I know I keep repeating myself, but Wakayama Prefecture has a lot to offer.
Unfortunately most tourists don’t know about it.
Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture
The Shirahama (白浜) I want to introduce today is located in Wakayama Prefecture (map).
Shirahama is known as one of Japan’s biggest onsen resorts and is also famous for its beautiful white sand beach. It is not too far from Osaka and makes a nice day or weekend trip.
There are other attractions you can enjoy as well and I want to introduce a few of them today:
Sandanbeki: Three Step Cliffs
One thing tourists in Shirahama should visit are the Sandanbeki (三段壁) also known as “Three Step Cliffs”. They are located on the south shore of Senjojiki (scroll down for further information).
There’s an observation platform that will offer great views of the cliffs. They were used as a look-out point from which swarms of fish and passing ships were easily spotted.
The cliffs stretch over 2km from south to north and are 50-60m high. There’s also a network of caves within the cliffs. You can see the entrance to it in this photo where the cliff has a door-shaped hole.
Right next to the observation platform you’ll find the entrance to the cave. From there you’ll go down by using an elevator.
The sea cave was once used by the Kumano Suigun (navy) as a secret hiding place for ships during the Heian period.
Sandanbeki Dokutsu Cave
The entrance fee is a little bit high at 1200 yen. Opening hours are from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Enshrined within the cave is “Murodai Benzaiten” (牟婁大辯財天) who is known as the protector of the sea and guardian of shrines and temples.
Here you can see the “hole” I mentioned earlier. That’s the one you can see from the viewing platform.
The colors and shapes of the rocks inside of the cave were really impressive!
The rocks were shaped by strong waves. Those marks are some thousand years old.
After visiting the cave you can walk on top of the cliffs. You’ll find a surreal, but interesting landscape.
That’s the view after walking for a few minutes. You can see the building that is the entrance to the cave on the left.
It’s a steep way down from the cliffs, so it’s a bit dangerous, but there are signs and it’s “off limits” close to the edge of each cliff.
Senjojiki Rock Formations
A huge white rock has been gradually eaten away by the powerful waves which have broken on the coast over the years. As a result it now looks like a pile of rocks – and with that the Senjojiki rock formations were born. Stretching out into the Pacific Ocean the sandy rock dates back to the Tertiary period.
Senjojiki (千畳敷) literally means “1000 tatami mats” because that’s what the rock formations look like.
The waves are extremely strong, no wonder they continuously reshape the rocks.
There are so many things to explore there.
Hundreds of tiny holes in the rocks. Also very interesting colors.
It’s worth spending some time there and explore all of the tiny details that mother nature has created.
You don’t have to pay an entrance fee or worry about opening hours there!
Not only the waves, but also people craved something into the rocks.
It’s really a unique view. I haven’t seen anything like that in Japan before! I’ve seen similar things, but this one was certainly a new experience for me.
Shirahama’s White Sand Beach
Shirahama Beach is located in Kanayama Bay. It’s a rather small beach (640m).
In summer there are many palm trees, creating the feeling of a tropical resort. Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach and Shirahama Beach have been sister beaches since 2000.
However, it will also be extremely crowded in summer as it is promoted as a good alternative to Okinawa for people living in Kansai.
Because it’s such a small beach you can walk along it in just a few minutes. Across from the hotels there’s a small shrine.
Just keep walking along the rocky coast for a while. It’s so beautiful there and totally worth your time!
You’ll even come across a onsen for your feet (足湯) where you can relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Engetsu Island (円月島)
Just a few more minutes away from the “foot spa” is another small attraction. The official name of this tiny island (130m long, 35m wide, 25m high) is “Takashima”, but because of the full-moon-shaped sea cave in the center of the island, it is more commonly known as “Engetsu Island” (Full Moon Island). The sunsets there in winter and summer are especially beautiful.
You cannot visit the island itself as it is too small, but viewed from farther away reveals its beauty.
Engetsu Island is even featured on the manhole cover of Shirahama.
As you keep walking along the coast you’ll get closer to the small island.
The water around there has some amazing colors!
Glass Bottom Boats:
You’ll finally reach the point from where little glass bottom boats depart regularly. The tour takes about 25 minutes.
That’s the kind of view you’ll get from within the boat. You’ll also get closer to Engetsu Island.
They had this “performance” by staff members, but it wasn’t a big deal.
To be honest the glass boat tour was nothing special at all. It might be fun for little kids, but it might be disappointing for adults. It was definitely not worth the 1500 yen I paid (750 yen for children). The boats operate from 8:45 to 16:10.
Shirahama Art Museum – Museum of Tibetan Buddhism
The name “Shirahama Art Museum (白浜美術館)” is misleading as this museum houses a rare collection of statues and portraits, including icons of androgynous gods and Buddhist statues from Tibetan and esoteric sects. The entrance fee of 500 yen is ok for what it has to offer. It’s open from 8:30 to 17:00.
Kanki Jinja (Shrine):
Kanki Jinja (歓喜神社) is on the museum grounds. It is visited by many for its purported efficacy in bringing marriage and fertility.
It is one of the very few shrines with phallus / fertility symbols in Japan. Another one is in Kawasaki City (Kanagawa Prefecture) where the annual “Phallus Festival” (Kanamara Matsuri) is held.
Even the ema of the shrine are full of phallus symbols.
Other attractions in Shirahama:
As you can see Shirahama has a lot to offer.
Apart from the beautiful beach and relaxing onsen, the breath-taking scenery and the shrines, there are also museums and amusement parks.
One onsen that is outside and faces the ocean is “Saki no Yu“. When I went there I was the only one and had the whole thing for myself. It was paradise and I highly recommend it! The entrance fee of 400 yen is fair enough. Please note that it’s closed on Wednesdays.
Recently the “Nanki Shirahama Adventure World” became very popular as they had a baby panda. It was the new attraction when I visited Shirahama, but with an entrance fee of 3800 yen(!!), I decided not to go. It’s expensive, but a great location if you travel with children!
You certainly won’t get bored in Shirahama. You can try snorkeling, diving, canoeing, Indigo dyeing, pottery, rice harvesting or river prawn fishing as well!
Tourist attractions nearby:
If you plan a longer trip, you might want to know about other things to explore that are not too far away from Shirahama. Let me suggest a few things:
- Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trails
- Kumano Sanzan: Nachi Taisha, Hongu Taisha and Hayatama Taisha
- Mount Koya
- Tama – The Cat Station Master
- Shingu Castle Ruins