Where is Wakayama?
Wakayama Prefecture (Wakayama-ken) is located south of Osaka in the Kansai Region. Prefectural capital is Wakayama City. The prefecture's best known tourist attraction is Mount Koya (Koyasan), the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism and the best place to experience an overnight stay at a temple.
The weather in Wakayama
Wakayama is situated on Japan’s largest peninsula known as the Kii-hanto at latitude 34.14° North and longitude 135.10° East. Wakayama is warm year round; the weather is so mild that bougainvillea bloom even in Winter. Annual precipitation is around 1,000 mm in northern Wakayama, and over 2,000 mm in the south. The mountainous regions receive higher and heavy rainfall, with over 3,000 mm annually. Japan’s rainy season, known as tsuyu, typically starts from the beginning of June and lasts until mid-July; intense downpours are common. The upside of the rainy season is that popular outdoor attractions tend to be less busy.
Wakayama Castle, in Wakayama Prefecture south of Osaka, was first built on the orders of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) in 1585. The building work was overseen by Hideyoshi's brother, Hidenaga. Wakayama Castle is atop a small hill (Torafusu 49m) and has curved corners to fit the shape of the contours. The pleasant castle grounds are now a public park and modern-day Wakayama's most popular spot for cherry blossom viewing (hanami) and picnics in spring.
Twenty minutes by ferry from Kada, Tomogashima is a small group of islands off the coast of Wakayama. You can hike, picnic and camp on Okinoshima, the main island, where the main draw is the ruins of an abandoned military fort. The dilapidated red brick structures and overgrown vegetation give the island an uncanny resemblance to Laputa, the floating island in the Studio Ghibli movie Castle in the Sky.
Wakanoura Bay fans out at the mouth of the Kinokawa River and was a preferred place of cultural inspiration for poets of the Heian and Nara periods. The ancient Kimii-dera temple sits nearby and traditional Japanese industries – such as lacquerware and umbrellas – continue to flourish here. The scenic area around the bay area has undergone development in recent times to appeal to a whole new generation of poets. Reclaimed land has been developed and now houses Wakayama Marina City. Re-creations of European towns are ready to be explored in the Porto Europa amusement park and hotels and onsen resorts offer points of relaxation.
Wakayama Marina City
Wakayama Marina City is a resort island that faces the beautiful Wakaura Bay, and features a series of hotels and onsen. Experience an extravagant atmosphere at Porto Europa, an amusement park based on medieval European townscapes. Visit the seafood market (Kuroshio Ichiba Market), where you can enjoy the dynamic tuna cutting show 3 times a day every day!
Wakayama Electric Railway
The Wakayama Electric Railway (Dentetsu) is a private railway that operates just one line, the 14.3 kilometer long Kishigawa Line that runs from Wakayama city to Kishi in nearby Kinokawa. The train line and especially Kishi Station has been made famous and become a tourist draw because of Tama-chan, the feline stationmaster. Since 2007 a calico cat had been named station master, and her main duties seems to have been sleeping while wearing a station masters cap. Apparently this was enough to attract the attention of millions of cat fans who made the journey just to see her, and while they were at it purchase plenty of Tama-chan merchandise in the station shop. In 2015 Tama-chan passed away and a shrine has been built for her at Kishi Station, however, several years earlier a second calico cat, named Nitama, had been installed at Idakiso Station and following the original Tama-chan's passing has now been promoted and moved to Kishi Station and is now known at Tama II.
This ancient temple was founded in the year 1132. It has many things to see, including the largest wooden. Stupa (a National Treasure), the hall enshrining a statue of Kobo Daishi (an important cultural property), and the Negoroji Temple Garden. The temple is also a famous spot for cherry blossoms and autumn foliage, and is easy to get to from Kansai International Airport.
Kokawadera Temple is one of the largest Temples in Wakayama Prefecture and in the Saikoku Pilgrimage Circuit. From the front gate (called Daimon) to the Main Worship Hall, there is a long circuitous pathway. This pathway is covered with many small temples, shrines, gardens and halls dedicated to Buddhist Monks. Most of the larger structures were made in the eighteenth century and with Zelkova Wood, which was popular with the wooden structures of the Edo Period. In addition to the Daimon, there is another beautiful and large Gate just before the Hondo (called Chumon).
