Impromptu Reporting Trip Without Reservations
※Click on the image in the text to see an enlarged image.
Author:MaruhanabachiAuthor
Maruhanabachi

Exploring the Mystical Mountains, Seas, and Skies of Wakayama!
~Impromptu Travel Journal @ Wakayama~

Hello! I'm Maruhanabachi, a housewife writer torn between curiosity and being prone to worry.

Suddenly, I have the urge to travel.
Just before a weekend that unexpectedly became free, such a desire struck me.
With my smartphone in hand, my imagination starts to flourish.
Wakayama seems like a good choice for this season. It's relatively close and offers both mountains and the sea.
Oh right, the Kumano Kodo! I've always wanted to walk along it!
The sea might be a bit challenging during this time, but the mountains would be just fine, wouldn't they?
Wait, there's even a place where I can finally experience motor paragliding, something I've been longing to try!!

I've made up my mind. I'm heading to Wakayama!
First, I need to decide which part of the Kumano Kodo to walk on.
The Kumano Kodo is a walking route that has been used since ancient times for pilgrimages to Kumano.
It links the Kumano Sanzan, which consists of three main shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha.
Although all referred to as the Kumano Kodo, there are three main routes that roughly divide the trail.

・Nakahechi Route: From Tanabe to Kumano Hongu ・Ohechi Route: From Tanabe Along the Coast to Nachi and Shingu ・Kohechi Route: From Koyasan (Mount Koya) to Kumano Hongu

Photo credit: (Public Corporation) Wakayama Tourism Federation
Photo credit: (Public Corporation) Wakayama Tourism Federation

From among them, I decided to look for a route suitable for beginners.
As a result, I came across a part of the Nakahechi route introduced on the Wakayama Tourism
Federation's Kumano Kodo website: "Daimon-zaka Parking Lot → Nachi Taisha → Seiganto-ji Temple → Nachi Waterfall → Daimon-zaka." The estimated time is about 3 hours, which seems just right.
The photos on the website are also lovely.

Since it's winter, the days are short, and I need to be back at the parking lot by 4:30 PM to catch the bus back to the city center.
This means I need to depart by no later than 1:30 PM, I realized.

I live in Aichi Prefecture. I wonder if there's a convenient transportation network from Nagoya?
Oh, there's an express bus from Meitetsu Bus Center to Shingu operated by Mie Kotsu!
However, the first bus is at 8:10 AM, and it arrives at Sanko Shingu Station at 12:44 PM. But at that time, there isn't a JR train going to Nachi Station.
Checking the schedule, the JR Kisei Main Line runs only 2 or 3 trains per hour. Express, Express, Local – it's quite straightforward.
Surprisingly, there are fewer local trains than express trains!
If I go to Nachi Station, it will be late afternoon...

I've come to realize that the transportation network in Wakayama is more challenging than I expected.
In conclusion, I'll drive there.
With a car, even if I can't find accommodation, I can sleep in the car if needed...

Day 1 Part 1: Setting Off from Home to Nachi

Now, on the day of departure, I woke up to clear skies!
It's a bit chilly, but it looks like perfect weather for a trip.
I'll get on the Isewangan Expressway and head straight for Nachi in Wakayama Prefecture.
After driving for about 2 hours, I'll take a break at Ureshino PA (Parking Area) on the Ise Expressway.
Although it's a PA, there's a shop here, which is quite nice.
Feeling like having something warm, I purchased a cheese stick (370 yen). They bake it right there, so it's piping hot!

  • Ureshino Parking Area
    Ureshino Parking Area
  • Hot and delicious cheese stick
    Hot and delicious cheese stick

Here, I'll make a phone call to inquire about the possibility of experiencing motor paragliding today.
However, unfortunately...
"The wind direction is not favorable today..."
That's what I was told. It seems that making spontaneous plans without a reservation can be quite challenging.
However, when I mentioned that I plan to stay overnight,
"In that case, tomorrow afternoon should likely be fine! The wind forecast is expected to be better."
Yay!
I've been informed to expect another update around 5:00 PM today regarding the weather forecast for tomorrow.
Considering the journey back, I hope to fly early in the afternoon.
Hence, I've decided to walk the Kumano Kodo this afternoon.
First, I'll hike through the mountains of Kumano, and then the next day, I'll see Kumano from the sky.That might be a great idea too!

From the toll-free section of the expressway, I'll take Route 42.
Once I exit onto the local roads, it starts to get crowded around Shingu.
After all, there's mostly just one main road here.
Everyday roads, logistics, and tourism all concentrate on the same road, so it's not surprising.
Wakayama Prefecture has a large area, and getting around takes time. It's safe to say that this region is relatively remote in terms of transportation.
It seems that depopulation is rapidly advancing in this area, and that might also contribute to the situation.
However, this difficulty in access might be why excessive tourist development hasn't taken place, and there could be an aspect of preserving the natural environment. It made me think that this is one of Japan's challenges as it aims to become a tourism-oriented nation.

Day 1 Part 2: Lunch at Bistro Bonheur

Now, I arrived near Nachi Station a little before noon.
I'm eager to have a delicious lunch at some nice place.
However, I'd like to save Japanese cuisine for dinner, and finding non-Japanese cuisine around here is quite challenging.
That's when I came across "Bistro Bonheur."

