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Wakayama Travel Guide

Wakayama for First-timers

Wakayama Castle

Q1When is the best time to visit Wakayama?

Traveling during Japanese holiday peak seasons tends to be not only more crowded, accommodation rates are also more expensive particularly for Saturday night stays. The off-season and weekdays are the most relaxing time to visit. Read more in the seasons section, and discover what makes the various times of the year special. Iconic seasonal highlights include cherry blossoms in Spring, typically arriving in late March and lasting until early April. For autumn colors, leaves begin to take on brilliant hues come late November.

Q2How much time should I spend in Wakayama?

Have a look at the recommended itineraries. They can help you hone in on your ideal vacation, and give you a better feel on what length of time will be required to get that 'just right' vacation.

Q3Is Wakayama expensive?

The cost of living including the price of goods and services in Wakayama is significantly more reasonable than in the big cities of Kansai and Tokyo. Accommodation for instance is at least 50% cheaper than in nearby Osaka City. Expect to pay less for food and get better value, though premium items such as fresh o-toro tuna can still be expensive. With the right travel pass, even transportation costs can be very affordable.

Q4I don't speak Japanese, will I manage?

There are numerous tourist associations in Wakayama, with many of them located at key tourist thoroughfares; you will find staff more than happy to assist you. When you arrive at your accommodations, at check-in ask your hotel concierge for a list of emergency contacts. While accommodations are prepared for emergencies, bear in mind that English-language support in remote areas might not be immediately available.

Q5Can I see a tuna filleting show?

Absolutely. Tuna-filleting shows are held at Kuroshio Market in Wakayama City and at Toretore Ichiba-mae Market in Shirahama Town.

Q6What's the weather like in Wakayama?

The climate of Wakayama Prefecture is warm in most areas throughout the entire year; the weather is so mild that bougainvillea bloom even during the Winter. It is a subtropical region with no dry season.

Q7What should I wear?

Though the climate is relatively temperate compared to the rest of the Honshu main island, it really depends on what season you are planning to travel in, and to which areas. Winter in Koyasan is definitely chilly, and warm winter clothing required. For the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes hiking apparel is necessary. In contrast to the Koyasan area, the southern beach and coastal areas of Shirahama and Kushimoto tend to be mild. Wakayama gets its fair share of rainfall, and is considered to have a moist climate with no dry season, so keeping an umbrella on hand is a good idea, particularly in mountainous areas where precipitation is highest.

Q8Is Wakayama safe for travelers?

Generally speaking, Japan is a very safe country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world. It is not unusual for good samaritans to return lost articles to the local koban (police box) intact. That said, you should always be savvy when traveling in a foreign country

Q9What should I do in case of an emergency?

In the event of a medical emergency, be sure to have your travel and health insurance documentation on hand, as well as any medication that you are on. There are several hospitals and medical centers in Wakayama with staff that speak foreign languages. To report a crime, accident, or other emergency, dial ‘110’ from any telephone.

It is recommended that you register your travel plans with your government prior to embarking on your journey, or alternatively with your country’s embassy once you have arrived in Japan. Consular services can assist you in the case of lost identification, and are a good contact to have in the event of a natural disaster such as a major earthquake. Japan Tourism Agency also provides an iOS and Android app, “Safety Tips”, which offers real-time notifications and early warnings for earthquakes and tsunamis.

In the case of lost or stolen valuables, report missing items to your hotel concierge, local police station (koban) or the relevant service provider (e.g. Credit Card Company). Local police stations are able to issue official reports when required, for documentation purposes such as for insurance claims and so forth. Local police stations can also assist you with directions should you get lost whilst on your travels.

For vehicle-related incidents, the Road Emergency hotline is #9910. To make insurance claims, an official accident certificate issued by the police will be required by the vehicle rental company.

Q10Where should I stay in Wakayama?

Depending on what kind of experience you are after, and in which area, there is a variety of accommodation options available. There are thermal hot spring onsen hotels particularly in the Shirahama and Kumano Kodo regions, traditional Japanese inns (ryokan) throughout the prefecture, shukubo (temple retreat inns) in Koyasan, as well as conventional hotels, guest houses, home visit options and more.

Q11Should I book restaurants?

In more rural parts of Wakayama, restaurants may close early if there are no customers, so don’t miss out on your meal of choice: call and book to avoid being stranded. In big cities, it is also advisable to make a reservation, as popular spots can fill-up easily.

Q12Is it easy to get around Wakayama?

Historically, the Kii peninsula was a remote and isolated area. Although times have changed, the pace of life is still more laid back than in the big cities; you are often surrounded by miles and miles of lush vegetation. Careful planning is a must when exploring rural areas, especially in places where signage is mainly in Japanese and foreign languages are not commonly spoken. So while transportation networks cover Wakayama's 4,726 square kilometers, time spent on planning your itinerary and transport will not only enable you to make the most of your time in the area, it will also make getting around relatively easy, and may even allow for a bit of spontaneity along the way. There are excellent rail passes which include bus coverage in some cases, as well as seasonal bus passes which often allow travelers unlimited rides. Many of these are available exclusively to international visitors. Children under the age of 12 get to travel at half the adult fare, and infants and babies generally travel for free. Another great option is renting a car. With roads markedly wider and less busy than in Japan’s big cities, driving is not only enjoyable, it allows you access to some of the more remote and spectacular scenic spots along Wakayama's rugged 600km coastline, quaint mountain hamlets, the sacred Kii Mountains and the region's premier onsen areas.

Q13Is it easy to travel around Wakayama with kids?

