Region
Kansai
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Wakayama
Population
1,069,839

Wakayama

The land of the gods

Wakayama prefecture is the spectacular, spiritual heart of Japan.

Just a couple of hours south of the electric city of Osaka, there’s a place where ancient pathways lead to hidden shrines shrouded in mist; where monks worship waterfalls and mystical forests float.

The mountains here are a sacred dwelling for the gods, known for their restorative powers, while healing onsen (hot spring baths) merge with clear waters along the saw-tooth coast.

Hongu Taisha of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in Wakayama, Japan

Photo by: Nicolas Anglade One of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in Wakayama. The sacred region is considered the “Land of the Gods.”

The sacred sites of Wakayama

Located on the remote Kii peninsula on the southern coast of Kansai, Wakayama Prefecture makes up a large part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sacred Sites and pilgrimage routes called the Kumano Kodo.

Mount Koya is the easiest of these sacred sites to access from Kansai’s major cities, though reaching the misty mountaintop feels like entering another realm. Among the collection of ancient temples nestled along the wooded slopes, many offer overnight stays where you can experience life as a monk. Attend morning prayers and eat vegan Buddhist meals as you follow the pathway towards enlightenment.

Okunoin Cemetery Mount Koya

The otherworldly grounds of Mount Koya are home to Japan’s biggest graveyard.

All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails lead to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in the mountains of southeastern Wakayama. You can visit all three shrines in one day but it’s worth staying longer for a chance to heal your body and mind in Kumano’s holy waters.

Follow the sacred Kumano Kodo in Wakayama prefecture

Follow the sacred pathway of the Kumano Kodo.

A 1,800-year-old discovery, Yunomine is one of Japan’s oldest hot spring towns and a key stopping point on the Kumano Kodo route. Pilgrims would come here to purify themselves before worshipping at the shrines.

A Guide to Hiking the Kumano Kodo

Kumano Kodo pilgrimage hiking trail in Japan
Another good onsen option is Tsuboyu—the world’s only UNESCO World Heritage bath. You’ll find it in a small wooden cabin on the river. A little way downstream there’s a pool of natural hot water where you can boil eggs and vegetables with the locals.

The incredibly-atmospheric Nachi Taisha shrine stands in front of Nachi waterfall which shrouds the shrine in its godly vapor. You’ll struggle to take a bad photo, but make sure your camera is waterproof. Hayatama Taisha shrine in the town of Shingu is home to a 1,000-year-old tree and a large floating forest that you can feel moving underneath you as you walk.

Sun yourself on Shirahama beach in Wakayama prefecture.

Sun yourself on Shirahama beach.

Katsuura along the coast leading down to the Shionomisaki Cape is onsen galore. Shirahama is another popular onsen resort with a gorgeous white sand beach and plenty of places to stay. You’ll be spoiled for choice.

Discover this ancient holy land at the locations below.

Trivia

Kumano Kodo pilgrimage hiking trail in Japan

A Guide to Hiking the Kumano Kodo

You've read all about Wakayama's sacred pilgrimage trail, how about hiking the trail for yourself? Follow our guide to find out how!

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Places to visit

Kumano Sanzan (Three Grand Shrines of Kumano)

Partake in ancient tradition by making a pilgrimage to three of Japan’s most important shrines.

Okunoin Cemetery Mount Koya on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail

Kumano Kodo: Kohechi Route

This demanding trek is for seasoned hikers only, but gorgeous views and the unearthly Mount Koya are sure to take anyone’s breath away.


Hashikui-iwa Rocks Kumano Kodo Ohechi Coastal Route in Wakayama Japan

Kumano Kodo: Ohechi Route

Take the road less traveled on this coastal hiking trail once sought out by poets and painters for artistic inspiration.

Hyakken-Gura lookout point Nakahechi Route Kumano Kodo JNTO

Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route

This stunning trek through Wakayama Prefecture was once favored by emperors and nobles.


Wakayama

Wakayama

A quiet and historic resort town perfect for a weekend getaway.

Mount Koya

Encounter spiritual Japan at one of its holiest destinations.


Kongobu-ji Temple

The heart of Shingon Buddhism at Mt. Koya.

Okunoin

The heart of spirituality in Japan.


Wakayama Castle

A small town castle fit for a Shogun.

Okinoshima

Call it Okinoshima or Tomogashima — this mysterious tiny island has big history.


Kuroe

Discover this small town in Wakayama Prefecture where the traditional art of lacquer making dates back centuries and is still alive and well.

5 Famous Foods You’ll Find in Wakayama

Ramen so tasty it made international news.


Kudoyama

The home of the Sanada Clan in exile.

Kishi Station

Welcome to this tiny station epitomizing laidback countryside charm. Stationmaster on a catnap? That’s just part of her job.


Yuasa

A rustic Edo Era industrial town, where the thick, sweet smell of soy sauce wafts through timeworn wooden warehouses and stores, a constant reminder that this is the birthplace of soy sauce.

Sandanbeki Cliffs

A secret pirate cave hidden next to Wakayama Prefecture's most iconic beach

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Amanohashidate or Bridge to Heaven in Kyoto Prefecture

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