Originally a Japanese restaurant, maybe? Bistro Bonheur.
Originally a Japanese restaurant, maybe? Bistro Bonheur.
Tuna cutlet with tartar sauce.
Tuna cutlet with tartar sauce.

I noticed the words "Tuna Dish Lunch" written on the blackboard at the entrance of the restaurant.
Being able to have tuna at a bistro! This is something I can't miss.
As I entered the restaurant, there were about three table seats.
Perhaps because it had just passed the opening time, there were no other customers yet.
After looking at the chalkboard menu, I ordered the tuna cutlet with tartar sauce and the oven-baked tuna cheek.

First, a light vegetable consommé soup and salad arrived along with crisply toasted baguette, followed by the tuna cutlet with tartar sauce.
The fluffy tuna cutlet pairs well with the smooth tartar sauce.
The abundant steamed vegetables and pasta with tomato sauce served as side dishes are also delicious.
I've hit upon a great restaurant!

Oven-baked tuna cheek.
Oven-baked tuna cheek.

Next came the oven-baked tuna cheek, after a short interval.
It was my first time trying tuna cheek, and it had a rich flavor and succulent texture, perfectly complemented by the tomato sauce. I quickly devoured it!
Finding such a good restaurant just by stopping by is a good sign.
However, I don't have much time to linger any longer.
Before embarking on the Kumano Kodo, I want to visit the Fudarakusan-ji Temple.

Day 1 Part 3: Fudarakusan-ji Temple and Hamanomiya Shrine

Fudarakusan-ji Temple, which has witnessed many sea crossings.
Fudarakusan-ji Temple, which has witnessed many sea crossings.

Have you heard of Fudaraku-tokai (crossing the sea to the Pure Land of Fudaraku)?
As one of the acts of self-sacrifice undertaken by practitioners of the Buddhist path, individuals enter a box attached to a boat and set adrift at sea. They float with the tide, chanting sutras incessantly in the darkness, aiming to reach the pure land of Fudaraku (Kannon's Pure Land).
Similar to Sokushinbutsu, practitioners not only renounce worldly attachments but also their very lives, chanting sutras fervently with the aim of rebirth in the pure land.
In Nachi-Katsuura, there have been records of this practice occurring 20 times between 868 and 1722, a truly unimaginable feat.

And the departure point for these Fudaraku-tokai is right here.
Fudarakusan-ji Temple of Tendai not only oversees the Fudaraku-tokai but several of its chief priests have also embarked on the journey to Fudaraku.

Here, there is a monument inscribed with the names of the Fudaraku-tokai pilgrims, among which the name
Here, there is a monument inscribed with the names of the Fudaraku-tokai pilgrims, among which the name "Konkobo" is also included.

Among them, there were cases where the sea crossing didn't go as planned.
Within Nachi Bay, adjacent to Fudarakusan-ji Temple, there is an island called Konkobujima.
It's said that this is the island where Konkobo, despite setting out on a journey, returned in the flesh.
Afterward, he was placed back on a boat by the villagers and set out on the journey again...
But was this a true sea crossing?
Following this incident, the sea crossings of the chief priests of Fudarakusan-ji Temple, with one exception, were conducted as water burials.

In Yasushi Inoue's short story "Fudarakutokai-ki," he depicts the entire process of Konkobo's sea crossing.
Due to the continuation of the chief priest's sea crossings through several generations, unconsciously, people came to believe that they too would eventually undertake the sea crossing. The compelling force of this expectation made it impossible to resist or approach the sea crossing with a clear mind.
Faced with Konkobo's internal conflict regarding the fact that the sea crossing was not a self-initiated decision, and the outcome of the sea crossing, one can't help but reflect on the meaning of faith when considering the entire journey and the final living sea-crosser, Kiyomoto Shonin.

Within the grounds, a recreated Fudaraku-sen (Fudaraku crossing boat) is on display.

  • Entering this, the chief priests who embarked on the journey.
    Entering this, the chief priests who embarked on the journey.
  • It prompts contemplation on the nature of faith.
    It prompts contemplation on the nature of faith.

If you're in Nachi-Katsuura, I highly recommend visiting the Fudarakusan-ji Temple.

Adjacent to Fudarakusan-ji Temple, there's a small unmanned shrine.

Hamanomiya Shrine, situated in Nagisa no Mori.
Hamanomiya Shrine, situated in Nagisa no Mori.

This is Hamanomiya Shrine, also known as Hamanomiya-oji.
On the Kumano Kodo, there are over a hundred "Oji".
According to Kumano Hongu Taisha's website:
"The Kujuku-oji refers to a group of shrines established by Shugenja (practitioners) who guided the Kumano pilgrims during the 12th to 13th centuries.
Originally, local residents along the Kumano Kodo venerated these shrines dedicated to the local deities and designated them as 'Oji', serving as ritual sites during the Kumano pilgrimage."
In reality, there are over a hundred "Oji" shrines.
Hamanomiya-oji is situated at the junction of the Nakahechi, Ohechi, and Ise routes.
The pilgrimage along the Kumano Kodo actually begins from here.

Day 1 Part 4: Kumano Kodo and Daimon-zaka

Now, to the Kumano Kodo.
Now, to the Kumano Kodo.