Oishi Kogen Highland
Oishi-kogen is a highland area that straddles Kimino and Aridagawa. It is famous for its large expanse of Japanese pampas grass which is said to be the finest in the Kansai region. The grass-covered plain spreads across the area's gently sloping summit which peaks at 870 meters. In Autumn when the sun shines over the plain, it takes on the appearance of a vast, golden sea and is utterly enchanting. The peak also offers a 360°panorama with views that stretch as far Rokko, Awaji, and Shikoku.
Danjo Garan is one of the two most sacred sites in Koyasan. The temple was created as a place for secret training in Shingon esoteric Buddhism. Inside the temple, there are a Main Hall, serveral small temples and pagodas. This is the place where most ceremonies are held. It perished in fire seven times and was restored in its present shape in 1932. There used to be seven images of Buddha in the hall but all of them perished in fire. We do not know what kind of images those were, as the very existence of the temple was kept secret. There is also a blood mandala (Chimandara) which is believed to hold the blood of Shogun Taira no Kiyomori.
Kongobuji was originally constructed in 1593 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to commemorate the death of his mother. Later it was merged with a neighboring temple and reorganized into the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, the sect introduced to Japan by Kobo Daishi in 805 and headquartered on Koyasan. After entering the building, taking off their shoes and paying the admission fee, visitors will first come across the Ohiroma Room which was used for important rituals and religious ceremonies. The room's gilded sliding doors (fusuma) are adorned with cranes painted by Kano Tanyu. Next to the Ohiroma Room are the Plum and Willow Rooms, named after the paintings on their sliding doors. Toyotomi Hidetsugu committed ritual suicide in the Willow Room as ordered by his uncle Hideyoshi.
Okunoin is the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), the founder of Shingon Buddhism and one of the most revered persons in the religious history of Japan. Instead of having died, Kobo Daishi is believed to rest in eternal meditation as he awaits Miroku Nyorai (Maihreya), the Buddha of the Future, and provides relief to those who ask for salvation in the meantime. Okunoin is one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular pilgrimage spot. The Ichinohashi Bridge (first bridge) marks the traditional entrance to Okunoin, and visitors should bow to pay respect to Kobo Daishi before crossing it. Across the bridge starts Okunoin's cemetery, the largest in Japan, with over 200,000 tombstones lining the almost two kilometer long approach to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum. Wishing to be close to Kobo Daishi in death to receive salvation, many people, including prominent monks and feudal lords, have had their tombstones erected here over the centuries.
Said to be founded more than 1700 years ago, Niutsuhime Jinja is one of the older shrines in Wakayama and a registered World Heritage venue. The deities enshrined here are the guardians of Koyasan, the Buddhist mountaintop temple complex founded by Kobo Daishi. Fans of shrine architecture will appreciate the four main shrine buildings: Japan's largest kasuga-style structures.
Until the late 1800’s, women were not allowed to worship at Koyasan. Jisonin, a temple on the way to Koyasan, welcomed female devotees. Today, it is known for the thousands of breast-shaped offerings hung around the temple and grounds, to pray for women’s health.
Niukanshōfu Shrine or Niukanshōbu Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Ito district, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. In 2004, It was designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.
Sanada-an was temple located in Wakayama. It was established the old house of Sanada Masayuki and his son Yukimura. They moved from Shinsyu to Kudoyama after the battel of Sekigahara and waited until Siege of Osaka.
Koyasan Choishi Michi Trail
The original main approach to Koyasan is along the Koyasan Choishi Michi trail, which begins at Kudoyama Station on the Nankai Koya Line. The trail is marked by stone signposts (choishi) which stand every few hundred meters along the path so that pilgrims can find their way. The markers are numbered (in kanji) in descending order with number one at Koyasan and are formed to represent the five Buddhist elements: earth, water, fire, air and void.
