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Japan in Autumn is so amazing, it dazzles the senses. It’s not difficult to think about being overwhelmed by the hue of the brightly colored foliage, the crunching sound of the dry fallen leaves as you walk paths littered with thousands of them, the feel of the the crisp Autumn wind chilling your fingertips and nose. But there is a unique place just minutes from Osaka where you can not only see, hear and feel the Autumn season, but also taste it.
Osaka is known for its lively nightlife, dazzling array of eateries and endless places to shop, but one would hardly think of a quiet walk in the mountains as part of the Osaka experience. Yet, here we are, just twenty minutes by train from downtown Osaka in the maple dotted mountains of Mino, seemingly a world away from the city.
Mount Mino and the path of the gods
Visiting Mino is more than just a hike in the mountains. The pass is considered by the Japanese as a Sando, a road of the gods, which means it is a common path for both the material and spiritual worlds. Walking amidst the beauty of nature here, one can certainly see how the lines are blurred between the material and spiritual worlds.
During the fall, Mino is adorned with wonderful colors thanks to the maple trees that are tinged with yellow and red. Mino tends to be more popular with visitors during this period so unfortunately what we gain in the beauty of the landscape we lose in serenity and seclusion. But the ancient roadside temples remind us that Mino is also a place of worship.
One of Mino’s most famous temples is the Ryuanji Temple, but I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to visit because it was being renovated during my visit to Mino. The temple was founded in 650 and is now more than 1300 years old. Oddly, it is this temple which originated the first lotteries of Japan, though the original prizes were blessings and health, not suitcases full of yen.
Wonderful autumn colors
The many Japanese maples that grow in the mountains of Mino make it one of the most beautiful places to admire the autumn colors around Osaka. The length is about 3 kilometers, a thirty minute walk that passes quickly in autumn as you lose yourself in the beauty of the landscape.
Along the way, you’ll discover one of Mino’s secrets. Mino has a unique specialty in the Japanese archipelago, maple fritters, also called momiji tempura. These are real little maple leaves deep fried after being coated in a slightly sweet dough.
They are prepared by the side of the road while you watch. Eat them hot right on the path, or bring a box home to share with friends or family! The leaves do not have a very distinct flavor by themselves, but their slightly sweet taste fried in dough is very pleasant. And it’s a very unique opportunity to be able immerse yourself in Fall with yet another one of your senses: taste!
The waterfall of Mino
After walking three kilometers among the maples, we arrive at Mino waterfall. At 33 meters high and 5 meters wide, it is quite a beautiful and impressive sight, particularly at the end of November when the waterfall’s surroundings take on the colors of Japanese autumn.
Around the waterfall, there are many benches on which we can relax before heading back down the path to the station. Shops sell all sorts of snacks: takoyaki, of course, the Osaka specialty made with octopus, and also grilled fish or ice cream.
When the end of the day comes and the valley falls into shadow, the lanterns of the shops light up to give a new charm to the place. Between the omnipresent nature, the old wooden buildings and the warm colors of the lanterns, it is easy to imagine a scene from a Ghibli movie.
Access to Osaka’s Mount Mino
Mino Station is served by the Hankyu Railway Mino Line. From Osaka, take the Takarazuka line to Umeda and change to Ishidabashi for the Mino Line. It takes around 25 minutes and costs 270 yen.
The Mino hiking trail is similar to that of Takao in Tokyo: wide, clean, and paved. It is a walk accessible to all and which presents no particular difficulty. There’s no reason to miss an afternoon in Mino, especially if you’re visiting Osaka in autumn!