, special gozen dinner & seasonal parfait to look out for, but the real highlights are definitely the special packages such as golfing, saké brewery tour, kimono / yukata experience, and etc for hotel staying guests.
In the day, take up their kimono experience package where you woke up to the wonderful buffet breakfast after a good night rest and get dressed in traditional kimono by the professional with optional makeup and hair styling service.
After which, you are free to have the kimono for a day and it is recommended to visit Okayama Castle & Korakuen Garden (one of Top 3 Japanese Garden in Japan) for sight seeing & photo taking with the magnificent landscapes. There are even a café and boat rental service for leisure activities.
Else, take a lovely night stroll and discover the other side of beauty of Okayama Korakuen Garden and Okayama Castle where the place got illuminated with beautiful lights for a refreshing experience. There is a direct bus from the hotel to the garden at ¥100, available specially for the hotel guests.
I had a special sushi lunch at Kido Airaku Sushi Restaurant when I was in Okayama. This is a popular sushi restaurant helmed by Sushi Master Chef Yasuo Namba with more than 40 years in operation. Other than delicious sushi, they have sushi workshop and no pork no lard menu because Okayama Health Tourism is enthusiastic in welcoming more muslims to visit Okayama.
At Kido Airaku, I made my own nigiri sushi at the workshop and it was so much fun! Chef Yasuo is very patient despite being a clumsy student. He also taught me the correct way of eating sushi and gave certification for completing the workshop. Their tempura and steamed cheese are also recommended to have as they are delicious simply because of the fresh ingredients used.
Move on and travel to Shin – Osaka next! With the fastest and most frequent Shinkansen NOZOMI to UNESCO World Heritage site Himeji Castle that is located near to Himeji Station. There is a coin locker area at the station for storage of belongings, very convenient for travelers like us.
I really must emphasized that JR West Rail Pass (regional pass) is a discounted pass available to foreign tourists that brought me to many places of interest and taking NOZOMI shinkansen at no extra cost where Japan Rail Pass (nation wide pass) cannot. JR West Rail Pass is really useful and my time saver.
Check out the magnificent Himeji Castle for its elegance beauty, especially during events such as Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Season in March.
Chanced upon these beautful light installations at TOKI–NO–Hiroba when I reached Osaka at Osaka Station. The light illuminations changed accordingly to the music and they are going to have a special for Valentine Day which i think will be romantic. I hope to see some other light illuminations if I’m back at Osaka Station next time.
Tsutaya Bookstore in its new fashionable outlook, a section that sells exclusive Hello Kitty Shinkansen merchandises, Kuchu–teien Observatory at Umeda Sky Building (10 mins from Osaka Station) for its famous sunset skyline are worth checking out. The JR West Rail Pass holder will get 10% off for admission to the building too.
For a unique experience, visit shopping space Takimi Koji Underground Eat Street where it mimicked scenes from the Taisho Edo Period, the place radiates old japan charm and every spots are highly Instagram worthy. There are many good restaurants at here and I bought lots of my favorite Banshodo warabi mochi at here. You can even check out LUCUA Osaka (connected to JR Osaka Station if you need more shopping!
Do you know you can take a 1/2 hour Shinkansen ride and reach Kobe from Osaka? Besides enjoying Kobe Beef, Sweets and Fashion, explore Kobe Harborland (shopping entertainment district) and Meriken Park, a nice waterfront park in Kobe’s port area. The waterfront area is cool and spacious with iconic architectures such as Kobe Port Tower and Kobe Maritime Museum around.
Check in to Hotel Vischio Osaka or Hotel Granvia Osaka if you are in Osaka.
Hotel Vischio Osaka (https://www.hotelvischio-osaka.com/en) is a brand new trendy hotel from JR West Group that is simplistic and reasonably priced. It is conveniently located near to JR Osaka Station (5 min by foot) and surrounded by shopping malls, convenience stalls and Izakaya. JR West Rail Pass holder gets 10% discount on meals at Italian Kitchen Verde Cassa in the hotel, great one!
Hotel Vischio has a very cool buffet breakfast line features Osaka Favorites such as Takoyaki (octopus balls), Okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes), and Kushikatsu (fried skewers) in additional to its awesome Japanese + Western buffet spread! I got happily fueled up for more sight seeings and shopping after this.
On the other hand, Hotel Granvia Osaka (https://www.hotelgranviaosaka.jp/en/) is a sophisticated hotel that is directly connected to JR Osaka Station. This is extremely blissful, especially after a day of active sightseeing and shopping.
Hotel Granvia Osaka has spacious guest rooms with fine amenities that I love about. One of the newly added service is you can bring the in–room smartphone out to make phonecall, get internet, use apps and travel guide for free, awesomeness! JR West Rail Pass holder also gets 10% discount at selected restaurants in the hotel.