Koya-Ryujin Skyline Road
The Koya-Ryujin Skyline Road, which connects Koyasan and Ryujin Onsen, is a popular destination for seeing the colorful autumn leaves from the end of October. You can enjoy mountains painted with multicolored leaves from the observation deck of the Sky tower, located near the peak of Mt. Gomadanzan on the Koya-Ryujin Skyline Road.
Yuasa Historic Townscape
Yuasa Town flourished from the 17th to 19th centuries due to soy sauce and Kinzanji miso production. The townscapes are designated as a traditional architectures preservation district and include many historical homes. You can also visit soy sauce breweries to view tools for making soy sauce and displays of reference materials.
Shirasaki Ocean Park
Located on the Shirasaki coast, this rest stop is a great place to stop for coastal views, especially at sunset. Like most rest areas, there is a shop selling regional items and a small dining space where light meals are served.
Aragi Jima Island Rice Terrace
Aragi-jima Island is a unique sight designated as one of the top 100 rice terrace views in Japan. In 2013, it was also awarded national status as a scenic landscape of important cultural heritage. The beautiful, naturally-occurring shape of the terraced fields has become a symbol of Aridagawa, and the transient beauty of the fields as they change in line with the seasons is remarkable. The area has a certain atmosphere that cannot be replicated in photos. For a good view of the fields, visit the observatory set up on the opposite side of the Aridagawa River.
Kumano Kodo Pilgrim Road
For over 1000 years people from all levels of society, including retired emperors and aristocrats, have made the arduous pilgrimage to Kumano. These pilgrims used a network of routes, now called the Kumano Kodo, which stretched across the mountainous Kii Peninsula.
The walk itself was an integral part of the pilgrimage process as they undertook rigorous religious rites of worship and purification. Walking the ancient Kumano Kodo is a fantastic way to experience the unique cultural landscape of Kumano's spiritual countryside.
Minabe Bairin Plum Glove
Minabe-bairin is said to offer a view of a million plum trees and produce an aroma that fills the air for miles. It is Japan's No.1 ume grove in both name and reality, and in early Spring, draws crowds of people from around the country who come to see the entire mountainside decorated in plum blossom.
This zoo is home to sea and land animals from around the world. Experience the safari park from special cars, and check out the fabulous sea lion and dolphin shows as well as many other events. This theme park also includes an amusement park for an entire day of fun.
Engetsu Tou Island
Engetsu Island is a small island off the coast of Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. It includes a natural arch through which seawater passes. The hole in the middle of the island has been formed through the effects of wind and waves overtime and has given it its nickname of Engetsu (full moon).
Shirahama Onsen is one of the three most famous onsen in Japan. The town has been veiled by white steam and the unique scent of the onsen water since ancient times.
Outdoor onsen are surrounded by green trees and fresh air. Onsen close to the ocean provide a breathtaking panorama of the sea. Onsen in Ryokan and hotels are a must. Walking around the town and taking an Onsen Tour of various onsen scattered everywhere is also fun and worth doing.
This mysterious, natural work of art, featuring a straight line of large and small unusually shaped rocks which stretches for around 850 meters, appears to be the stakes of a bridge. The fantastic scenery colored by the sunrise is especially popular as a photo-taking spot. One legend says that the monk Kobo Daishi attempted to build a bridge here.
Kushimoto Marine Park
Established to conserve the natural marine environment off the Kushimoto coast, the onsite aquarium and undersea observation tower are particular favourites with visitors to Kushimoto Marine Park. The park has its own dive school and offers both lessons and fun dives.
Kumano Hongu Taisha
A long stone staircase leads to the sacred grounds of the Kumano Hongu Taisha located on a ridge surrounded by giant cedar and cypress trees. It is one of the Kumano Sanzan, three grand shrines of Kumano, and head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Kumano Hayatama Taisha is located at the mouth of the Kumano-gawa River where the continuous flow of waters from the sacred heights of the Kii Mountains empty into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The nature in and around the shrine is an integral part of this Grand Shrine’s precincts and annual rituals. The ancient 800 year old Nagi-no-Ki tree (Podocarpus nagi) highlights the areas deep tradition of nature worship.
