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Wakayama Prefecture is one of the most western areas of the Kansai region. The area is home to many historical and natural sites that should be high on any traveler’s “must-see” list, including castles, forests, and waterfalls.
Wakayama is the hidden gem of Japan. While the region does not attract huge crowds of tourists, it is home to some of Japan’s richest cultural attractions. There are many opportunities for travelers to Wakayama to break away from the passive life of a tourist and become part of local culture. Being part of local events and experiencing Japanese culture “from the inside,” is far more interesting than snapping a few photos in front of temples or museums. If you’re up to “jumping in” to the action, Wakayama is the place for you.
One great way to experience authentic Wakayama culture is to live like a monk. Seriously – this is absolutely an option. For a short period of time, you can put the worries and woes of your day to day life away. Lodge in a temple, enjoy authentic cuisine within one of the small cities that are established around a number of shrines, and participate in temple services. Walk for hours, or sit and meditate in Buddhist gardens. Embrace the simple life and focus on experiencing the beauty of Japan.
Wakayama is well known for its awe-inspiring shrines, temples and natural wonders. It is also known as the origin of Shingon esoteric Buddhism in Koyasan. It is also the final stop on an important religious pilgrimage for followers of Kumano Shinko, a nature-based religious sect. Wakayama's Kii Mountain Range is recognized as a sacred site by the World Heritage Site. Those interested in history and religion should not pass up this chance, even if it is only for a night or two to enjoy the spiritual natural setting. The experience is truly once in a lifetime.
Cutting tuna may not sound particularly appealing, or, if you’re an experienced fisherman, it may not sound like a remarkable experience. But you’ll want to visit the Wakayama fish markets and take part in one of the interactive tuna cutting demonstrations that go on every day. The demonstrations present tuna processing through every step of the process, from the auction where the tuna is sold off, to sampling the fresh catch. Check out Katsuura town, where you can find the freshest tataki, and sushi. You’ll enjoy seeing how your sushi goes from sea to table, and you’ll love the opportunity to sample the freshest fish available.
Wakayama is great for a visit any time of year, and you’ll almost always be able to find an interesting and exciting festival in full swing. While each festival is held only at certain times of the year, it seems the Wakayama Prefecture always has something to celebrate.
In Spring, during the Hina Festival, small dolls are set to sea with wishes clad in yellow and scarlet. The cherry blossom viewing, also in Spring, is celebrated on the Wakayama Castle grounds where over 600 cherry trees are in bloom. From February to May, visitors enjoy strawberry picking and the Suna Festival at Shirarahama, where local artists create art from sand and ocean water.
In the summer don’t miss the Hydrangea Festival where prayers are offered for health and in appreciation of nature. The Nachi Fire Festival is also a summer feature and is one of the largest fire festivals in Japan. You may also want to check out The Okunoin Mandokuyo-e Ritual where ancestors are remembered by candle light along the Ichinohashi Bridge.
Finally, why not check out a seaside open-air public bath. Public baths along the Pacific ocean average in temperature of 73 degrees Celsius. Sennin-Buro in Kawayu is Japan’s biggest open bath. Katsuura has onsens too, with stunning views. If you’re interested in a more modest way to enjoy the baths, you might enjoy dining at a restaurant on the Shirahama with your feet soaking.
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