Amami Onsen Nanten-en

A traditional ryokan deep in the Osaka countryside

By Gary Luscombe    - 7 min read

Nanten-en is a very traditional ryokan complete with natural hot-springs, deep within the countryside of southern Osaka Prefecture. Surrounded by the forests and hills that mark the border with Wakayama Prefecture, it is hard to believe that one is only 40 minutes from the bustle and bright lights of central Namba.

The entrance at dusk
The entrance at dusk

The main building of Nanten-en is a registered cultural asset of Osaka Prefecture and is around 100 years old. It was designed by the famed architect, Tatsuno Kingo, who is well known for his work on the iconic Tokyo Station as well as numerous other buildings around the country.

The Rooms

The main building still bears many of the hallmarks of its late Taisho and early Showa period heritage. While it has been updated and upgraded several times throughout its history, the owners have always taken care to retain the atmosphere of the earlier years. There are only 13 guest rooms within the main building, ranging from 4.5 tatami mats (perfect for a couple) up to rooms with 8 or even 10 tatami mats; some feature additional smaller anterooms that are great for families.

One of the larger rooms with direct garden access
One of the larger rooms with direct garden access

Not all of the rooms have their own bathroom however. The age and listed status of the main building makes it difficult to make large scale changes. "Superior" type rooms have their own washroom with toilet and sink, but the "Standard" type have shared public restrooms. None of the rooms have their own shower, so all must use the showers within the onsen area.

One of the Superior guest rooms
One of the Superior guest rooms

There is one final room which is actually situated in a private annex within the gardens. This VIP style room is comprised of two 8-tatami mat rooms, an iori sunken fireplace, private shower and bathroom facilities as well as its own outdoor hot-spring. It also has its own veranda, overlooking the little Amami River.

Inside the VIP room
Inside the VIP room
The private outdoor bath attached to the VIP room
The private outdoor bath attached to the VIP room

The Food

As with most traditional inns, the most common type of dinner is kaiseki, multiple course dinners made up of dainty dishes prepared with the finest local and seasonal ingredients. The menus change on a monthly basis and guests are asked to let the ryokan know of any dietary requirements in advance. Vegetarian, vegan and even plant based and gluten free kaiseki are available on request.

An example of Nanten-en kaiseki
An example of Nanten-en kaiseki

There are other options too including sukiyaki, thin slices of top grade beef fried in a shallow pan with sweetened soy sauce, and shabu-shabu, thin slices of top grade beef or pork cooked in a healthy broth. The winter season also sees the addition of several kinds of nabe hotpots including wild boar and tecchiri, an Osaka speciality made with thinly sliced fugu puffer fish.

Vegan kaiseki
Vegan kaiseki

The Ameneties

Nanten-en has its own hot-springs which are rich in natural radium. This makes them perfect for easing blood-pressure, relaxing tired muscles and softening the skin. Separate onsen are available for men and women and are open 24 hours a day. Nanten-en is also a tattoo friendly ryokan.

Natural public onsen
Natural public onsen

The ryokan is child friendly though a small surcharge is added if they need their own bedding. Children may also accompany their parents to the hot springs and bath chairs are available for infants.

Rooms come equipped with low tables and zabuton cushions as standard but for guests with mobility issues, these can be exchanged for a high table and chairs. There are no elevators in the building so where possible, staff will accommodate mobility impaired guests on the first floor. A wheelchair and a cane are also available for use if needed.

As well as guests staying overnight, lunch packages are also offered where a kaiseki lunch can be enjoyed in a private room followed by a dip in the onsen. These are excellent for people looking for the ryokan experience but without the cost of a full night stay.

Nanten-en also boasts its own private gardens which always change according to the seasons. Spring sees plenty of cherry blossoms and fiery maples in autumn. Summer introduces the lush greens of the rainy season while winter sees the bright red nanten bushes from which the inn takes its name. Starting with the shidare (weeping) sakura at the end of March and finishing with the yaezakura in mid to late April, 5 or 6 varieties of cherry blossom can be found, extending the blossoming season to nearly a month.

View of sakura from a 2nd-floor room
View of sakura from a 2nd-floor room

Around Nanten-en there is very little in the way of civilisation. The nearby villages of Amami, Nagaretani and Chihayaguchi are quaint farming communities with many old houses and terraced fields. They feature plenty of local myths and small shrines which are well worth exploring.

Mountain view
Mountain view

There is direct access by train to sacred Koyasan, the famous Buddhist mountain retreat, which is a little over an hour to the south. Many guests will stay at Nanten-en on their way to or from the mountain and is also conveniently placed for day trips. As visitors to Koyasan must pass by Amami Station, staff will happily look after guest luggage while they are visiting the mountain.

Additionally, Kansai Airport is around 90 minutes by train (via Tengachaya Station), limousine bus (via Kawachinagano or Kongo Station) and car.

During the current Covid-19 health crisis, Nanten-en is remaining open and still serving guests. Hand sanitiser is available in the lobby and the staff regularly clean all public surfaces throughout the day.

The People

The owner of Nanten-en is an Omotesenke Tea Master as well as a master of ikebana flower arranging. Each day, he prepares displays of fresh wild-flowers to place in the tokonoma alcoves of the rooms. He regularly holds tea ceremonies with guests, assisted by an English speaking member of staff (often yours truly) where he loves to share his vast knowledge of history and philosophy.

Performing a tea ceremony with guests
Performing a tea ceremony with guests

Several of the front desk staff have excellent English and can easily cater for tourists from all corners of the globe. In my own case, as a history buff, I love to talk about the local history, teach guests about ryokan culture and share some of fascinating stories and places of interest.

In addition to the front desk staff, guests are cared for by o-hakobi-san, kimono clad ladies (and one young man who wears a hakama) that serve dinner in the rooms using the proper and sometimes intricate forms of etiquette.

For people looking for an escape from the busy city, or to rest their weary muscles before or after a long flight, Nanten-en is a lovely place to unwind and absorb some real traditional culture and village life.

Getting there

Nanten-en can be easily reached by train from central Osaka and Kansai Airport.

From Nankai Namba Station, take the Nankai Koya Line (the train line which leads to Koyasan). Any express train (orange sign) bound for Hashimoto or sub express (green sign) bound for Rinkanden-Entoshi will stop at Amami Station. Nanten-en is a 1 minute walk from Amami Station.

From Kansai Airport, take the Nankai Main/Airport Line to Tengachaya Station and then change to the Nankai Koya Line using the same trains as above.

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Gary Luscombe

Gary Luscombe @gary.luscombe

I work for a very traditional ryokan deep in the countryside of southern Osaka. I have a fascination with Japanese history and culture and am lucky that my work gets me deeply involved with both. When I am not welcoming guests or assisting in tea ceremonies, I can be found wandering the the more unknown historical sites and nature trails of southern Kansai.I am also the Japan Travel regional partner for Mie Prefecture so if you have any questions, or even suggestions for cool places to visit, feel free to drop me a message! 

Join the discussion

Bonson Lam a year ago
The further you go from the main cities, the more opportunities you have to discover authentic experiences, all to yourself. What makes Nanten-en unique is the English speaking staff with a deep understanding of international tourists, giving you the timeless experiences you usually get in places in Shikoku at a hot spring less than 60 minutes from downtown Osaka.
Kim B a year ago
Looks beautiful - especially the garden with the dusting of snow!
Gary Luscombe Author a year ago
Precisely! And we are off the beaten track enough that there are plenty of places nearby with stunning spring and autumn foliage without the crowds that descend on Kyoto or Koyasan or even Minoo in northern Osaka.