Kumano Nachi Taisha
Kumano Nachi Taisha is a Shinto shrine located halfway up Nachi Mountain, about 350 meters above sea level. It has its religious origin in the ancient nature worship of Nachi-no-Otaki. This grand shrine is part of the Kumano Sanzan and major pilgrimage destination.
Perched in front of the raging Nachi Falls, the brilliant red, three-story pagoda of Seiganto-ji Temple is a striking example of a man-made structure interacting with the natural environment. The temple’s harmonious relationships with its surroundings doesn’t stop there however, as it is physically attached to the Grand Shrine of Kumano Nachi-taisha – a rare mixed-religious relationship of Buddhism and Shintoism.
This 133 meter tall waterfall boasts the longest drop in Japan, with one ton of water dropping down the cliff every second. It enshrines the deity of Hiro Shrine, the auxiliary shrine of Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine. This awe-inspiring and dynamic view is truly unforgettable.
Ryujin Onsen is a hidden, historical hot spring settlement situated in the mountainous heart of the Kii-hanto Peninsula along the upper reaches of the Hidaka-gawa River, famous for its beautifying mineral waters. It is located at the southern entrance of the Ryujin-Koya Skyline highway that links Koyasan and the Kumano area and is a perfect place to stop and relax between these two sacred sites. The Skyline offers wonderful panoramic views of the forested peaks, layer upon layer into the horizon.
Katsuura Onsen is located on the southeast coast of the Kii Peninsula. It is in essence a fishing port turned hot spring resort. Both sides of the village can be easily experience with a short stroll through town. There are multiple hot spring baths located throughout the village and are almost entirely located in hotels, ryokan, etc. Most of these baths are also available for day use. A complete list of Onsen baths and footbaths is available at the Information Center located in the JR Kii-Katsuura Station.
Yunomine is a quaint little collection of inns tucked into a small valley deep in the heart of the sacred mountains of Kumano. The waters here are said to change color seven times over the course of a day. Yunomine Onsen was discovered about 1,800 years ago, and it is thought to be one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. Yunomine Onsen is an integral part of the over 1000 year old Kumano pilgrimage tradition. Pilgrims performed hot water purification rituals in these piping hot mineral waters after their long journey in preparation to worship at Kumano Hongu Taisha.
Ajikoji is a network of narrow streets that make up Tanabe City's slightly retro nightlife district. Packed full of small bars and restaurants, it's a great place for dining and bar-hopping Japanese style.
This boat tour allows you to watch whales as well as other types of sea life such as dolphins. There are times when the tour encounters a pod of sperm whales up to 20 meters long, killer whales and sharks. Whale watching is a perfect chance to fully experience the magnificent nature of the Pacific Ocean.
Traditional Log Rafting
This is the only place in Japan where tourists can experience logging rafts. Feel the soul-stirring paddling of rafters as you go down the swift currents of the Kitayama River. Its origin is in lumber transportation in which felled lumber was assembled into rafts and brought to the mouth of the river. This practice was done for over 600 years.
Kumano Oto Matsuri Festival
A team of roughly 2,000 men (referred to as noboriko) clad in white and sporting straw rope wrapped around their waists light pentagonal shaped torches with sacred fire in prayer for a good harvest and family safety. The view that unfolds as the men charge down from the shrine with torches in hand is as the lyrics of the Shingu-setsu song describe, like a flaming waterfall and winding fiery dragon. The festival is known as one of the most lively fire festivals in Japan. On the day of the festival, women are prohibited from the Kamikura-jinja Shrine grounds, but are able to watch the festivities from the path leading to the shrine.
Tanabe-matsuri Festival is Tokei-jinja Shrine's annual festival. On the evening of July 24th, floats from different parts of Tanabe are dragged to the Aizu-bashi and Shinaizu-bashi bridges. The floats gathered on the bridges and the Shinto ritual held as dawn breaks on the morning of the 25th are not to be missed.
Kokawa-matsuri Festival is one of the Kishu region's top three festivals and is held annually on the last weekend of July. The brightly decorated festival floats are a wonderful sight.
