24 April 2016

Sakai City: off the beaten track in Osaka

Having left Niseko, I'm now staying in Osaka for a month. Or rather I'm staying in Sakai, which is a suburb of Osaka. It's not somewhere that appears in any guidebooks, so you probably won't have heard of it, even though it is just a 10 minute train journey away from central Osaka. However, the lack of tourists is not a reflection of the historical importance of the area: I've been surprised to discover the heritage of the area, with cultural properties that are not just important for the Kansai region, but for the whole of Japan. On my first day, having arrived late the previous night, I decided to take it easy and explore the local area. Here's what I discovered on my first day.

Having looked at the local area I would be staying in on google maps, I was intrigued to see a series of odd key-hole shaped parks with lakes around them. I did a bit of research and discovered that these areas are actually ancient burial mounds surrounded by moats. These are known as kofun tombs, which were actively being built in Japan for around 400 years, from the 3rd century onwards. People of high rank, including emperors, were buried in these. The kofun are now overgrown with trees and grass, but originally would have been ornately decorated with terracotta figures called haniwa.

Japan's largest known kofun, Nintoku-ryo tumulus, is just a 5 minute walk away from the guest house I am staying at (Banana House). This seemed like a great place to start exploring the area. Now, you have to use your imagination a little bit when visiting the tumuli, because the best way to appreciate the size and shape is aerially, which sadly isn't possible unless you have a helicopter! From the ground you can walk around the outside of the moat, which for this largest kofun, is just under a 3km walk all the way around. Despite not being able to see much of the kofun, it was amazing to be near something so ancient, which is now surrounded by modern Japanese life (including a motorway on one side). Although you can't walk onto the kofun itself, there was plenty of wildlife to enjoy in the surrounding moat, including turtles!

View of the moat

Egret fishing in the moat

Turtles enjoying the sunshine

Heron in the reeds

Across the road from the kofun, there is a city park called Daisen Park. It's a pretty park for running in or picnicking in on a nice day, and it also has a few different attractions including Sakai City Museum. This is definitely worth visiting if you are taking a look at the kofun, as a large part of the museum is dedicated to explaining these ancient monuments. Entry to the museum costs just 200 JPY.

The museum staff were really welcoming and helpful and immediately gave us a selection of english language leaflets to look at as we waited for the short film at the beginning of the exhibition to start. The film gives you a brief history of the kofun and some imagery demonstrating what they would have looked like when they were first built.

Most of the museum is dedicated to archaeological artefacts from Sakai. This includes some of the haniwa sculptures that decorated the kofun, and other objects related to the local area.

Horse-shaped haniwa

Human figure haniwa

Sakai historically produced the best blades in Japan

A pair of masks on display

Other attractions in the park include a Peace Tower (pictured below), a Japanese Garden, and a Bicycle Museum. Elsewhere in Sakai there are other interesting destinations including the Old Lighthouse and the Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko (two important historical figures born in Sakai) as well as temples and shrines. Hopefully I'll get to visit these too at some point during my time here.

Peace Tower in Daisen Park

If you are visiting the Osaka area, I would definitely recommend a trip to Sakai if you are interested in ancient history and archaeology. Sakai lacks the throngs of tourists that surround more popular attractions in the area, making it somewhere you can really enjoy a relaxed day out. There are also some lovely green spaces to enjoy some time away from the city!

I've been in Sakai for a week now, and have taken day trips to some incredible places in the Kansai region. Keep an eye on Foods for Thought for more posts coming soon!


  1. The area looks lovely. I still don't have Osaka accommodation sorted out yet but we'll probably end up staying somewhere quite central.

    1. Yeah, central makes sense so that you can get trains directly out to other cities for sightseeing. I'm glad to be out here for a longer term stay as there are fewer crowds, more peace & quiet and fresh air - plus cheaper rent!