Finally, let's walk the Kumano Kodo!
From the Fudarakusan-ji Temple to the Daimon-zaka Parking Lot, it takes about 10 minutes by car.
Even in winter, despite being the off-season, there are surprisingly many cars parked.
However, Wakayama is relatively warm, and there's hardly any snow, so you can fully enjoy it even in winter.
During the peak season, tourists flood in by bus, so if you want to enjoy it at a leisurely pace, an off-peak season might be better.
Before setting off, I recommend stopping by the information center adjacent to the parking lot.
The staff will provide you with a walking map and explain the route and estimated time efficiently.
Daimon-zaka Parking Lot → (20 minutes) → Seiganto-ji Temple & Nachi Taisha → (20 minutes) → Nachi Waterfall → (30 minutes) Daimon-zaka Parking Lot
Make a complete round trip, including breaks, and you should anticipate a total of about 3 hours, I was told..

This is where the Kumano Kodo diverges from the road.
This is where the Kumano Kodo diverges from the road.

Now, let's go!
From the Daimon-zaka Parking Lot, walk along the road for a while, then head towards the narrow path that leads into the mountains.
There's a stone monument there!

There are some houses along the way, as well as tea houses and souvenir shops.
After crossing a small bridge, you'll come across a torii gate. From here, you're entering the realm of the gods. Bow slightly and begin your walk.

At the starting point of the stone-paved path, you'll find the "Meoto-sugi" (Husband and Wife Cedar).

  • Finally, into the forest of the gods.
    Finally, into the forest of the gods.
  • These Meoto-sugi are 800 years old.
    These Meoto-sugi are 800 years old.

How many meters in diameter are they? There might be some odd silhouettes in the photo, but let's leave them be. It seems like walking the Kumano Kodo, a long-awaited journey, has elevated the excitement.

  • Longed-for, the stone-paved path of Daimon-zaka.
    Longed-for, the stone-paved path of Daimon-zaka.
  • Tafuke-oji remains.
    Tafuke-oji remains.
The hollow of an old camphor tree.
The hollow of an old camphor tree.

When I stepped onto the stone-paved path, I was enveloped by a truly tranquil atmosphere. Soon, I came across the "Tafuke-oji Remains".
Breathing in the phytoncides released by the cedar trees, I ascended the stone steps with determination.
Reading the plaques, it seems like all the trees are around 800 years old. Could they have been planted all at once for the pilgrimage path?
Within the row of trees, some have decayed, forming large hollows.

Each step on the stone staircase is larger than expected, so be cautious of the height differences as you climb.
Even so, while these stone-paved paths are sturdy and very beautiful, it makes one reflect on the immense effort required to maintain them. In a region where there is frequent rainfall and many typhoons, landslides must also be a common occurrence.
Although I was initially concerned about the temperature, as I continued walking, my body began to warm up. I even took off my windproof fleece and found that I could walk comfortably in just lighter clothing.
Breathing in the forest air and walking without distractions, I began to feel invigorated.
Occasionally, when passing by others, we exchange smiles and greetings.
After roughly 30 minutes, the trees began to thin, revealing the end of the stone-paved path.
From here, I'll continue walking on the asphalt road, where souvenir shops are lined up.

Day 1 Part 5: Seiganto-ji Temple

Someday, I want to buy the Natchi Black Stone inkstone.
Someday, I want to buy the Natchi Black Stone inkstone.

Among the closed souvenir shops, there was a large inkstone store.

The inkstone from Natchi is a local specialty with a very fine texture and beautiful stonework.
It's also used for black Go stones.
Inkstones made from this stone are known as top-of-the-line products. I really wanted one, but of course, they were quite expensive. Instead, I bought a small owl figurine (440 yen). It seems to have some divine blessing!

  • The stone steps continue on.
    The stone steps continue on.

After walking on flat ground for a while, the stone steps started again. Just a little further, surely just a little further!
Looking down after passing through it, I realized I'm currently at quite a high place.

  • The height is enough to make you dizzy.
    The height is enough to make you dizzy.

Finally, I arrived at Seiganto-ji Temple.
Compared to the approach path, there are many more people here because you can reach the mountaintop by bus or car.
The tranquility of the stone-paved path feels almost deceptive, as it's bustling with worshipers.
A large Chozuya (purification fountain) is set up, and it's fittingly adorned with January flowers such as nandina and daffodils.

In the Chozuya, New Year flowers are arranged.
In the Chozuya, New Year flowers are arranged.

The sound of the water, coupled with the setting, gives a refreshing feeling, as if even the soul is being cleansed.

Seiganto-ji Temple evokes a sense of nostalgia.
Seiganto-ji Temple evokes a sense of nostalgia.

