The port city of Sakai is a treasure trove of hidden gems and cultural landmarks that encapsulate the rich history of its people and heritage. Sakai is just a half-hour train ride south of Osaka, and is worth a visit for anyone seeking to escape the crowded streets and who takes an interest in the more ancient aspects of Japan.
5 things to do in Sakai
This sweet-shop has been running for 690 years and uses a secret family recipe to make its famed kurumi mochi. The chewy mouthfeel of soft mochi combined with the subtle sweetness of the velvety bean paste make this a particularly tasty treat. This is one of just two items on the menu, with the alternative being a mound of fluffy kakigori shaved ice served in a bowl with the signature bean paste.
1-2-1 Shinzaikecho-higashi, Sakai, Sakai, Osaka. 072 233 1218. 10am-5pm, closed Tue & Wed.
The Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko features a museum each for Sen no Rikyu and Yosano Akiko. Both are important figures of traditional Japanese culture: Rikyu being the founder of the Sen-ke school of sado (Japanese tea ceremony) and credited for perfecting the wabicha style of tea ceremony, while Yosano was a pioneer in the fields of modern literature and social commentary, among others. The museum exhibits Yosano’s poetry as well as many cover designs for her books by some of Japan’s most renowned painters of her generation. Book a month in advance to experience a tea ceremony and learn how to make matcha from a tea master.
2-1-1 Shukuincho-nishi, Sakai, Sakai, Osaka. 072 260 4386. 9am-6pm, closed 3rd Tue of the month, year-end/New Year period.
The city of Sakai has been famous for crafting knives for over 600 years. At Jikko, you will find an endless array of blades for professional kitchens as well as home cooking. The knives are of different shapes and lengths, designed specifically for cutting certain produce, whether they be for carving root vegetables or slicing sashimi. The shop can even personalise your blade by engraving your initials.
1-1-9 Nishikinocho-nishi, Sakai, Sakai, Osaka. 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm, closed Sun & hols.
This museum exhibits the history of products such as knives, scissors, kelp, incense and cotton goods that Sakai has been producing for centuries. As an industrial city, Sakai is famous for developing technology that improved the quality of goods such as bicycles for other markets around the world. Here, you can learn about anything from the technique used to hand-dye yukata in the 17th century, to the Buddhist uses for traditional senko (incense) sticks. Also, don’t miss the dedicated Sakai Hamono (Knife) Museum within the building.
1-1-30 Zaimokucho-nishi, Sakai, Sakai, Osaka. 072 227 1001. 10am-5pm daily, closed year-end/NewYear period. FREE.
Sakai’s famous kofun tombs date back to the 5th century and are distinguished by the keyhole shapes in which they are formed. The Daisenryo Kofun, with a perimeter of approximately 2.8km, is the largest tomb in Japan and the third largest in the world. It is thought to be the burial place of Emperor Nintoku and though the tomb itself is covered in vegetation and off limits to visitors, there is a bridge where you can get a clear view of the site from across the moat. The bridge is a five-minute walk from the Sakai City Museum, where you can learn more about the history of the tombs.
7 Daisencho, Sakai, Sakai, Osaka.
How to get to Sakai
Sakai is roughly three hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo Station by train. Take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka, then take two transfers from Shin-Osaka to Dobutsuen-Mae and Dobutsuen-Mae to Sakai.
Why I love Sakai
When I was living in Osaka many years ago as a young student, I discovered the story of Sen no Rikyu, the great
Japanese tea master, whose artistic influence remains strong to this day. He was also a confidant of 16th century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Sen no Rikyu is from Osaka City’s neighbour Sakai, which has an incredibly rich history, and is a must-visit city for those who wish to explore a wellspring of Japanese aesthetics. I encourage everyone who wants to learn more about Sen no Rikyu (and Akiko Yosano) to visit the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko. You can also celebrate Unesco’s recent designation of the Mozu-Furuichi Kofun group of tombs, which are mysterious and awe-inspiring.
- Jason Hyland, president of MGM Resorts Japan
Explore more of Japan
The castle town of Iwakuni and Suo-Oshima island across the bridge are scenic coastal destinations along the Seto Inland Sea in southeastern Yamaguchi prefecture.
Escape the crowds at Kyoto and head to the nearby city of Otsu by the shore of Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.
A small port town along the Sanriku Coast in Miyagi prefecture, Kesennuma was devastated by the tsunami of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. However, it is well on the road to recovery, welcoming visitors to revel in the area’s natural beauty.