Looking for a fresh start in Kansai? Check out this list of some of Wakayama’s most overlooked sites, suitable for keen adventurers.
There is so much more to Japan than the usual tourist traps. This is exemplified by Wakayama, a mountainous prefecture on Honshu Island.
Most domestic and international visitors come to hike the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, which is known for its trekking routes and temples. However, if you venture off the usual road, Wakayama may provide some truly unique and stunning sights that most people would never see.
From hidden pirate bases to hot water rivers, here are five of Wakayama Prefecture’s most neglected locales.
1. Dokutsu Cave and Sandanbeki Cliff
Shirahama is a popular Japanese domestic tourism destination. Every summer, many flock to its beaches and eateries. A simple trip up the road will reward guests with the stunning Sandanbeki cliffs and caves for those searching for a change of pace from the beach.
The Sandanbeki cliffs wrap around the headland for two kilometers, affording spectacular views of Osaka Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On calm days, turtles, sharks, and other marine animals will surface, providing picnickers with intriguing “i-Spy” topics. The smooth limestone is warm at first but gradually cools as the day goes on. Because of the comparatively mild winds, only nice breezes will disturb anyone wishing for a lazy afternoon away from the hectic beach. Sandanbeki Dokutsu, a secret Heian-era pirate refuge, is hidden at the bottom of these cliffs.
From the ticket office, an elevator will transport you through solid rock to an underground maze of tunnels. While the admission cost of ¥1,300 may appear to be high, it ensures that the caves are never congested with people. It’s ideal for amateur explorers who want to see preserved antiques, limestone mazes, and hidden shrines tied to Wakayama’s history.
- Shirihama is the nearest station.
- Sandanbeki is the nearest bus stop.
- Shirahama, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-2211
2. Watarase Onsen / Wataze
Yunomine Onsen is a fantastic destination. It is Japan’s sole UNESCO-listed onsen (hot spring). Unfortunately, there isn’t much room for visitors because it’s quite small. But don’t be disheartened if you arrive and are turned away at the entrance. Wataze (also known as Watarase) Onsen is just around the block and is Western Japan’s largest open-air onsen, featuring numerous luxury private outdoor pools to bathe in.
The Ryujin bus connects Tanabe JR station to Watarase onsen. Adult admission to the public baths costs 900. An hour at the private baths costs 1600 if you’re fortunate enough to secure a free slot.
- JR Kii-Tanabe Station is the closest station.
- Watarase Onsen is the closest bus stop.
- Hongucho Wataze, Tanabe, Wakayama 647-1733
3. Kuroshio Seafood Market
Porto Europa is a theme park located south of Wakayama city in the village of Kainen. This Medieval-themed park is an excellent day excursion from Osaka. However, most visitors may be unaware that the renowned Kuroshio Seafood Market is directly next door. The arrangement of the market is similar to an old-fashioned Japanese shopping lane, and shoppers are inundated with a huge variety of foodstuffs. BBQ’d sea bugs, grilled unagi, steaming scallops, fresh sashimi, and more traditional fare like yakisoba are available to visitors.
Fresh otoro bluefin tuna can also be purchased at the Kuroshio Seafood Market. Otoro is the fattest cut of tuna and is regarded as the best section of a bluefin tuna.
It’s also worth noting that the Tuna show cannot be missed when visiting the Kuroshio Seafood Market. Every day at 11:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3:00 p.m., skilled seafood chefs will carve up an entire bluefin tuna until only the head and bones remain. This display of knife technique is not only morbidly impressive, but also excruciatingly appealing, as the slices are instantly for sale. So, get in early on the otoro; you won’t be sorry.
- Kainan Station is the closest station.
- Wakayama Marina City is the closest bus stop.
- 1527 Kemi, Wakayama, 641-0014
4. Kushimoto Diving Park
Okinawa comes to mind when people think about underwater worlds, diving, and rich marine life in Japan. However, most people are unaware that Wakayama, particularly Kushimoto, is one of Japan’s top diving destinations. Tropical coral thrives all year because to a warm water current. Divers can see over 120 distinct varieties of coral flourishing in large, flowery reefs even in the dead of winter.
The diving park (and school) is located in a cove surrounded by jagged rock formations that rise from the seafloor. Kushimoto Marine Park also contains a lighthouse and an aquarium. While many aquariums focus on dolphin and orca performances, the morality of which I’m still debating, Kushimoto’s underwater tunnel allows customers to experience the world beneath the seas.
After a full day of listening to scuba diving instructors and watching sea life, one may sip some sunset cocktails at the lighthouse and fantasize about the reefs that lie beneath the waves of Wakayama’s rugged shoreline. It’s alarmingly simple to waste an entire day here. If you have time, you can take a quick 15-minute cruise from Kushimoto Marine Park to Shionomisaki Cape and Lighthouse, the Honshu region’s furthest southern point, for a stunning vista.
- Kii-Arita is the nearest station.
- 1157 Arida, Kushimoto, Higashimuro District, Wakayama 649-3514
5. Kawayu Onsen
Kawayu literally translates to “hot water river” and serves as a literal description of this geological wonder. The chilly river water mixes with the hot spring water as it bubbles to the surface of this little body of water. Visitors are invited to dig holes in the riverbed to allow hot water to percolate, then add cool river water to balance it out. If you don’t want to dig, there are pre-dug basins available. Another beautiful feature is its proximity to the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path, making it an ideal rest stop for tired pilgrims.
- Kawayu Onsen is the closest bus stop.
- Hongucho Kawayu, Tanabe, Wakayama 647-1717