If you are based in Osaka for any length of time, the neighboring cities of Sakai and Kishiwada on Osaka Bay make rewarding excursions.
Sakai and Kishiwada lie southeast of Osaka en route to Kansai International Airport.
Both cities are within an hour of Osaka and easy to reach by train using the Nankai or JR Hanwa Line via Tennoji Station, or directly from the Airport. For Daisenryo Kofun, take the JR Hanwa Line to Mozu Station from where the mausoleum is a five-minute walk.
The city of Sakai has a rich and colorful history. A prosperous merchant town and trading port in the 16th century, it is also the birthplace of revered tea master Sen no Rikyu. Today Sakai is renowned for its craft cutlery industry (Sakai knives are much sought after by chefs) and precision bicycle manufacture, and has museums devoted to both. Its most remarkable claim to fame, however, is the site of one of the largest mausoleums on the planet.
Sakai's ancient burial mounds with their distinctive keyhole design were built on a scale that rivals the pyramids. The central mound, known in Japanese as Daisen Kofun, is believed to contain the remains of the legendary fourth century Emperor Nintoku. Dating from the fifth century, the tomb covers 1.3 million square feet (room for 12 baseball fields) and is reckoned to have taken at least 15 years and 2000 labourers to construct.
The mausoleum, set amidst the urban sprawl of 21st century Sakai, is enclosed by three moats and the burial mounds are now covered in lush vegetation. The site is considered sacred and visitors may venture no further than the outer moat. To make sense of the site, it is best viewed from the observation deck on the 21st floor of Sakai city hall. Back on the ground, you can walk around the peaceful outer moat (2.5 miles).
To learn more about the history and archaeology of Daisenryo Kofun, watch a short film in English provided by the Sakai City Museum in the park across the street.
Sakai is a pleasant city to tour by bike. You can rent cycles from the tourist office and routes are well signposted in English.
In addition to a delightful castle (less crowded than its more famous neighbor in Osaka), Kishiwada's annual Danjiri Matsuri festival is famous throughout Japan. A lively, noisy affair, it attracts 500,000 visitors during the third weekend of September.
35 ornately crafted floats (danjiri) each weighing over four tons are hauled through the streets by hundreds of townspeople at breakneck speed. Hundreds more run alongside and behind while atop each float the Daiku-Gata, a wild and fearless master of ceremonies urges on his crew, performing feats of daring on the roof.
Like the bull runners of Pamplona, rival teams race their floats with little regard for their own safety. Stand well back as the floats pass by. It takes skill and experience to navigate tight corners along the route and accidents and injuries are not unusual (no wonder the festivities begin with prayers for the safety of the runners).
As evening sets in, the festival continues (though at a more leisurely pace) as revelers enjoy beers and street food and the rivalries of the day are forgotten.
From Sakai and Kishiwada it's a short hop to Rinku Town (and one stop from the airport). Shopaholics can take advantage of tax free shopping at the discount outlet selling Japanese and international brand clothing and goods. If you are headed to the airport, luggage lockers are available.
Alternatively, if you have time to spare before your flight, take a ride on the waterfront ferris wheel for excellent views of the artificial island on which the airport is built.
Sakai, Kishiwada and Rinku Town are within 60 minutes of Osaka city center. Their proximity to the airport makes them ideal stopping off points before a flight or during a long layover.