The city of Sakai boasts a long history that dates back to ancient times, and to this day it is home to countless historical and cultural sites—from Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to traditional buildings and shops. With all locations easily accessible and lively without being overcrowded, it’s the perfect place for any traveler looking to explore beyond the obvious destinations. Enjoy a delightful walk or ride the charming trolley known as the Ting-a-ling Train (“Chin-chin Densha” in Japanese), and take in the sites of the old town region, the heart of Sakai.
The first stop on our tour is Nanshuji, the most famous Zen temple in the city since feudal times. The temple was originally built in 1557 by the warlord Miyoshi Nagayoshi, then subsequently burnt down and rebuilt at the present location by the chief monk Takuan. In the years since, it has become an important memorial site, recognized as a high-ranking prestigious Zen temple. Japanese tea ceremony aficionados are sure to appreciate the small memorial towers for the souls of the great Tea Master Sen-no-Rikyu and his teacher Takeno Jōō. Enjoy a moment of mindfulness gazing out at the dry landscape Zen garden (karesansui), and marvel at the striking ceiling painting of a glaring dragon, which watches you wherever you stand. The “Sanmon” and “Karamon” gates, stunning pieces of historical architecture that have been designated as National Important Cultural Properties, are also a sight to behold.
Address: 3-1-2 Minamihatago-cho Higashi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Myokokuji Temple is a magnificent structure that’s sure to make an immediate impression upon arrival. So why not take a walk around and learn a bit about the dramatic history of this peaceful place? Established in 1562, Myokokuji is a major temple belonging to the Nichiren Sect of Buddhism. During its early years, it enjoyed the patronage of local merchants and warlords visiting Sakai, then later was burnt down and rebuilt several times, with the present incarnation completed in 1973. A highlight of the temple is its stunning dry landscape Zen garden, with a beautiful island of Japanese sago palms (sotetsu)—considered sacred trees. Designated as a National Natural Monument, the oldest tree dates back over a millennium old, with a legend saying that even the legendary warlord Oda Nobunaga was afraid to harm it.
Address: 4-1-4 Zaimoku-cho Higashi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Aguchi Shrine, also known as “Ootera-san” (“The Big Temple”), is located in the center of the city, alongside to the famous Sakai Yamanoguchi Shopping Arcade. With a beautiful, wide-open space, stately shrine building, and majestic trees standing throughout the grounds, it’s a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Its history dates back to the 8th century when it is said that the site was founded by Empress Jingu, becoming the guardian shrine for the harbor in the Nara period (710-784). It was also at the path of Takenouchi historical road, considered to be the oldest national thoroughfare in Japan and now Aguchi Shrine is registered as the constitutional cultural property of the Takenouchi Road. In the course of its long history, the shrine was combined with several other shrines and temples, once also serving as the ground for the Sakai City Office and a local women’s educational facility. The shrine also enshrines important cultural treasures and serves as a space for daily prayers, festivals or even traditional weddings. It’s a site that no visitor to Sakai will want to miss.
Address: 2-1-29 Kaino-cho Higashi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
One of Sakai’s most stunning architectural structures, the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko (Sakai Risho no Mori) is a modern museum where you can experience the city’s history and culture through the lives of two of the most famous individuals to call it home: the great tea master Sen-no-Rikyu and the poet Yosano Akiko. Sen-no-Rikyu is known as the historical figure most responsible for creating the basis for and perfecting the art of tea ceremony, and here, you can experience first-hand a tea ceremony first with an instructor in an authentic tea room, and even learn to make and serve tea yourself in the time-honored tradition. Yosano Akiko was a pioneer in the fields of modern literature and poetry who is also treasured for her translation of classics into modern Japanese, as well as critical works covering social and educational issues. At the museum, you’ll be able to learn all about her fascinating life and achievements. You’re sure to come away with an appreciation for the refined spirit of Sakai through a taste of the tea tradition and the finest modern poetry.
Address: 2-1-1 Shukuin-cho Nishi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Last but not least, the magnificent Sakurai Shrine is some distance from the Sakai city center, but more than worth the journey. After a 30-minute trip by train or car to get there, you’ll be welcomed by a massive red tori gate. Step through to the shrine grounds and you’re sure to be enveloped by a sacred atmosphere, surrounded by stately, verdant trees, komainu shrine guardian dog statues, and several wooden shrine halls—all of which boast a long and storied history. Built during the Kamakura period (1192-1333), the main worship hall is the only designated National Treasure in Sakai City. A beautiful destination at any time of the year, it’s especially worth a visit during one of the multiple festivals held throughout the year. The most famous event, the Shinto ritual dance performance known as “Niwadani-no-Koodori”, has been designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Come to witness it on the first Sunday of October during the autumn festival season, and it promises to be one of the most memorable experiences of your visit to Japan.
Address: 645 Katakura, Minami-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture