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.
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. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails lead to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in the mountains of southeastern Wakayama.
One of the easiest Sacred Sites to get to in the prefecture would have to be Mount Koya. Climbing up the misty mountain top 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. Mount Koya is also home to Okunoin Cemetery, the largest graveyard in all of Japan.
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. 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.
Hot Spring Towns
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.
It is also home to 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.
Another option is the river hot springs on the Kawayu River. The waters are aquamarine during the hotter months, but the onsen resorts are especially popular during winter. These are public hot springs so you might see people in bathing suits and you might see people in their birthday suits!
Located in the southern part of the prefecture, Shirahama Beach is another onsen resort with a gorgeous white sand beach and plenty of places to stay. The most popular of the three beaches along the coastline is called Shirahama Ohama Beach. There are a ton of beachfront hotels to choose from.
Plan your trip to Wakayama with the links below!