Sakai, considered the gateway to Osaka, is an ideal first stop on one’s visit to the Kansai region of Japan. Before joining an organized tour, my travel companion, Yi, and I spent a day leisurely exploring the serene and historical Sakai, sister city of Berkeley, California.
In the beginning, we did not realize that a bus ride from our hotel was necessary to reach the well-known 5th Century Nintoku-ryo Mausoleum, Japan’s largest keyhole-shaped burial mound. The bus drivers were most patient while I attempted to communicate in my very imperfect Japanese. One of them, doubting the effectiveness of the beautifully printed city map in our possession, drew a simple map for us. The massive tumulus covered with dense foliage in various shades of green, though majestic and solemn, carried an eerie, enigmatic air as we could only view a small portion of it while standing before the main entrance. Its keyhole shape could be detected only via an aerial view. The agreeable elderly docent, fully aware of our limited understanding of the language, nonetheless gave us an informational talk in Japanese, which revealed how the Japanese people treasure and appreciate their culture and heritage.
Sakai is also famous for its tea houses, Shin-An (伸庵) and Obai-An (黄梅庵). The latter was built in the 16th Century in Nara Prefecture and re-assembled in Sakai’s Daisen Park in 1980, probably not a tremendous project because of the simplicity in Japanese tea house structure, but truly an amazing accomplishment in preservation. We assumed that seeing either Shin-An or Obai-An could be another spontaneous undertaking. But the tea houses were closed. We ended up sauntering through Daisen Park’s Japanese Garden in the traditional Tsukiyama Rinsen Kaiyu style (築山林泉回遊式庭園), a strolling garden designed to imitate celebrated natural landscapes in China and Japan. The garden was especially enchanting when we were the only visitors. To our pleasant surprise, tea tasting at 200 Yen per person was offered inside the garden’s main hall. There was also an ongoing exhibit of camellia of extraordinary variety and color. The tea tasting was set on a tatami bench with no table. Desserts, including mochi, accompanied the matcha tea. I have always been a bigger fan of the ambience than the tea itself when it comes to powdered green tea. Far away from the tea room were a few plants with pinkish blossoms, but we were not sure whether they were peach trees or cherry trees. We drank tea, contemplating Sakura Mankai, or “cherry trees in full blossom,” as we traveled on to Kyoto and Nara.