20 Recommended Sightseeing Spots in Wakayama From the Standards to Hidden Gems
Wakayama Prefecture is an area surrounded by mountains that look out into a beautiful ocean. It is home to many attractive and famous spots, including World Heritage Sites such as the Kumano Sanzan (three major shrines) and Mt. Koya. Read on and get to know 20 recommended tourist spots in Wakayama!
Where is Wakayama?
Wakayama Prefecture is located to the south of Osaka and Nara. If you come by Nankai Electric Railway, it will take you about 90 minutes from Osaka and around 50 minutes from Kansai International Airport to get to Wakayama City. From Tokyo, there are direct flights between Haneda Airport and Nanki-Shirahama Airport that take about 75 minutes.
In this article, Wakayama Pref. will be divided into five areas – Wakayama City, Mt. Koya, Kichu, Shirahama-Kushimoto, and Kumano.
Wakayama City Area
The Wakayama City area is located in the northern part of Wakayama Prefecture. This area is dotted with a lot of historic landmarks due to its long history as a castle town centered around Wakayama Castle. The city faces the sea, so enjoying the ocean - whether through swimming or by eating seafood - is another one of Wakayama's true pleasures.
Visit Wakayama Castle
Wakayama Castle is a famous landmark that is considered the symbol of Wakayama City. It was the residential castle of the Kishu Tokugawa family, which had the second highest social standing during the Edo period (1603 – 1867) next to shogunate families. Inside the castle, you will see the tenshu (castle tower) rising at the center, elegant structures such as Okaguchi-mon (Okaguchi Gate) and Ohashi-roka (Ohashi Bridge), and the famous Nishinomaru Teien, a garden known for its beauty in every season, giving you a glimpse of the castle’s past. There are many other attractions in this castle, including Wakayama Historical Museum, a zoo, and Kosho-an, a traditional tea house where you can drink matcha (powdered green tea).
Admission fee for the castle tower: General - 410 JPY, Child (Elementary and junior high school students) - 200 JPY
Ride the Wakayama Electric Railway Kishigawa Line with Nitama, the Cat Stationmaster
Kishi Station, on the Wakayama Electric Railway Kishigawa Line, is a unique station where the stationmaster is a calico cat named Nitama. Throngs of tourists from inside Japan and overseas flock to this station to get a glimpse of this adorable cat. From station building which is designed to look like the face of a cat, to the Tama Densha (Tama Train), a train decorated inside and out with cat imagery, there is plenty to see that will surely have cat lovers enraptured! It takes about 30 minutes to get to Kishi Station from JR Wakayama Station. Along the route, you will pass the famous Wakayama shrines Hinokuma-jingu and Itakiso-jinja.
Fare (Wakayama Station - Kishi Station): General - 400 JPY, Child - 200 JPY
Go on a Stroll Through the Scenic Yosuien Garden
Yosuien, which has a total area of 33,000 sq.m., is a famous garden that was built over a period of about 8 years starting from 1818. The garden is uniquely designed such that the pond is filled with salt water, so when you look deep into the pond, you will see saltwater fish swimming inside. There are also around 1,100 pine trees and seasonal flowers planted around the pond, and combined with the magnificent mountains at the backdrop, you are bound to enjoy elegant and gorgeous views everywhere you look. Another attraction of this garden is the Japanese-style structure called Yosuitei, which was built 190 years ago.
Entrance fee: General (Junior high school and older): 600 JPY, Child (Elementary school and younger): 300 JPY
Tomogashima has become a hot topic of conversation thanks to its mysterious vibe resembling the floating island Laputa in the famous animated movie Castle in the Sky from Studio Ghibli. Tomogashima is the collective name of a group of four uninhabited islands, and they can be reached by ferry from Kata port in about 30 minutes. The archipelago has a history of being used as a fortress, so it is characterized by its unique landscape that includes remnants of canons and the ruins of military facilities. The plantlife and historic landmarks are also worth a look, making it the perfect spot for hiking. There is a campground in the island, and nearby you can enjoy gathering shellfish on the shore.
Fare (roundtrip): General - 2,000 JPY, Child - 1,000 JPY
Eat Wakayama Ramen
Wakayama Ramen is a local type of ramen that is fondly called "Chuka Soba" (Chinese noodles) by the locals. It mainly comes with either the “ide” type of soup made from pork bones and soy sauce, or the clear “shakomae” type of soup that is based on soy sauce. Both soups are representative of Wakayama, a famous production area for soy sauce in Japan, and are characterized by the delicious aroma of soy sauce. When you go to local ramen shops, you will find this unique feature: hayazushi (mackerel on sushi rice) and boiled eggs on the table. You can freely eat the hayazushi and eggs without ordering - you just have to tell the cashier how many you ate when you pay on your way out.
Mt. Koya Area
Listed as a World Heritage Site, Mt. Koya is an area east of the Wakayama City area and located about 1,000m above sea level. This majestic area is a sacred place for the Shingon sect, one of the major sects of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism.
