WAKAYAMA

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A LAND ENCOMPASSED BY STEEPMOUNTAINS AND SWEEPING COASTLINES,
HOME TO LEGENDS AND FAITH OF OLD…

SIX KEY AREAS

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Located approximately 70 km south of Osaka in the Kinki region of Japan lies, Wakayama Prefecture, a land of beautiful ocean and mountain scenery. Here you can not only enjoy all that the local sights, hot springs, and local cuisine have to offer, you can also find a land that offers a hint a mystery in the shrines and Buddhist temples and the principles of enlightenment they espouse passed on through the ages. Stretched out over a long oblong-shaped piece of land from North to South, Wakayama Prefecture is home to six key areas – Wakayama City, Koyasan, the Kii Peninsula, Kumano, Shirahama and Kushimoto.

Wakayama City is host to a range of historic sites such as Wakayama Castle, and to the Waka-no-Ura Bay, one of the picturesque sites extolled in Japan’s oldest collection of poems, the “Manyoshu”. The port towns facing the Kii Channel, entryway to the Seto Inland Sea, are also famous spots for surf fishing, swimming beaches and other marine resorts, and also offer a taste of fresh seafood.

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Koyasan is a holy city and World Heritage Site set atop the mountains that is home to temples and historic sites densely packed into an area of an approximately 1.5 km radius. Its solemn atmosphere and beautiful natural surroundings make for an unforgettable experience. Making your way along the pilgrim trail, the Koyasan Stone Marker Path, from the towns at the foothills of the mountains to the peaks and the 117 temples on top is a true highlight. Half of those temples also offer the shukubo style of temple accommodation, where a stay offers a glimpse of traditional Japanese architecture and lets you experience the history and culture of not just Koyasan itself, but Japan as a whole. The tatami rooms, beautiful paintings on traditional sliding doors, ancient furnishings, and the traditional vegetarian temple food eaten by monks known as shojin ryori all build a sacred atmosphere that draws visitors from inside and outside Japan all year long.

The Kii Peninsula is the largest peninsula in apan, and an area that perfectly expresses the mix of ocean and mountains in Wakayama with its ample fishing grounds and beautiful coastline matched with incredible views that peek out through the mountain ranges. There are many famous spots such as the Shirasaki Coast, which is known as the Aegean Sea of the Orient for its contrast of azure ocean that stretches out to the horizon with white limestone. The Kii Peninsula was also selected as one of the top 10 regions to visit in 2018 by the guidebook Lonely Planet, used by travellers the world over.

Kumano in the southern part of the Kii Peninsula has long been considered a holy site and home to the gods, revered for its stunning and mysterious natural surrounds. The Kumano Kodo trail, designated a World Heritage Site in 2004 along with Koyasan, is a holy trail that has existed since the ancient Heian Era as a pilgrimage trail to those of faith in the three grand Kumano shrines, and is well worn by the footsteps of those in search of prayer for over 1,000 years. Here you can go trekking amidst this ancient backdrop, and this trail, which ties together the three grand shrines of the Hayatama Taisha, Hongu Taisha, and Nachi Taisha, offers a variety of terrain depending on the route you take, capturing the imaginations of visitors even to this day. The Nakahechi Route in particular is said to have been walked by retired emperors and other nobles, making it the most significant in terms of Japanese history. Accommodation can also be found along this route, together with famous hot springs such as the Kawayu, Yumine, Wataze, and Katsuura.

Shirahama is home to one of Japan’s three largest hot springs and a location long known as a site for hot springs, Shirahama Onsen, and Adventure World, a theme park based on the concept of bringing together people, animals, and nature that is loved by young and old alike.

In Kushimoto, the town at the southernmost point of Japan’s main island, the coast has been registered and designated as a marine park under the Ramsar Convention for its great coral communities. It is also popular for incredible sights such as Engetsu Island and the Sandanbeki Doukutsu Cave, and the vast rias-style coastline.

WATER, THE SOURCE OF ALL THINGS

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It is precisely because Wakayama has long been known as a land of great forests since ancient times that it is also a region of bountiful, clear waters conditioned by those very same forests. The water of Wakayama, long revered for its magnificent environment, is said to hold a mysterious power. It was the heavy rainfall over the Kii Mountain Ranges that gave birth to the forests in the depths of the mountains, and the water conditioned by those forests that then turned into grand rivers and waterfalls that have been deified since times of old.

The world of Koyasan and Kumano, both a part of the World Heritage Site listing, is a special one created by the sheer power of this water over the years, and is home to holy waters that bind together the grand natural surrounds with people, and people with their faith. A quiet walk on one of these ancient trails steeped in nature and faith is sure to be quite the experience.

