Why visit Wakayama (和歌山市 Wakayama-shi) City?
If you’ve read my day trip to Suwon post you’ll know I have a soft spot for quick getaways from popular city destinations. In this instance my wife and I was searching for a day trip from Osaka which we were based for this recent visit to Japan’s Kansai region.
Except for this post it’ll be a lot shorter, which is why I titled this post “A Short Day Trip to Wakayama City in Japan”.
Because in early December, the sun goes down around 4pm in southern Japan. With dusk rolling in so early it’s not too easy to take those spiffy and awesome super helpful photos you typically see on my travel posts.
Wakayama City is the capital of Wakayama prefecture. There are about 350,000 inhabitants, so yeah it’s going to be a quiet place. It’s a coastal city with the Kino River running across central Wakayama. I read there’s a nice little seaside town on the coast but will have to visit that the next time around.
On this visit I was south of the Kino River because I only had enough time to visit Wakayama Castle.
I arrived into JR Wakayama station around 1:30pm. I had planned to take my wife to a special ramen restaurant in the city. The sky was overcast already and looked a bit gloomy. This was a bit of foreshadowing as you’ll see why later.
My wife and I were determined to seek a popular ramen restaurant I read about on this CNN article. She’s an absolute Japanese ramen fanatic. And I’m out to earn some serious brownie points to impress her. It’s one of the why reasons you should visit Wakayama City if you truly love to search out popular ramen restaurants in Japan.
The Build Up
Ide Shoten is what I’m talking about. Apparently Ide Shoten became a super popular ramen joint after getting showcased on Japanese TV show. Check out the video below.
Looks amazing right!? I mean look at that those ramen noodles. And the big portions. Look at the juicy succulent sliced pork! I’d earn myself enough brownie points from my wife to screw up for a whole year!
The “Bone Headed” Traveler
That should be the title of my blog. Did you know Ide Shoten closes on Thursdays? You might’ve noticed when you took a look at that CNN article. But I didn’t. And guess what day I showed up? On a f***in’ Thursday!
But it’s alright my wife was cool about it. It’s not like it’s the last time we’ll ever visit Japan. And it’s certainly not the last time I’ll ever make stupid mistakes. Ide Shoten, I’ll be back.
“Wayfaring Soul Travel Tip #103: If you want to impress your better half with a nice restaurant be damned sure it’s open the day you plan to go”
Sarashina Honten – A Gem of a Find in Wakayama
We were getting hungry and after 30 minutes but what seems like an eternity of indecision and wandering around looking for a decent restaurant near JR Wakayama station we found Sarashina Honten.
Now I can’t pinpoint exactly what Sarashina means. So if any of you fine readers out there that can tell me what it means I’d greatly appreciate it. But I found that “honten” 本店 means main restaurant.
There’s no other info on this restaurant save for what I found during a google map area search. It’s one of those utility Japanese restaurants with plastic fake food (Shokuhin Sampuru/食品サンプル) displayed outside of the window. But there’s no vending machines where you’d put money in and punch out a ticket with your order on it.
The restaurant from the outside looked old and worn. Even the fake food samples looked faded and discolored. And no ticket menu vending machines in sight, my instincts told me one thing. Sarashina Honten is an old styled Japanese restaurant with old style charm. And my instincts were correct. Because to me, all above are good signs.
Going in we were greeted and seated by a very nice lady. She could tell we were not locals. Being a small city this is definitely the kind of restaurant where you’d see regular faces frequently the same hours and the same days.
She gave us our menus in between servicing a few other tables of what looked like the late lunch crowd. Of course there are no English menus but there are picture menus and those were helpful enough. And if needed you can always lead the waitress outside and point to the display of fake foods outside.
While waiting for our lunch I could see into the open kitchen and saw what is most likely a family run operation. There were a couple of older aunties chopping and slicing ingredients. An older gentlemen on the opposite side frying something delicious. And a younger gentleman stirring some pots and plating orders. These are the kinds of restaurants I love and if I lived in Wakayama would be one of those familiar faces.
