The origins of our decision to go to Wakayama are a fuzzy memory. In between many Japan Hour episodes, articles read online, and tweets here and there, it is hard to be specific. We are drawn to smaller Japanese towns. While we lament the lack of food options, we cherish the space and lack of other human beings, and appreciate the slowness of it all.
We stayed at Dormy Inn, which is near the JR station (5 minutes of carefree walk; 8 minutes’ walk with luggage). We had taken a bus from Osaka airport (40 minutes). Tickets can be bought from the counter, and buses leave regularly.
The best thing about Dormy Inn is the communal onsen. Dormy Inn also has a complimentary ramen supper service (9 to 11 pm, but we tend to be sleepy after the onsen).
There is a Lawson’s nearby.
1. A day out to Shirahama
The JR ride from Wakayama to Shirahama takes about 80 minutes and costs about 6,000 yen per person return. That’s pretty pricey but since we were in Wakayama already, we went for it. There is also the bus ride from the JR to the beach, which is about 800 yen return per person.
You are essentially on a trip to a seaside town, which mostly works in the form of a two or three- day trip. So this may or may not work out for you as a day trip. We had a very good ramen (thank you, Marumasa), walked along the beach, soaked our feet in hot spring foot baths, and listened to the sea.
2. Staying overnight at Koyasan
This was the best part of our trip. You book a night’s stay via the tourist office. You get to specify what type of room you want, and a room in a temple is assigned to you. There are many, many temples on Mount Koya, lovingly termed Koyasan. Our Japanese room with attached bath and toilet, which can possibly house three or four persons (but there were two of us) cost around 30,000 yen per night.
Koyasan is about 1.5 hours away from Wakayama by train (1 transfer) and cable car. It costs around 2,600 yen per person one way.
The main tourist area is compact and very walkable, so there is no need to buy a pass for the bus. After getting off the bus, get a one way ticket to the main tourist area, which should cost about 300 yen one way per person. You cannot walk from the cable car station to the town.
The various shops sell mochi (the main shop has free tea for its customers), trinkets, and lunch at reasonable prices. The Buddhist temples on Koyasan are different in style from the temple you see in say, Kyoto and Tokyo.
We highly recommend the temple that has a shiba-inu stationed outside. It is not just because the shiba-inu is amenable to excessive petting. There is a walk into the basement of this temple that you may like to take. A handwritten sign tells you not to separate from the railing. Heed the warning!
There is free wifi in town (near some shops), and also within the temple lodgings.
The temple overnight stay is also an unusual experience. It is disconcerting to have monks serve you! The multi-course in-room dinner was fantastic. One could yearn for some meat, but I was perfectly pleased with the meal. Sitting there with the kotatsu, leaning back at a satisfied meal, we were both very happy.
The next morning, we observed the morning service. The temple we were at was a beautiful one, and the service (about 45 minutes long) held our interest.
After this, breakfast was served in our room.
We left for Osaka after breakfast.
3. Visiting Nitama-chan at Kishi Station
You would not be able to buy tickets for the train to Kishi station from the JR station machines in the usual way. Instead, you announce yourself to the staff at the gantry, and they will let you through and ask you to head to platform 9. There, you buy a day pass for the special line that runs between Wakayama and Kishi. (Buying two one-way tickets costs more than the day pass.)
The ride is about 30 minutes. You can Google for the stories of Tama-chan, the cat that revived a line that was about to be closed, and Nitama, the current cat stationmaster.
It seems mildly ridiculous to spend money just to see a cat, but that’s what we did. It shows the power of a good story.
You may wish to check the schedules more closely to see which special train you would like to take. There is the cat-themed train, the toy train (comes with gachapon machines!), and the strawberry train.
4. A fun day at Marine City and Kuroshio Market
Upon reaching, we went to eat at the market. We bought chirashi don bowls, and sat at the free-seating area. The sashimi was so yummy!
We then went to the Marine City. It is a theme park, cast in a European style. Entry is free and you pay separately for games and rides. Many of the games are of the UFO catcher type, and some driving, shooting and sports games. The rides are the sort that usually won’t give you a heart or panic attack.
The bus ride is about more than 500 yen per person one way, and we bought day passes for 1,000 yen each. The chirashi don was about 1,600 per bowl, and there is a variety of food available at the market suitable for buying back as presents. The building opposite the market sells local food and produce, with an emphasis on mikan (oranges).