Go Around Mt. Koya
Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi) (774 - 835), the founder Shingon Buddhism, built Kongobu-ji Temple in this mountain in the year 816. Mt. Koya thrived as a holy city from that point on, and there are 117 temples and shrines to be found in the mountain today. There are many great sites to see here, such as the 48.5m-high Konpon Daito, Japan’s first two-storied pagoda (the top level is circular in shape, while the bottom level is rectangular). In front of Kongobu-ji Temple is a shopping street that is lined with souvenir shops, confectioneries, and other establishments. There are also many shukubo (visitor's or pilgrim's lodgings in a temple) around, so it would be a great idea to spend a relaxing night in the area, away from the rest of the world.
Admire the Rock Garden at Kongobuji Temple
Kongobuji is a large temple that boasts a total area of approximately 160,000 sq.m. It is home to many prestigious buildings, including the Shoin Jodan no Ma (audience room) with dazzlingly beautiful walls covered in gold embossing, and the Okushoin (drawing room) that served as a rest area for the Imperial Family. One of the must-see spots inside the temple is Banryu-tei, Japan’s biggest rock garden with area of 2,340 sq.m. Here, a couple of dragons facing each other in a sea of clouds are represented using rocks and sand. Viewing this scene will make you truly appreciate the garden’s grand scale and subtle beauty.
Visit the Mysterious Okunoin
One particularly famous spot in Mt. Koya is Okunoin, the place where Kukai entered eternal meditation. The central building known as Kobo Daishi Gobyo (Kukai's mausoleum) is said to be a "power spot," a mystical location where prayers are granted by Kukai. Both sides of the approximately 2km approach to the mausoleum from the Ichi-no-Hashi bridge are lined with old cedar trees, creating a solemn atmosphere. There are also an overwhelming number of memorial towers and tombstones all over the area. These towers and gravestones are for people in different eras, from historical figures to common people, giving you a feeling of awe and respect toward Kukai.
Kichu is an area located south of Wakayama City that is rich in nature, as it is surrounded by the coast to the west and mountains to the east, and offers varieties of mikan (Mandarin orange) and soy sauce that can only be found in Wakayama.
Take a Walk in the Streets of Yuasa
Yuasa-cho is a town that is famous for brewing soy sauce, Japan’s traditional seasoning. It is filled with rows of old-fashioned buildings, such as Daisenbori, a landing where ships loaded with soy sauce once moored long ago. You are bound to catch sudden whiffs soy sauce in the air while walking around this town, which is known as the birthplace of soy sauce. You need to pay close attention to such details as tsushi-nikai, which is a low two-storied structure that was used as a storeroom, and the maku-ita, panels that are lowered from the eaves to provide cover during rain. There are also shops selling soy sauce, miso, Japanese sake, and other products, making it the perfect place for souvenir shopping.
Dive at Shirasaki Coast
Shirasaki Coast (Shirasaki Ocean Park) is a rias-type (saw-tooth shaped) coast that is found in Yura Town. It has white rocks made of limestone jutting to the surface of the sea, creating a beautiful contrast with the blue waters - just like the Aegean Sea! There are various creatures living in the water, including sea turtles, so it has become famous as a superb diving spot. The surrounding area is filled with heated pools, baths for the exclusive use of divers, and other facilities. Another great point about this coast is that it is just about 90 minutes from southern Osaka and around 120 minutes from Osaka City center by car.
※As of the writing of this article, Shirasaki Ocean Park is closed as a result of the damage inflicted from Typhoon Lan. Please check the official website for the latest information.
Shirahama-Kushimoto is an area situated in the southern part of Wakayama Pref. Shirahama is the leading swimming beach in the Kansai area, offering such charming attractions as the scenic spot called Engetsuto Island and seafood such as as Ise-ebi (spiny lobster). Kushimoto is the southernmost town on Honshu, the main island of Japan. The intricate rias-type coastline of this area creates a beautiful landscape.
Interact with Animals at Adventure World
Adventure World is a theme park housing a zoo, aquarium, and an amusement park all in one place. There are 140 species and 1,400 individual animals that live here, including giant pandas. Operating under the concept of “interaction among humans, animals, and nature,” this place can be enjoyed in many different ways that suit your preferences, so you can watch the dolphin show, go horseback riding, pet rabbits, and more!
Admission fee (1 DAY): General (18 years old and above) - 4,500 JPY, Senior (65 years old and above) - 4,000 JPY, Youth (12 – 17 years old) - 3,500 JPY, Child (4 – 11 years old) - 2,500 JPY
Try Shirasu-don at Toretore Market
Nanki Shirahama Toretore Market is the largest seafood market in West Japan, boasting a total area of about 50,000 sq.m. Aside from special products from Wakayama, fish and seafood from all round the country are sold here, and you can get hold of fresh seafood at reasonable prices.
This market is not only popular as a place where you can buy a wide array of products, but also as a spot where you can enjoy gourmet dishes. At Toretore Ichiba Yokocho, a cafeteria-style restaurant inside the market, they serve such dishes as Shirasu-don (whitebait on top of a bowl of rice), giving you the chance to taste fresh seafood just after it is caught.
