Located in the southern part of the Kansai region in central Japan, Wakayama Prefecture is an up-and-coming destination celebrating its traditional culture, diverse landscape and ancient history. Only 40 minutes from Kansai International Airport, the prefecture spans over 4500 square kilometres of the Kii peninsula with an exotic 600 kilometre coastline fronting the Pacific Ocean.
From its white-sand beaches to the ancient pilgrimages sites scattered throughout the hills, Wakayama is set to be the next Japanese destination on the radar of Australian travellers in search of an authentic cultural encounter.
History and nature
For most visitors, the highlights are centred in three main regions: Kumano, Koyasan and Shirahama.
One of the most popular attractions of the prefecture are the temples of Mount Kōya; the 117-temple complex of Koyasan region is a World Heritage Site. Visitors can choose between 52 monastic, temple lodgings, known as shukubo, where they can reserve an overnight stay in one of these Japanese pilgrimage destinations which offer traditional accommodation including tatami floors, futons beds and bathing pools.
The photogenic landscape of the Kumano region will captivate any culture and nature lover. By visiting the centre of Kumano Sanzan, guests will discover an area where Shinto meets Buddhism. This area is also home to the incredible Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple standing tall next to the Nachi Falls, an impressive 133-metre-high cascade.
The Koyasan and Kumano regions also give guests the chance to explore pilgrimage trails such as the Kumano Kodo which have used by ancient emperors and aristocrats for over 1000 years. It is also the sister of Europe’s legendary Camino de Santiago, laden with places of extraordinary natural beauty and spiritual significance. If hiking becomes too much, guests can cruise down the 31-kilometre emerald river coursing through the Doro-kyo Gorge.
Travellers in search of summer will find it on the limestone coast of Shirasaki or on Shirahama’s white-sand beach.
Michi Travel Japan offers luxury personalised tours through the areas of Kumano and Koyasan which include customised itineraries, accommodation in either hotels or traditional ryokans, all transport, personal guided tours and a selection of authentic and gourmet restaurants.
Wellness through water
Wakayama Prefecture is home to an array of natural onsen, encouraging visitors to reconnect mind and soul in authentic surrounds. Ryujin Onsen, hidden in the mountainous areas of the Kii Peninsula, is full of sodium bicarbonate, believed to make skin softer and smoother, while the cavernous cliff-side baths of Hotel Urashima Resort & Spa feature views looking out over the Pacific Ocean.
Fresh produce, traditional cuisine
Its coastal location means an abundance of seafood is always on offer in Wakayama Prefecture. Head to the Kuroshio Market to watch the tuna filleting show or visitors may learn to make traditional sushi. Wakayama City dishes up some of the best ramen in the country; it’s #1 is considered to be a small family-owned restaurant called Ide Shoten. The region is also known for its succulent Kumano brand of Wagyu beef and fruit orchards where guests can find anything from strawberries to tangerines.
Kumano heats up
Travellers timing their visit for July should make the journey to Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine on 14 July for the annual Nachi-no-Ogi Matsuri fire festival. The Shinto ritual sees flaming torches carried down to a sacred waterfall, purifying and illuminating the route for the shrine’s 12 deities.