Seiganto-ji Temple is believed to have originated in the 4th century, when the Indian monk Ragyo Shonin practiced asceticism at Nachi Waterfall. From the basin of the waterfall, he perceived a Kannon Bodhisattva that was approximately 24.24 centimeters in length, which he enshrined as the principal deity in a hermitage he established.
This era predates the traditionally recognized historical introduction of Buddhism to Japan.
The "introduction of Buddhism" alludes to the period during Emperor Kinmei's reign when scriptures, Buddha statues, and other related items were presented as gifts from the King of Baekje (Korea). Consequently, this marked the commencement of integrating Buddhism, the contemporary culture of the continent, as part of national policy.
However, there is a high likelihood that Buddhism, as a faith brought by immigrants, was already present before this event. It's possible that Indian monks arrived in Japan through Baekje, and the idea that they trained in the Kumano region, including Nachi Waterfall, might not be just a legend.
Let's keep these speculations in mind as we pay our respects.
The main hall, cleansed by wind and rain, is bustling with visitors and exudes liveliness, yet it also evokes a sense of fond familiarity.

Day 1 Part 6: Kumano Nachi Taisha

Now, let's head to the adjacent Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine

  • The red torii leading to the grand shrine in the sky.
    The red torii leading to the grand shrine in the sky.

For those who have already visited Seiganto-ji Temple, you can proceed directly from its precincts through the smaller torii gate to Nachi Taisha. However, backtracking a bit and passing through the grand torii gate for worship offers a different atmosphere.
After climbing the numerous stone steps, of which you might have lost count, you'll be taken aback by the surprisingly spacious precincts at the mountaintop, almost making it hard to believe you're atop a mountain.

The vividly vermilion-painted Kumano Nachi Taisha.
The vividly vermilion-painted Kumano Nachi Taisha.

The enshrined deity of Kumano Nachi Taisha is Kumano Fusumi no Okami (Izanami no Kami).
From the Heian to Kamakura periods, retired emperors, including Emperor Shirakawa, enthusiastically embarked on pilgrimages to Kumano.
This led to the popularity of the Kumano Sanzan (Three Grand Shrines) and even spread to the common people, as evidenced by the term "Kumano pilgrimage of ants." This widespread pilgrimage was influenced by the later rise of Pure Land Buddhism in society.

  • The immense shadow of the divine tree.
    The immense shadow of the divine tree.

The enshrined deity of Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Fusumi no Okami, is also considered an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara due to the concept of avatar manifestation.
Due to the nature of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who seeks to save all sentient beings, people walked the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, transcending distant mountains, to visit the Kumano Sanzan shrines.
Contemplating such thoughts, I enjoy the view from the resting place built out over the cliff.

Cloud shadows falling over the mountain range.
Cloud shadows falling over the mountain range.

Looking down at the mountain range, one can also see the distant sea.
Could the Pure Land of Fudaraku that the Fudaraku crossing boat aimed for lie beyond that sea?

Day 1 Part 7: Hiro Shrine

As I was starting to feel a bit chilly, I entered the resting area.

  • A teahouse along the path to Nachi Waterfall.
    A teahouse along the path to Nachi Waterfall.
  • A warm and sweet drink called
    A warm and sweet drink called "ame yu".

I also noticed a poster for black syrup soft-serve ice cream, but I really don't dare to try it right now.
Instead, I ordered something that would warm me up – the "ame yu" drink.
It's a sweet beverage with a hint of ginger, made using water candy. I suppose that's why it's called "ame yu." It's perfect for winter!

After a brief rest, let's head to Nachi Waterfall.

  • The three-story pagoda was surprisingly an observation deck!
    The three-story pagoda was surprisingly an observation deck!

As I descended the asphalt road, the three-story pagoda that I often saw in photos of Nachi Waterfall came into view.
In photos, this pagoda always looks stunning, but up close, its paint job had a somewhat nostalgic and cheap feel.
It oddly reminded me of facilities in old amusement parks.
Given that it appeared to be an observation deck, I entered, partly out of curiosity and partly for the thrill of it.
Once two people stepped in, the narrow elevator seemed almost full, so I aimed for the top floor, the 4th floor.

  • The view from top floor of Nachi Waterfall through the wire mesh hole.
    The view from top floor of Nachi Waterfall through the wire mesh hole.

There was a sign that read, "From the top floor, you can peek at the basin of Nachi Waterfall."
However, when I reached the 4th floor, I found a mysterious setup. There was a wire mesh to prevent falling, and you were supposed to gaze at the waterfall through the holes in the mesh. I knew it!
I'd like to report that the view from the 2nd floor was actually better. However, the waterfall was obscured by the trees.

  • The view from the 2nd floor. This way is better.
    The view from the 2nd floor. This way is better.

For those who enjoy somewhat kitschy tourist attractions, I recommend trying the three-story pagoda as well.

Now, let's continue getting closer to Nachi Waterfall.
As you descend the slope, you'll start to see the towering cedar trees and the torii of the Hiro Shrine.

  • The mystical torii of Hiro Shrine.
    The mystical torii of Hiro Shrine.
  • The cedar trees and the stone steps once again.
    The cedar trees and the stone steps once again.

How many sets of stairs will I ascend and descend just today?
The photographer stationed right in front of the waterfall told me,
"There are 133 steps here. It's aligned with the height of the waterfall, which is 133 meters."
Let's count them on the way back.
Now, let's pay a visit to Hiro Shrine, which I've finally reached.

  • Nachi Waterfall is the object of worship at Hiro Shrine.
    Nachi Waterfall is the object of worship at Hiro Shrine.

When I asked for a Go-shuin, I discovered an entrance like this.

  • Is there actually more beyond?
    Is there actually more beyond?

