Neon lights, takoyaki and beautiful natural vistas. Wait, what? Hold on a minute! Since when was Osaka home to anything even resembling Mother Nature? Well, as it turns out, for eons. You see, while Osaka is far more well known for its urban attractions, this slice of Japan is also home to a stunningly beautiful forested valley. Known simply as Minoo Park (also spelled Minoh Park), this gorgeous natural enclave is located just to the north of Osaka, on the outskirts of the urban sprawl. Thanks to its proximity to the heart of the city, Minoo Park represents a much needed escape from the concrete jungle for many Osakans. Though the site has long been on my bucket list, I recently had a chance to finally visit and I was quite pleasantly surprised.
On that note, I’m sure you’re wondering what makes Minoo Park worth visiting over other destinations. After all, the Kansai region is chock full of amazing things to see and do. Here, I need to come clean and say that, at least all year round, Minoo Park just can’t compete with the likes of Nara Park or other more well known spots. That said, every year when fall rolls around, Minoo Park’s allure really skyrockets. This is because the valley is often hailed as one of the top spots in Kansai to view the vibrant hues of autumn. While there are a few other spots within a day trip’s distance of Osaka, Minoo Park is unparalleled when it comes to its unobstructed fall scenery.
In many ways, Minoo Park is quite analogous to western Tokyo’s far more famous Mt. Takao. Like with Minoo Park, this peak can be found in the suburbs of the city and is a popular autumn getaway. What’s more, both Tokyo’s Mt. Takao and Osaka’s Minoo Park were given quasi-national park status in 1967. These honors were bestowed upon the dual sites to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the start of the Meiji period (1867–1912). While I can’t find anything citing a connection between the Meiji emperor and these natural enclaves, both of the locations certainly deserve whatever accolades they can get.
How to Get There
Okay, let’s pause for a moment to cover logistics before delving into what to expect from a visit to Minoo Park. As mentioned, this forested valley can be easily reached from central Osaka. Frankly, it really couldn’t be more conveniently located for the urbanites living in the city. The journey to Minoo Park will entail taking the Hankyu Takarazuka line from Umeda Station to Ishibashi Station. From there, you’ll need to transfer to the Minoo line which you’ll take all the way to Minoo Station, the final stop on the line. As always, reference the helpful Jorudan or a similar service to calculate the best routes for you. The entire trip should clock in at just under a half an hour or so and will run you a total of 270 yen.
Once you arrive at Minoo Station, you’ll need to first exit the fare gates and then head straight. Here, you can pick up the trail that leads all the way to Minoo Park’s main attractions. Just in case you can’t find it, here’s a Google Map link to the local tourism information center to assist you in getting your bearings. That said, the path couldn’t be more simple to find so you likely won’t need the assistance of Google on this one.
What to See in Minoo Park
Without a shadow of a doubt, the best allure in Minoo Park is the area’s famous waterfall. Towering at a height of over 33 meters, this natural wonder is the park’s main attraction. In fact, the whole region derives its name from how the falls tend to resemble the traditional act of winnowing white rice from it’s protective husk (a process that is known as “minoo” in Japanese). Alas, getting to Minoo Park’s impressive waterfall will require a bit of a hike. From the station, you’ll need to hoof it about 45 minutes or so into the valley’s depths. While the trek up the gentle slope can be accomplished at any level of fitness, it will take you a good minute so time your visit accordingly.
En route to the Minoo’s waterfall, you’ll also pass a number of temple buildings. Back when Shinto and Buddhism were a single syncretic faith, this area was an important enclave of mountain ascetic training (a.k.a., Shugendo). Today, much of these roots are no longer as apparent unless you know what to look for. Still, the gorgeous complexes that dot the trail to the waterfall are extremely picturesque, especially when the autumn leaves are at their peak in mid to late November. While hiking your way to the park’s main draw, be sure to keep your eyes out for Ryuan-ji as this historic temple represents the halfway point to the waterfall.
Lastly, note that when visiting Minoo Park, it would be wise to sample the savory momiji tempura. This is the area’s well known meibutsu and is definitely worth giving a try. Quite literally, this scrumptious snack is little more than a fried maple leaf. While only available during fall, you’ll find this autumn special sold at a number of shops along the way to the waterfall. Even if only for a quick bite, I highly encourage you to give them a taste! After all, when else are you going to have a chance to try some deliciously prepared leaves in your life?
Other Nearby Attractions
As if Minoo Park wasn’t already the perfect destination for viewing Japan’s amazing autumn foliage, know also that this part of Osaka is also home to a great onsen complex. Known as the Minoo Onsen Super Garden Hot Springs, this traditional Japanese inn is also open for day use as well. You’ll find the facility at the start of the trail to the waterfall atop a nearly 200 meter-tall bluff. This odd location gives the Minoo Onsen Super Garden Hot Springs Spa building absolutely killer views of all of the Osaka plain. What’s more, the property also boasts open air baths that offer unobstructed glimpses of all of the city. Talk about the perfect way to end a cold autumn day!
If you’re up for a post hike soak, note that the Minoo Onsen Super Garden Hot Springs Spa can be reached via the worryingly tall elevator shaft pictured above. Alternatively, if you’re short on time, you’ll also find a foot bath at the base of the elevator too. While you’ll also find another similar facility built into the Minoo Station building, the foot bath near the Minoo Onsen Super Garden Hot Springs Spa is free of charge. Though a bit more conveniently located for those waiting on trains, the one at the station will cost you a few hundred yen to use (but the price does include a commemorative towel).
Until next time travelers…