Shirahama – The Resort Town south of Wakayama

Shirahama is a onsen-resort town by the south coast of Wakayama. By train, it would take roughly 1hour 30min to reach from Wakayama as I don’t remember there being any express or rapid-express train for stops into the countryside, therefore the train stops at every stop until Shirahama station … and it does feel really long. Looking back on the trip made to Shirahama, I really do feel that 2 days would be a good enough time to explore this resort town, which I only had about 3/4 day then. So I couldn’t really explore this place to satisfaction having allocated some time to the Adventure Park for the children in our travelling party.

[Shirahama Walking Map]
[Shirahama Walking Map / Bus Routes]
At Shirahama, though there were 3 buses abound that could bring us to the various attractions around for about 300-400yen per pax, the waiting time is quite long for about easily 15-20mins plus. If one drove up from Wakayama, I am pretty sure that this place could be covered in a better and faster manner, with a better opportunities for good photo-shots (and less walking hahaha!).

[Taken from within the Bus while heading to Senjojiki]
[Engetsu-to Island taken from within the Bus while heading to Senjojiki]
This was the only good shot from within the bus while headed towards Senjojiki. Well … the ideal shots were to capture the sunrise or sunset within the hole of Engetsu giving some of the most beautiful pictures. For whatever reason, we decided to give that a skip and didn’t return back here after the bus passes by this location. I guess we were leg-fatigued with too much walking by the time we were done with other places.

[We are at Senjojiki now !!!]
[We are at Senjojiki now !!!]
Senjojiki sandstone was probably the best place among other locations in our 1-day trip to Shirahama. It is most unique in the way the surface layers presents itself from the consistent erosion by the waves from Pacific Ocean over time.

[ Senjojiki Sandstone layerings]
[A stream within the Sandstone formation]
[A stream within the Sandstone formation]
[A very picturesque photo of the Sandstone formation with the Ocean backdrop]
[A very picturesque photo of the Sandstone formation with the Ocean backdrop]
[Unique Layerings of Senjojiki with Jean]
[Unique Layering of Senjojiki with Jean posing in front]
Subsequently we made our way to Sandanpeki by foot that was about 3 bus stops away as there were no bus in sight. Bad call … lol. The children in our party were foot-fatigued by the up-slope march. And to access Sandanpeki, admission fees apply. Considering the condition of the party, we didn’t proceed to enter Sandanpeki Caves (located some 30+ metres below ground) as more walking was called for. So we made our way to Adventure Park instead. Maybe the animals there could attract the children and disperse away their fatigue …

[Tired but made it to Adventure Park :D]
[Tired but made it to Adventure Park :D]
First stop @ Adventure Park was food … LOL! To re-charge up.

Panda Sandwich
[Oooo… a cute Panda Sandwich that would soon be devoured]
[Do you see the Pelican on the plate ?]
[Do you see the Pelican on the plate ?]
Well … this is the real deal here below haha!

[Looking at a hungry Panda]
[Looking at a hungry Panda]
[Pandas playing after their luscious meal]
[Pandas playing after their luscious meal]
As a side-note, I probably won’t recommend the Adventure Park to would-be travellers to Shirahama. Other than the good looking pandas, the rest of the showcase was pretty standard, and some of the animals are kept in less than clean enclosures … I am sure there are better places to spend your time. Probably at Heisogen Park, taking a Glass-Bottom boat at Engetsu-to island, exploring the Marine Sports Centre where there could be opportunities to swim with the dolphins, to dive the ocean. And most of all, go for their Onsen, where Japan’s 3 oldest Hot Spring are located here, open air-bath and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. How good can it get  :)))

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Tranquility at Koyasan (Part 2)

If you ask me as a typical person if a cemetery would fall into my Must-Go places? Most likely one would get a bewildered, big eye look from me, expressing “You Gonna Be Joking ?” Not unless Buffy is my good friend hahah!

