Wakayama offers the natural and spiritual sides of Japan with the ancient temple complex of Koyasan, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, and a picturesque coastline

Lonely Planet’s readers’ have selected Wakayama as the “Best in Travel 2021” for sustainability. Wakayama Prefecture is highly coveted for its profoundly unique destinations of spectacular natural beauty and spiritual energy including the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage and Koyasan mountain, as well as countless experiences offered from invigorating stand-up river rafting to exploring the origin of soy sauce. Besides dynamic primeval forests and mountains, revitalizing hot springs, the rocky isthmus of Kushimoto and the marble white limestone shores of Shirahama, the fact that tourism resources have been maintained in a sustainable manner is the reason why this region continues to inspire travellers and is recognized with this distinct honour.

Please note travel is not recommended at this time. However, now is a wonderful time to plan your future travels.

Gifts of Nature
In the same region as Osaka and Kyoto, Wakayama Prefecture has a mountainous landscape generously dotted with thermal hot springs. For millennia the culture of onsen (hot springs) has been rooted in the Japanese way of life. Hot springs have been cherished not only as a way to gain relief from fatigue, but also as a place to cleanse the body, treat illness, or just to interact with other people. Legend has it that the waters from a certain local hot spring once cured the ailments of a famous samurai.

Owing to its warm and moist climate, the area produces more premium fruit – including mandarin oranges, Japanese persimmons, and ume (an apricot-like fruit) – than anywhere else in Japan. So much fruit is produced that it is often called ‘The Fruit Kingdom’ (Kajuokoku Wakayama). Since the 1600’s, local farmers have been cultivating mikan, a very sweet tangerine-like citrus fruit. You can find fresh squeezed mikan juice and even liqueurs made with the juice at local souvenir shops.

Koyasan, Wakayama

A Long Walk to Enlightenment
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route winds through the mountains Honshu’s Kii Peninsula. It has been walked by ascetics, samurai, emperors, and monks on their quest for enlightenment for over a millennium. People from all levels of society have journeyed to the tranquil Kii Mountains, following many pilgrimage routes to the revered Kumano Sanzan Shrines. The various paths are known collectively as the Kumano Kodo. There are 7 traditional routes: the Nakahechi (the main route), Ohechi, Kohechi, Iseji, the Choishi-michi Route which links the sacred Shingon Buddhist Koyasan to the Kumano Shrines, and the Yoshino & Omine route (an isolated treacherous mountain trail). In 2004, these trails along with their holy mountains were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is also a modern route called the Kiiji.

A practice known as Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing’, is particularly poplar during the mild weather of spring and autumn. This slowed down walking, surrounded by trees and crisp mountain air, is said to reawaken the senses, provide a deep feeling of calm and even have mood-boosting benefits.

Koyasan, WakayamaA Spiritual Destination
Koyasan is one of the greatest and most imposing Buddhist centers in Japan. Its 25 meter-high Daimon Gate welcomes visitors into this World Heritage site. With over 100 temples scattered throughout the vast grounds of this peaceful complex, it invites you to stroll through some 1200 years of history.

Kongobuji Temple , the most prominent structure at Koyasan, plays a significant role as the head of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Take off your shoes here and wander through the temple’s hallowed wooden halls, adorned with graceful carved wooden cranes, elaborate flowers, and gilded sliding doors.

For something truly unique, stay overnight at one of the many temples that offer lodging. These shukubo, monk-style bed and breakfasts, even allow you to take part in some of the monks’ spiritual practices.

For more information on travel in Wakayama visit: www.japan.travel/en/destinations
Practical information for Canadians traveling to Japan visit: www.japan.travel