Action and adventure in Wakayama's sacred south
Welcoming pilgrims, thrill-seekers and festival enthusiasts, Wakayama's sacred south is crisscrossed with mountain trails and fast-flowing rivers perfect for rafting and hiking. It also happens to be a major destination on the World Heritage Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route .
- The precariously positioned clifftop shrine of Kamikura-jinja
- A thrilling ride on a log raft, down the roaring Kitayama River
- The fiery winter spectacle on February 6th
How to Get There
Flights to Shirahama operate from Tokyo's Haneda Airport , taking around 70 minutes.
One of the three Kumano Sanzan Grand Shrines on the network of Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes , Kumano Hayatama Taisha strikes a formidable pose on the banks of the Kumano River with its bold red coloring and sweeping roofs. While there, don't miss a visit to the shrine's treasure room to see a variety of sacred artifacts on display. Displays are in Japanese but interesting all the same.
The clifftop shrine is characterized by the enormous boulder that seems to perch precariously beside it. Considered sacred, the boulder is said to mark the spot where the Kumano deities descended to the earthly realm.
A visit to the shrine is worth it for the exciting climb up a steep, uneven staircase carved into the hillside–a thrilling experience in itself.
The stone staircase leading up to Kamikura-jinja Shrine is the stage for the Shingu Fire Festival. Known locally as the Oto Matsuri, the festival is held every February 6. If you are lucky enough to be in town for the event, you will get to see nearly 2,000 locals bravely rush down the treacherous stone steps wielding flaming torches. The festival is a riot but all for good purposes–to pray for good harvest and family safety.
Dorokyo Gorge is a 31-kilometer stretch of natural beauty with deep, pristine waters flanked by sheer cliffs. Cruises tour the gorge and operate from Dorokyo Meguri-no-Sato.
For something a little more thrilling, take a traditional log raft down the Kitayama River . Essentially felled timber lashed together with rope, some courage may be necessary. Reservations are necessary and can be made online. Tours operate from the Michi-no-Eki Okutoro Tourist Center in Kitayama Village.
Elixir for eternal life
Under orders from the emperor, the Chinese scholar Jofuku embarked on a mission to find the elixir of life, and after a long and arduous journey found himself in the city of Shingu. Discovering a tree local to the area that had healing properties, Jofuku made the city his home. The park was created in Jofuku's memory and the entrance gate pays homage to his roots with a vibrantly painted Chinese gate. Close to Shingu Station, the park makes for a quick and easy visit.