Shirahama in Wakayama
If you are planning to walk the Kumano Kodo, you should make a stop at Shirahama beach resort in Wakayama prefecture. Splendid natural beauty, hot spring onsen resorts, and a white beach are some of Shirahama’s attractions. This hot spring is one of the oldest ones in Japan. It already appears in the 8th-century history books Kojiki and Nihon Shoki.
Shirarahama is one of the most representative beaches in Japan. Shirahama literary means white beach and Shirarahama means white good beach. This white sand beach is about 640 meters long. White sand and bright blue ocean make for beautiful scenery. It attracts a lot of beachgoers in summer from the Kansai region including Osaka.
There are many accommodations around the beach. You can choose a western-style hotel, a ryokan, or a minshuku (family type inn). Most of the hotels have a hot spring in the buildings, so you can relax after bathing in the ocean.
Scenic Spots in Shirahama
While there is a sandy beach, there are rocky coasts on the other side. Erosion of the rocks by the waves has created several amazing scenic spots in Shirahama.
Senjojiki: Senjo means ‘1,000 tatami mats‘. There is a pile of rocks that spreads as widely as 1,000 tatami mats would. Actually, the area measures about 40,000 square meters. If you would calculate it precisely, you could fit 23,000 tatami mats here. There are souvenir shops and restaurants nearby.
Sandanbeki: This is a rocky cliff with a height of about 50 meters above sea level, and it spreads for 2 kilometers. Sandanbeki means ‘wall with three steps’. Some parts of the rock really look like steps. You can look at the wall from an observation deck. Fishermen used to look at the ocean from here to check if there is a shoal of fish nearby. It is now known as a sanctuary for lovers. There is a heart monument here on which you can fix a lock as a symbol of eternal love, similar to the famous bridge in Paris.
Beautiful Cave and Island
Sandanbeki Cave: If you go down from Sandanbeki, there is a cave called Sandanbeki Cave. It is said that Kumano pirates used this cave to hide their ships during the Genpei Civil War in the 12th century. There is a 200-meter-long underground walkway. The guardhouse of the pirates is reconstructed to show how they stayed there. It is exciting and even a bit scary to see the waves rolling into the cave. To visit the cave, you can go down 36 meters under the ground with an elevator. The entrance fee is 1,300 yen for adults and 650 yen for elementary school students.
Engetsuto Island: Engetsu means ‘full moon’. There is a round hole in the middle of small islet Takashima, so it is nicknamed Engetsu or full moon island. The island is not more than a 130-meter long rock. The hole was created through erosion by waves. This is the best point to see the sunset. If you are lucky enough, you will see the setting sun through the hole. The best timing is around the spring and autumn equinox days.
Kaichu Observatory “Coral Princess”
If you walk over the 100-meter-long bridge toward the ocean, you will reach a tower from where you can observe sea creatures. When you arrive at the tower, you need to walk down the spiral steps until 8 meters under the ocean. At the bottom, there are 12 round windows.
You will feel as if you are riding in a submarine. You can observe about 30 different kinds of fish from the windows. The entrance fee is 800 yen for adults and 400 yen for elementary students.
Nanki-Shirahama Adventure World
Nanki-Shirahama Adventure World is a theme park that consists of a zoological park, marine world, and an amusement park.
Zoological Park: In the zoo, there are about 140 species and 14,000 animals. Among these animals, the pandas enjoy great popularity. There are 6 pandas, and they are all family. There are 2 parents and four children including one set of twins. The parents are from China, but the four children were born in this park. Many tourists come to the park to see the panda family, they are so adorable! You can, of course, see many other animals such as lions, giraffes, and cheetahs. Part of the zoo is a safari park, where some animals live in an environment that’s similar to their natural surroundings.
Marine World: You can see a dolphin show with well-trained animals.
Amusement Park: There are roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, and many smaller attractions for children.
Onsen Hot Spring
As I mentioned before, some accommodations have their own hot spring facilities. If you want to have more local experience you should try the public hot springs. The most famous one is Sakinoyu. The history book says that some emperors have visited this hot spring about 1,400 years ago. It has an open-air bath that faces the ocean, so you can enjoy bathing while seeing the beautiful scenery of the coast. The entrance fee is 500 yen.
Gateway to Kumano Kodo
If you plan to walk the Kumano Kodo which is an old pilgrimage trail, it is nice to stay in Shirahama before or after the long walk. There is a local bus that brings you to Takijiri Oji, the starting point of the Kumano Kodo walk.
Your Japan Tour
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Access: From Tokyo, taking an airplane is the fastest and easiest way. Nanki Shirahama Airport is located only a few kilometers away from the beach area. You can take a local bus or a taxi from the airport.
From Shin-Osaka station, take the limited express “Kuroshio” of Kise-honsen Line. It takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes without any changes. Then you can take a local bus or a taxi to the sightseeing spots.