I have been drawn to Wakayama Prefecture in Japan ever since I visited Koya-san last September. Wakayama doesn’t have a single large city, which is why I think I like it so much. Its rural, mountainous and in the southern part, full of beaches and wonderful rock formations. I wanted to plan a group weekend trip for all of the foreign teachers in my area, so I chose Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture. It was a great beach spot with just enough to do to fill up the weekend.
We all met at Osaka Station at 8 in the morning to catch the bus south for the 3.5 hour bus ride to Shirahama. I had a hard time figuring out how to get us down to Shirahama, but thankfully I found this bus schedule in English. There were busses every hour or so during the morning and every 2 hours in the afternoon. We were all able to purchase round trip tickets for about $50. The alternative was to take the train, which would be quicker, but cost almost twice as much.
The bus ride was pretty easy, but once we got off the bus it was more difficult to find our way around. Because Shirahama is a sleepy little beach town, there isn’t a train system to rely on for transport. We had to use the local bus, which had all the information in Japanese. Thankfully, several people I was with spoke and could read Japanese so we eventually found our way to the hotel.
We stayed in a budget hotel called Grampus Inn. I chose it because it was the most affordable hotel in the area. There weren’t many hotels to choose from, and the ones that were available cost well over $100 a night (closer to $150+). The hotel had shared bathrooms and an onsen, which many of us Americans were skeptical of, but we eventually got used to it. I had experienced communal bathing, which is not uncommon in Japan, but this was my first time to brave onsen. Onsen is very popular in Japan which is one of the reasons nudity isn’t as taboo here as it is in America. An onsen is like a giant bathtub, with steaming hot water. Some onsen are natural hot springs and some are not. The one at Grampus Inn was not natural, as far as I could tell, but it was hot. It was a relaxing experience and I’m glad that I got to participate.
Our first stop after checking into the hotel was Senjojiki. Senjojiki is a natural rock formation leading to the ocean. The name means, “One Thousand Tatami Mats” which describes what the rocks resemble. The rocks are generally flat, so you can walk out onto them down to the water. The ocean washed up over the rocks and created little tide pools in crevices. We spotted little crabs floating in the water. The rocks were a beautiful reddish color and got darker closer to the water.
After about an hour or so at Senjojiki, we headed to Shirahama Beach. The beach was beautiful. It had white sand, clear water, and it was in a bay so it was very calm. I had been told that the white sand was actually imported from Australia, but I didn’t know why. One of the other Americans told me that the beaches originally were white, but a typhoon destroyed them, so in order to preserve the beauty every three years white sand is imported from Australia. It sounds a little weird, but it was beautiful.
The next morning, we left our hotel and went to Sandanbeki, an underground cave. I didn’t know much about it except that the ocean rushed in and there was a shrine. We paid about $12 to take the elevator down into the cave (not the first time I’ve done this… Carlsbad Caverns has an elevator to their cave – Kinda weird, but its quick!). We followed the path around to watch the ocean rush in and out of the cave. Further down the path was a shrine to Benten, who I had first learned about at Hasedera Temple in Kamakura. The English pamphlet we were given stated that the caves had been pirate dens where pirates had hidden their ships. I hadn’t seen anything like it and really enjoyed it!
Once we resurfaced from the cave, we decided to explore the cliffs within the park area. There were some men fishing at the base of them, so we wanted to figure out how to get to the bottom. 3 of us went exploring while the rest watched from the top.
Where we wanted to go: the tip all the way at the end of the rocks on the left.
What we had to do to get there (many of the holds on our path were cemented or drilled in, but still very scary!)
We finally made it!
And here I am doing my best Christ the Redeemer impersonation (or maybe its the OMG I’m so scared pose).
From where we were on the rocks we could see the entrance to the caves.
There were little critters and more tidepools throughout the rocks.
We even made a friend.
On our way back to the bus stop we stopped at some food stalls selling local foods. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT an adventurous eater, but something about my time coming to an end in Japan has made me want to try EVERYTHING. So I did. I ate fresh scallop (yum), squid (tentacles, head, body) and sea snail (tasted like seafood dirt).
Overall, I’d say this was one of the best group trips I’ve taken while in Japan. I really got to enjoy all the things I like to do when I travel, but I got to do them with friends!