I’m madly missing the unlimited mentaiko, deep fried rice balls and baked salt pudding that I had at the breakfast. Breakfast in a hotel always tasted extra great right?
Visit tourists hotspot Nara next and make sure you alight at the Nara JR Station. This station has a shopping complex and when you exit from the East Exit, you can find a Tourist Information Center housed in an old station building, Their multilingual staffs are there to help us with the enquiries.
JR West Rail Pass holder can rent a bicycle and cycle around Nara for free! There are many shops to shop around, restaurants to visit and even an old toy museum to visit.
Todai–ji one of Japan’s most historically temple and Nara Park (for those cute deers) are commonly visited by all tourists.
You must also check out UNESCO Site Heijo Palace as it showcased the historic intelligent reconstructions of the structures throughout the decades. These buildings were constructed withhout any nails!
Naramachi, a district in Nara has traditional residential buildings and warehouses (edo period) preserved and opened to the public. The shops, cafes, restaurants and a few museums located at there are worth visiting for their unique and exclusive outlooks.
Kappou Matsuki (http://www.kappou-matsuki.com) is also located at the picturesque Naramachi (about 15 min walk from JR Nara Station) is a classic Japanese restaurant that is quaint and private. Their food focuses on using Yamato vegetables (vegetables grown in Nara) and seasonal ingredients with very lovely natural flavors and great freshness. A 10 course omakase lunch cost around ¥5000, which is really reasonable for the standard. Dining at Kappou Matsuki is exclusively by reservation only.
I’ve stayed at the huge Hotel Nikko Nara (https://www.okura-nikko.com/japan/nara/hotel-nikko-nara/) that is directly connected to JR Nara Station. This granted me quick and convenient access to the hotel which is easily reachable from the west exit of JR Nara Station, directly on the left of the ticket gate.
Hotel Nikko Nara provides many facilities exclusively for their guests such spa & massage and free access to a Japanese–style bath house. The guest room is big by Japanese standard. Some of the rooms have bathrooms divided into different sections and you get to experience the Japanese way of bathing by sitting on a stool.
The food in the hotel is excellent as they focus on using seasonal and locally fresh produces. You will find many interesting dishes that you might not have tried, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Do not miss the opportunity to taste Nara with Hotel Nikko Nara if you are visiting!
Ending my trip with Kyoto, a highly sought region to visit by visitors around the world. In Kyoto, you must explore Fushimi Inari Taisha, the most familiar shrine to the Japanese which has about 1300 years of history. Each torii represents 30,000 of the headquarters in Japan and they believe that one can get good luck in life when they walked through those torii.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is located right outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line. The shrine is a joint effort from the merchants & manufacturers to worship the god of rice.
Foxes are often regraded as the messengers in the shrine because the Japanese believed they possess superior intelligence and magical powers. While I did not get to meet them in real, I got a soft toy at one of the shops at the shrine. The savory soy sauce grilled mochi at the shrine is very delicious too!
Kyoto Railway Museum (http://www.kyotorailwaymuseum.jp/sp/en/) is the newest museum in Japan that exhibits the history of the railroad innovations. This new museum is an expansion from the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum which has many exhibits taken from the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka (now closed).
JR West Rail Pass holder gets 10% discount on the admission.
Feel like you travel back in time to experience the steam and sound from the great steam locomotive ride at this museum. I also saw many families enjoying the railway bento boxes in the eatery located in one of the train cars at level 1.
Kyoto Railway Museum is located at west of Kyoto Station and take around 20 mins walk from the north central exit of Kyoto Station. A new station “Umekouji Kyotonishi Station” has opened on 16 Mar 19 beside Kyoto Railway Museum.
The trip ended perfectly for me when I took the train to Kansai Station for Kansai International Airport and even stayed for a night at Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport (https://www.okura-nikko.com/japan/osaka/hotel-nikko-kansai-airport/). The whole journey is well connected with JR West Railway system and no time is wasted for unnecessary traveling.
My thoughts on the trip
To sum up and my final thoughts on JR West Kansai – Hiroshima Area Pass and the trip.
- Unlimited use of JR trains along the covered areas.
- Unlimited use of non-reserved seats on the Sanyo Shinkansen (including Nozomi & Mizuho) between Shin-Osaka and Hiroshima.
- Unlimited use of JR ferry to Miyajima.
- Unlimited use of local JR buses around Hiroshima.
- Free use of rental bicycles at designated Ekirin Kun outlets within the covered area.
- The pass is very affordable as other transportations in Japan can be expensive.
- Reserved seats for the trains are not covered by this pass so will have to be paid separately.
- Tokaido Shinkansen between Kyoto and Osaka is not covered with this pass.
- The pass is valid for five consecutive calendar days only (midnight to midnight) so you really need to plan your trip well.
- The pass can only be used by a single person and cannot be transferred between multiple persons. The pass holder has to carry his/her passport at all times. So make sure you key in the correct number and passport details when you make purchase of the rail pass.