There’s a sleepy resort town on thesouth coast of Wakayama Prefecture that comes alive each August.
At this time of year, Shirahama’s relatively temperate climate draws hordes of tourists seeking a break from the sweltering heat. Couples and families compete for space in the cute cafes, restaurants and on the sandy beach.
The town’s name translates as “white beach” and the local officials went to no small trouble to ensure they had some sand worthy of the name. After waves and typhoons washed away Shirahama’s original beach, authorities just bought a new one. They shipped in a beach-worth of white sand from Perth, Australia, and they keep it topped it up with fresh imports. If you’re wondering why they’d source the sand from a whole different hemisphere, the answer’s in the geology. Perth’s sand is a close match for Shirahama’s original beach, and experts say dumping a different type on the seashore would alter the whole ecosystem.
Each night of summer, the beach plays host to firework shows, though you’ll want to be there on August 10th for the biggest display.
Shirahama is also famous for scenic views, golf courses, fishing spots and hot springs. The seafront Sakinoyu Onsen is one of the oldest in the country and on the unofficial Three Great Hot Springs of Japan list. For more than a millenium people have enjoyed soaking in the volcanic waters with a view across the sea.
Many ryokan and hotels in the area have their own onsen with similar views of the big blue.
Shirahama’s other must-see views include Engetsu-tou, a natural arch of rock just off of the coast; Senjou-jiki, a rocky point close to the beach with a great view of the sunset; and the 50-metre-high cliffs of Sandanbeki with caves that legend says were once the secret lairs of the Kumano Pirates, a Heian Period (794-1185) band of plundering scallywags.
There are plenty of hotels in Shirahama, and a campsite, if you want to extend your day trip, but during high season they can be very expensive and are often fully booked well in advance. Instead, book a bed in nearby Wakayama City and explore Wakayama Castle and the famous Kimii-dera Temple.
[box]Ways & Means:
Shirahama is easily accessible by train from Shin-Osaka and Wakayama stations, or by bus from Wakayama JR and Shin-Kobe stations.
In Shirahama, a regular sightseeing bus stops at all the main attractions. Day passes cost ¥3,100 (¥1,780 for children). For more information, visit:
www.nanki-shirahama.com and www.wakayamakanko.com/eng/[/box]