Nachi No Ogi Matsuri Festival
Nachi-no-Ogi Matsuri is a festival held at Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine annually on July 14th. It is a Shinto ritual in which participants carry large flaming torches down the path from the shrine to a sacred waterfall. The path is used to lead the shrine's 12 deities down to the waterfall, and the ritual is carried out to purify the route.
Waka Matsuri Festival
Held on the second Sunday of May at the Kishu Tosho-gu Shrine which was built by Yorinobu Tokugawa in memory of his late father, the highlight of the Waka-matsuri Festival is the special procession that takes place. The festival commences with a team of men charging valiantly down Kishu Tosho-gu Shrine's 108 stone steps with the festival mikoshi (portable shrine) on their shoulders. Following that, the mikoshi is paraded around the Wakaura area as part of a procession which leaves the shrine at 12 p.m. and features Japanese drumming (taiko), Saika-odori dancing, and wooden sword wielding performances (naginatafuri).
What to eat in Wakayama
A trip to Wakayama is not complete without a bowl of the region's renowned ramen noodles, each distinguished by its soup. Each restaurant has its own unique recipe, but it is usually a pork broth flavoured with soy sauce (tonkotsu shoyu). If you want to order Wakayama ramen like a local, ask for 'chuka soba'.
Shojin Ryori(Buddist Cuisine)
Shojin ryori is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan. As the cuisine is made without meat, fish or other animal products, it can be enjoyed by vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Shojin ryori is known as the diet of monks who are against killing animals. Meals using vegetables and beans are healthy and quite popular with tourists. On Mt. Koya, you can sample various dishes which focus on taste and color.
The sesame tofu of Koyasan uses only the inner kernel, with the seed coat removed, so the product is white and light flavoured without oiliness. At Hamadaya we chant the Heart Sutra once and Kobo Daishi’s name three times during the manufacturing process to show our gratitude to those visiting Koyasan.
At the beginning of fall, when the temperatures begin to drop, new products start to arrive on the shelves and the first tangerines and persimmons appear. Several varieties of different shapes and sizes are often on sale. When dried, they are sometimes used as window decorations. The persimmon is actually a national fruit of Japan, that grows along the edges of country fields. Wakayama produces the most persimmons in Japan, and local markets ship them all over the country.
Kuenabe (Longtooth Grouper Hot Pot)
Kue is a highly prized fish that once you eat it, you won’t want to eat any other fish. Its best season is between October and December, and with its springy and gelatinous texture, the white and fatty flesh is also the perfect ingredient in hot pot.
Tachiuo (Largehead Hairtail)
In Japan, where it is known as tachiuo ("太刀(tachi)":sword, "魚(uo)":fish), they are fished for food and eaten grilled or raw, as sashimi. They are also called "sword-fish" in Portugal and Brazil, where they are eaten grilled or fried. Its flesh is firm yet tender when cooked, with a moderate level of "fishiness" to the smell and a low level of oiliness. The largehead hairtail is also notable for being fairly easy to debone.
Salted Plum (Umeboshi)
Another hallmark of Wakayama, is the salt-pickled ume plum (umeboshi) that is most often eaten with white rice. The Nanko Ume plums from which it is made are famous throughout Japan. There are so many varieties of ume which can be found when travelling in Wakayama. Markets offer umeboshi of varying salt-levels, from mild to those that make your toes curl, or the precious kind sprinkled with edible gold leaf. The Kishu Umeboshi, as it is known, has even made its way into convenience store brand onigiri rice balls sold nationwide.
Mandarin Orange (Mikan)
These oranges, which are grown in wide fields on mountain slopes, have a tart flavor bathed in sunlight and also have a delicious sweetness and richness to them. Arida oranges are famous as a top brand representing the oranges of Japan.
Sushi is one of Wakayama Prefecture's most famous local cuisines. Mehari-zushi is a type of rice ball which is wrapped in pickled mustard leaves. Sanma-zushi is a rice ball topped with Pacific saury that has been preserved in salt. Kakinoha-zushi refers to rice balls made with mackerel or other fish which are wrapped in persimmon leaves.