For the first-timer who visited Japan, they would usually go to Tokyo & Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto & Nara) and then they fall in love with Japan – culture, food, scenery, hospitality and onsen spa. Then they will start to make another trip back to Japan and explore more. There are many ways to see Japan and one of the convenient ways is doing a road trip with a rental car. We love doing Japan with a rental car as driving in Japan is actually so easy and many people do not know that.
Why with a rental car to Hiroshima, Shikoku & Kansai?
- It is easy to drive in Japan as everyone is so polite and follow the rules on the road, part of their culture
- It is cheaper
- If you have younger kids & old grandparents on board, this is easier for the whole family
- It is always fun to travel with 3 generations together in a car
- It is flexible and you can drive to the places that only visited by the locals
- You see more what the locals do
This is my third time of Japan self-drive on the road trip covering three regions, Chugoku (Hiroshima). Shikoku & Kansai. The total days is 9 days 8 nights.
In this itinerary you will find:
- How to rent a car in Japan – Learn about how to save money by using ETC card (up to 20-30%) in highway toll, rather than paying cash. Search price & cars at Rentalcars.com
- Japan Highway Rest Area Review
- Hotel & Traditional Japanese Ryokan Review – Read about the onsen hot spring etiquette
- Japanese High tech toilet review
- Top food to eat in Shikoku, Kansai & Hiroshima
- Top places to visit
- Convenient Store Review
- Japanese neighborhood supermarket review
- Osaka Subway & Train Guide
- Parking in Japan – Parking in the hotel, elevator car park & self-service car park.
- Hiroshima Airport Review – Why it is better to land in Hiroshima airport than Kansai Airport.
- Total cost for 9 days 8 nights Kansai Shikoku Hiroshima Self Drive –
- Air-ticket (Silk Air) Singapore to Hiroshima direct return => 650 x 3 =$S1950
- Toyota Prius $S984.33
- Car insurance comprehensive $S155
- Hotel $200 x 8 nights = $S1600
- Others expenses: food, kimono renting, entrance tickets & parking and souvenirs = SGD $200 x 8 =$1600
- Grand total for 3 pax – $S 6289.33
- Grand total for 1 pax – $S 2096.33 (USD $1548.44)
The above is only as a guideline, it depends on what type of meal you eat, where you stay and what type of rental cars you hire. Our hotel is about 4 stars to 5 stars. We usually have our meals in family restaurants which cost about 2000 yen (USD 18.00) to 4000 yen (USD 36) for three people. Most hotels offer complimentary breakfast and if the hotel does not provide breakfast, we have our breakfast bento in the convenience store which cost around 2000 yen (USD18.00) for 3 people.
Itinerary for self-drive Shikoku, Kansai & Hiroshima – 5 Unesco Sites
- Day 1: Hiroshima Airport->Onomichi Lunch->Shimanami Kaido Bridge Drive->Imabari Kirosan->Matsuyama Dogo Onsen->Yukai Ryokan Hotel
- Day 2: Konpirasan, Kagawa->Kagawa Udon->Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu->Japanese Neighborhood Supermarket Tour->Bokaiso Hotel, Yashima
- Day 3: Naruto Whirlpools, Tokushima->Awaji Rest Area(Lunch)->La’gent hotel check in-> Train ride to Osaka city-> Denden Town->Kuromon Market->Dotonbori ->La’gent Hotel Osaka Bay
- Day 4: Nara Deer Park->Kusaga Taisha Shrine (Unesco)->Todaiji Temple (Unesco)-> Biwako Hotel
- Day 5 : Kyomizu Dera (Unesco)-> Gion -> Fushimi Inari -> Biwako Hotel
- Day 6: Bamboo Forest Arashimaya-> Tenryuji Arashimaya (Unesco)->Osaka Umeda Sky Garden->Singulari Hotel Osaka Bay-> Universal Studio Japan (Night)
- Day 7: Himeji Castle (Unesco)-> Hiroshima Airport Hotel
- Day 8: Miyajima Island Itsukushima Shrine (Unesco)->Hiroshima Peace Park (Unesco)->Sankeien Garden->Hiroshima Airport Hotel
- Day 9: Hiroshima Airport
I started my trip from Hiroshima Airport and drive to Ononomichi, Imabari through Shimanami Kaido. Stay over in Matsuyama old town in Shikoku Island.
