Go to sea to watch whales and dolphins, then slip into soothing outdoor hot spring waters
Located on a quiet cove looking out to the Pacific Ocean, Katsuura is a coastal haven offering fresh-caught bluefin tuna, relaxing bay cruises, and naturally created outdoor hot springs to soak your cares away.
Some 130 rocky islets dot the secluded bay, creating calm waters that are frequented by migrating pods of whales and dolphins during the warmer half of the year. For delicious local seafood and refreshing ocean air, make your way down the coast to Katsuura.
- Boat tours around the rock formations of Katsuura Bay
- Tuna auctions and fresh seafood at the fish market
- Some of Japan's most scenic hot spring bathing
How to Get There
The JR Kuroshio Express Train that serves the whole eastern Wakayama coastline transports visitors from Shin-Osaka to Kii-Katsuura Station in around four hours.
The famously scenic train stops at all the major Wakayama towns and cities along the way, allowing you to visit the Kumano Shrines or Shirahama's beaches. For those traveling from Nagoya, the Nanki Limited Express train will take you to the area in just under four hours.
Katsuura began as a stop for pilgrims visiting the renowned Kumano shrine complex
More Pacific Bluefin tuna are landed at Katsuura than anywhere else in the world, the largest ever auctioned weighing a whopping 446 kilograms
Katsuura is overflowing with bubbling hot-spring water and rivals its more famous neighbor Shirahama for its onsen resorts
Stone zoo in the sea
Katsuura Bay is dotted with 130 distinctly formed islets known collectively as Ki-no-Matsushima after their resemblance to the famous area in Miyagi , Northern Japan. Many of the islets are named after what they resemble—usually various animals. Hour-long boat tours transport visitors out into the open bay, so hop on and look out for the Lion Rock, Crane Rock or even the Camel Rock as the captain navigates the boat around the rocky outcrops.
A different kind of camel
Camel Rock, perhaps the most distinctive of the formations in the bay, is known for its uncanny resemblance to the hump-backed desert dwellers. While you can see it during one of the boat tours, the best way is by visiting the Rakuda-no-Yu, or Camel Hot Springs.
Slipping into the warm waters of this naturally formed outdoor hot spring, you can gaze out upon the rocky dromedary and the whole bay while unwinding. Access to the bath requires a short boat trip and is a mixed bathing site, so a bathing suit is required.
The area has many more interesting places to take a dip, including a hot springs inside a natural cave formation at the Hotel Urashima, Boki-Do Onsen, and the seaside Kishu Chomon-no-Yu at the Hotel Nakanoshima. If you can't choose just one, discounted package tickets are available at the information center in JR Kii-Katsuura Station.
Early to bed, early to market
If you're an early riser, you can join the even-earlier rising fishermen as they bring in their tuna hauls at the Katsuura Fish Market. The subsequent tuna auction, famous at Tokyo's Tsukiji but guaranteed to be less crowded here, starts at 7 a.m. and is a vibrant, passionate event packed full of tuna aficionado's clambering over each other to bid on the prized, gleaming bluefin.
You can watch the event from the designated observation floor or deck. The market is a three-minute walk from Kii-Katsuura Station.
Wakayama whale watching
Between the months of March and September, the tiny fishing port of Ugui (between Katsuura and Shingu) offers whale and dolphin-watching tours. Since these marine mammals are wild in their natural habitat, there's no guarantee of a sighting, but local fishermen in the area wanted to share the thrill of witnessing water spouting and playful leaping up close.
The price for a tour is around 6,500 yen per person, and is located a five-minute walk from JR Ukui Station. Reservations are required and dependent on weather conditions.