Welcome to WAKAYAMA

Even simply enjoying the sights of the water that cleanses the Kii Peninsula and the natural sites its unique topography produces is sure to bring clarity to your mind. From the hot springs that burst forth from the ground, to the rivers that weave their way through the mountains, a trip to see the products of Wakayama’s bountiful water resources cannot be missed.

DEVELOPMENT OF A CYCLING PARADISE

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Wakayama is a prefecture that actively promotes tourism via bicycle, which allows tourists to travel to spots that large busses and trains cannot reach. There are many wonderful places you can visit that cater to beginners and the needs of the more advanced alike, from pottering through beautiful scenery and tourist sites, to hill climbs that promise incredible views at the tops of mountain roads.

Development of cycling roads (blue line) over some 800km is proceeding throughout all of Wakayama Prefecture, and is due for completion during the Japanese 2017 financial year. In addition to these roads, a number of other facilities such as bike racks and benches, toilet access, and cycle stations that allow cyclists to take a break or perform maintenance on their bikes, are also being created. Great care to detail has been made, with loans of air pumps and tools to make temporary repairs on offer, all with the aim of turning Wakayama into a region that can be called a new paradise for cyclists.

Accommodation catering to the needs of cyclists is said to increase along the cycling roads as well. What better way could there be to see Wakayama than going on a bike trip through the prefecture where you can come in close contact with the natural surroundings and the local culture, whilst sometimes taking a break to reward yourself with a spectacular view, and enjoying the local cuisine and seasonal produce?

Kanazawa

EXPERIENCE THE INTRICACIES OF JAPANESE CULTURE IN A TOWN LINED WITH ANTIQUE SAMURAI HOUSES

Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba

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During the Edo period, under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, Kanazawa thrived as a castle town under the exceedingly influential Kaga Domain. It was the most populated city after the three large cities of that era (Edo, Osaka and Kyoto) alongside Nagoya. The streets of Kanazawa still largely maintain their historic feel as they were fortunately spared from any American air strikes during World War II.

Despite the many attractions Kanazawa has to offer, its location on the Sea of Japan side of the country meant that international visitors seldom visited the city since many travellers tended to start their adventures from Tokyo or Osaka, on the opposite side.

However, the situation has changed, with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen in March 2015, improving access to all the major cities along the Sea of Japan side of the country. With the convenience of the city being located only an hour away from Nagano Station – the entry point to holiday resort destinations popular amongst ski-goers such as Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Highlands – Australian skiers, and other foreigners alike, have started to flock to Kanazawa for short trips during their extended stays over in Nagano.

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The wonder of Kanazawa can be described in a single sentence; it has all the beauty of historical Japan concentrated into one single place. It is a city with multiple facets of beauty – a samurai town structured around the centrally located castle; a lively town of merchants; and a town of temples to protect the area. Just merely walking through the streets of Kanazawa will give you a sense of how gorgeous the city is.

Alongside Asano River and Saigawa River, which flow through the city, are 3 historical places with well-preserved streets of old known as the Chaya Districts (tea house district). Chaya districts used to refer to red-light districts where geisha and courtesans gathered, however, nowadays it merely notates an area comprising of establishments where geisha experiences can be had. Of the three Chaya Districts, the largest and most glamorous of them all is Higashi Chaya District (East Chaya District). Delicate, lattice-roofed tea houses beautifully line the streets of the district. When night falls, it shows its other enchanting side as the lamps illuminate the streets to bring about a mysterious allure. With an array of stylish cafés and accessory shops scattered around, it can be easy to spend a whole day leisurely shopping and seeing the many sights. Some places also offer geisha experiences aimed at international tourists, which are definitely worth looking into at tourist information centres.

The sight of water flowing freely through the city is another distinctive characteristic of Kanazawa. Water is taken from the upstream flow of Saigawa River and brought down before using the inverted siphon method to funnel it up to the castle. This technology was said to be the highly advanced during its time.

Mud walls and cobblestone streets take you on a trip back in time over at Naga-machi Buke Yashiki District, where middle-class samurai of the Kaga Domain once called home. The district allows you to see how the samurai of the time once lived. A walk down through the samurai town also wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Tera-machi Temple Area, one of the many temple areas in Kanazawa. As a defensive strategy against farmers rebelling against the ruler of the time, temples were erected in the areas surrounding Saigawa River – giving rise to the birth of Tera-machi Temple Area. In a similar fashion, Utatsuyama Temple Area on the eastern side of Kanazawa Castle, and Kodatsuno Temple Area to the south-east at Kodatsuno were also constructed. Myoryuji Temple, a ninja temple famous for its numerous ninja traps, headlines the list of almost 70 temples in the Tera-machi Temple Area.