Onomichi is a small quiet town before entering to Shikoku island. Those who do Shimanami Kaido cycling trip over to Shikoku Island will start from Onomichi town. We have a brief stop here for lunch. Onomichi ramen is a must try food while in Onomichi. The other things you may notice are lemon and mandarins are added into most of the snacks here. Best souvenirs to buy back are anything with lemon and mandarin, such as lemon tart and lemon jelly. Onomichi is also famous for its cat alley as the Cat Street View project went viral many years ago.
Shimanami Kaido is truly an amazing route connecting Japan mainland Honshu with Shikoku, passing over 6 small islands in the Seto Inland Sea which is famous for its lemon & mandarin citrus fruits. Glad that Lynn was able to share her cyclist experience in Shimanami Kaido route here as my experience was only by car ride. Do it by bicycle is still the ultimate way to go for Shimanami Kaido route if you have the time!
If you like to see how Shimanami Kaido looks like without any unblocked view/bird view, it is really worth to come up to Kirosan/Mt Kiro Observatory Park. It is just half an hour drive from Imabari. At Kirosan Observatory Park, you get to see the spectacular world’s longest suspension bridge Kurushima Bridge and also those little islands around Shikoku. Do remember to try the hand-made ice cream with a pinch of algae salt.
Matsuyama city boost thousand years hot springs bathhouse called Dogo Onsen. Tourists flooded here to soak in the hot springs which are believed to cure disease and illness. What made the bathhouse stand out from the rest is, it has a special bath area dedicated only to the Imperial family.
Another famous thing to note in Matsuyama city is Botchan by Natsume Soseki who is the top novelist in Japan and his best masterpiece is called “Botchan”. Every Japanese has read “Botchan” novel during their school years. Natsume Soseki is so important that he has also appeared in the 1000 Japanese Yen note. He was considered the most profound Japanese writer in the Japanese literature world. There is even a sweet called “Botchan Dango” and “Botchan Ressha” / Botchan Train named after his most famous novel. Do remember to try out the Botchan Dango sweet when you walk around in the shopping streets in your Japanese yukata/ bathrobe.
Where to stay in Matsuyama city in Shikoku? Check out value for money Yukai Resort.
Yukai Resort Dogo Saichoraku is Japanese style ryokan inn with onsen hot spring resort. You have the opportunity to experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle such as sleeping on the futon /Japanese bed on the tatami mat floor. You will also see the Japanese paper sliding door with wood frame in your room. Japanese onsen bath is one thing you need to try but do watch out for the etiquette. Another thing worth mention here is you are able to experience most of the Japanese authentic dish in the dinner and breakfast.
Konpirasan is famous among local and you do not see big tourists buses from mainland China or South East Asia.
There are 1368 steps up to Kotohira-gu/Konpirasan, the mountain of happiness. During the Edo period, everyone is expected to visit at least once during their lifetime. Some who is unfit will send their dog to come up to do the pilgrimage for them so you see there are also many dogs visiting this shrine with their owner nowadays.
The best time to visit should be in Autumn – mid-Nov onwards, you also get to see the red maple leaves in the backdrop.
Sanuki Udon in Kagawa is one of the top food you need to try.
If you are a budget traveler then udon won’t cost too much damage on your wallet. With only JPY 210 (USD 1.80) to JPY 600 (USD 5.30), you get to enjoy one of the best Sanuki Udon in Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku Island, Japan. Sanuki is the old name for Kagawa Prefecture. The special characteristic of Sanuki Udon is its square shape and flat edges and also their broth is made from a type of dashi/soup base which differs from the rest of the other part of Japan. Plenty of free parking space too.
Ritsurin Garden is Japan’s largest Cultural Property Garden that has been handed down since 400 years ago. It is true leisure to walk around these ponds and hills which were constructed beautifully. A “wasen” boat ride is another interesting way to explore Ritsurin Garden, you got to see a totally new perspective from walking the park’s path. No wonder this place is named as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government.
If I was here two weeks later, the whole backdrop would be even more stunning with the maple leaves turning yellow and red.
Touring in the local supermarket is really an enjoyable thing you can’t miss in Japan. With the advantages of self-drive, we have the luxury to drive to the local neighborhood and shop like a local. You will be surprised at how cheap things are in Japan. Click the link above to check out the local supermarket review.
