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Let's Hit The Road! A Trip To Wakayama Prefecture

Let's Hit The Road! A Trip To Wakayama Prefecture

Wakayama 2016.06.24 Bookmark

Spring break or Golden Week in Japan to me means it's time for a road trip! I headed out along the coast and saw some of the amazing things that are hidden away in Wakayama.

Written by Hilary Keyes

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Golden Week is a span of seven days off roughly lasting from the end of April to the beginning of May. It is essentially the Japanese equivalent of the Western spring break. It's a time when people want to see something new or just get out of the city to rest and recharge. With that spirit in mind, I went to explore some roads less traveled in Wakayama prefecture.

Wakayama prefecture found in the Kansai region is perhaps best known for Mount Kōya (Kōya-san 高野山), the spiritual base of Shingon Buddhism in Japan and home of some of the first Japanese-style Buddhist temples. Besides its long, rich history, Wakayama has a lot to offer in terms of culture and natural beauty.

1. Shichiri-Mihama Coast - The Stone Beach

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Shichiri-Mihama begins in Kumano, Mie prefecture, and runs along the coast into Wakayama prefecture. Shichiri-Mihama spans 22 kilometers and is the longest pebble beach in Japan.

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When people think of a beach, they usually imagine soft sand beneath their feet. Not the case here! This is a pebble beach, so the feeling is completely different and it may be a little hard to get used to at first. The stones are just as warm as sand would be though, so it feels a bit like you're getting a hot stone massage on your feet as you walk over them. You don't need to worry about cutting your feet though, because the rocks that make up this beach have all been polished by the waves and are quite smooth and flat. This stone beach is a perfect spot to have a picnic and relax while you gaze out at the vivid blue waters.

2. The Great Shrine - Kumano Hongū Taisha

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Kumano Hongū Taisha is part of the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range", the 11th UNESCO World Heritage site recognized in Japan. Kumano Hongū Taisha has been a holy place since the Heian era and is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. Known as the Kumano Kodō, these pilgrim routes are one of only two pilgrimage World Heritage Sites that have been globally recognized.

Every April 13th-15th they hold an annual spring festival that has been an essential part of Kumano's history. The religious beliefs that developed on this mountain spread out from Imperial family members to the samurai class and beyond. Today there are roughly 3000 Kumano shrines across Japan.

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The main shrine building of Kumano Hongū Taisha features a dark cyprus bark roof that helps it to blend in with its natural surroundings. It is an outstanding example of Japanese shrine architecture; built entirely from natural unfinished materials, not a single nail holds these buildings together. They rely rather on very intricate joinery. If you look closely at the pictures (or better yet, see it in person), this detail work is incredible.

3. Ōtorii, The Largest Torii Gate in Japan

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This mountainous region of Kumano possesses a mysterious aura. It is a sacred place where the gods are said to live. Ōyunohara (大斎原) is a flat area that now houses a visitor information center, and was where Kumano Hongū Taisha was originally located.

The shrine buildings were destroyed by a flood in 1889 and moved to their present location on the mountain. However, as Ōyunohara is the gateway to many of the other shrines and pilgrimage sites in the Kii mountains, in 2000, an Ōtorii ("great shrine gate") was erected here.

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This Ōtorii is made entirely of steel, stands 33.9 meters tall and 42 meters wide, weighing a massive 172 tons. The gate took about six months to cast and another six months to assemble. Throughout the year, and especially during their spring festival, this gate is illuminated - a sight you just have to witness in person to believe.

4. Wakayama Castle

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Formerly called Ōta castle, this hilltop fortress was captured by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1585. Numerous battles and sieges took place on the grounds over the years, until Wakayama Castle was built in the later half of the 17th century by the Tokugawa family. The castle stood relatively intact until the Edo era when the government structure changed and the castle was opened to the public.

The original castle was destroyed during the Allied bombings of World War II and rebuilt from concrete in 1958. The floors inside now house a museum dedicated to Wakayama's history, archaeological artifacts from the area, and an amazing observation deck on the top floor, which allows an unobstructed view of the city.

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In Conclusion

Wakayama, the spiritual base of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, offers an in-depth look at Japan during some of its most influential periods. If you want to see things that most tourists miss, or want to get out of town and experience some of the best sights that Japanese nature and spiritualism has to offer, by all means make your way to Wakayama prefecture. You won't be disappointed.

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Onigajō, Mie – A World Heritage Site Created by the Rocks and the Sea
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Information

Shichiri-Mihama Coast

Address: Mie, Kumano, Kinomotochō 1835-7
Nearest Station: JR Kumano-shi station (JR 熊野市駅)
Access: From JR Kiseihonsen line Kumanoshi station take the Mie Bus for about 10 minutes to the Onigajō West Exit bus stop (鬼ヶ城西口) and then walk for 5 minutes.

Kumano Hongū Taisha

Address: Wakayama, Tanabe, Honguchō, Hondo 1110 Hours: 6:00-19:00
Phone Number: 0735-42-0009
Nearest Station: Shingū Station on JR West, JR Central Kisei Main Line
Access: 1 hour 20 minute bus ride from Shingū Station to Hongu-Taisha-mae (本宮大社前) bus stop, then 10 minute walk from bus stop to shrine
Homepage: Kumano Hongū Taisha

The Ōyunohara Great Torii
[Across the road from Kumano Hongū Taisha]
Address: Hongu-cho Hougu, Tanabe City, Wakayama
Hours: 6:00-19:00
Phone Number: 0735-42-0009
Nearest Station: Shingū Station (新宮駅) on JR West, JR Central Kisei Main Line
Access: 1 hour 20 minute bus ride from Shingū Station to Hongu-Taisha-mae (本宮大社前) bus stop, then 10 minute walk from bus stop to shrine

Wakayama Castle

Address: Wakayama, Wakayama 1-3
Hours: 9:00-17:53, closed at New Years
Entrance Fee: 400 yen Other Languages: English, Chinese, Korean
Nearest Station: JR Wakayama Station (和歌山駅), JR Hanwa line, Nankai line
Access: 10 minute bus ride from Wakayama Station to Kōen-mae bus stop (公園前)
Phone Number: 073-435-1044
Homepage: Wakayama Tourism Association

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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