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KENROKUEN-EN – ONE OF THE THREE GREAT GARDENS OF JAPAN

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Standing proudly alongside Kairaku-en in Mito and Kouraku-en in Okayama, is Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en to make up the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Kenroku-en has rich history as a renowned daimyo tei-en (feudal lord garden) and was constructed throughout many generations of Kaga feudal lords. Located in central Kanazawa, visitors from within and outside of Japan converge on the garden to enjoy the beautiful seasonal scenery.

Kenroku-en is not a “compact style” garden like the ones which are viewable and to be enjoyed from the abbot’s quarters or temples or drawing rooms of castles. Instead, it takes full advantage of the vast area it occupies with a large pond dug into the grounds, tsukiyama (man-made hill), as well as mansions and tea houses dotted around the place. You are able to stroll around to these various attractions in this “go-around-style” garden.

Although the garden was constructed throughout many generations of feudal lords over an extended period of time, the basic vision for the garden stayed consistent all through the years. This was known as the Shinsen Shiso, or the
“Taoist Immortal Vision”. It is the idea to construct a pond to emulate an ocean with an island inside of it to symbolise the immortal island of Taoist belief. The feudal lords were said to have constructed the garden to promote longevity and timelessness.

More details about the origins of Kenroku-en can be found in English on their official website, so it is highly recommended to read up on the history before seeing it in all its glory. The carefully though-out, man-made garden offers a unique sense of charm contrasting with the beauty of Mother Nature’s creations.

HANDS-ON WITH GOLD LEAF AND KIMONO

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The increase of international visitors to Kanazawa in recent times has led to the expansion of various programs for tourists to have cultural experiences relevant to historical Japan. Whilst there are various experiences to be had all over Japan, there are some that are unique to Kanazawa. Noh experiences are one of the more unique ones. The Noh style of Kanazawa was developed from the ceremonial song and dance of the samurai Maeda clan in the Kaga Domain. The style was protected, nurtured and encouraged amongst the masses, leading to the establishment of the Kaga Hosho style. This is why Kanazawa came to be known as, “the town where Noh chants rain from the sky”.

This vast history led to the construction of the Kanazawa Noh Museum to house and display the precious Kaga Hosho Noh masks and costumes. Visitors to the museum can also partake in the actual wearing of a Noh mask during their visit.

Kanazawa is also well renowned for its Kaga Yuzen (Kaga-style dyed textiles) and gold leaf. In fact, almost all of the country’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. Experiences that allow you to don kimono made of dyed fabrics and make your own chopsticks using gold leaf are highly popular. Try out the unique experiences for yourself and take home memories to cherish.
Another spot not to be missed, is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.
It is one of the few leading ontemporary art museums in Japan and is located right
next to the Kanazawa Noh Museum, so there really is no reason not to go!

THE RABBIT HOLE OF KANAZAWA FOOD CULTURE

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Last, but certainly not least, is the deep food culture of Kanazawa. Along with the plethora of Kaga grown vegetables (Kaga yasai), Kanazawa is also known for how distinct its food culture is from the rest of Japan. The seafood found around the area is especially worth bringing to the spotlight. The location of the city on the Sea of Japan side of Japan means that it has access to a variety of seafood which cannot be obtained from the Pacific Ocean side of the country, this also leads to a unique foodie experience to be had. Of the unique produce found in Kanazawa, nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) is particularly sought after by Japanese and international tourists alike. It is a white fish with generous fatty deposits, making it utterly delectable.

Nodoguro, along with various other delicious types of seafood, can be found by visiting Omi-cho market in central Kanazawa. Locals visit the market for their grocery needs, however, a large number of tourists also drop by in order to experience life as a local and see all the marine produce on offer. The epicure in you will want to jot down this locale as a spot to check out. You can also taste local produce at one of the many izakaya (Japanese-style pub) located all around the city. Drop by the reception desk of your hotel and ask the concierge for recommendations about which izakaya to visit.

It goes without saying that Nagano provides a great central base to visit Kanazawa, however, now that the city is accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka with a single trip on the shinkansen, why not have a little visit over to Kanazawa on your next stay in one of the major cities of Japan?

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MYOKO KOGEN – Nigata

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Backcountry skiing in one of Japan’s greatest snowy regions.

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Just over the border from Nagano prefecture into neighboring Niigata prefecture is Myoko Kogen, a skiing area known for its heavy snowfalls. This area, comprised of three main skiing areas, has seen a large boom in visitors from overseas in recent years. There is the Suginohara skiing area that offers a change in elevation of over 1,100m and a skiing route up to 8,500m in length, the Akakura area comprised of the Akakura Kanko Resort Ski Area, and the Akakura Onsen Ski Area set amidst the backdrop of a hot spring town, and the Ikenotaira Hot Spring Ski Area that has seen a recent boom in park facilities and is popular to snowboarders that can be found in between.