Bokaiso Hotel located at the top of Yashima mountain offer the breathtaking view of Seto Inland Sea. The room is extremely spacious and with sea view facing. The downside is there are no restaurants nearby so you may need to pre-book the in-house dinner or bring your own food up. Bakaiso is good for travelers who are driving so it is super exclusive.
Naruto is a tiny town but gets its popularity from a special phenomenon – The Naruto Whirlpool. The tide formation is really fascinating to see, the swirls and ripples can be quite hypnotic too. Board on one of the cruise, you also get to enjoy the beautiful view of the Seto Inland Sea and magnificent Onaruto Bridge. (Below please see the little whirlpool under the bridge)
- Questions: How many days do you need to spend in Shikoku?
- Answer: 2-3 days
When you are doing a road trip to Japan with a rental car, you will encounter plenty of rest area along the highway. Visiting the rest area in Japan can be very interesting for both the locals and foreigners. This is because these rest areas are often more than a usual rest area that you see elsewhere. Not just the usual rest area with toilet break & fill up petrol; it also offers a variety of shopping for “omiyage” Japanese souvenirs, cafe & restaurants, observatory park with telescopes and big Ferris wheels. Click the link above to check out the facilities in Awaji Rest Area.
If you are a fan of Japanese anime, you should include Den Den town when you are in Osaka. Wear your cosplay costume and walk around in Den Den town; or visit the maid cafe and get serve by young Japanese maids with over-the-top French maid outfits. These are the few things you may want to experience the anime culture while in Den Den Town.
When you are in Osaka, one of the places tourists like to visit is Kuromon Market, the oldest food market which has been around for over 170 years. Kuromon Market is located very near to Denden Town, Nipponbashi and Dotonbori, within walking distance. Hence you can do all together in half a day. Check out my food trail in Kuromon Market Osaka.
Dotobori is the place for foodies and shoppers. It is best to come at around evening for dinner and check out the neon lights in this area. And yes, shooting a picture with a Glico Running Man is a must to prove that you are here.
Taking a train in Japan can be complicated when you look at the countless lines on the map. But over here in Osaka is much lesser lines compare to Tokyo. Read about my experience is with JR (Japan Rail -also the biggest) and Osaka Subway. Special tip: Learn how to use fare adjustment machine at the exit of your destination.
La’gent Hotel Osaka Bay is located next to Universal Studio Japan. We choose to stay here simply we wanted to stay away from the city area (half an hour drive to the city). Rates are usually higher at the CBD area and if it is within 5 mins walking from the train station. Since we have a rented car, we choose to stay outskirt to enjoy a cheaper rate for the hotel. This is another way to help you save money.
18. Nara Deer Park
Nara park is one of the best attractions to visit if you are in the Kansai area. It is located in the ancient capital of Japan, called Nara city. Why do I love so much about Nara Park? The answer is simple, there are over 1,200 wild deer freely roaming around in the park and including the nearby Todai Ji temple and Kasuga Shrine. The whole city of Nara is full of deer walking freely, co-exist with the human. Probably they think they are just like one of us. They don’t seem to be bothered and intimidated by the flock of tourists.
Click on the link above to read about the top 14 things you may want to know before you head to the ancient Nara Deer Park so you do not miss out any important thing to see.
Kusaga Taisha Shrine is the Unesco site in Nara, the shrine is famous for its thousand lanterns. You will still see deer roaming around in Kusaga Taisha. The nearby attraction is Nara Deer Park and Todaiji Temple. You can spend the whole day in this area.
Todaiji is a landmark in Nara, it is one of the most famous and historical temples which was built in 752 and now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Todaiji is located near Nara Park and Kusaga Taisha Shrine so you also see a lot of deer wondering in this area as well. Click on the link above to learn about the 12 things before you visit Todaiji Temple.
Biwako Hotel has located 12 km from the iconic Kiyomizu-Dera temple in Kyoto. If you are traveling to Kyoto and not knowing where to stay. I highly recommend the Biwako Hotel. The hotels in Kyoto usually cost more expensive and the rooms are very small especially if it is located next to the train station. If you are driving a rental car, why not drive further away from Kyoto and stay in similar price range hotel but offer a bigger room, free onsen bath, and a better view? You will be surprised at how spacious and how great the view is.
