When the Lonely Planet announced the Kii Peninsula in Japan as one of the 10 regions to visit in the world in 2018, I wondered where it was. A quick look on the map showed that it was where I lived for 2 years. Oops. I had no idea it was called the Kii Peninsula. I have no excuse other than that I was 21 and stupid.

A monk walks on a path in Koyasan

Why Your Next Trip to Japan Should Include the Kii Peninsula

Twenty-five years later, the Kii Peninsula has suddenly become cool which was news to my friends and I who had lived and taught English in Mie Prefecture. Back then, people in the big cities (including Nagoya) would make fun of Mie as the back of beyond, sort of like the Arkansas of Japan. We apparently learned to speak Japanese with a hick accent but, of course, had no idea we sounded like country bumpkins (much to the amusement of Japanese people in Osaka and Tokyo).

So, Where IS the Kii Peninsula?

It’s the largest peninsula on the main island of Japan, Honshu. Although part of the Kansai region, it is separated from the Kansai plain by the Kii Mountains.

A map of the Kii Peninsula

A map of the Kii Peninsula

Historically a political and cultural force to be reckoned with, Kansai has 7 prefectures (including the major cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara). The Kii Peninsula  encompasses the southern bit of Osaka, and the prefectures of Mie, Nara and Wakayama.

My 2 Years In the Kii Peninsula

Having said Mie Prefecture was a bit rural, I would not have exchanged living there for one of the big Japanese cities. I really had the most wonderful time and met some wonderful people, especially locals. Not that many foreigners came to Mie Prefecture and so curious Japanese locals overcame their natural reserve to speak to me. I was invited to lots of events, family homes etc. and got a real feel for the place. Although occasionally I did feel like a favourite pet.

I lived in Suzuka City which is famous for the F-1 Race Track. Every year around race time, the city would be flooded with foreigners and then they would all disappear again. My race car enthusiast son can’t believe that I was obliged to attend the F-1 event and it wasn’t the highlight of my stay!

Visiting the Kii Peninsula

I am taking my family to visit my old stomping grounds in the Kii Peninsula next week – just in time for spring and cherry blossom season. Here are some the things I am planning on doing with them.

Unlike our last family trip to Japan, we are focussing mainly on the Osaka area for two weeks and spending just a couple of days in Tokyo because my kids love that city.  I’m hoping to transfer some of that Tokyo love to the places around the Kansai region.

In addition to the usual JR Pass, we have purchased a Kansai Area Pass which gives us unlimited travel around the Osaka/Kyoto/Nara area. We had thought about driving in Japan which is very easy because we love road trips. The Japanese rail system though is incredibly fast, efficient and easy to use that it seemed sill not to take advantage of it.

 A Rail map of the Kansai region

A rail map of the Kansai region

Places to Visit in the Kii Peninsula

  • Koyasan is a major Buddhist temple complex and a UNESCO world heritage site. Kumano Pilgrimate routes encompass 3 major Shinto Shrines and is part of the UNESCO world heritage site listing. Mount Yoshino (also included in the listing) is Japan’s most famous place for cherry blossom viewing with 30,000 cherry trees on its slopes.
Some of the 30,000 cherry trees planted on Mt Yoshino during cherry blossom time.

Some of the 30,000 cherry trees planted on Mt Yoshino during cherry blossom time.

The Grand Shrine of Ise is one of the most important places in the Shinto religion. It is part of the Ise-Shima National Park. Nearby you also get the Meoto Iwa sacred rocks which is supposed to represent the holiness of marriage in the Shinto religion. The larger rock is the male (natch) and has a shrine on top of it.

Meoto Iwa are two sacred rocks near the Ise Shrine.

Meoto Iwa are two sacred rocks near the Ise Shrine.

The Mikimoto Pearl Island is located off the coast of Toba and is where the fist cultured pearls were produced by Mikimoto Kokichi in 1893. Sort of like our ogling of the Swarovski Crystal Museum in Austria and the Cartier Paris Exhibit, my daughter and I consider the appreciation of fine jewellery a must-do activity.

A statue to the pioneering of pearl cultivation on Mikimoto Pearl Island

A statue to the pioneering of pearl cultivation on Mikimoto Pearl Island

Nara was the former capital of Japan and has got a UNESCO world heritage site listing. It’s now got a small city charm and a whole lot of assertive deer.

A nosy deer in Nara Park

A nosy deer in Nara park

Travel Bloggers’ Tips to the Kii Peninsula

Since its been quite some time since I lived on the Kii Peninsula, I thought I’d get the input of a few travel bloggers who have visited more recently.

Technically, Kobe isn’t on the Kii Peninsula but it is dear to my heart and very close to Osaka so I have included it. We used to party in Kobe until late and then crash in the all-night cinema near the train station for a late showing while we waited for a train back to Mie-ken.  Back then, I wasn’t going to splurge on a hotel when a movie ticket was so cheap and I definitely couldn’t afford to order any Kobe beef in a restaurant.

In addition, you should note that only the southern part of sprawling Osaka is in the Kii Peninsula. Details, details.

Nara

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