But here I am, bring my family exactly to one, not to mention that this is an ancient graveyard, but an enormous one too !!! In Mt. Koya, this graveyard is called Okunoin, wherein lies the mausoleum, the final resting place of Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), a legendary Shingon Buddhist monk who is believed to have giving aid and comfort to millions of people who prayed to him.

[Pathway leading into the forested Okunoin]
[Pathway leading into the forested Okunoin]
And even in after-death, thousands of grave lines the ancient forest from military commanders to common folks, wishing to receive salvation and his blessings in death.

Along the way into the Okunoin, one could see unique tombs, probably one of the most unique memorial designs that I have seen so far … there are other equally weird like a memorial build for a pesticide company … how weird can it go ?

[Tomb for Nissan employees]
[Memorial for Nissan employees]
[Inside the forested area where giant trees grew from both sides]
[Inside the forested area where giant trees grew from both sides]
I didn’t really captured too much photos of this otherwise beautiful environment. The trees were rather tall and shady, making the walk rather yin and cooling in Autumn, and my natural aversion of cemeteries held my fingers from the camera trigger … I didn’t really wanted to catch anything else on the digital photos where it doesn’t belong, though I did take a few photos which gives an imagery of a ancient tombs, worn-off by time, and eerily-beckoning .

[A more elaborately designed tomb]
[A more elaborately designed tomb]
[Another tomb]
[Another ancient tomb covered in green moss]
Also upon reaching the bridge (Gobyo-bashi) that leads to the inner sanctum of Kobo Dashi, photography is not allowed. Somewhere further up from this bridge there is a Miroku stone (feels more like an iron ball), where it is rumored that the purest of good heart would be able to lift effortlessly with one hand. As I look at others before me trying in vain to lift the ball … well … neither did I managed to lift it well off. It felt really heavy haha … and I would rather not get my hands caught in between the bottom and the ball!

As much as I enjoyed the tranquility of the walk in Okunoin, a part of me was glad to be finally out of the cemetery as well.

[Statues of B]
[Statues of revered monks]
[A cute Koyasan Mascot]
[A cute Koyasan Mascot]

Tranquility at Koyasan (Part 1)

At Wakayama, one of the MUST GO place is definitely Mount Koya or Koyasan. Koyasan is one of the religious location steeped in Japanese Shingon Buddhism, where there is opportunities to see many famous and majestic temples, some offering lodgings to visitors too. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. For me personally, it was one of the place that I managed to see overnight snow in Autumn, for its attitude is ~ 900m above ground!

[Koyasan is how high ?]
[How high is Koyasan above sea level?]
To get to Koyasan is not hard. If my memory serves me right, we bought our tickets from Gokurakubashi station for the Cable Car ride to Koyasan Station. From Koyasan Station, we got our 1-Day Bus Pass (Adult 800Yen, Child 400Yen) that would serve to ferry us from point-to-point within Koyasan. Believe me, you will need it. There is alot of walking to be done there even with the full-day Bus Pass available.

[Unique Cable Car to Koyasan]
[Unique Cable Car to Koyasan]
[View from inside the Cable Car]
[View from inside the Cable Car]
[Fresh mountain air brightens the spirits of Jean & me.
[Fresh mountain air brightens the spirits of Jean & me at Koyasan Station]
Our first stop here was Kongobuji Temple, the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism throughout Japan. The temple showcases work of art dating back to the early Edo period, like the one shown below of the Cranes on the sliding door. It is done in gold flakes, and in order to preserve the colors for the years to come, even flash photography is not allowed!

[Cranes on the sliding door made in gold]
[Cranes on the sliding door made in gold]
What strike me most and left the deepest impression is the Banryutei Rock Garden within Kongobuji Temple. This is also the largest rock garden in Japan with a design supposed to show a pair of dragons emerging from a sea of clouds to protect the Okuden. To be honest, I have little artistic flair to determine which of the rocks are the dragons, and which are the clouds 😀

Nevertheless, the garden emits a sense of serenity, tranquility and peace. As I walk along the corridors of the temple, I could almost feel myself at peace with nature …. It is only there and then that I could almost fathom the meaning of the state of Zen and how ancient Japanese monks achieve their enlightenment in such tranquility and quietness.

