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Wakayama Itinerary: What to Do in this Hidden Paradise

Ree is an aspiring author making every moment count. She is happily married and lives in the wonderful country of Japan.


Where is Wakayama

Okayama? Yokoyama? Wakanda? What?!...

Wakayama may be foreign to most. I kind of relate to this because even before I have settled in Japan, the name didn't really ring a bell. I've visited Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo as a tourist because, hey who doesn't know those cities right? Being the most visited and popular ones in Japan, they're just sure hits with tourists for countless reasons that there's not much space to recapitulate in here. But little do visitors know that closer to Kansai International Airport than Osaka Central Station is, is Wakayama.

Wakayama is a prefecture in Japan that lies in the Kansai region of Honshu. It borders Osaka Prefecture to the north, Mie Prefecture and Nara Prefecture to the northeast. Its capital, Wakayama City, is less than an hour away from Kansai International Airport.


What to do in Wakayama

Wakayama is famous with locals for its perfect mandarin oranges, historical onsens (hot springs), white-sand beaches and mysterious charms of its mountains. The slower pace of life is also alluring. It is also home to Koya san, the ecclesiastical headquarters of the Koyasan sect of Shingon Buddhism. Easily accessible yet often overlooked by visitors from overseas, its mystical vibe and sacred forests present a soul nourishing journey to the spiritual origins of Japan.


1. Visit the historical Wakayama Castle

Wakayama Castle is a 10-minute bus ride away from Wakayama JR Central Station. From its perch atop Mount Torafusu in the heart of Wakayama City, it has kept its guard over the city that bears its name for nearly 600 years. It has been known that Wakayama Castle is considered as one of the top 100 best castles in Japan.


Beside this historical castle is this relaxing Nishi-no-Maru Teien Garden (also called Momiji-Dani) which means Valley of Autumn Leaves.It was called Momiji-Dani because of its spectacular Autumn leaves. Enjoy the spectacular gold, red and yellow foliage during the Autumn season (late October-early December).


The castle also boasts approximately 600 cherry trees that bloom inside the castle grounds, which are full of the faintly sweet fragrance of cherry during the season when the trees are in full blossom (usually from late March- early April). The trees at Wakayama Castle are lit up at night, which creates a truly magical and fascinating scenery.


2. Enjoy the breathtaking view of Nachi Falls (Japan's tallest waterfall)

Yes, the tallest waterfalls in Japan can be found in Wakayama! With a drop of 133 meters (and 13 meters wide), it is the country's tallest water fall with single uninterrupted drop. This falls form part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range- a registered world UNESCO World Heritage site. It's quite a long ride South of Wakayama but it surely is worth the majestic view.


3. Have fun fruit picking while munching the sweetest Satsuma Mandarin Oranges (Mikan) in Japan

Wakayama's oranges are the best oranges I have ever tasted in my whole life. I wasn't a fan of this fruit nor was my husband, until we've set foot on this prefecture. Arida is the most famous city for the best mikan. Make sure to hit the city during the harvest season from December-February.

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4. Restore your soul at Mount Koya - a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the center of Shingon Buddhism

Koya san is a mountain top in Wakayama that can be visited by train and cable car. On it is a Buddhist community which is known to be the center of Shingon Buddhism. Being able to visit this place myself, I can say that it is mysterious and magical at the same time. Day stay may not be enough to fully enjoy this sacred place. Temple lodgings are famous here where you get the peaceful lifestyle of monks, from their morning meditations up to their seasonal vegetarian meals. It is a place where one may be lost and be found at the same time.


5. Order a bowl of their satisfying ramen

And of course, your Wakayama trip won't be complete without a bowl of their top-notch Wakayama ramen. We've tried different ramen here and I can say that each one of them is unique but most of them are pork-broth in soy sauce. Ido Shoten's Chuka Soba might be the most popular and was once named as the best ramen in Japan. Just prepare to fall in line especially during holidays and weekends.


6. Dip at Shirahama's famous hotspring/ onsen while overlooking the beach

We all know that onsen are famous in Japan but onsen with an ocean view is a different deal. Shirahama is known to have one of the biggest onsen resorts in Japan. It has a pearl-white sand which may be the best you would find in Kansai area. Apart from swimming, activities like surfing, kiting, or even just sitting on the sun and eyeing the breathtaking view you won't expect to sea nearby Osaka. After the day, an onsen would be perfect to relax.


7. Enjoy the cute and fascinating trains at Kishi line

For just ¥800, you get to ride all the cute trains that you want for a day. Found in Wakayama JR Line is the Wakayama Electric Railway (Kishi Line) which is famous for its multi-colored and cute trains. The most famous is the Cat train also known as Tama Densha. Tama is the name of the cat station master who was the reason why the Kishi station was not demolished for because of its charm; many tourists were attracted to visit the station/Tama. Thanks to Tama chan, the hero of Kishi Line!

The other trains found here are:

  • Ichigo (Strawberry) Train
  • Tama Densha Museum (Cat Museum) Train
  • Omocha (Toy) Train
  • Umeboshi (Plum) Train

How Do I Get There

Wakayama can be accessed via Express Trains from Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. From Tokyo, you can reach the area via Nagoya by train, or fly into Wakayama’s Nanki-Shirahama Airport in just over an hour.

From Shin-Osaka Station
JR Wakayama station can be reached by Limited Express trains from Shin- Osaka station, departing every hour. The Kuroshio, Super Kuroshio or Ocean Arrow run from Shin-Osaka to Wakayama in one hour at a cost of ¥2660.

The regular Rapid trains run to Wakayama every 20 minutes: look for the Kishiyuji Rapid (紀州路快速). It takes about 90 minutes from Osaka (¥1210) and one hour from Tennoji (¥830). Be sure that you are in the correct car, as part of the train splits off in Hineno Station with the other half (first half) bound to Kansai International Airport.

From Kansai International Airport
You may take either the train or buses bound to JR Wakayama Station. By train, take the Kansaikuko Line and get off at Hineno Station. From Hineno Station, take the Hanwa Line bound to JR Wakayama Station. It will take approximately 40 minutes including waiting time.

By bus, take the Airport Shuttle Bus bound to JR Wakayama Eki. The bus ride takes around 1 hour from the Kansai Airport to the destination including walking time from Kansai Airport to the Airport Shuttle Bus which takes around 25 minutes.

© 2021 Tanaka Ree

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