Shirahama, Japan – Onsen (hot spring) Baths, Beaches, Caves, and New Friends!

From Wakayama City, I took a train about an hour and a half south to reach Shirahama, an old onsen resort town. The name Shirahama means “white beach” in Japanese, and the 650 meter stretch, also called Shirarahama Beach, is the sister beach to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. With a population of around 20,000 people, it is still a quaint little village with some beautiful sights and a fishing town vibe.

I chose Shirahama for a couple of reasons; it seemed it was not a tourist hotspot, it had many public onsens, and it seemed to have fairly easy access to Nachi Falls, the tallest waterfall in Japan, which I was determined to see. I also found a reasonably priced hotel on the coast with an onsen in the hotel. It was within a short walk to the beach and the famous outdoor Sakinoyu Onsen that overlooks the water, so that was a bonus!

When I arrived at the hotel, a bit exhausted from the train and bus ride, plus a three hour wait until I could check in, I made my way to the building my room was in, just a bit down the road from the main building. When I walked in, I entered through the large communal kitchen and living room. It was a bit confusing and luckily I was greeted by a sweet couple who pointed me in the right direction. Once settled, I went back into the common area and met Junko and Rod. We had a nice chat, and I found out that this was her fathers home town and she spent a lot of time here growing up. She has now lived in Australia longer than she lived in Japan, as she went to study English after school and met Rod. They have two beautiful daughters who were also along for the trip. They were so sweet to invite me to join them the next morning to go to a park up on the hill known for its cherry blossoms. We had so much fun walking and taking pictures! Afterwards we visited a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the city and the beach where Junko pointed out some of her favorite spots they visited on family vacations.

After our morning adventure, Junko suggested they drop me off up the coast from the hotel so I could see some of the other sights. This was absolutely perfect! They left me at the Sandanbeki Rock Cliffs, which I later found out was also the entry to the Sandanbeki Cave. I debated if I should pay to go down, as sometimes this kind of attraction can be a bit lame, but wow, I’m so glad I did! The cave has quite a history, with the protected Sazanami Rock and its ripples thought to be thousands of years old, to the Kumano Navy Guard House which was once a secret pirate den where boats were concealed, to the Benzaiten shrine. Benzaiten is the goddess of everything that flows; water, words, speech, eloquence, and music. Such a special experience with the echoes of the waves crashing in, sealed with an onsen foot bath to relax before moving on!

After the cliffs and the cave I continued walking down the road until I came upon Senjojiki. This is Japanese for “One Thousand Tatami Mats”, which is what the flat, weathered rocks resemble. It was cool, but definitely not up to par with the cave!

By this time, I was ready for a little break, so I stopped by the hotel, changed out my bag for my backpack, my sneakers for my trainers, and carried on down the coast. This time, when I came to the beach, I took off my shoes and walked the length of the beach in the water. The cold felt good on my feet after so much walking!

Past the beach, I came upon a torii gate that led me into the peaceful Kumano Sansho Shrine. I passed through and continued until I found a long concrete jetty that took me out over the water to get my first glimpse of Engetsu Island. At certain times of the year the setting sun can be seen through the hole in the middle of the rock. I didn’t catch this, but the island is still pretty!

On my way back from the jetty, I had gotten a bit chilled from the wind. Luckily, there was a foot onsen on the way for me to sit and warm up. Once my tootsies were warm, I passed through a cute fishing area, and then on to visit the aquarium. At first the aquarium seemed like a bit of a disappointment, but it turned out to be bigger than I thought and they had some really fun sea creatures!

And to end the day perfectly, a walk back down the beach as the sun went down and a dip in the onsen at the hotel.

You’ll have to wait to see Nachi Falls as it was too cool to give it a spot at the end of a post!

See you again soon! Hugs, Michelle

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