On my most recent trip to Japan, I decided to get a little off the beaten path and explore a few new areas around Osaka, including Kobe and Sakai.
I’d actually never even heard of Sakai before I did a little research and discovered this beautiful city is only 30 minutes away from Osaka on the train. It’s also right in between Osaka and the Kansai airport, making it super convenient to squeeze in for a day trip or overnight visit!
In addition to being a super easy day trip, Sakai is also full of incredible hands-on adventures! Participate in a traditional tea ceremony, hand-die kimono cloth, sharpen your own sashimi knife, or create the world’s cutest Japanese desserts: it’s all here!
While there are enough fun activities in Sakai to fill at least 2 full days, I’ve developed my own special Kawaii Sakai itinerary! Here, you’ll be able to experience a traditional tea ceremony, try your hand at making matcha green tea, create your own kawaii Japanese desserts, and potentially wear a kimono for the whole day!
So if you’re looking for the perfect girly off-the-beaten-path Osaka day trip, this itinerary is for you!
Stop 1: Rent a Kimono
I know many of us dream of wearing a kimono for a day but are worried about where to find one, or offending any of the locals. However, after a few extensive conversations with Japanese women (and men), I learned that locals are more than happy to see foreign travelers dress up in a kimono, and actually find it flattering.
As long as you’re respectful while wearing your kimono, you shouldn’t have any issues, and you may even get asked for a photo!
If you want to rent a kimono, the best place to do it is in Osaka before you hop on the train. While there is a great kimono rental in Sakai (right next to the dessert cafe!), it’s only open in the summer months (June-August). While I can’t find the store online, feel free to email Sakai Tourism Bureau (email@example.com) and they’ll help you set it up!
If you do decide to rent a kimono in Osaka for your day-trip, I recommend heading to Wargo in Shinsaibashi (the Dontonburi Canal area). Here you can rent a kimono for the day, and even get your hair done! Just be sure to have the kimono back by 7pm. Thankfully this shop is right next to the Shinsaibashi station, meaning you won’t have to walk far.
Kimono rentals start from around 29,000 yen ($25 USD).
Stop 2: Take Photos at Sumiyoshi Taisha
After renting a kimono, you’re going to want to get a few beautiful photos! Before hopping on the train to Sakai, I recommend heading to Sumiyoshi Taisha, one of my favorite Shinto Shrines in all of Japan! (Which is saying a lot considering I did a 2-week Shinto Pilgrimage last year).
My favorite part of Sumiyoshi Taisha is the gorgeous red Sorihashi bridge right at the entrance to the shrine. This bridge is deliberately built with an extremely high arch to remind worshipers of a rainbow.
Founded in the year 211, Sumiyoshi Taisha used to be right on the ocean (before the land shifted), and sailors would come here to pray before embarking on the treacherous journey to China. This shrine also has examples of some of the oldest Shinto architecture in all of Japan!
Oh, and there’s a cat shrine you should really explore too.
Compared to Kyoto or Tokyo, Sumiyoshi Taisha is almost empty, making it the perfect place to take photos before your trip to Sakai. I can’t even imagine trying to take kimono photos at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, or Fushimi Inari in Kyoto without having to wake up at 6 am for the privilege!
Take the Train to Sakai City!
There’s a direct train from Osaka’s Namba station to Sakai City which will take around 30 minutes. If you decide to stop by Sumiyoshi Taisha, you’ll need to take a 10-minute train to Namba and transfer there.
At the Sakai Station Tourist Info Center, you can easily rent a bike (probably wouldn’t recommend this if you’re dressing up), or show your passport to get a 600 yen ($5 USD) discount on a taxi service! Sakai is testing out a new program where non-residents can get taxi discounts between tourist centers to make transport easier. Thankfully the tea ceremony location is one of the landmarks! So be sure to stop in to get your discount, which should bring the total down to around 600-700 yen ($5-6 USD).
Stop 3: Traditional Tea Ceremony
Once you’ve taken your discounted taxi to the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko, it’s time for a traditional tea ceremony! The tea ceremony actually takes place inside the museum, where you can learn about the origin of the Japanese tea ceremony, which actually originates in Sakai! You can purchase a ticket to the museum for 300 yen (less than $3) if you’re interested.
