I peered through the window, only to see two piercing eyes glaring back. We matched the other’s gaze. What must he – one of the most celebrated figures in the world – be thinking at this moment as he ponders me – an uninvited visitor into his home? I was merely a fervent traveler; he, a 16-meter-high gold-plated statue. Beauty, complexity, and wisdom emanated from the craftsmanship. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Most tourists visiting Wakayama Prefecture make their way to the coast of Kushimoto, the UNESCO protected forests of Mount Koya, and the clean white beaches of Shirahama. Yet it would be a shame to discount Wakayama City, which, while tranquil, is full of unique attractions in its own right.
I made my way to Wakayama City from Kyoto Station via the Kuroshio Limited Express. The approximately 90 minute train ride passed by quickly that morning as I relaxed in the air-conditioned car.
Upon arriving in JR Wakayama Station, I deposited my luggage in a locker and picked up a map as well as recommendations from a Tourist Information Center located near the bus stop in front of the station.
Locating the temple was easy enough; from the main station I took the JR Kinokuni Line to Kimii-dera Station. The hard part was surmounting the 231 steps up the side of the mountain. On the way, I passed by a handful of stores which lined the street, some of which stayed open despite the area being entirely bereft of tourists that day.
At the top, the serene panorama of Wakayama, quiet despite the dense urban sprawl extending to the mountains in the distance. What must have this view been like for those living when this temple had first been constructed? I mused as a cool, scentless breeze carried in from the sun-kissed bay.
The temple’s grounds were first erected in 770, with the main hall constructed almost a thousand years later in 1764. While I am not certain how many visitors Kimii-dera receives on a daily basis, I was lucky enough to have the complex to myself that day. The sounds of the city had not climbed the stairs along with me; the meditative atmosphere of the temple seeped from the pores of the timeworn buildings and statues.
Aside from the main hall, Kimii-dera boasts a pagoda, timeless wooden and stone statues, as well as the pièce de résistance: Japan’s largest wooden Buddha.
This gilded Buddha stands at 16 meters tall. One can climb to the balcony of the structure which houses the Buddha and enjoy a view of the Wakayama cityscape.
My next stop was Marina City, located in the southern part of the city.
It’s possible to get to Marina City by catching buses 22, 42, 43, or 121. All of these leave from the bus station outside the main train station. In my case, there was also a bus stop near Kimii-dera.
Marina City is home to two main attractions. The first is Kuroshio-Ichiba, a fish market from which delicious fresh fruits of the sea can be bought. The second is Porto Europa, an amusement park stylized as a European city, taking inspiration from the architecture of France, Italy, and Spain. Entry to the park costs about 2700 Yen.
I forwent entry to the park in order to spend my time doing what I do best: feasting on fresh seafood!
One of the reasons for Kuroshio’s popularity – aside from the delicious fish – is that visitors can watch a so-called “tuna preparation show,” where a tuna is sliced in front of an audience.
The scent of fresh tuna from the countless stalls permeated the air even as the sizzle of seared squid wafted forth it’s own bouquet. Some stalls sold sushi. Others a selection of fried delicacies with noodles. Many vendors displayed plastic-wrapped hunks of skinned and cleaned fillets and tentacles.
Ultimately I realized a choice had to be made, so I carried my purchase of some squid and a shish-kebab of whole fried octopi to the covered outdoor seating area.
Wakayama Castle (和歌山城)
Dignified as it overlooks the rest of the city, Wakayama Castle stands atop the 49 meter high Mount Torafusu. It is within walking distance from the main train station, though visitors can also take bus number 0 to Koen-mae (公園前) bus stop.
To reach the castle, I wove my way through the tranquil Momijidani Garden, which surrounds the castle grounds and whose leaves during Autumn turn to beautiful colors.
Inside the complex, there are several rooms spread throughout multiple floors containing information about the castle as well as displays of armor, weapons, and clothing from different periods of history.
My day ended with a view from the window at the top floor of Wakayama Castle. The city had revealed a portion of its secrets to me that day. What began as a random decision to step off the beaten path ended up as a pleasant venture into a quaint town not yet embraced by tourism.