My wife picked out Oyakodon (chicken and egg bowl) 親子丼 for 600¥ from the menu. I ordered the 900¥ Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) 豚カツ which came with a bowl of rice, miso soup and a small dish of pickled vegetables.
My wife’s food came first but I got my tonkatsu a few minutes later. My eyes nearly popped out when I saw the size of it. This tonkatsu could feed two but no way was I going to share. Good thing all the walking made me work up an appetite.
“Wayfaring Soul Travel Tip #219:
In Japan, photos on food menus may look larger than they appear.”
The actual pork was flattened so the meat was really tender. And the brown sauce on top was wonderful. The rice the miso soup, the faced sized tonkatsu for 900¥ and the friendly hard working family; I simply fell in love with this restaurant.
This is another reason you should I recommend visiting Wakayama City and it’s to eat have a meal at Sarashina Honten. But I have to add, like many restaurants in Japan smoking is allowed in Sarashin Honten, just wanted to put that out there.
After saying good bye to our friendly waitress and the entire family in the kitchen my wife and I head off in search of Wakayama Castle. It was about 2:30pm and with the overcast clouds there wasn’t much light and we were worried a little about rain.
How to Get to Wakayama Castle from JR Wakayama Station
- On Foot – The good old fashioned way of walking from JR Wakayama Station to Wakayama Castle is a short 1.6km leisure walk. We did the walk to Wakayama Castle from the train station after stopping over to have lunch at Sarashina Honten.
- On Bus – Like any other city in Japan, Wakayama has a good public bus system. You’ll find a bus stop right in front of the main entrance of JR Wakayama Station. The adult bus fare is 230¥. You can get coin change in the bus but best to carry exact change. The bus ride takes 5 minutes and stops right in front of the castle.
I’ve read reviews about Wakayama Castle elsewhere and some comments says it’s too small and perhaps not worth the trip. That it’s not that impressive or breath taking as Himeji Castle or Osaka Castle and so on.
To me that’s like saying every car is the same cause it’s got an engine and because it gets you from point A to point B.
Every castle has it’s own personality, it’s own spirit and perhaps even a soul. Even if Wakayama Castle was completely rebuilt in the 1950’s after being destroyed in WWII the grounds itself are historic.
Here’s What’s Unique About Wakayama Castle
- Entrance fee is 410¥ for adults and 200¥ for elementary and middle school students. Cheaper than Himeji Castle and Osaka Castle.
- There’s a Ninja near the ticket booth. Really there is. You can ask to take photos with him but I couldn’t at the time as he was busy with another tour group.
- There’s no huge tour groups! I mean there are visitors here and there but it’s not the same quantity as Osaka and Himeji. It’s like having an entire medieval Japanese castle to yourself.
- Outside the castle grounds is a small zoo with free entrance. It’s not a large zoo but hey, it’s free!
Okay, you got me. Maybe I’m stretching this a bit. Just go to Wakayama Castle. I think you’ll like it. There’s a nice little garden with a pond in the back that’s super popular during cherry blossom season. Inside the castle grounds are 600 cherry trees and from late March to early April they all bloom. I’ll mark my calendar for that next year.
And a few things worth mentioning. A lot of the museum displays and information are only in Japanese. After checking around I found out there are no guided tours. I guess because it’s a smaller castle there was no need to fund guided castle and grounds tours for visitors.
One thing I missed out on in Wakayama Castle is a bridge that connects two key areas. This bridge is special because it has wooden walls to conceal the lords and ladies as they moved around. I’ve seen photos of it after doing some research for this post.
I missed it because it was getting dark already around 4pm. So the next time, I’ll be sure to arrive at the castle earlier.
I’ve always said I’m a piss poor planner. But I really don’t mind missing out on points of interest. Because it gives me an excuse to go back. And that’s really the part of the reason why I don’t pre-plan my trips. I can tell you I get lost a lot. Even for me that’s fun.
Because there are lots of reasons why you should visit Wakayama City so I’ll definitely go back and discover more reasons to.