Wakayama is on Honshu’s Kii Peninsula. It may be one of those prefectures you’ve never heard of, but it’s been valued as an important area throughout Japanese history, as a holy ground since Japan’s beginnings and a strategic region in the feudal era.
How to Get There
Nanki Shirahama Airport is the prefecture’s airport. But Kansai International Airport is actually very close to Wakayama City. Both airports connect to Wakayama’s most convenient stations.
|Tokyo => Kansai||Peach||¥3,962 (US$28)||
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar||¥4,119 (US$29)||
Going by train, you can get to several stations in Wakayama from Shin-Osaka via either the JR West Hanwa or Kinokuni Line. Shin-Osaka is the guaranteed transfer you have to make if coming from Tokyo, Hakata, or Nagoya. Alternatively, Kyoto and Nara are about a 90-minute direct train ride away from JR Wakayama Station.
A bullet train ride from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka takes about three hours, and you can book tickets in advance online.
The two main rail services are JR and Nankai. If you want to go to Koyasan, the latter is the only option. While you’re riding around, you might want to take a side trip on the Kishigawa Line to Kishi Station, home of the late cat stationmaster Tama. Her successor Nitama is now the master of the renovated cat-themed station. It will definitely hit your kawaii spot.
Limousine and highway express buses are another way to get from the airports to the main stations, though it’s definitely the pricier option. A special bus service from Kansai International is also available and goes straight to Koyasan departing at 10:10 am and arriving at noon. The multiple local bus lines include the Wakayama, Meiko, and Ryujin.
Wakayama is still pretty rural, so rental car or rental bike are other alternatives worth taking.
What to See and What to Do
The Wakayama Castle you can see in Wakayama’s capital today is actually a reconstruction, as the original was destroyed in World War II. It’s not the real thing, but the castle grounds and its surroundings are still an impressive reminder of the city’s history and worth a visit.
Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan and the connecting pilgrimage routes are a UNESCO World Heritage site. These three sites are valued for reflecting the fusion of Shintoism with Buddhism. Kumano has long been thought of as the “holy ground where gods dwell,” and people often say it has mysterious and healing auras. Koyasan also has beautiful temples. Diehard spiritualists (or any gutsy tourists) are welcome to stay at any of Koyasan’s 52 shukubo (pilgrims’ lodgings), where you can try out the monk lifestyle.
While at Kumano you should also see Nachi Waterfall, the highest in Japan at 436 ft (133 m) and revered as the manifestation of a Shinto deity. It is also in Kumano where you can have a one-of-a-kind traditional log rafting down the Kitayama River’s rapid currents.