We left Seoul around 10AM and we were back in Osaka shortly there after. Since we had been on the move for a solid 18 days at this point we opted for a day and a half of solid relaxation. We had already spent enough time in white hot Osaka. Himeji Castle and Byodo-in Temple are currently covered in scaffolding. The ninja capital of Japan, Iga, was just far enough away to make it rather unappealing to go there and try and get back for our 7AM flight in two days.
We had originally written Wakayama off as there didn’t appear to be much to do in the area. Japan guide lists Wakayama as a great place to do an overnight Buddhist temple visit, hike up Mt. Koya to an “atmospheric” temple or a pilgrimage to the Kii peninsula in Kumano. If you remember from my exposé on yuru-kyara, the Kumano region is home to a frightening demon.
First we arrived in Wakayama in late afternoon. With the last weeks of summer vacation wrapping up most of the hotels in Wakayama were booked. Wakayama is a small city so AirBnB was not an option. At the central gate of the station the Tourist Information office handed us a nice map and helped us by calling around to hotels in the area. We looked at a BK Pension and they were booked. Finally we settled on the Hotel Dormy Inn Premium. However we had to book through Agoda.com because the room was $110 online but $160 if the tourist desk at the station booked it for us.
I have a friend here in Japan who swears by Dormy Inn. Thus far they are the closest I’ve seen to western style hotels without a western brand name like Hilton or Marriott. The Wakayama Dormy Inn was built in 2012 so it is about as new and clean as a hotel can get. We got settled and relaxed for a little bit before heading back out.
Despite being late afternoon with only a little sunlight left in the day we headed to Isonoura Beach. This is one of the few beaches in Wakayama that allows surfing. Wakayama’s train set up is a little awkward though and not particularly convenient. The main JR station is across town from the main Nankai Railway station. This means that you either drop $2.20 on a 20 min bus ride between the stations or take the “once an hour” train between the two and transfer at an extra cost. It isn’t really convenient to walk between the two stations since its about two and a half kilometers.
We settled for the bus and about an hour later we were at Isnonoura beach. Isonoura is pure surfer. While the waves were not nearly as big as San Clemente or Bodega Bay the water was a very pleasant temperature. We sat and watched the super tan Japanese people ride waves and take a couple dips in the ocean ourselves to get a small taste of the salt life as it were.
On our way we had stopped at a “conbini” to grab some canned drinks called “ChuHi.” They are like adult Hi-C. They come in an array of flavors and so far all of them are terrible. The closest I can get to an accurate taste description is somewhere between old, liquified jolly rancher and baking soda dissolved in ethanol. They are in no way like the chu-his that can be ordered at most Japanese bars and izakayas. We choked down a cherry, kiwi and an orange one because we paid money but couldn’t make it through the fourth one we bought. Had we finished I’m sure we would have been at least considered for a Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Isonoura is quite lacking in things to do after the beach however so we took the train back to the main JR station and walked back to our hotel where we took an hour or so to enjoy the onsite onsen. Two pools with different temperatures of hot water, a sauna, a freezing water pool and TV’s showing the game. This was a man-sen. Also it was quite tastefully decorated with cool little rocks and waterfalls to sit near. Several Japanese men there appreciated the novelty of having a westerner in their onsen and we exchanged words that neither of us really understood. Also, saunas are really hot. Like uncomfortably hot.
After a relaxing soak and clean we headed to Wara Wara. This restaurant is deceptively cheap. Nearly everything on the menu is under five dollars. Even drinks! Beer is $2.80, easily the cheapest beer in Japan outside of nomihoudai. However the food is really good and much like tapas you keep ordering the small plates of octopus, gyoza, yakitori, and fresh salads and suddenly your bill is sixty bucks. Ugh. The food was excellent though and we got to try a local specialty called, chuka-soba, which is a pork broth ramen. I highly recommend it.
The next day we went full beach day and headed to Kataonami Beach which is an artificial beach that juts out in Wakayama Bay. This beach is geared towards families. Rental umbrellas, beach chairs and inner tubes are available and snack bars line the back of the beach. The main problem with Kataonami is getting there. The closest train station is just over two kilometers away. This means a bus ride is required to get within 15 min walk to the beach. Or have a car. There is a parking lot there, for cars. I was starting to feel like Ulysses Everett McGill, ain’t this place a geographical oddity, it’s 2 kilometers from everywhere!
The bus system in Wakayama appears to be similar to that of Kyoto’s without the helpful pocket map. The bus timetable is on a little card only in Japanese but there is a big sign outside the JR station with the routes laid out in color and sometimes there is a guy standing there who will help you find the right bus. I’m not sure why they don’t put the route map on their tourist guides because that would be actually helpful. The time table is useless if you don’t know what stop you are at.
All complaints aside we had a perfectly relaxing day at the beach. The water was comfortable and there was a nice breeze coming off the bay that kept it from getting too hot underneath the umbrella. The only real highlights of the day were: I got stung by a jellyfish (See Right) and we had to engage in a full sprint to catch our bus. The sting wasn’t anything big or painful but enough to make me stop swimming and glare at the water to see if I could spot the assailant. In mid to late August the beaches around Wakayama get an influx of jellyfish.
And this, this was the end of our summer adventure. Well. Not entirely but telling you about spending a night in the airport is about as interesting as watching someone mow a lawn. In your best interest I’ll leave out the details.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the worst thing that happened on the trip.
Osaka-Kansai, a plague on both your terminals.
It boggles my mind that they have a 24 hour airport with a lounge designed for overnight stays with showers, a kitchen, a 24hr McDonalds and yet it is nearly impossible to get to the airport after about 10PM or earlier than 6:30AM. I had done some research and found that there were night busses that go to Osaka-Kansai but too late I found out they only leave from hotels and not the train stations or bus stops near the train stations. This resulted in fifty dollar taxi ride to go from Izumisano station to the airport terminal (this is about twelve kilometers because the airport is built on an artificial island connected to the mainland by a massive bridge). The trains basically stop running after 10 and don’t start again until 5:30AM and the train takes an hour which doesn’t work if you have a 7AM flight. My advice would be to not book any flights earlier than 9AM ever out of Osaka-Kansai. It is very difficult to get there early in the morning and expensive to get there after 10PM. Or don’t use Osaka-Kansai at all, use ITM (Osaka Int’l) which is much closer to the city. A mistake I wont make again.
When our flight landed in Sendai we had travelled roughly 1550 miles. In 20 days we had been to 10 different cities. Rode on nearly 20 different types of public transport. Climbed so many stairs. So. Many. Stairs. Dealt with record breaking heat and thunder storms. Saw things from modern Japan, medieval France, feudal Japan, Korean independence, ancient Korea. Fish from around the world on display and on the grill. 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1 of the New 7 Wonders of Nature,1 of the 13 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World and much more. We ate baby octopus, adult octopus, fried octopus, grilled octopus, octopus dumplings and saw numerous live octopus escape attempts. Walked hundreds of miles collectively. Feared for our lives once, maybe twice and met some really cool people.