Just a generation ago, the words Osaka and green were rarely used in the same sentence. Things have all changed now, as Wes Lang runs through the best grassy lawns in and around the city.
Nakanoshima-koen is Osaka’s oldest park and one of its best. - image © Wes Lang
Nakanoshima-koen Park (Kita District)
Built in 1891, Nakanoshima Park is Osaka’s oldest and most centrally-located public green space. Over the decades, the park fell into disrepair and became a haven for the homeless population, who erected plywood homes wrapped in bright-blue tarps. In 2002, Osaka began its long battle with evicting the homeless under the guise of so-called improvement work. The comprehensive renovation work wasn’t completed until 2009, but the transformation from a neglected dirt pitch to a sprawling green lawn has been dramatic.
The rose garden and adjacent grass area is Osaka’s answer to New York’s Central Park. With over 4000 different roses of 89 varieties, Nakanoshima Park was the first stage of the Aqua Metropolis Project, which aims to turn Osaka city into the ‘Venice of the East.‘ On weekends, visitors flock to the area to lounge in the sun, practice their dance moves under the shade of the overhead expressway, and to imbibe at the riverside beer garden that opens in the warmer summer months.
Access is just a train ride away from Umeda Station, which is in the Kita District of Osaka. Alight at Yodoyabashi Station on the Midosuji Subway Line and go out exit #1. Cross the bridge over the river and turn right past City Hall. The park is at the far end of the island, so head down to the promenade at the edge of the river and follow it east to the rose garden and lawn. Admission is free and the roses are in bloom from early May to early November. After that, the cooler temperatures of winter set in and the lawn is officially closed until early May to allow the grass to rest from the constant use during the green season.
Visitors lounge in the rose garden of Utsubo Park - image © Wes Lang
Utsubo-koen Park (Kita District)
Although not as expansive as nearby Nakanoshima-koen, Utsubo Park wins the award for the hangout of the chic locals. Surrounded by hip cafes, clothing boutiques, and upscale restaurants, the park is a small slab of greenery floating in a sea of business-district concrete. The long, rectilinear shape vaguely resembles an air-craft carrier and for good reason - the park was built as a landing strip for the Allied Forces in 1945 and converted into a green space seven years later.
For several decades, the park fell into disuse until 2006, when it became the host of the World Rose Convention and the entire park was swept clear of the homeless population and completely renovated. The oval rose garden lines a small lawn space with a narrow stream running through the center, attracting overflowing crowds of families on the weekends. The green space is much better appreciated during the quieter weekday afternoons.
The easiest access is from Hommachi Station on the Yotsubashi Subway Line. It’s just two stops from Nishi-Umeda Station. Climb the stairs at Exit 28 and follow Yotsubashi-suji Street to the north for two blocks until reaching the entrance to the park on your left. The rose garden starts at the top of the stairs just behind the clay tennis courts.
A family relaxes in the shade of Osaka Castle Park - image © Wes Lang
Osaka Castle Park (Osaka Castle Area)
Osaka’s most famous tourist attraction is also one home to its largest park. Despite this vast expanse of nature, lawn areas with fresh grass are few-and-far between. The best lawn area is Nishinomaru Garden on the western side of the park, but hours are limited and the area is only accessible by paying an admission fee (200 yen).
Those in search of a admission-free section of lawn are best advised to head to the southwestern edge of the park entrance, just across from the Osaka Museum of History. To get there, take the Tanimachi Subway Line from Higashi Umeda Station and get off at Tanimachi-yonchome Station. Head to exit 2 and follow Hommachi-Dori Street uphill until reaching the museum on your right. Cross the large intersection diagonally and enter Osaka Castle Park. The lawn area stretches out to the north to the main entrance gate of Osaka Castle. Space is limited and the area can be packed on weekends, but it does make for a lovely place for a picnic if you can grab one of the shaded spots under the trees.
Naniwa-no-Miya Palace Ruins is a great park devoid of crowds. - image © Wes Lang
Naniwa-no-Miya Palace Ruins (Osaka Castle Area)
If the crowds at Osaka Castle Park are too much to handle, then head a short walk south to Osaka’s best secret park. The 7th-century palace once served as Japan’s capital and the ruins are now preserved as a public park lined with a vast expanse of grass and greenery. The park has an urban jungle feel to it, as a group of homeless are still camped in a secluded corner of the area. The grass can become overgrown quite quickly, so try to visit the area after the park staff have done their monthly mowing of the lawn. With the large open spaces and lack of crowds, it’s the perfect place to throw a frisbee or kick back with a group of friends.
Getting there can be tricky, as there are no signposts to point the way. You can either walk south from the Osaka Museum of History, where you’ll find the park entrance just on the other side of the elevated highway. Alternatively, alight at Tanimachi-rokuchome Station on the Tanimachi Subway Line and walk northeast from Exit 6.