Wakayama is a laid-back natural playground. Brimming with a variety of activities, it is an ideal family-oriented travel destination. Accommodation options are plentiful from camping grounds, to reasonably-priced hotels and Japanese inns (ryokan) that offer discounted occupancy rates for children. As a general rule, public transportation is discounted for children (ages 6 to 11) and free for infants/babies. Children only pay half the adult fare for rail passes, train and bus fares. Infants and babies only require tickets when (a) using a reserved or Green Car seat (b) the accompanying adult travels with three or more infants; a child fare applies from the third infant. For car rentals, you can request child safety seats when making an advance booking, they are usually available. Highways and expressways typically have rest stops located at 50 km intervals, which have restroom facilities, restaurants and play areas. And if you decide to do a bit of sightseeing by bicycle, look out for rental shops generally located close to major train stations, or at local tourist offices, and ask if safety seats and helmets are provided. When eating out with children, check to see if there is a kids' menu. Activities in Wakayama range from cultural to outdoor experiences. For instance, you and your children can learn how to paint urushi lacquerware in Kainan, try on a samurai costume at Wakayama Castle, as well as swim with the dolphins in Taiji, and visit Shirahama’s famous pandas at Adventure World. Collecting stamps at temples, shrines, tourist attractions and train stations is also a fun way to keep the little ones engaged while exploring Wakayama.

Q14Is it easy to get money out of ATMs in Wakayama?

It is when you know where to go. International credit, debit and prepaid cards are accepted nationwide at ATM machines in post offices and Seven Bank (located in 7-11 convenience stores). Many domestic banks do not accept international cards, so check out the location finder to find the nearest ATMs that do.

Q15Are credit cards readily accepted?

Credit cards are not always accepted, particularly the further away you are from a big city. Credit cards can however be used to withdraw cash from specific ATMs located in post offices, select banks, and 7-11 convenience stores. Check out the location finder to find ATMs nearest to you.

Q16What are typical business hours & holidays?

Banks and post offices are typically closed on weekends, with some exceptions in major centers. All other service-oriented businesses like shops, department stores and museums are open daily. New Year’s day is one of the few holidays where most things close. Otherwise expect traffic, shopping and resort areas to get very busy during national holidays, the longest being Golden Week, which typically starts at the end of April and spans the first few days of May. This is one of the busiest holidays of the year, along with the August summer holidays.

Q17How do I get to Wakayama?

Visit the Travel to Wakayama section for information on travelling by air, train and car, along with information on regional tour operators.

Q18What activities need to be booked in advance?

The more rural the area, the better off you are to double-check with the local tourist office to see if the activities you are interested in require advance booking. For instance, fruit picking is not offered on a drop-in basis at any of the orchards in Wakayama. Reservations must be made in advance, as must arrangements for the train station pick-up and drop-off services offered by certain orchards. In addition to activities, express transportation for some long-distance buses needs to be booked in advance. Though taxis in rural areas are available, they also need to be arranged ahead of time. In the case of sight-seeing taxi services operating to places such as Shirahama and the Kumano Kodo areas, these typically need to be arranged 24 hours ahead of time. For accommodations, the top-rated and popular options can get booked well in advance, particular for Saturday-night stays and during peak Japanese holiday seasons. So while conventional hotels can often be booked online and sometimes even at the last minute, booking onsen accommodations, Japanese inns (ryokan) or shukubo temple retreats, will require advance planning and booking.

General Facts About Wakayama

Wakayama Prefecture is located on the Kii peninsula. It is part of the Kansai region which is also home to Osaka and Kyoto. Wakayama's capital is Wakayama City, where the prefectural office is located. The prefecture adjoins Osaka Prefecture to the north, and Nara and Mie Prefectures to the east. It is at latitude 34.14º North and longitude 135.10 º East, and covers 4,726 square kilometers, of which 80 percent is mountainous.

Owing to its warm and moist climate, Wakayama Prefecture produces more premium fruit – including mandarin oranges, Japanese persimmons, and ume (an apricot-like fruit) – than anywhere else in Japan. It also has thriving farming, forestry, and fishing industries, that include landing fresh seafood such as tuna and bonito (skipjack tuna).

Its rich natural landscape, generously dotted with thermal hot springs near mountains, rivers, and the Pacific Ocean, make the region one of Japan’s premier thermal hot springs destinations, popular with tourists.

Koyasan, the Kumano Sanzan (Three Grand Shrines of Kumano), and the pilgrimage routes that connect them, were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 7, 2004. They are a significant tourist draw.

As of April 1, 2015, the prefecture's estimated population was 965,597 people.

The prefectural symbols are the ume plum flower, the ubamegashi tree from which Kishu Binchotan (white charcoal) is made, and the tuna fish.

General Facts About Wakayama

Police Matters

Japan has some of the lowest crime statistics in the world, and more rural areas like Wakayama are among the safest in the country. Most holidaymakers have mishap-free visits to the region, but theft and other incidents do occur from time to time.

If you do fall victim to crime during your trip, are involved in an accident or even just lose your wallet or something, make sure to notify the authorities. A police station or small sub-station, called a 'koban', should never be too far away. Alternatively, flag a passing officer. They wear navy uniforms and drive around in black and white patrol cars.

In a serious emergency, the number to dial for the police is 110 (119 for an ambulance or to report a fire). Operators man the line 24 hours and can speak English and other foreign languages. Certain overseas cellphones may not be able to make emergency calls within Japan. If this is the case, borrow a phone from a passerby or have someone call for you. When you call, try to remain calm and explain the following:

1. What the problem is
2. Where you are
3. What time the incident occurred
4. Who was involved
5. What the current situation is
6. Your name, address, phone number and any other relevant information

Police Matters