If I've come this far, I want to go all the way to the back! I paid 300 yen for admission, climbed up and down more stairs.
There were many intriguing things, like water divination and Mitamaishi, but I can't tell you about them all!
However, if you're visiting Nachi Waterfall, I can say without a doubt that it's a waste if you don't come this far in.

And finally, I've made it to the very back.

  • Viewing Nachi Falls up close.
    Viewing Nachi Falls up close.

The origin of Nachi Taisha can be traced back to Nachi Waterfall, a sacred place for Shugendo practitioners.
When you think about it, back when the approach path wasn't as developed as it is now, the people who practiced here were truly remarkable.
I've visited Seiganto-ji Temple and Nachi Taisha Shrine, but it was Hiro Shrine that left the biggest impression on me.
Waterfalls often become sacred places for practitioners in various locations, and from there, they often evolve into shrines and temples. You can intuitively grasp the reason for this.
The chilly air that lingers in the surroundings, the continuous sound of the waterfall, and the endless flow of abundant water – it's not a matter of logic, but an overwhelming force of nature. Humans would refer to it as a deity.

  • 133 stone steps.
    133 stone steps.

Now, it's about time to descend the mountain and return to the world of humans.
Let's start by climbing these 133 stone steps...
To distract myself, I'll count as I go. 132, 133, 134! Wait, one step too many?
Did I miscount somewhere?
For those who've done the same counting, please share your information. I'm looking forward to it!

Once I've returned to Nachi Falls Front Bus Stop, I'll walk back through the street filled with souvenir shops to Daimon-zaka.
I'm a bit curious about the many shops that aren't open. I wonder if they operate from spring to autumn.

  • Back onto the stone-paved path.
    Back onto the stone-paved path.

Once I've returned to Daimon-zaka, I should consider borrowing a walking stick from the walking stick stand.
Even if I'm wearing sneakers, which should provide good traction, the surprising height of the stone steps can strain my lower back...

  • The torii at the foot. Finally back to civilization.
    The torii at the foot. Finally back to civilization.

I've returned to the bridge with the torii gate quicker than on the way there.
With the sun starting to set, it's reassuring to spot houses.
By the time I get back to the Daimon-zaka parking lot, it will have been exactly three hours since I set out.

Walking the Kumano Kodo, I truly felt that if you're making a pilgrimage to Kumano, it's worth walking at least a bit.
The refreshing effects on the mind and body that come from walking through the mountains are apparent, but it's also the process of taking one step at a time with your own feet that makes the joy and gratitude of reaching your destination truly sink in.
Making a pilgrimage to the mountains is, in itself, a form of training and an accumulation of merit. I strongly resonate with the idea that sweating and walking on your own is important.
The path I walked this time was just a small portion of the Kumano Kodo.
As I get into the car, I think about which route to take the next time I have the opportunity.
But for now, I can definitely say I don't want to climb any more stairs today!

Day 1 Part 8: Dinner at Katsuragi and Hotel Katsuura Gyoen

When traveling, I can't miss out on the local supermarket!
When traveling, I can't miss out on the local supermarket!

As the sun sets, the darkness of the night quickly envelops everything.
Starting from Daimon-zaka, I looked for a supermarket and finally arrived at A-COOP Nachi, where I bought various things for tomorrow.

Then, I searched for a place to have dinner.
Speaking of Nachi-Katsuura, it's all about tuna. I had Western-style food for lunch, but for dinner, it had to be the classic Japanese cuisine!
So, I chose Katsuragi, a tuna restaurant run by a reserved owner.

Katsuragi gives off a vibe of being a hardcore establishment.
Katsuragi gives off a vibe of being a hardcore establishment.

Even the exterior of the shop makes you think that Goro-san from "The Solitary Gourmet" might stop by.
Yeah, this is it. This is what I'm talking about. I can't help but want to imitate it in my mind.

Appetizers unique to this region.
Appetizers unique to this region.

I hesitated while looking at the menu but decided on the chef's selection of 7 assorted tuna dishes.
First up were appetizers: spicy miso made from tuna offal and whale simmered in soy sauce.

The spicy miso had a strong kick, and the tuna offal offered a distinct texture.
The whale simmered in soy sauce evoked nostalgic flavors for me. Intriguingly, this dish was also served in school lunches back in Aichi Prefecture.
For those who drink, the lineup seems to encourage more drinking.

  • Sashimi and dishes grilled on a ceramic plate.
    Sashimi and dishes grilled on a ceramic plate.
  • Grilled salted tuna collar.
    Grilled salted tuna collar.

After the tuna cheek I had during the day, I tried the grilled salted collar of the tuna for the first time! This could become addictive.

  • Tuna cutlet with sauce.
    Tuna cutlet with sauce.
  • Three finishing dishs.
    Three finishing dishs.

For the second time today, I fully enjoyed not just the tuna cutlet, but also the mini marinated rice bowl, miso soup, and even the Shibazuke pickles.
Honestly, I never knew that tuna could be so delicious even when fried.

While enjoying the meal, I received a call from Nanki Paraglider.
They mentioned that the wind should be fine tomorrow afternoon.
The gathering time and location is at 12:30 at the mouth of the Otagawa River.
With the successful conclusion of the main event on the second day, now I need to find a place to stay.
There are a few hotels around, so there should definitely be availability somewhere.
If not, it's a night in the car! That's sure to take a toll on my back!

