** Still updating, almost complete **

I just returned from a Media FAM trip to Kansai region in Japan recently. In this post I will share the itinerary planned for the trip which lasted 5 days and 4 nights. Kansai (関西) is the western region of Honshu with the three biggest cities being Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. During the trip we also visited other prefectures and smaller cities such as Shiga, Sakai and Tennoji.

To be clear, this is not meant to be a guide but I hope it will provide useful information to plan your food, shopping and sightseeing activities. Personally, I highly recommend visiting Sakai city and Shiga prefecture because they are budget-friendly destinations with great food – perfect for a pleasant full day trip.

2. Day 2 – Kyoto – Shiga Prefecture

Day-2-Kyoto-Shiga-Prefecture

Visit Enryakuji Temple

Enryaku-ji (延暦寺) is a Tendai monastery located on Mount Hieizan in Ōtsu, the capital city of Shiga Prefecture. The temple complex was founded by Saichō who was also said to be the first to bring tea to Japan. Besides being the headquarters of the Tendai sect, Enryaku-ji is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Enryaku-ji point of interests are concentrated in Todo (east and the main area), Saito (west area) and Yokawa. Todo is where the monastry was founded and where many main buildings are located including the Main Hall and Amida Hall.

To reach here, you can take a bus from the Kyoto Station but it does not operate during winter. Other transportation options include Eizan Electric Railway, Eizan Cable and Eizan Ropeway.

Try Shojin Ryori (Japanese Buddhist Cuisine)

Shojin Ryori is Japan’s sophisticated Buddhist cuisine. It gained immense popularity in the 13th century with the spread of Buddhism. Being a vegetarian meal prepared without using meat, fish or animal products, it can be enjoyed by anyone who is vegan, vegetarian or meat eaters.

Tofu, konnyaku, pickles, seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants are used in a typical Shojin Ryori meal for a mix of nutrients the human body needs. It was a lot more delicious than anticipated and not to mention you get to enjoy a blissful view of Kyoto, Shiga and Lake Biwa from the restaurant’s windows.

Ride the Mount Hieizan Cable Car

After completing the visit of Enryaku-ji, take the longest cable car ride in Japan to descend to Lake Biwa on the Sakamoto Cable Car which is operated by Keihan Railway. The ride takes about 11 minutes and it’s accompanied by a view directly over Lake Biwa and other greeneries in the mountain.

While waiting for the cable car to arrive, don’t miss the opportunity to feed wild birds with free peanuts provided outside the station. It’s an experience you will treasure!

Lunch – Omi Shamo Sukiyaki

For lunch, try Sukiyaki prepared using Omi Shamo chicken at Otsu Uochu (大津魚忠), a townhouse-style restaurant where guests get to dine in private tatami rooms. Kansai style sukiyaki is served here, in which the meat is first heated in the pot then added with sugar, sake and soy sauce to simmar together when it’s almost cooked. It’s quite different from the Kanto style which we are familiar with.

A full Sukiyaki course for a group of 4 comes with whole Omi Shamo hen and all parts of the chicken including the liver, gizzard and ovary with plenty of vegetables.

Lake Biwa Cruise

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is the largest freshwater lake in Japan located in Shiga Prefecture, northeast of the city of Kyoto. From north to south, the lake spans 63.49km so it can be easily mistaken for the ocean. Lake Biwa was formed more than 4 million years ago making it one of the oldest lakes in the world.

Besides being a tourist attraction, it serves as a reservoir for surrounding cities and is an important resource for drinking water and various industries nearby. Many freshwater fish, including trout breed in the lake which are turned into valuable food source.

Various cruise options are available at Biwako Kisen and depending on the season, you may also get to enjoy the cherry blossoms of Kaizu Osaki and Okubiwako from the comfort of your ship.

Visit Farmer’s Market Ohminchi

Try Funa Zushi

Funa-zushi, or fermented sushi is an ancient sushi made with freshwater crucian carp known as funa in Japan. FYI the widely eaten sushi nowadays is referred as Edomae-style sushi which originated from the Edo (former name of Tokyo) period.

To prepare this delicacy, pregnant crucian carps are first pickled in salt for a year. Then the fish is covered in boiled rice and left to ferment for a few more months. Every restaurant has its preferred pickling period, but it’s typically between one to three years.

The longer the fish and rice are fermented, the cheese-like aroma gets more intense and the price is higher too. Obviously, it is an acquired taste but with immensely healthy due to its purportedly high lactic acid content. From my own experience, pairing Funa-Zushi with sake makes it a lot more palatable.

The ladyboss whom we had the pleasure to meet at Shijimimeishi Koshu looked like she’s in her 40s with young and smooth skin despite being 55 years old. She credited her youthful looks on a diet of funa-zushi.

Dinner – Ohmi, Biwako Hotel

The top three brands of wagyu beef in Japan are Omi, Kobe and Matsusaka beef. Omi beef is known as the oldest beef brand in Japan that dates back 400 years ago and it originated in the Shiga Prefecture.

Omi beef’s deliciousness lies in the rich, natural environment that the cattles were raised in. Couple that with the pristine water found in Lake Biwa and what you get is a world class beef that is tender, finely marbled and full of flavor.

To enjoy a teppanyaki steak course that’s prepared with Omi beef, head to Biwako Hotel‘s Ohmi restaurant, where your meal is nicely paced allowing you to savor every course to the fullest.