What can I do near Osaka?
Osaka is the third largest city in Japan (Yokohama is second, in case that surprised you), and in my opinion the greatest. Whilst it is completely dwarfed in size by the capital Tokyo (well very few cities in the world aren’t), Osaka makes up for that in many ways. What makes Osaka great is a not only a certain cultural feeling that is part of the Kansai (west Japan) mood, but also the cities surroundings. Osaka’s proximity to a great variety of things to do and experience make Osaka an excellent hub for your holiday. Let's look at a few destinations around Osaka, all which can be comfortably reached and returned from in a day, for moderate prices.
Minoo falls is a wonderful plot of nature, located within a half hour train ride from Osaka station. If you are a little overcome by the large Japanese cities, its proximity make it very convenient as a day trip escape. The area is most famous for its waterfall, which is reached by a very scenic short hike. The hike has essentially no elevation changes, and is very wide and family friendly. Minoo is best visited in the autumn season, where the red and orange leaves light the whole area up and Minoo really shows its magic. You can even eat fried autumn leaves!
Kinosaki Onsen is a wonderfully authentic feeling hot springs town, in the northern part of Kansai. What makes Kinosaki Onsen spectacular is the combination of the town’s beauty, and the ticketing system in place. At Kinosaki Onsen overnight guests receive a ticket for each onsen in the town. This system encouraging visitors to leave their own ryokan and stroll the streets, visiting each and thus livening up the town. Besides hot springs, Kinosaki also has a beautiful temple, mountain views and is famous for its soft shell crab. Kinosaki Onsen can be reached in a 3 hour train ride from Osaka station.
Arima Onsen is one of the Kansai regions most popular hot spring locations, due to its accessibly. Arima Onsen is a lot more built up and modern than Kinosaki Onsen, but being nestled in the mountains it also is enjoyed for its natural beauty. There are two public bath houses, and many of the ryoukan (Japanese Inns) allow non-staying guests to use the baths in the daytime. Besides bathing in the hot springs, Arima Onsen can be enjoyed by eating at the many restaurants and cafes, visiting the local shrines and strolling in Tsuzumigataki Park. Arima Onsen can be reached from Kobe in about 40 minutes by train, or in 60 minutes from Osaka by bus. The town can also be reached by descending from nearby Mount. Rokko, making a good mountain / bathing collaboration day trip!
Mount. Rokko is a 931 meter high mountain that offers panoramic views over Kobe and Osaka city. Due to its proximity to the big city it is very open for tourism, with cable car access and many attractions on the top. From the Rokko Garden Terrace, which houses restaurants shops and lookout platforms, you can enjoy the views which are great in the day, and even better in the night. The mountain also hosts the Rokko Botanical Gardens, Japans first golf course and a music box museum, so there is plenty to do and see! All these places can be easily reached by a bus that runs around the mountain. After visiting Rokko mountain you can take the cable car back down the other side of the mountain the Arima Onsen, where you can enjoy hot spring bathing. Rokko is accessed by a cable car from the Rokko cable car station in Kobe, which in turn is accessed by a short bus ride from Rokko station.
Mount. Hiezan is a mountain in the northern part of Kyoto city. Yes, of course we have the entire Kyoto city as a day trip destination from Osaka! Kyoto itself has weeks’ worth of places to see and things to do, so I’m just going to mention Mount. Hiezan here. Please visit our other articles on Kyoto city for the many other things to do and see here, including the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Imperial Gardens. Hiezan is not only beautiful but also culturally important. It is on this mountain that the Enryakuji Temple is located, which was a major powerhouse in ancient Japanese politics. The temple was strong because its monks were also fighters, and no rivals could defeat them. Oda Nobunaga solved this by simply setting the whole mountain on fire. Warrior monks that are so strong that rather than fight them, it’s better to just burn down the mountain they live on… that’s some pretty hardcore history. Hiezan can be accessed by a convenient cable car from Yase-Hieizan-guchi station on the Eizan line in Kyoto, or alternatively by hiking up the mountain from Shugaku-in station, also on the Eizan line. The hike is fairly easy, requiring no special gear but for day trippers perhaps taking the cable car up then walking down is a good idea?
A little further south from Osaka city we find the spiritual Mount Koya. Mount Koya is probably most famous as a spot one can experience Buddhism, through lodging at a temple. When lodging at a temple, you will be able to eat an authentic Buddhist meal and, best of all, observe the morning prayers as conducted by a priest of the temple. This season is held very early in the morning, so make sure not to sleep in! As the heart of Buddhism in Japan, Mount Koya is home to many spectacular temples and an immensely large graveyard. The graveyard stretches over 2 kilometers and is the approach to a famous mausoleum, a must visit spot, holding the remains of Kukai who was the founder of this sect of Buddhism. Mount Koya is most easily accessed by taking a Nankai train from Nankai Namba station in Osaka to Gokurakubashi Station. The trip to Koya san takes 90 minutes and 1650 yen on an express train, or a little under two hours and 870 yen via non express. From Gokurakubashi station a cable car runs up to the mountain, and then a bus will take you to the town. Alternatively you can hike up from Gokurakubashi station.
Himeji is home to arguably Japans most beautiful castle, Himeji Castle. It is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and one can easily appreciate why when first laying eyes upon it. The castle recently underwent a large multiyear long restoration, so it is in perfect condition at the moment. Himeji is best visited in the spring during the cherry blossom season, but be prepared for amusement park level crowds. Asides from the castle, Himeji also hosts the deliberately authentic Mount Shosha（書寫山しょしゃざん）. Shosha is often used in period piece movies as conscious effort is made to keep it looking as it did in the past. The temples here are used in many period dramas, but also the Hollywood movie “The Last Samurai". Himeji can be reached in about 1 hour from Osaka station, a ticket setting you back about 1,500 yen one way. After reading this article, I hope you will agree with me that Osaka is a great hub city for your holiday. Besides being a great city itself, there are many things to do in all directions, from hiking and nature to hot springs and history. Let’s enjoy ourselves in and around Osaka!