My lifesaver, Hotel Katsuura Gyoen.
My lifesaver, Hotel Katsuura Gyoen.

Fortunately, I was able to secure a room at Hotel Katsuura Gyoen. It's great that it's the off-season!
Katsuura Gyoen is a charming old-fashioned tourist hotel, about a 10-minute drive from Nachi Station. The room is clean and spacious.
The hot spring water is on the warm side, allowing for a leisurely soak.
However, be prepared if you decide to use the open-air bath during this season – it can be quite chilly due to the sea breeze.

Retro and cute packaging of
Retro and cute packaging of "Yakiringo."

After soaking in the bath, I spotted the "Yakiringo" (135 yen) from Hata Seika in Shingu City at A-COOP Nachi and decided to give it a try.
This one was a hit too! The custard sandwiched between the sponge cake contains diced apples.
Given its cute packaging and tasty flavor, it must have been a locally cherished treat for a long time.
Discovering such items at a local supermarket without prior information is truly enjoyable.

That night, after walking the Kumano Kodo trail and feeling tired, I closed my eyes and thought I would fall asleep immediately... or so I thought.
Secretly, I started to worry, "Will I be okay? Can I really fly? What if I panic and can't fly when the time comes..."
Thus, there I was, chicken-hearted, tossing and turning in bed with those anxious thoughts.

Day 2 Part 1: Morning Sightseeing

Morning glow at Katsuura Gyoen.
Morning glow at Katsuura Gyoen.

Though I had been pondering, I must have fallen asleep soundly, as I woke up around 6:30.
When I opened the curtains, the sea in front of the room was bathed in the colors of the morning glow.
When I travel, unless it's an extended trip, I usually opt for accommodations without meals included.
This is because I want to dine at local eateries at night, and I dislike feeling bound by breakfast schedules in the morning.

I brewed some tea and enjoyed items like Mehari-zushi purchased at A-COOP Nachi and instant pasta soup in the comfort of my room.

Specialty Mehari-zushi. The saltiness of the takana is delicious.
Specialty Mehari-zushi. The saltiness of the takana is delicious.

Hmm, but I guess the warm hotel breakfast was still better after all...
Well, there are times when I think like that.

Now, let's review today's schedule here.
Morning: Head to Kushimoto and explore the sightseeing spots along the way.
Afternoon: Motor paragliding from 12:30! Then, begin the journey back.

Other than motor paragliding, the schedule seems quite open, but let's get going regardless.
I'll check out from Katsuura Gyoen early and head south. I wonder what we'll encounter today?

Whale Town, Taiji Town

A parent whale and its calf swimming in the vast sky.
A parent whale and its calf swimming in the vast sky.

In Taiji Town, famous for its whale hunting, I encountered a large parent and child whale. Seeing them up close is truly impressive.
In 2009, the American documentary film "The Cove" presented dolphin hunting in Taiji Town in a sensationalized manner. As a result, extreme animal rights groups intruded into the private spaces of the local fishermen and even supermarkets, disrupting their daily lives.
The old sign on the shelf of whale products at Taiji Town Fishery Cooperative's supermarket that reads "Please do not take photographs without permission" is not just to prevent mischief. It conveys a silent anger.

"Michi-no-Eki Taiji". Brand new and clean!

At "Michi-no-Eki Taiji," you can enjoy a variety of dishes made from whales, a precious traditional food of this region. Their menu includes deep-fried whale cutlet, katsu, and yakiniku at their restaurant.
In Japan, whales have long been a valuable source of protein and were truly a blessing from the gods. Those involved in whale hunting risked their lives to catch whales and used every part of the animal from skin to bones, expressing gratitude for their sacrifice.
We hope to understand this culture, the respect and affection people have had for whales, and pray that this culture continues to be passed down.
By the way, in Taiji Town, you'll find adorable dolphin-shaped mailboxes!

  • Cute! Dolphin mailbox.
    Cute! Dolphin mailbox.

Southernmost Point of Honshu, Shionomisaki Cape

The scorched grassy square. What happened here?
The scorched grassy square. What happened here?

If I had more time, I was thinking of renting a bicycle at Kushimoto Station and cycling to Shionomisaki Cape!
However, the distance turned out to be longer than I had imagined, so I had to give up on that plan.
Shionomisaki Cape is the southernmost point of Honshu.
When you get here, suddenly the view opens up, and there's a magnificent grassy square...
Oh, but the grass is completely scorched!
It's pitch black, but the scorch marks look like neatly drawn lines, and it doesn't seem to be from a fire.
What could have happened here?

When I looked it up after returning home, I found out that the day before (the third Saturday of January), the annual "Southernmost Point of Honshu Fire Festival" had taken place. Oh well, I wish I had seen it!
Judging from the extent of the scorching, it must have been a very impressive fire festival.

  • A clear and refreshing view from Shionomisaki Cape on a sunny day.
    A clear and refreshing view from Shionomisaki Cape on a sunny day.
  • Reaching the southernmost point of Honshu!
    Reaching the southernmost point of Honshu!

