Wakayama Prefecture is situated in the Kansai region, south of Osaka. The capital is Wakayama city with its main attraction: Wakayama Castle. The main attraction of the prefecture is Mount Koya or Koyasan, one of the holiest and most beautiful places in Japan. Wakayama is known as the spiritual home of Japan because of some of the large and famous religious sites located in the area and the large network of hiking trails that together from the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. Other popular places of the prefecture include the famous Shirahama beach and onsen resorts, beautiful natural scenery and inhabited islands. In this article, we present the best places to visit in Wakayama Prefecture.
1. Kumano Nachi Taisha
Kumano Nachi Taisha is a famous Shinto shrine located halfway up Nachi Mountain, approximately 350 meters above sea level. The shrine is part of a large complex of religious sites that displays a mixture of Buddhist and Shinto influences, typical to the Kumano area. Kumano Nachi Taisha has been worshipped as a holy sites of Shinto, and when Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the mid-6th century, the shrine began a long process of integrating Shinto and Buddhism. For this reason, you can find both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples on the shrine grounds.
Kumano Nachi Taisha is, together with Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha – all UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of the main destinations of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes. Kodo means “old ways,” and Kumano Kodo refers to a network of hiking trails throughout the southern Kansai region, on the Kii Peninsula. The trails have been used for more than 1,000 years and are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a hiking route that passes the Kumano Kodo, the stone-paved Daimon-zaka, Nachi Falls and Nachi Taisha. Nachi Falls, with a drop of 133 meters, is the country’s tallest single tiered waterfall. This waterfall was the original religious site to be worshiped. Today, many people visit here for the natural power and beauty of the falls.
Open 24 hrs
How to get to Kumano Nachi Taishi
From Osaka or Nagoya take the train to Kii-Kutsuura station. From there take a local bus and get off at Nachi Yama bus stop (30 min).
2. Shirahama Beach
Shirahama is Japanese for “white beach” is the name of a popular beach that is famous for its sparkling white sand, reportedly imported from Australia. It is probably the nicest beach in Kansai region. The curved beach is about 600 meter long, and has many located hotels with direct to the water.
Shirahama is also well known as a well-developed onsen (hot spring) resort. One of the famous hot spring facilities in this Shirahama is Saki-no-yu Onsen, with a long history of more than thousand years. From the outdoor bath, you can have great scenic views overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There are many other hotels and inns that offer their own hot spring baths.
How to access Shirahama beach
Take JR Kisei Line from JR Kyoto station (about 2h50m), JR Shin-Osaka station (about 2h15m), or JR Wakayama station (about 1h15m) and get off at Shirahama station.
3. Wakayama Castle
Located in Wakayama city, the castle sits at the mouth of the Kii River. It was originally constructed in 1585, however, it was largely destroyed during World War II and most of the present buildings were reconstructed in 1958. Only the Okaguchi Gate and the stone walls remain from the original castle.
Today, the castle grounds are a public park that is popular for picnic and cherry blossom viewing in spring. In the castle ground, you can visit the Nishi-no-Maru Garden, which was built in the 17th century and has a pond and a waterfall, and the Wakayama Museum of Modern Art with a fair collection of both Japanese and Western contemporary art.
9am – 5.30pm
Admission fee ¥410
How to access Wakayama castle
20 min walk from JR Wakayama station or 10 min walk from Nankai Wakayama-shi station
4. Mount Koya
Mount Koya is the common name of a large monastery complex founded by the monk named Kukai, posthumously known as Kobo Daishi, in 819. The site is the center of Shingon Buddhism, which was also introduced by Kukai. The most important place in Koyasan is Okunoin Temple, featuring the mausoleum of Kukai. Surrounded by a thick forest of massive cedars, Okunoin is the setting for a large cemetery that features the mausolea of numerous famous Japanese, including that of the samurai ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Traditionally, Koyasan was the end of a long journey along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, and present day, Okunoin is one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular pilgrimage spot.
The total area of Koyasan is relatively large, extending 6 km east to west and 3 km north to south. During the heydays in the Edo Period (1603-1868), there were more than 2,000 temples located the Koya, and today 117 of them remain. About a half of the temples that are situated in the mountain today, serve as lodgings shukubo where you can stay overnight and experience the vegetarian monk’s cuisine and attend the morning prayer. Mount Koya, along with related sites, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.
How to access Mount Koya
Koyasan is well accessible by train and bus from Wakayama, Osaka, and Nara.
- From Namba station in Osaka, take Nankai Koya Line to Gokurakubashi terminal station (about 80 min). From there you can take a cable car that brings you up the mountain to Mount Koya.
- From Kyoto JR station you can take an express highway bus that directly takes you to Mount Koya (about 2h20m).
5. Hashigui-iwa Rocks
Hashigui-iwa Rocks are one of the many beautiful natural wonders of Wakayama Prefecture. Hashigui-iwa is Japanese for Bridge Pier Rocks and it is easy to recognize how it got this name. The coastal rocks of different sizes and shapes are positioned in a straight line that stretches for about 850 meters, similar to the pillars of a bridge. According to the legend, the monk Kukai, or Kobo Daishi, was trying to build a bridge here. Some people also say that by looking at the rocks from a certain angle they resemble monks praying. The site is well-known for its beauty at sunrise. When the tide is out, it is fun to wander among these rocks and check out the tide pools.
How to get to Hashigui-iwa Rocks
15 min walk from Kiihime Station
Tomogashima is a group of four islands off the coast of Wakayama, in the Inland Sea. The four islands are Jinoshima, Kamishima, Okinoshima, and Torajima. The islands are part of the Setonaikai National Park.
You can take a hike, have a picnic, or set up a camp, and enjoy the relative peace on uninhabited Tomogashima. The main attraction on Okinoshima, which is the main island of four, is the ruins of an abandoned military fort that was constructed in late 19th century and was in use until World War II. Okinoshima is famous for its resemblance to Laputa, the floating island in the Studio Ghibli movie Castle in the Sky.
How to access Tomogashima
20-minute ferry ride from the port of Kada. To get to the port, take Kada Line from Wakayama-shi station, get off at Kada station. Walk about 15 minutes.
Where to stay in Wakayama
Wakayama offers a wide variety of experiences and lodging options for tourists and pilgrims.
- Sojiin– Japanese-style accommodations in a Buddhist temple at Koyasan
- Nanki-Shirahama Marriott Hotel – luxury hotel with onsen overlooking Shirahama beach
- Hotel WA timeless resort – luxury hotel in Wakayama with free bicycle for rent
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