If you’d like to experience an hour-long traditional tea ceremony in a tatami-mat room, you’ll need to book the Chanoyu Experience in advance. For now, the best way to book this is to contact the Sakai Tourism Bureau (firstname.lastname@example.org) at least 3 days in advance (preferably five).
With the Chanoyu Experience, you’ll be given an instructor who will guide you through the methods and gestures of an authentic Japanese tea ceremony. Here you’ll have a local Japanese sweet while your instructor prepares matcha tea for you. Next, she’ll guide you through the tea preparation yourself!
If you don’t have time to book in advance, you can participate in the Ryurei Teicha Experience, which is a more casual tea ceremony. Here you can sit on stools and enjoy traditional matcha tea and Japanese sweets while watching a tea ceremony presentation! This experience is only 20 minutes, but will at least give you an idea of what a traditional tea ceremony is like.
While your teacher most-likely will not speak English, you will be given an English printout explaining the steps, just in case you don’t understand what you’re supposed to be doing. That said, the teachers here are very experienced and good at guiding you to follow the proper ceremony steps, even with a language barrier.
Sakai Tea Ceremony Details:
The museum and tea rooms are closed on the 3rd Tuesday of every month, as well as the New Year (Dec. 29th-Jan 3rd). Both tea experiences cost 500 yen (less than $5 USD), and are available from 9 am to 5 pm.
If you’d like to have the traditional Chanoyu Experience, please try to book 5 days in advance (or at least 3 days) by emailing Sakai Tourism Bureau (email@example.com). They should be able to book the experience for you and provide you with some sort of English guide or translator, which may come at an additional cost.
Stop 4: Lunch at Ume no Hana
Just next to the museum is a fantastic restaurant with set meal options called Ume no Hana. This beautiful restaurant specializes in kaiseki multi-course meals themed around seasonal availability. This is honestly the perfect place to spend an hour having a nice lunch, especially if you’re wearing a kimono!
While there are a few different options, I believe a fancy kaiseki lunch was around 3,000 yen ($26 USD) per person, but there were more affordable options as well. You’ll also be treated to a lovely cup of tea and dessert!
Stop 5: Make Japanese Sweets
Your final stop is only a few short blocks away: Machiya Cafe Sacay! This cafe offers a Japanese sweet making class. In the course, you’ll learn to make two different sweets (one simple, and one complicated). You’ll also be given a free tea or coffee, as well as matcha tea to enjoy with your sweets once they’re finished!
I can say from experience, this course is well worth the trip to Sakai! I made my own chrysanthemum flower, along with a hedgehog that was so cute, I didn’t want to eat him! Meanwhile, Chris made a pink sunfish. All of the sweets are seasonal though, so you’ll have different options at different times of the year. Since we visited in November, all of ours were Autumn-themed!
While my class was led in Japanese, the owner told me that if you contact the Sakai Tourism Bureau, she can arrange a free translator to help lead the class in English! She also has laminated English-language instructions which are really helpful. However, to be honest, I felt like I didn’t really need any translating since the class was so hands-on and straightforward!
Japanese Sweet Making Course Details
The Japenese Sweet Making Course lasts about one hour and costs 2,500 yen (about $22 USD), and includes 2 sweets, coffee or tea (for while you’re making them), and matcha tea. If you prefer not to drink matcha, you can opt for a coffee instead!
If you’d like to book this experience, the best way to make a booking is to contact Sakai Tourism Bureau (firstname.lastname@example.org) at least 5 days in advance and they will make an appointment for you.
Finally, the cafe is about a 10-minute walk from the tea museum or a 4-minute walk from Osakaji Station. They’re open for reservations from 10 am to 4 pm, and they are a fully-functional cafe outside of giving these classes (so you can order extra coffee if you want!)
Address: 1 Cho 2-8 Kainocho Higashi, Sakai-ku, Sakai
The Last-Minute Affordable Sweet-Making Option
If you’re a little tight on cash or aren’t able to make a booking 5 days in advance, thankfully Machiya Cafe Sacay has another option for you! The cafe offers a self-guided sweet making experience for just 900 yen ($8 USD), that comes with all the ingredients you need, and laminated instructions on how to make a simple Japanese sweet. There are even a few different options you can choose from!