You may want to include Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion) & Ginkakuji 銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion in your Kyoto itinerary. The Golden Pavilion is always very crowded and not able to shoot nice pictures while the Silver Pavilion has fewer people. If you only have limited time and only can choose one, I would recommend you to visit the Silver Pavilion, simply it has more nature.
22. Kyomizu Dera
Kyomizu Dera/清水寺 literally translated as “Pure Water Temple” which was founded around 780 AD and now being added to the list of Unesco World Heritage sites. The one thing many like to do is explore Kyoto city in kimono. Why? Because of the ancient city matches well with kimono costume. Trust me.
The one thing most visitors like to do in Gion is hoping to take a glimpse of the geisha or in Kyoto dialect, they called it “geiko”. They usually dressed in their traditional costume and with a white painted face, a red lip, and special hairdo. There are real and fake geisha or maiko in Gion district, the maiko in the below picture is a real one, as I followed her into a small alley and shoot this picture. Please do not follow them too near and do not act like a paparazzi but give them some space and shoot pictures from afar.
One way to learn more about Japanese culture while in Japan is to wear traditional costumes, be it kimono or yukata while strolling historical and picturesque streets. Kyoto would be the perfect place to do it. The kimono rental business is so popular and big here, the whole street is full of kimono rental shops. Just pop into anyone and ask them to transform you into Japanese doll. My kimono rental review will tell you what to expect from kimono renting shops and the etiquette how to behave in kimono.
25. Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari Shrine gets super popular after it appeared in one of the scenes in Memoir of the Geisha, a Hollywood movie. The thousand vermilion torii gates are the selling point here.
Arashimaya literally means Storm Mountain/ 嵐山, located in the western outskirt of Kyoto. The Bamboo forest opens 24 hours so it is best if you could arrive at around 6 or 7 am, that way you could have the whole Bamboo Forest by yourself and experience the calm & peaceful atmosphere here. I arrived pretty late at around 10 -11 am but this place is already crowded with lots of tourists. Honestly, I don’t think the Bamboo Forest is that special at all, overrated. I have seen Bamboo Forest in Korea and China and I think they look prettier than this. Most importantly, fewer crowds!
27. Tenryuji Temple
Tenryuji Temple is a must visit if you are in Arashimaya Kyoto, you can do it together with the Bamboo Forest as it is only located behind the temple. The buildings in Tenryuji Temple were burned down 8 times but the iconic zen garden landscape still remains the original and was built by Muso Soseki, the monk who is also a famous poet in Japan.
If you wanted to check out the skyline of Osaka city, Umeda Sky Building is a good choice. Go up to the 40th floor and enjoy the open-air sky garden. The wind can be very strong so please be prepared. Oh yes, the “glass domed elevator” is an interesting ride up too.
What do I like about Umeda Sky Building?
I have a good look at the infrastructure from the top and most importantly it made me wonder why there are so many bridges in the Yodo River? Seriously I think there are overbuilt.
The selling point for The Singulari Hotel Osaka Bay is it is within walking distance to Universal Studio Osaka. The hotel is literally right above the train station so it is very accessible. This is really a convenient hotel to stay if you are going to Universal Studio Japan. Another thing I love about is the Sky spa onsen hot spring, free for guest and a wide variety of breakfast choice.
30. Himeji Castle
There are many castles in Japan but only 12 castles that are considered “original” and Himeji Castle is one of them also the most beautiful castle in Japan. Anyone who is visiting Kansai – Hiroshima region should include Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture.
Chugoku Region: Hiroshima
31. Miyajima Island
Miyajima is a small island which can be reached by ferry, less than 20 mins from the mainland of Honshu. Miyajima Island is so important that it is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. The island icon is the red shrine gate or “torii gate” of Itsukushima-jinja which was built in the water. The scene of the “floating torii gate” is one of the unique views in Japan.
One of the top attractions to visit in Hiroshima is the ruins of Genbaku Dome also known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. The ruin is the symbol of Hiroshima city, a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. Highly recommend anyone who is visiting Hiroshima to pay a visit to this peaceful park. You cannot miss out of this place while in Hiroshima, else you missed out the most important portion of Hiroshima.
