Amami Village

A rustic Osaka village of history, mystery, and nature

By Gary Luscombe    - 6 min read

Amami is a region in the far south of Osaka Prefecture with a history dating back to the dawn of Japanese civilization. It boasts an abundance of nature and a rustic charm to make for a relaxed change of pace for those looking to escape the urban sprawl. It is made up of several small villages, each with its own story to tell.

Shima-no-Tani Village and Kanii Shrine

Among the handful of villages, you can find Kanii-jinja, a small and mysterious shrine set upon a low, wooded hillside, close the border with Wakayama Prefecture. It is believed that this shrine marks one of only a few locations that Jimmu-Tenno, the first Emperor of Japan, stopped with his army during his conquest of Yamato some 2,000 years ago.

Kanii Shrine
Kanii Shrine

The shrine still holds an annual Chochin-mairi (lantern festival) at harvest time. From starting points in three of the surrounding villages, men slowly carry lanterns on long wooden poles towards the shrine.

As they march, they sing a traditional 400 year old song in a style called Ise-ondo. This is a call and response type of song where the leader will sing out one line then the rest of the group sing an answer. Only a handful of people still know the songs (there are at least three local versions) and I consider myself very lucky to be one of the lantern carriers. On 3 April each year, the shrine also holds a mochi throwing festival to mark the death of Emperor Jimmu.

The narrow lane running up the hill past the shrine is known as the Hinoki (Cypress) Slope. There are local legends that tell of mischievous fox and tanuki spirits that inhabit this area. Their favorite trick is to make lone travelers believe they are relaxing in a hot spring when in fact they are sitting in a puddle.

Shima-no-Tani
Shima-no-Tani

The lane continues up into the quiet farming village of Shima-no-Tani before eventually disappearing into a hiking trail that leads towards Mount Kongo (the highest mountain in Osaka Prefecture) and the border with Nara Prefecture.

Nagaretani Village and the Christian Jizo

On the west side of Amami is the village of Nagaretani. There is some evidence that this was once a hiding place for Japan's "Hidden Christians" during the Edo Period (1603-1868). A small cluster of houses here has an unusual stone carving. On the face of this stone are 13 images of Jizo in four lines of three with a single carving on the top row which is believed to represent Jesus at the top with his 12 disciples below.

13 Christian Jizo Statues
13 Christian Jizo Statues

The carving overlooks picturesque terraced fields set to a backdrop of mountains making it well worth the effort to find. The road through this village continues up towards Mount Iwawaki which forms part of the Diamond Trail. This hiking trail runs down the Nara/Osaka border before turning across the Wakayama/Osaka border towards the sea.

Farmland in Nagaretani
Farmland in Nagaretani

Further down the hill from the Jizo Statue is Nagaretani Hachiman Shrine. This shrine is locally famous for its 400 year old Ginko Tree. This ancient tree is some 30m tall and the only one of its kind in the area and is visible from afar.

Nagaretani Hachiman Shrine and the Giant Ginko
Nagaretani Hachiman Shrine and the Giant Ginko

Koya Kaido

Passing through the area is an ancient pilgrimage trail, the Koya Kaido. This old road runs from Kyoto, far to the north, to sacred Koyasan in the south. It follows the route that Kukai, founder of Koyasan, used to take when he was summoned for an audience with the Emperor.

From the late Heian Period onward, it became a popular pilgrimage for Emperors to take. This popularity slowly filtered down through the nobility and samurai class and eventually, even peasants made the journey.

An old building along the Koya Kaido with an interesting tale
An old building along the Koya Kaido with an interesting tale

Nowadays, the Koya Kaido is all but forgotten, especially in comparison to its more famous cousin, the Kumano Kodo. For those who know where to look, there are dozens of fascinating little stories, mostly involving Kukai, linked to many small shrines and curiosities along the way.

A Traditional Onsen Ryokan

In the center of everything is Amami Onsen Nanten-en. This is a small, traditional onsen ryokan with natural, radium infused hot springs, a large garden and only 14 guest rooms. It is a popular place for overnight stays, and also provides lunch and onsen packages featuring exquisite Kaiseki course meals served in private rooms.

Amami Onsen Nanten-en
Amami Onsen Nanten-en

The owner is both a tea ceremony master and an Ikebana (traditional flower arranging) master who often holds classes at the ryokan, accompanied by one of their English speaking members of staff (often myself). They also have rental bicycles and English language guide maps, making it a great base to explore the surrounding area.

The building itself is over 100 years old and is a Registered Cultural Asset of Japan, one of only three remaining wooden buildings designed by famous architect Kingo Tatsuno. He designed many buildings in the early part of the 20th century, including iconic Tokyo Station.

This ryokan is a popular Hanami spot with several varieties of cherry trees within the gardens. A late blooming type called Yaezakura also grows along the narrow lane between Amami Station and Kanii Shrine - cherry blossom season in Amami lasts for a month.

Late blooming Yaezakura cherry blossoms
Late blooming Yaezakura cherry blossoms

Across the road from the ryokan is a small mountain called Kanaeyama (Iron Mountain). It overlooks a crossroads called Deai-no-Tsuji which was the site of a little known 14th century battle. Kanaeyama was the base for Kusunoki Masashige. Here, he ambushed and destroyed a much larger army. He built a small shrine on the mountaintop, a reconstruction of which exists today. However the trail up the mountain is quite well hidden and difficult to climb. I only visit the shrine a few times a year to check and clean it, but the view from the top is fantastic.

Amami village from the top of Kanaeyama
Amami village from the top of Kanaeyama

If you are looking for nature and a good story within Osaka Prefecture, the villages of Amami are perfect places to wander.

The view from Amami Station
The view from Amami Station

Getting there

To reach Amami Village, take the Nankai Koya Line from Nankai Namba Station. All express trains (orange sign) bound for Hashimoto or sub-express (green sign) bound for Rinkanden-Entoshi stop at Amami Station.

Free walking maps in Japanese are available in this unmanned station and English information is available at the ryokan which is just a 2 minute walk from the station.

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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

Lynda Hogan 4 months ago
I don't know when I will get to Osaka again, but I definitely want to check out Amami Village when I'm there.
Lynda Hogan 3 months ago
That's a great idea.
Sherilyn Siy 4 months ago
Never thought to use "Osaka" and "rustic" in the same phrase/sentence. So cool to know such a place exists so close to the bustling city.
Gary Luscombe Author 4 months ago
I think a lot of people forget, or don't realize that Osaka is a whole prefecture to explore and not just a city!
Sander van Werkhoven 4 months ago
Looking at it on Google Maps makes it almost surreal: such a secluded village yet so close to the hustle and bustle of Osaka. Truly a hidden gem!
Gary Luscombe Author 4 months ago
Kawachinagano, which is the city this village is part of, is mostly woodland and hills. Even though some 100,000 people live there, most of it is very quiet. You can walk around somewhere like Amami all day and only bump into a handful of villagers.
Sleiman Azizi 4 months ago
I'm sold too. Well played Mr Luscombe, well played.
Sleiman Azizi 4 months ago
And one that I am looking forward to!
Bonson Lam 4 months ago
This is truly rustic and beautiful, and so close to Osaka and Kansai airport!
Gary Luscombe Author 4 months ago
You can be in central Osaka within about 40 minutes by express train and it's an hour and a half, give or take, to the airport. Though with this scenery, I don't often bother going into the city!