I was assured that if you’re having trouble making the sweet, you can always ask for help from the staff and they’ll give you a little guidance. Then you can order your own coffee or tea a la carte!
Take the Train Home!
Thankfully the cafe is just a short walk from the Osakaji Station or a 10-minute walk from Sakai Station. Either way, it should be super easy for you to take the train home to Osaka.
If you’ve rented a kimono from Wargo in Shinsaibashi, don’t forget you’ll need to return this by 7 pm! You can enjoy dinner in the Dontonburi area afterward.
Personally, I recommend making your own Okonomiyaki at Hatsuse! They even have a special deal with unlimited drinks so you can fill up on plum sake and chuhai, which, at least for me, is the cherry on top of a fantastic day!
Why Do I Need to Email the Sakai Tourism Office?
I’m sure you’re wondering: Richelle, why do I need to email the Sakai tourism office for literally everything??
Sakai is pretty new to international tourists, and many of the amazing hands-on activities don’t have options for English booking yet. While some websites like the Japanese Sweet Making course have online booking, it’s all in Japanese, making it a bit confusing for non-Japanese speakers. Other Sakai activities often require you to call ahead over the phone.
While it is possible to ask your hotel to book things for you, most of the activities in Sakai request bookings to be made 5-days in advance. Now, I know most of us are last-minute planners over here (or is it just me?), but unfortunately, that’s just the custom in Japan, especially in less-touristy cities.
While in Sakai I was lucky enough to meet a member of Sakai Tourism, who told me the best and easiest way for foreign visitors to make bookings is to email them directly. This way you don’t need to ask your hotel for help, and you won’t have to worry about any back-and-forth with people who don’t speak English.
Sakai is extremely excited about getting more international visitors, and they’re more than happy to do this for you until more English-language tourism infrastructure is put in place.
Can I Customize This Itinerary?
Depending on if or where you decide to rent a kimono, I highly suggest customizing this itinerary to fit your needs. For example, if you visit in the summer and want to rent a kimono from the sweets shop, it might make more sense to go there first, then have lunch and do a tea ceremony. If you’d rather have a leisurely morning, maybe you’ll have lunch as your first stop!
This itinerary is extremely customizable and can be changed easily according to your needs. You can also definitely do this day without a kimono too. Personally, I didn’t wear a kimono, but I really wish I had the option!
Why You Need to Visit Sakai
As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of visiting “off-the-beaten-path” places that most travelers miss. I mean, the tagline of Adventures Around Asia is “Asia off the Beaten Path”!
Sakai is an incredible city with so much to offer. It’s the birthplace of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, home to some of the largest burial mounds in the WORLD, and it’s famous for producing some of the world’s best knives (seriously, I sharpened my own personal sushi knife here!).
If you’re already heading to Osaka for a few days, I 100% recommend a day-trip to Sakai. Get hands-on with Japanese culture, venture off the beaten path, and I promise it will be one of the best days of your trip.
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Yesterday I made the world’s cutest hedgehog dessert… and then I ate him. ✨ If you’re ever in Osaka be sure to take a quick 30 minute train ride to Sakai where you can learn to make the cutest Japanese sweets to enjoy with your matcha green tea! Then afterwards you can walk a few blocks to try a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in a tatami mat room where you even get to try making your own matcha tea! ✨ For now all of these things need to be organized separately, but I was wondering: if there was some sort of day trip tour where you could do both of these things while wearing a traditional kimono, would you be interested? I really want to make this happen!!
Are You Planning a Trip to Sakai?
Does this day-trip sound amazing? Do you have any questions about Sakai? Please feel free to get in touch by leaving a comment below. I also highly suggest getting in touch with Sakai tourism!
I always check back for new comments and questions, so if you have anything you need to know, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you within a few days!
My trip to Sakai was made possible by Kansai Tourism. As always, all opinions are definitely my own. I’m actually obsessed with this itinerary and if someone doesn’t steal it for a day-tour, I’m going to make it happen myself!
3 comments on “Kawaii Sakai: A Girl’s Guide to Exploring Osaka and Sakai”
Oh my god I would love to wear a kimono! And the sweets look adorable. Thanks for the post :)
No problem! I hope you can make it to Sakai someday! :)
Where did you go to make your Japanese cloth and learn to sharpen knives in Sakai?