33. Sankeien Garden
If you are staying in Hiroshima Airport Hotel do pay a visit to Sankeien as it is only located next to the hotel. You can walk over from the hotel. If you have an extra hour to spend while waiting for your flight, you may want to kill some time here at Sankeien Garden. Truly beautiful and many photo opportunities.
Hiroshima Airport hotel is located in Mihara Hiroshima and it is about 53 km away from the city. It is good for guests who have their own rental cars because it is still very convenient to drive to the city and other top attractions. We stay in Hiroshima Airport Hotel for 2 nights. If you are in transit or need to catch an early morning flight, this hotel is ideal.
I highly recommend anyone who wishes to explore Shikoku-Kansai region by rental car to use Hiroshima Airport instead of Kansai Airport. It has fewer crowds, fewer cars and easier to navigate if you need to rent a car and drive. Most importantly, it offers cheaper flights to fly into Hiroshima for SIA/Silk Air.
Food Review in Japan
When you travel to Japan, these are the food that you may want to try out.
36. Chuka Japan -Japanese Chinese Cuisine
There are many types of food you can try while traveling in Japan but one of the interesting cuisines you should not miss out is the Japanese “chuka”. Chuka 中華 is short for Chuka Ryori 中華料理, mean Chinese food. It may sound just like another Chinese food that you have in your home but the Japanese Chuka in Japan do not taste like the one back home. The Japanese Chuka in Japan has tailored to the local palate, and the recipes are neither purely Japanese nor Chinese but rather a unique blend of both, the bottom line is still very yummy.
Where: Any Chuka restaurant in Japan.
37. Indo Ryori – Japanese Indian Cuisine
Just like Japanese Chuka/Chinese cuisine, Indian cuisine has adapted to suit the local palate. Indian cuisine in Japan is never too spicy. The Indian restaurants are all over Japan, usually run by foreigners; the Nepali or Indian as they are huge population residing in Japan. The menu is usually both in Japanese and English and the most important factors of all are super delicious and budget-friendly. A lunch set usually from 900-1400 yen (USD 8.10 -13.50). Since Indian restaurants are all over in Japan, pop in any restaurant you encounter and experience the Indian cuisine. You will like it, trust me.
Where: Any Indian & Nepali restaurant in Japan.
38. Okonomiyaki – Grill as you like
Okonomi お好み means “what you like”
Yaki焼き means “grilled”
To combine the two means “grilled what you like”. This means that whatever you wish to have in it you can and put them to grill or cook with the flour. The flour is the key here.
Where: Anywhere in Osaka & Hiroshima
Osaka street food favorite is takoyaki/Octopus balls. We tasted Wanaka Takoyaki in Kuromon Market but I would rather suggest you try Takoyaki at Dotonbori as there are several stalls and more options to choose from. To me, Dotonbori is a takoyaki paradise.
Where: Dotonbori & Kuromon Market
When tourists visit Japan, they usually don’t visit the local supermarket instead they dine at the restaurant. Visiting the local supermarket is one of the best parts of our travel in Japan. We love to see what the locals eat and use. We have discovered things in Japan actually is quite cheap, especially if you buy them in the local supermarket.
One of the best places to find your breakfast is visiting the convenience store nearby. Japanese called it “Konbini”. You see convenience stores every few hundred meters apart. There are several popular chain convenience stores in Japan, such as Family Mart, Lawson and 7 Eleven. Each chain has its specialty to sell and attract their customers to come back.
Japanese Udon – Sanuki Udon in Kagawa
The special characteristic of Sanuki Udon is its square shape and flat edges and also their broth is made from a type of dashi/soup base which differs from the rest of other parts of Japan.
Where: At Kagawa Prefecture Shikoku Island, any udon shop.
Japanese Ramen – Onomichi Ramen
Onomichi boosts their ramen. The ramen “dashi”/soup stock is made using chicken bones and small fish from the Seto Inland Sea with clear soy sauce base.
Where: Onomichi Hiroshima
If you have a group of 4 people – young children and old folks traveling together, it is best if you can rent a car and drive in Japan. Anywhere outside Tokyo is easy to drive. I was quite surprised that Osaka, being the second-largest city in Japan is quite easy to drive too. Parking in Osaka & Kyoto area can cost more as compared to other cities.