Located south of Osaka, covering the tip of the Kii Peninsula, Wakayama Prefecture is little known to overseas tourists, despite holding some of the holiest sites, best beaches, and most mouthwatering food in Kansai — no mean feat when up against regional heavyweights including Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe!
Wakayama City is the capital, famous for its castle and top-class local style of ramen noodles: tonkotsu-joyu. Further down the coast you’ll find the top onsen town of Shirahama, which boasts some fantastic baths looking out over the ocean, and a sheer white beach with sand imported from Australia!
While good time beach vibes are a major draw of Wakayama, the mountains at the center of the prefecture take on a very different tone. Here you’ll find Mt Kōya, one of the holiest sites in the country. Chosen as the spiritual home of Shingon Buddhism in the 9th century, the mountain became a site of huge religious importance. Nowadays over one hundred active temples have sprung up around the main complex, with over half offering overnight stays for tourists!
This means you can sample the life of a Buddhist monk for yourself by sleeping in a temple, trying your hand at some traditional arts like calligraphy, and even sampling some of the traditional vegetarian cuisine which fuels the prayers of the abbots and acolytes: Shojin Ryori.
So, no matter if you’re in a group of beach bunnies or budding Buddhists, Wakayama has more than enough to please.