The view from Shionomisaki Cape, the southernmost point of Honshu, is spectacular.
As it's situated on a hilltop, you can see all the way to the distant horizon.
When you look around, you can notice the horizon gently curves. It's mentioned that the motor paragliding planned for the afternoon might be conducted here, depending on the season and weather conditions.
But be cautious! The souvenir shops at Shionomisaki open at 10:30. If you arrive too early, they won't be open!

Hashigui-iwa Rock

  • Michi-no-Eki Kushimoto Hashigui-iwa.
    Michi-no-Eki Kushimoto Hashigui-iwa.
  • Neatly Arranged Hashigui-iwa Rocks.
    Neatly Arranged Hashigui-iwa Rocks.

Heading in the direction of Kii Oshima from Kushimoto, you'll find a line of over 40 rocks spanning about 850 meters. There's a legend that says Kobo Daishi and a mischievous spirit made a bet and erected these rocks overnight.
Indeed, they really do look like stakes set up for building a bridge!
According to the information board, Hashigui-iwa Rocks were formed from magma that erupted to the surface, which then was eroded by wind, rain, and waves to take on their current form.
The Michi-no-Eki "Kushimoto Hashigui-iwa" is a newly established roadside station, and it offers a rich variety of souvenirs. Make sure to check it out!

Udon and Eel at Kozagawa

Udon and Eel at Kozagawa.
Udon and Eel at Kozagawa.

An udon and eel restaurant renovated from a traditional residence, located along the Kozagawa River.
This establishment also serves as a training facility for individuals with disabilities preparing for general employment. This fact is clearly stated at the beginning of the menu, and one can feel the owner's warmth and character from this note.
The staff were extremely courteous, making the visit all the more delightful.
Inside, besides table seating, there are counter seats by the window, from which you can enjoy your meal while overlooking the clear waters of the Kozagawa River.
Since it was a cold day, I ordered the pot-cooked udon.

Heartwarming hot pot-style udon that warms the body and soul.
Heartwarming hot pot-style udon that warms the body and soul.

After being out in the cold for a while, the piping hot udon warms you up from the inside out!
Both the heart and body feel so cozy. It's a wonderful restaurant.
After finishing the meal, the staff informed us, "The Galaxy Express will be passing by soon!"
The Galaxy Express is the WEST EXPRESS Ginga.
With its deep blue body, it's a charming tourist train on the JR Kinokuni Line.

Train journeys are quite enjoyable too...
Train journeys are quite enjoyable too...

As a sightseeing train, the WEST EXPRESS Ginga slowed down a bit on the bridge over the Kozagawa River, allowing me to take a photo, even though it was a bit far away.
I felt like I got quite lucky. These thoughtful gestures really make you happy, don't they?
"Udon and Eel at Kozagawa." A restaurant you'll want to support and share with others.

Day 2 Part 2: Motor Paraglider

Now, the time has come for another main highlight of this journey!
Ah, to fly freely in the sky... Right, Doraemon?
Haven't you ever thought like that?
The age-old dream of humanity is to soar freely through the skies. And with a powered paraglider, this dream can come true!

Haven't you seen on TV where they glide through the air, overlooking the scenery of mountains and towns as if flying like a bird? Those scenes are captured from a powered paraglider. A powered paraglider is simply a regular paraglider with an engine attached.
It's an amazing vehicle that doesn't just drift with the wind, but can take off and land on flat ground and allows you to adjust your altitude and direction on your own. For this experience, I was taken care of by Nanki Paraglider.

When I arrived at the mouth of the Ota River on time, there was a small sign indicating "Paraglider Venue" on a narrow path, so I followed it.
Please be aware, as you will encounter some rather narrow sections on this path!

At the site, I was warmly greeted by the handsome Mr. Tateno and his beautiful wife. Their children were playing on the sandy beach. Such a wonderful family...
After the initial greetings, they immediately began the briefing.
I was asked several questions, including whether I experience motion sickness, if I have any piercings that need to be removed, and if I had gone diving recently.

And now, it's time for a quick knowledge corner!
After diving, engaging in sky activities such as paragliding, skydiving, boarding airplanes, or even mountain climbing are deemed inappropriate. The reason is that they can cause decompression sickness.
During scuba diving, you're subjected to the water's pressure while inhaling gas from a tank, causing not just oxygen but also nitrogen to be absorbed into your bloodstream and body tissues.
Upon returning to the surface and as time passes, the nitrogen gradually gets expelled from the body, posing no issues.
However, if there's still nitrogen in your body and you go to higher altitudes, the dissolved nitrogen can form bubbles in your blood vessels. This can cause symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, joint pain, among others.
In severe cases, treatment in a decompression chamber might be necessary.
After diving, it's advisable to wait for approximately 12 to 18 hours before engaging in any altitude activities.
So, when planning trips to places like Wakayama, Okinawa, or overseas resorts where both sky activities and diving can be enjoyed, proper scheduling becomes essential. Please remember this when arranging your activities!