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Another area seeing a boost in popularity spread through word-ofmouth from the overseas skiers who have visited recently is the Seki Onsen Ski Area. The course itself at the skiing area here is extremely small, but enjoys great popularity due to its easy access to backcountry skiing areas that let you ski to your heart’s content out on the powder snow.

This time, after my trip to Echigo Yuzawa, I chose to venture forth to the skiing areas in the Akakura area and to the Ikenotaira Hot Spring Ski Area. The reason for my choice was to see the longstanding Akakura Kanko Hotel on the skiing fields of the Akakura Kanko Resort Ski Area, which has recently been refurbished and affords amazing views out over the surrounding countryside.

AKAKURA IS KNOWN FOR BEING A HOT SPRING TOWN, AND HERE THE TOWNSHIP’S HISTORY ALLOWS YOU TO ENJOY DELICIOUS TRADITIONAL COUNTRYSIDE CUISINE.

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On my trip to Echigo Yuzawa and Myoko Kogen, I was joined by travel editor of the popular skiing magazine Snow Action, David Windsor.

Here, David shares a few impressions on his trip to the area.
The Niigata prefecture of Japan is such a rewarding adventure. The snow’s out of this world and makes for awesome days on the speedy Yuzawa “gelandes”, with over 12 resorts to choose from just 75 minutes from Tokyo; or smashing through pow in the trees and out the side and back country of Myoko. The adventure continues off slope with a relaxing peaceful onsen in our hotel or ryokan before hitting the boisterous bars and rowdy restaurants full of happy folk sharing their experiences and loud shouts of ‘kanpai’ over frosty beers, hot sake and an awesome array of shochu. As for the food, the adventure begins with fish, an omelette and pickled veg for breakfast; an amazing bowl of squid ink with mozzarella cheese udon noodles for lunch at “Udon-no-Fu” in Akakura Onsen; and for a super fun dinner I loved the okonomiyaki savory pancakes and yakisoba made in front of us on our table top hot plate at the “Lumber Jack” or the yakitori at “Asagao”, also in Akakura Onsen. None of that could top a magnificent 10 course kaiseki banquet at the NASPA New Otani Resort in Yuzawa. All up, Yuzawa and Myoko is a wonderfully happy, unique and cultural ski adventure that should be experienced with an open mind and a “try everything” attitude.

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The timing of my trip couldn’t have been better. Even though it was late March, the ground was thick with snow, with a further snowfall later in the night that turned the skiing fields into a heaven of powder snow by the morning. The cold was nothing like that of the harsh winter months, however, allowing me to enjoy a powder run out on the slopes. This is its facilities, most notably the newly established Aqua Terrace, were a sight to behold. Some rooms come complete with an outdoor hot spring bath, and the layout of the rooms that afford a view out over the skiing fields is the very picture of luxury. Your choice in dining ranges from French to Japanese cuisine, bakeries and more, offering a wide variety of options. The spa facilities are a hit with female guests, and you could certainly find no better hotel for a stay in Akakura. I look forward to a stay there someday, but alas my time had come to make my descent back down the mountain.

My goal for my next destination – the Ikenotaira Hot Spring Ski Area – was the tree run, an area to which entry was previously prohibited, yet opened up in response to popular demand. Heading straight for the course, I could see that the treeline in the middle of the slopes as you come down from the peak was open to entry, offering a satisfying change of pace as you ski through the trees on powder snows on just the right decline. Such easy access to sidecountry areas such as these is a true delight.

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The Ikenotaira Hot Spring Ski Area also offers easy access to backcountry areas. Heading to the peaks by lift and trekking further out allows you to enjoy amazing backcountry skiing. The backcountry of the Myoko area is comparatively low in risk, and highly recommended. I was able to visit the backcountry this time with the help of what I was here for! The Akakura Kanko Hotel itself offered a refined, elegant atmosphere befitting its reputation, and a guide from the Dancing Snow touring company, and was met with an amazing course. My run here was very fun yet not too advanced, making it the perfect choice for all who visit. Check out the local Dancing Snow touring company for more details if you’re keen to try your hand.

Of the areas in Myoko, Akakura is known for being a hot spring town, and here the township’s history allows you to enjoy delicious traditional countryside cuisine. No matter where you go, you are met with the simple yet inspiring heritage of Japanese cuisine. One recommendation is Matagi at the foothills of the Ikenotaira skiing area. While English service is not necessarily their forte, familiar fare such as ramen is on offer and a must for any who visit, offering a window to the understated tastes of traditional Japanese cuisine.

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