Relax at Shirahama Onsen
Known as one of the three most famous hot spring districts in Japan, Shirahama Onsen has been gaining popularity as a resort area symbolic of the Kansai area of Japan. There are many hot springs in this district, but the one that is particularly famous is the open-air bath Saki-no-yu, which has a history of more than 1,350 years. Here, you can soak in the historic hot spring water while marveling at the magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean up close. Another recommended spot is Muro-no-yu. This ancient hot spring, said to have been visited by an Emperor long ago, is place where you can relax in two separate baths with different water sources.
Swim at Shirahama Beach
Situated right next to Shirahama Onsen is Shirahama Beach, one of the most famous beach resorts in the Kansai region. You will find the contrast between the pure white, silky sand known as quartz sand, and the clear, blue sea truly beautiful. Combined with the palm trees and colorful beach umbrellas, you will feel like you are in a tropical beach. The water near the beach is shallow, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your children and letting them play in the water. After swimming in the sea, soothe your tired body at the mixed-sex open-air bath Shirasuna (requires a swimsuit to enter).
Observe the Superb View at Hashigui-iwa
Hashigui-iwa is a group of rocks over a stretch of about 850m spanning between the coast of Kushimoto and Oshima island. The rocks are lined up like pillars of a bridge and, based on its mysterious view, some say that this bridge was actually built by Kukai. If you plan to visit, the best time is around sunrise, as you will witness the magical scene created by the morning sun rising from the other side of the sea, the sky and sea dyed in different shades of red, and the dark silhouettes of the row of rock pillars. These rocks are also lit up at night in early November each year.
Enjoy the Sea and Aquarium at Kushimoto Marine Park
Kushimoto Marine Park is a place where you can enjoy looking at tropical fish swimming between coral in a clear, blue sea. Here, you can look into the ocean from the Undersea Tower that juts 140m off the coast, and from the semi-submersible underwater sightseeing ship called Stella Maris. There is also an aquarium that showcases about 5,000 creatures from around 500 species local to Kushimoto swimming in a water tank that resembles the actual landscape under the sea. In the underwater tunnel, you will be able enjoy the thrilling sight of sharks and other huge migratory fishes swimming around you.
Sample ticket prices (aquarium only): General -1,500 JPY, Elementary and junior high school student - 700 JPY, Child (3 years old and above) - 200 JPY
Marvel at the Sun Setting in Engetsuto Island
Engetsuto is an island that is so famous it is called "the symbol of Shirahama." This small island floats at sea about 100m west of Shirahama Town, and is characterized by its unique appearance of having a round hole at the center brought about by erosion. The view of the sun setting over this island is extremely popular in Japan, with photographers and tourists flocking for a chance to capture a shot during sunset. The view is most beautiful at around 6:30pm in the summer and around 4:30pm during winter. If you plan to visit, the best times to come would be around the day of the vernal equinox in spring or the autumn equinox in fall.
Located at the eastern portion of Wakayama Pref., Kumano area is an area that houses the World Heritage Site called Kumano Sanzan (the collective name for three shrines composed of Hongu Shrine, Hayatama Shrine, and Nachi Shrine). It is considered the most sacred place in Japan and is especially famous for the Kumano Kodo, a pilgrimage route to this area.
Experience Forest Therapy In Kumano Kodo
There were several pilgrimage routes in Kumano, which has been visited by throngs of worshippers since ancient times. These routes are now collectively known as Kumano Kodo. If you are a novice, then it would be best to take the approximately 7km course that starts at Hosshinmon Oji and ends at Kumano Hongu Shrine. In this austere-feeling route, you will walk through stone-paved roads with thick groves of trees. For this route, people usually ride a bus to Hosshinmon Oji from Hongu Shrine, and then return on foot.
Worship at Kumano Hongu Shrine
Kumano Hongu Shrine is the head shrine of more than 3,000 Kumano shrines all over Japan. This shrine celebrates deities that accept all people regardless of gender, age, and faith. It is an ancient shrine that originally came from nature worship, with one theory claiming that the first shrine was built before Christ (B.C.). It is a "power spot" that you need to visit together with Oyu no Hara, its former site that is said to be where the gods descended to earth. The massive torii (Shinto shrine arched gate) measuring about 34m high and around 42m wide and located about 500m from the present shrine is another major highlight of the area.
Take a Souvenir Photo at Nachi Falls
Nachi no Taki (Nachi Falls) is a famous waterfall that is the biggest in Japan in terms of height and water volume. You naturally have to see its epic 133m drop, but you should not miss the smooth and beautiful splash of water that looks like white silk. It has long been said to be water that gives longevity, and you will be able to drink the water from the falls by going to the sightseeing platform. The area around this waterfall is dotted with scenic spots, too, such as Kumano Nachi Shrine which is one of the Kumano Sanzan, and ancient Seiganto-ji Temple that boasts history of over 1,000 years. The slopes of the surrounding roads are quite steep, so it would be best to come in clothes that are easy to walk in.
Entrance fee to the falls: General: 300 JPY, Elementary/junior high school student: 200 JPY, Preschool child: Free
If this article piqued your interest, then please go ahead and visit Wakayama!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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