Cycling Courses in Wakayama
Exploring southern routes from Kumano and Shirahama.
As one of Japan’s most sacred destinations, Wakayama is well known for both spiritualism and adventure. To the north, discover the sacred mountain top temple enclave of Koyasan, before venturing south to the revered Kumano Sanzan (three Shinto grand shrines) and Japan’s tallest waterfall at Nachi Falls. All these sacred sites are connected by the ancient pilgrimage trails of Kumano Kodo and share the region’s 2004 UNESCO World Heritage accreditation.
Read on to explore 5 reasons to add Wakayama to your Japan itinerary:
The mountaintop temple complex of Koyasan is one of Japan’s most spiritual and unique destinations. Founded by Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi (Kukai), this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the birthplace and home of Shingon Buddhism.
Fifty of Koyasan’s temples are classified as shukubo (temple lodgings), which invite visitors—of any faith—to stay overnight and learn more about the Buddhist lifestyle. Rengejo-in, founded during the Kenkyu Era (1190-1199), is one such example. Here, a beautiful karesansui dry rock garden surrounded by lotus water lilies sits next to the temple’s Main Hall, which is where guests can visit twice daily to join real Buddhist ceremonies — meditation in the evenings, and prayer/sutra readings each morning.
Experience the traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine of ‘Shojin Ryori’ which uses seasonal vegetables and mountain plants and features a variety of local flavours, like Goma-Dofu (sesame tofu).
Okunoin is one of the most sacred sites at Koyasan, being the location of Koyasan-founder Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum where he was finally entombed—though given his reverence, some believe he lives on in an eternal, transcendental meditative state. Much of the cemetery is enclosed by a forest packed with ancient cedar trees and features moss-covered memorials.
Visiting at night is recommended, with guided tours departing from nearby Eko-in that follow a course along lantern-lit paths. Listen to a local guide while admiring the Gorinto (five-tiered stupa) and other stone memorials along the way. The tour adjourns after the mausoleum, allowing visitors to return at their own pace under the moonlight glow of the cemetery’s stone lanterns.
This beautiful torii gate—the largest in the world at ~34m in height—is an incredible sight to behold against the surrounding rice paddies and mountains.
As the entrance to the original location for the Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine, all of the Kumano Kodo trails across Wakayama connect at this spot, giving this area additional historical significance. Severe flooding in 1889 saw the shrine’s location moved further inland, leaving the gate behind at this original spot.
Kumano Hongu Taisha, a short walk away, serves as the head shrine for over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan and is also worth visiting.
The Kumano Kodo is an ancient network of pilgrimage routes that connect Wakayama’s regions like Koyasan and Kumano to neighbouring Mie prefecture.
Adventurers can take on a multi-day hiking trip through the heart of Wakayama, but if you just want to experience a short segment along one of the routes, the Daimon-zaka path might be suitable for you.
This 1km-long route in the forested valley near Nachi Falls follows secluded, cobblestone paths surrounded by ancient trees.
You’ll feel like you have slipped back in time, but to take it to the next level, why not mimic a local historical tradition and rent your own authentic Heian-era (794–1185) costume? The Daimon-zaka Chaya teahouse near the bottom provides multiple plans and accepts walk-ins.
At 133 meters in height, Nachi Falls—Japan's tallest and most famous waterfall —is a spectacular sight. It's the centrepiece of a sacred primeval forest that has long been revered and worshipped by Shinto followers.
Descend the forested path towards Hiro Shrine to discover a majestic torii gate that perfectly frames the colossal waterfall flowing behind it. For a small 300 yen fee, here you can access a special observation deck that gets much closer to the waterfall. Feel the mesmerising effect of the cascading waterfall’s mist and negative ions racing through the air. For another 100 yen, you can even taste the sacred water here—said to grant longevity.
And there you have it—five reasons why we think it’s worth adding Wakayama to your Japan trip! All these experiences are not just totally unique to Wakayama, but also offer insights into Japan’s traditional culture, guided by Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, as well as aspects of nature worship. Visit Wakayama for a chance to experience a new side of Japan.
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