Now, after confirming the necessary items, let's go over the precautions for takeoff and landing.
For the actual flight, I was tandem flying with Mr. Tateno, and each of us flew one at a time.
The total time in the air was about 15 minutes.
However, including the briefing and preparation, each flight took around 40 minutes.
Additionally, if the wind direction was unfavorable, I had to wait for it to change, so it was important to have plenty of time for the activity.
How about today's wind direction?
Surprisingly, perhaps due to my constant good deeds or the blessings from my visit to Kumano the day before, it's an exceptional condition for winter!
Great, it's time for today's main event – let's proceed!
As a bonus, on days with favorable conditions, you can ascend to altitudes of up to 400 meters, twice the usual height of 200 meters.
400 meters... that's double...

I'll convey the takeoff scene through photos taken by my companion!
First, we put on the protectors and helmets with built-in communication devices. Even though it sounds like a lot, they take care of everything, so you just let it be done to you.
If the wind direction changes, we'll wait for the wind. East wind, come on!

Starting the engine. Run towards the shore!
Starting the engine. Run towards the shore!

Mr. Tateno starts the engine and gives the signal to start running. Keep running until your body lifts off!
In the blink of an eye, I'm airborne...

  • I'm flying... I'm really flying...
    I'm flying... I'm really flying...

And I start to look smaller and smaller from the ground. At this height, it's already about 100 meters above the ground.

  • I've gone off...
    I've gone off...

From the moment we started running until my body lifted off was truly just a split second.
Without even having time to feel fear, the updraft lifted the altitude rapidly, and we ascended vigorously.
However, when we reached around 200 meters in altitude, perhaps due to the expanding view, I felt a slight panic.
At that moment, I received a radio message from Mr. Tateno,
"We're at 200 meters now. What should we do? Should we go up to 400 meters?"
Normally, in this situation, the obvious answer would be yes, but the words that came out of my mouth were as follows:
"I-I'm really scared..."
Oh, how embarrassing this is.
I'll openly admit it. I was really scared.
The scenery was amazing, but occasionally there was a sensation of gently falling, and that sensation was really frightening!
It's like the moment when you drop on a roller coaster or when an airplane hits an air pocket, a sensation that's terrifying for people who are easily scared.
And I was feeling that sensation at an altitude of a few hundred meters.
Oh, I wish I had nerves of steel.
Rarely do I resent being such a scaredy-cat this much.
Looking back, it's likely that at this point, a combination of nervousness, turbulence, cold, and motion sickness had compounded the feeling of fear.
For those who have experienced motion sickness, I strongly recommend taking motion sickness medication in advance and layering multiple pieces of clothing for warmth, not only on the upper body but also on the lower body.

In the end, I had GoPro photos taken at 200 meters.
"Okay, smile and look towards the camera!"
"Yes, let go of the bar and raise your hands in celebration!"
Mr. Tateno's clear instructions came promptly, but it's strange, my hands wouldn't let go of the bar due to fear.
Anyway, please take a look at the images. The Earth... I mean, the sea of Wakayama was so blue.

  • Kumano Forest at an altitude of 200 meters.
    Kumano Forest at an altitude of 200 meters.
  • The beautiful sea and the petrified housewife.
    The beautiful sea and the petrified housewife.

"Now, we're going to descend from here~"
When descending, for some reason, the feeling of fear isn't as strong, and I come down easily.
Finally, when landing on the ground, I face the paraglider and run a little to close it.
And so, safely and somehow, I once again set foot on the Earth. Ah, it was scary.
However, this won't convey the best scenery... What a pity.
Reluctantly, I entrust my hopes to the companion.
Please, go to 400 meters!
And so, without hesitation, the companion takes off and smoothly ascends to the world at 400 meters altitude.

Behold, everyone! This is the world at 400 meters altitude!

  • This is the world at 400 meters altitude...
    This is the world at 400 meters altitude...
  • Emerald blue seas and smiling faces.
    Emerald blue seas and smiling faces.

As expected, the difference in how the scenery looks between 200 meters and 400 meters is quite noticeable.
But still, the color of the sea in Kushimoto, it's just fantastic.
It truly has the color of a tropical southern sea, doesn't it?
Kushimoto is unique in that, while being on Honshu (Japan's main island), you can see tropical fish, making diving popular here!
Moreover, this coastline is a nesting ground for sea turtles. During their nesting season, if you're lucky, you might even spot sea turtles swimming from above. It's like a dream world, isn't it?

Though I only flew at 200 meters myself, I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
But, of course, I feel regret. Next time, I definitely want to go to 400 meters.
For that, I'll have to overcome this fear in my heart!
With this determination for revenge, I returned home...

To all those who have read this, for those who feel they're up for the challenge, I strongly encourage you to experience the wonder of motor paragliding!
By the way, if you directly book through the official website of Nanki Paraglider, you'll receive these wonderful GoPro photos as a service, so don't forget about that. (I wish I had known this earlier...)

How was the spontaneous trip to Wakayama?
With just one night and two days, it felt too short to fully enjoy everything Wakayama has to offer.
From the Kumano Kodo World Heritage site visited by travelers from all over the world, to motor paragliding that allows you to fully embrace the beauty of the sea, mountains, and sky, diving where you can see tropical fish up close despite being on the main island, and Adventure World with an impressive panda breeding program unique on a global scale—Wakayama truly brims with countless attractions.
Please consider adding Wakayama to your list of future travel destinations!

※The image of the Kumano Kodo Daimon-zaka featured at the beginning is provided by the Wakayama Tourism Federation, and the copyright belongs to the same organization.