Osaka might be Japan's second largest metropolis, behind only Tokyo in sheer number of people, but that doesn't mean you can't escape into nature when you want to. In the heart of the city, Osaka Castle Park is 105 hectares of beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding a 16th century castle. The park is hugely popular with locals, who flock here every spring to see some 600 sakura (cherry) trees and 1,270 ume (plum) trees explode into bloom. For a bigger urban oasis, the 260-hectare Expo Park, created on the former venue of the Japan World Exposition held in 1970, includes a Japanese garden, forests, rice paddies, abundant flowers, and waterfalls.
A little further out, Mino-Quasi National Park is a place of arresting scenic beauty in the mountains of Mino City. A favourite activity here is to walk through the forest up to the magnificent Mino Waterfall. Along the way, you can snack on delicious hot treats sold by vendors and stop in to the Mino Insect Museum, home to 200 live butterflies. For an outdoor experience that's a little longer - say over a weekend - then head 90 minutes out of Osaka to Kongozan (Mt. Kongo). Here, you can enjoy a 60-minute hike to the top of the mountain or drop in to the Museum of Nature and Astronomy for stargazing and bird watching. There are also areas for barbequing and camping, plus accommodation at the bungalows.
And don't forget Osaka's wonderful rivers, canals and port. Explore it's urban rivers on the Aquabus, or head out to the Tajiri Ocean Community Center, near Kansai International Airport, where you can venture out into the bay with fisherman to catch seafood for lunch.