An Alternative Traveling Guide to Kansai: Zone Out at Secret Gourmet Restaurants
Are you already used to the liveliness of Osaka, the traditional townscape of Kyoto, and the deer of Nara? Classic sightseeing spots like these are great to visit, but if you've already been to Japan multiple times, why not spend a day exploring someplace different? It'll no doubt be more serene thanks to the lack of tourists, and you'll have a grand time discovering a brand new side to Japan! Here are some amazing restaurants with delicious menus that are located in the slightly more remote (but still incredibly accessible!) areas of the Kansai region.
Jul 25 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
HOVEL Kusayama (Sasayama, Hyogo)
This restaurant is located on an isolated mountain that can be hard to find even with navigation apps like Google.
To achieve his dreams, the owner of HOVEL Kusayama moved from Kobe to the rural Sasayama. Aiming to lead a self-sufficient life away from the hustle and bustle, he does everything from splitting firewood to baking handmade bread and Italian cuisine in a kiln, using only the most authentic and freshest ingredients. Even the Italian spices are picked from the garden in front of the restaurant for immediate use!
There are seats both indoors and outdoors to choose from. The seasonings used may be simple, but the delicious taste is unforgettable. The lush green scenery outside the window, sunlight spilling into the room, and the calm atmosphere will let you temporarily forget all your troubles.
* Recommended attractions nearby: Sasayama Castle, Byakugoji Temple (for seeing the wisteria blooms in early May)
Fukiage No Mori (Sanda, Hyogo)
Located in the quiet woods next to a golf course, this coffee shop was rebuilt out of an old house. The old-fashioned furniture and dimly-lit rooms somehow give you a peace of mind, while the untrimmed Japanese garden and forest outside the windows remind you of the old house that it used to be.
The picture above shows the Grape Sundae that is only available in summer. Not only is it eye candy, but the taste is also sweet and refreshing. The portion may not look large, but there are a lot of ingredients used in the sundae, including a lot of honey cakes and grape jellies covered by a layer of vanilla ice cream, with a final touch of Pione and Kyoho grapes on top. You can imagine the amount of effort put in by the owner just by looking at the plating. Don’t worry about missing the summer season, as there are beautiful strawberry sundaes in winter waiting for you!
* Recommended attractions nearby: Kobe Sanda Premium Outlets, Arima Onsen
Reception Garden (Kyotango, Kyoto)
If you are getting tired of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kinkakuji Temple, and Fushimi Inari Shrine, why not visit “Kyoto by the Sea” Kyotango? The area is well known for Amanohashidate, one of Japan's top three scenic views, as well as for its "funaya" scenery consisting of fishermen homes lined up at the waterfront of the small town Ine.
Here you'll find Hotel Holiday Home, a hotel facing Kumihama Bay that houses the second branch of Michelin-star restaurant Ro-an as well as the featured restaurant, Reception Garden. This restaurant serves up dishes made with freshly caught seafood and wild Kyoto vegetables. Its decor is simple yet grand, with a lot of wooden furniture and French windows.
The picture above is the restaurant's special lunch, which includes a main course, cold soup, and drink. Gaze upon the forest under a clear sky while enjoying the freshest ingredients of the season.
* Recommended attractions nearby: Amanohashidate, Shotenkyo, Kumihama Bay, Tango Railway
Mo-an (Sakyo-ku, Kyoto)
Tourists that have been to Kyoto multiple times might have heard of Mo-an before. It is difficult to find and the little slope that you must climb to get there dampens the enthusiasm of many travelers, but it is still a place worth visiting. This wooden building used to be a private teahouse back in the Taisho era, and even today, tea ceremonies and tours are held once a month. It was also designated as a tangible cultural property by the Kyoto City government in 2016.
The dining hall on the second floor does not have many seats, nor is it grandly decorated, but the lighting gives the illusion of dining in a forest. Daily set meals and coffee are served during lunch, and there is even uji kintoki (matcha and red bean shaved ice) available during the summer. Why not eat some while listening to the humming of the cicadas and gazing at Kyoto's urban landscape?
The cafe is accessible by 3-4 different routes on the hill, but it is recommended to follow the route suggested on the official website to avoid getting lost.
Udon Honjin Yamadaya (Takamatsu, Kagawa)
Affectionately nicknamed the“Udon Prefecture”, Kagawa has long been famous for its Sanuki udon. There are supposedly more than 600 udon restaurants in Kagawa, so it is hard to find a ramen or soba restaurant here.
Out of the many old restaurants here that have been passed down from generation to generation, Udon Honjin Yamadaya is the most unique. Apart from serving genuine handmade udon, the restaurant covers a width of 242 square meters, and is listed as an important tangible cultural property because of its old Japanese architecture and garden. It is also ranked in the top 100 best restaurants on a well-known restaurant review website in Japan.
Sitting in the restaurant's quaint Japanese building and eating handmade udon is a truly unique experience that makes travelling to its inconvenient location worth it. The (Hot/Cold) Kamaage Udon Set is highly recommended. You can pour fresh egg yolk onto the udon and mix it with seasonings to suit your preference. The chewy texture makes it hard to stop eating. The freshly fried tempura is also delicious, and you can also order the refreshing inari sushi and seared mackerel sushi separately.
* Recommended attractions nearby: Takamatsu Castle, Setouchi islands
If you are already sick and tired of the city clamor and typical sightseeing spots, try exploring a secret restaurant to let yourself unwind! For those of you wishing to go by rental car but aren't sure how to actually do so, check out our guide on rental cars in Japan.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.