The lawn at Tennoji Park, with an early work of Tadao Ando in the background. - image © Wes Lang
Tennoji Park (Tennoji District)
Tennoji Park is another example of Osaka’s welcomed embrace with public green spaces. The park was, for a very long time, accessible only by paying a small entrance fee to keep the large homeless population from setting up camp. In 2015, this all changed, as the park was completely renovated and opened to private vendors, who built up a modern collection of stylish cafes and restaurants surrounding a large open lawn of lush grass.
This grand scheme sounded great on paper, but due to the overwhelming crowds making use of this rare chunk of green, the grass has suffered terribly from overuse and is in danger of being trampled back to a bare patch of dirt. The city is fighting an uphill battle to keep the grass alive, as visitors lay down large tarps before sitting down in an apparent fear of getting their overpriced clothes dirty. Regardless of the sorry state of the lawn, there are still a few pockets of pristine grass scattered throughout the sprawling lawn to warrant a visit to the park. An added bonus at the far edge of the space is the glass-and-concrete cube topped with the pyramidal roof. This is the remnants of a pavilion designed by Osaka architect Tadao Ando for a small exposition in 1987.
Tennoji Park is just across the street from Tennoji Station, accessible on either the JR Loop Line or the Midosuji Subway Line. The park is open 24 hours a day and is free of charge.
The flower garden at Ryokuchi-koen Park - image © Wes Lang
Ryokuchi-koen Park (Northern Osaka)
While not exactly in Osaka city, this park is just a short train ride to the north and offers a chance to combine traditional residential architecture with a day at the park. This expansive park is home to two different barbeque areas, as well as a flower park, a concert amphitheater, and a unique open-air museum.
The best lawn space surrounds the circular flower garden in the very center of the park. To get there, alight at Ryokuchi Koen Station on the Midosuji Subway Line. It’s a 10-minute ride north from Umeda Station. Exit the western wicket (西出口) and follow the tree-lined road at it terminates at the entrance plaza. Continue straight up the path behind the fountain and the main grass area it at the top of the stairs. If you’d like to continue on to the Open-Air Museum of Japanese Farmhouses, head to the right and go down the stairs on the opposite side of the flower garden and to the right of the barbeque area until you see a thatched farmhouse. Admission to the museum is 500 yen and it’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30am to 5pm. The museum features special events throughout the year and it really is a nice place to learn about the old ways of living before the modern area of concrete and electricity.
Oizumi-ryokuchi Park is a paradise for kids. - image © Wes Lang
Oizumi-ryokuchi Park (Southern Osaka)
Located in neighboring Sakai City, this massive park is arguably the best uninterrupted expanse of green lawn in the entire Kansai region. Besides the spacious lawn, there’s also a sheep enclosure and a couple of well-designed playgrounds to keep the kids occupied all day.
One of the largest playgrounds is also home to two of Osaka’s most thrilling slides that provide an adrenaline rush for both kids and adults alike. To reach this park, take the Midosuji Subway Line towards Nakamozu and get off at Shinkanaoka Station. Go through the ticket gates and turn left, following the signs to Oizumi-ryokuchi (大泉緑地). There’s a supermarket on your right as you exit to street level, so stop in for picnic supplies before continuing along the main street towards the park. It’s a 10-minute walk to the park entrance. Once inside, continue to the fountain and take the path that runs just behind it and you’ll soon see the sheep enclosure on your right. The paved trail soon reaches a vast strip of grass lining a large plaza. Turn right here and follow this strip as it merges with a large open meadow of well-maintained turf.
The playground with the scary slides is located just behind the barbeque area towards the left side of the main lawn. One of the slides is a wide expanse of smooth concrete that can accommodate nearly a dozen people at a time. The adjacent slide is the traditional one-seater slide that rises several stories above the ground.
Banpaku Memorial Park (Northern Osaka)
While this is undoubtably one of the most beautiful parks in Osaka Prefecture, it does have a couple of disadvantages that have kept it out of top billing. First is the issue of access by public transport. The journey entails a long subway ride followed by a transfer to the Osaka Monorail. From Umeda, it can take close to an hour if you consider the transfer and wait times between the two trains. In addition, the park admission fee is 250 yen, which, if you factor in the one-way train fee of 620 yen from Umeda, means quite an expensive day out if you’re on a budget. With so many free options just a short train ride away, it may make better sense to stay closer to home and enjoy one of options above to satisfy your appetite for greenery.
About Wes Lang
Wes Lang is a freelance writer based in Osaka whose work has appeared in the Japan Times, Kansai Scene, and Outdoor Japan. He runs the website Hiking in Japan, which provides comprehensive English-language hiking information for Japan's mountains. He is currently writing a guidebook to the Japan Alps scheduled for release in 2018.
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