Discovering Wellness and Luxury
Close to Osaka, Japan
Unofficially considered as Tokyo’s slightly wilder sibling, Osaka is a city known most famously for three things; hilarious locals, eating until you pop, and drinking until you drop. The city’s irreverent, fun loving, hard-living energy is what attracts tourists years time and time again, but did you know that Osaka has a more refined side too?
Dig a little deeper, go beyond the gritty takoyaki lined inner-city streets and you’ll discover a corner of Japan rich with religious significance, long-lasting cultural traditions, and epicure and delights. Blending borders with historical Kyoto, and the holy mountains of Koya-san, Osaka is truly a perfect place for a little indulgence, and soul searching, here’s a guide on where to start.
For a taste of Osaka-style elegance, Taikoen is an itinerary must-add. This lush, foliage-filled, oasis occupies a prime position right in the heart of the city, offering respite from fast living innercity life. The 250,000 square foot facility was built around 1910 by successful businessman Baron Denzaburo as a gift to his son. Following the war, in 1959 it was repurposed as Taiko-En and became a guest house and central social arena for the city’s higher class folk and their guests.
Today it remains as elegant as always; however, the good news is that it’s open to the public. The sprawling house has an on-site restaurant, banquet halls for special events and is a popular destination for weddings. Book a traditional Japanese lunch at the facility’s Yodogawa-Tei to experience classic Japanese elegance while admiring the views of the meticulously maintainedsurrounding garden.
From old world opulence to the modern day, the Ritz Carlton Osaka is one of the city’s premierluxury hotels, and if you get the opportunity to stay there, you’ll have no questions as to why. The five-star establishment located in central Nishi-Umeda draws heavily from European influence, from its 450-piece art and antique collection to the old-world British interior design. If you want the best of both worlds; modern Japan and classic European comforts, you can’t domuch better than this. As is expected with all Ritz Carlton establishments, the rooms are spacious and well-designed, but a more unique twist is that there are both Japanese style and Western suites available to suit your mood.
Once you’re done in the city, make the journey to neighboring Kyoto to dive even further into the richly layered culture of this corner of Japan. First stop is Yuuhisai Koudoukan, located in the city of Kyoto; this is one of Japan’s few still existing “koudoukans.” Historically, these places were spaces of educational enlightenment, where one would go to practice and appreciate Japanese arts and education.
Established by Minagawa Kien, one of Kyoto’s important cultural figures during the Edo-period (1603 and 1868), Yuuhisai Koudoukan is where tourists can come and get acquainted with local culture in a very foreigner-friendly setting. Sign up for a Japanese sweet making class, watch a live performance of Noh theatre up-close or try your hand at a meditative tea ceremony all within the tranquil surrounds of this traditional Japanese house. The space isn’t open all day long for walk-ins however, so it’s best to call ahead of time to book in to avoid disappointment.
Next up, take the 45-minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Yawata to pay a visit to Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine. Conveniently located just far enough out of the city to avoid the tourist swarms, this striking structure is said to be one of the most powerful shrines in the country. Surrounded by lush foliage and populated mainly by workers and monks, it’s a corner of contemplative spirituality and oozes an ambiance so many visitors many flock to Kyoto enjoy, but rarely get the chance to experience, simply because they don’t know the place exists.
Deeper still, Yoshida Sanso is the epitome of Kyoto elegance; it’s places like these that give Kyoto a reputation for being one of the world’s top cultural cities. In a previous lifetime, it was the residence of Japanese Prince, Higashi-Fushimi, and grandfather of Japanese Emperor Akihito.
Yoshida Sanso is one of the most magical and well-kept secrets in the area; it’s a ryokan inn with a royal legacy, and modern, luxurious, appeal. Location wise, it’s perfect, far enough from the inner-city Kyoto, but close enough to offers sweeping views of Kyoto its spacious bedrooms on the second floor. Built in 1932, designers of the building clearly knew how to strike the perfect balance between immaculate detail and the sweeping, royal grandiose. Staying here for a night is the ultimate masterclass is local “omotenashi” hospitality and the elegant simplicity of traditional Japan.
One final stop on your journey is with no question the holiest mountain in all of Japan, Mt. Koya, or Koya-san to the locals. Positioned in the nearby Prefecture of Wakayama, towering over the cities of Kyoto and Osaka, it’s this location that’s long been considered the center of one of Shingon, Japan’s primary schools of Buddhism. Kobo Daishi, the man who introduced this form of Buddhism to Japan back in 805 actually still resides here, in a state of eternal meditation.
Okunoin Cemetery is Mt. Koya’s centerpiece, and one of the most spiritually fascinating and naturally beautiful places to try shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” or simply immersing yourself in the healing surrounds of nature. The cemetery is home to over 200,000 tombstones which dusted in a fine coating of vivid moss, belong to, prominent monks and feudal lords, people who in death wished to be close to the great Kobo Daishi.
While on the mountain, it’s worthwhile staying at a shukubo temple (temple lodging). They were once home to pilgrims making their way across the mountain, and they’re now open to weary travelers too. For something higher-end, Souji-in is both luxury living and spiritual wellness retreat. The rooms feature traditional tatami mat flooring and futon bedding, but, they also have a private ensuite, unlike some of the other more basic temples in the area.
A few meters down the road, Eko-In is popular with foreign guests, as many of the monks who work here are bilingual and laid back but still take their religious duties seriously. Built around 1200 years ago, this is one of the more affordable options on the mountain, but it’s still incredibly comfortable. The facilities here also have a meditation room, with sessions run by the local monks.
The secretive side of Osaka, Kyoto, and Mt. Koya are what’s so magical about exploring this diverse, and richly cultural nation. No matter where you visit you’ll find layer upon layer of cultural, spiritual, experiential and personally fulfilling delights, you just need to know where to look!