[Banryutei Rock Garden]
[Banryutei Rock Garden]
Stone Garden_3 Stone Garden 4 Stone Garden 2

Konpon Daito was among one of my last stops there. Based on brochure information, one could actually access it for 200Yen from 0830 – 1700. We were quite late, probably 5.30 to 6pm by the time we were there. So all we could do is take some photos to take back as memories of this towering pagoda that has 4 Buddhas enshrined inside.

[Konpon Daito Pagoda]
[Konpon Daito Pagoda]
Part 2 of this title should be completed in about 1-2 days time 🙂 That is where we made our 2nd stop and it’s an awesome place that deserves a piece by itself! Do follow my blog to catch it hot from the press soon !!!

Family Time Fruit Picking at Sakaguchi Noen Farm – Wakayama

Scenery from Sakaguchi Noen
[Waking up to the fresh countryside air at Wakayama fruit farm @ Sakaguchi Noen]
What can be a better family activity than picking fruits? This is absolutely something that doesn’t exist in Singapore anymore with her rapid modernization and an exceptional experience to back-to-the-basics for city-dwellers like us.

Oh … by the way, I have a word of advice here… do pick up a decent bit of Japanese before coming to Wakayama. Don’t be too surprise if the standard of English comprehension by the locals here is bad or very bad. This is afterall not the likes of metropolis-like Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto. The alternative is to have a I-device or the likes to do a quick translation for whatever you need to say and show it to the locals instead 😀

At Sakaguchi Noen farm, I guess we are a few hundred meters above sea level, maybe more. And this farm that we have chosen seems to be located on sloppy land ….hahah! At this high attitude, walking up and down the slopes take a certain toil in the breathing, probably due to the thinner level of oxygen here. But it doesn’t seem to affect the local farmers …. I guess their body must be used to these effects unlike ours 🙂

[My little girl posing on the steep slopes that seems to be all around this farm]
[My little girl posing on the steep slopes that seems to be all around this farm]
[Look at the healthy green vegetables on this farm. Kirei-des]
[Look at the healthy green vegetables on this farm. Kirei-des]
Even the vegetables here look bigger, greener and healthier than what I have ever seen in the wet markets of Singapore. Its no wonder that Japanese have one of the longest lifespan in the world, they have such luscious, greeneries grown in the high attitudes of Japan.

While the initial idea was to come here to pick persimmons, we were kind-of late in the season (Persimmon picking occurs from mid-Sep to end-Nov) with only Mikan oranges left for harvesting. I have attached the fruit-picking calendar for anyone that might like to have a try at it. It’s fun, I swear by it 😉

[Published by http://www.wakayama-kanko.or.jp, for more information on farms that are available, visit their website]
[Published by http://www.wakayama-kanko.or.jp ,also for more information on farms that are available, visit their website]
My kiddos really had great fun getting to the trees to cut the Mikans off … it is eat all you can hahaha! And there were so much Mikan trees, it is almost like hid-and-seek for each other as well LOL!

[The quest begins .... cut & eat, cut & eat, cut ....]
[The quest begins …. cut & eat, cut & eat, cut ….]
Hide n Seek
[There are two kiddos here. Besides the obvious pink girl, there is another camouflaged among the Mikans …hahaha]
[Look at the round, plump Mikans from the tree]
[Look at the round, plump Mikans from the tree]
I am almost afraid that the Mikan orange would be too sour for my liking. My fear was thoroughly unfounded. These were probably the sweetest and juiciest oranges I have tasted in my life, every single one!!!

[A Mikan for U?]
[A sweet Mikan orange for U ???]