June 16, 2015


Wakayama(和歌山)is a nice prefecture located south of Osaka in the Kansai(関西)region, with quite many things to see and do, mostly having to do with Buddhism or nature. It would probably take about a week to cover most of the attractions in this prefecture.

I've always wanted to visit this prefecture, because it's Hyde's hometown! :P Thought it would be easy as I was staying in Kobe which is also in the Kansai region. However, it was more difficult than I thought, as the distance between the two is not exactly near. I couldn't use the affordable Seishun 18 ticket, because it would take 5+ hours one way by normal train, which was too time-consuming for me. Limited express train, the faster alternative, would cost much more, and if I were to pay for that, I'd want to have at least 4 or 5 days there and not just a weekend. In the end, I went to the Mount Koya(高野山)region in the north with Surutto Kansai 3 Day Pass, and the southern region with JR Kansai Wide Area Pass after my stay in Kobe ended.

Mount Koya is 1 of the 3 most sacred places in Japan. It is the center of Shingon Buddhism, and there are more than 100 temples in this town on the mountain. Although I am a free thinker, enjoyed the 2D1N spent there. Atmosphere was very relaxing, and it was a nice place to escape the summer heat thanks to the higher altitude and abundance of trees.

Took around 4 hours via several transfers from Kobe to Mount Koya. By the time I reached, it was already noon. Had a simple lunch at the central area Senjuinbashi(千手院橋), a short bus ride away from station. Most attractions are walking distance from here, except the large graveyard Okunoin(奥の院)that can be reached by bus from here/train station. Love Koyasan's sesame tofu!

Kongobuji(金剛峰寺)nearby was originally constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Japan's 2nd great unifier) in 1593 to commemorate his mother's death, later merged with another temple to become the head temple of Shingon Buddhism. The rock garden there is the biggest in Japan.

Next visited Garan(伽藍), the central temple complex with many ancient temple buildings. The most representative are the Kondo(金堂), a large temple where many important ceremonies are held, and the huge Konpon Daito(根本大塔). Though I was more fascinated with the Fudodo(不動堂), a National Treasure dating back to the Kamakura period.

Also went to the Daishi Kyokai(大師教会)for the Sutra Copying(写経)experience. It had been a long time since I last used the calligraphy pen. Took about an hour to copy "般若心经". Also experienced Jukai(受戒), a formal ceremony whereby participants sit on the tatami floor and recite after a priest to repent past misdeeds. I was there together with a middle-aged Japanese woman. The room was dark and I wasn't sure what to do and what not to do, thankfully I could just follow her. The whole ceremony took about 30 minutes and I received a certificate at the end.

Next visited the mausoleums of the first 2 Tokugawa rulers, built in 1643 by 3rd Tokugawa ruler Iemitsu, so that they can be near Kobo Daishi's, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.

Many temples at Koyasan offer lodgings, also known as Shukubo(宿坊). Had my temple lodging experience at Jimyoin(持明院). Around 10000 yen per night inclusive of 2 meals. The stay was very much like a ryokan(旅館), other than the exterior being a temple, the staff were monks, vegetarian food was served (Shojin Ryori 精進料理) and I woke up early for morning prayers (optional).

The next morning, visited Okunoin, the huge graveyard where Kobo Daishi's mausoleum lies. There are many graves/memorial stupas of people who want to be near him to receive salvation. Famous ones include Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Gou and Sen-hime. It is important to note their locations as some are not along the main path thus not so obvious.

The place was tranquil and relaxing. The 2 km walk to and fro Okunoinmae bus stop was a nice morning exercise for me. It is possible to come here at night too, though I wonder how the vibe would be like.

In a separate trip, visited the southern part of the prefecture. Spent 2D1N at Shirahama(白浜), located at the southwestern side, famous for its hot spring (1 of the 3 oldest in Japan) and nature attractions. The attractions can be covered by a bus departing from the train station.

Sakinoyu(崎の湯)overlooking the Pacific Ocean offers one of the most awesome rotenburo(露天風呂)views I've had so far. Couldn't help sneaking a photo when no one else was around :P Strangely though, it has no bathing facility, so I was a little uncomfortable as I'm quite particular about cleanliness.

There are some places with special natural rock formations along different parts of the coast, such as Senjojiki(千畳敷).

I also visited Adventure World, a large amusement park + zoo + aquarium. There are a few pandas and many (like more than 100?) penguins. There are also shows featuring dolphins, seals etc, and many different animal-related activities, so it is important to check the timings and where to register. Spent half a day there and it was enjoyable even though I'm not crazy about animals.

Stayed in 1 of the 3 Yukai Resorts(湯快リゾート)in Shirahama. Standard 7500 yen package is inclusive of 2 buffet meals, with ryokan style rooms and onsen facility, very value for money, though hard to get during peak periods.

Spent another 1D1N at the Kumano(熊野)Region at the southern end of the prefecture. It is famous for "Kumano Sanzan" (3 shrines-- Hongu Taisha 本宮大社, Nachi Taisha 那智大社 and Hayatama Taisha 速玉大社) and "Kumano Kodo" Pilgrimage Route(熊野古道), a designated UNESCO world heritage site.

The places are not exactly near one another, so I chose to only visit Nachi Taisha, as Japan's tallest waterfall "Nachi no Taki"(那智の滝)is there, and I get to experience part of the "Kumano Kodo" too. Quite a lot of stairs climbing and walking had to be done. The interesting thing about Kumano Sanzan is that it has both Buddhist and Shinto influences.

Spent the night at Nieche near Taiji(太地)station, an affordable guesthouse with excellent service! It is near Katsuura(勝浦)station that has tuna auction in some mornings like that of Tsukiji(築地)in Tokyo. Reservation has to be made in advance.


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