Beyond the brochure: Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass
Whenever we think of the Kansai Region, we usually think of places like the food paradise of Osaka (大阪), cultural townscapes of Kyoto (京都), or even the historic treasure trove of Hyogo (兵庫). Unknown to many foreign tourists, the other half of this incredible region is full of undiscovered gems and spiritual sites. Welcome to the Kii Peninsula (紀伊半島 Kii Hantō)—the largest peninsula on the main Honshu island, comprising of Osaka, Nara (奈良), Wakayama (和歌山), and Mie (三重) prefectures. For this edition of Beyond the Brochure, we will be taking a look at the Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass, a highly convenient and cost-efficient 5-day tourist pass that will open doors to a very different side of Kansai. We hope that this will give you a fresh perspective on Western Japan!
This tourist pass is not your ordinary rail pass—apart from unlimited rides on JR local and limited express trains, this pass also covers unlimited rides for your journeys on private railway trains and buses along the route. Here’s a sample itinerary to kickstart your journey along the Kii Peninsula:
Day 1: Wakayama/Shirahama
We’ll be starting our trip from Kansai International Airport (KIX; 関西国際空港 Kansai Kokusai Kūkō). Within KIX itself, make your way to the JR West Ticket Office, from where you’ll be able to either buy or exchange your voucher for the Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass. Since it is a relatively short 5-day consecutive day pass, you may opt to have it activated at a later date—simply let the counter staff know your desired date of activation and he/she would make the necessary arrangements. This will be helpful if you’d like to spend the first few days of your holiday in Osaka before embarking on your whirlwind Wakayama journey!
The Kishigawa Line (貴志川線 Kishigawa-sen) of Wakayama Electric Railway (和歌山電鉄 Wakayama Dentetsu) is home to four unique trains. The “Ichigo EC” (いちご電車 Ichigo Densha) and the “UMEBOSHI” (うめ星電車 Umeboshi Densha) trains are both based on the specialty fruits of Kishi and Wakayama respectively: strawberries and plums.
(Image credit: keikosstw / CC BY-SA 2.0 & Danny Foo / Flickr)
The “OMODEN” (おもちゃ電車 Omocha Densha), or Toy Train, appeals to both the young and the young at heart by featuring a myriad of toy decorations and Gachapon (ガチャポン capsule toy) machines. Last but not least, the “TAMADEN” (たま電車 Tama Densha), or Tama Train, is a dream ride for cat-lovers everywhere. Not only is the train decked in adorable cat-inspired decor, it also houses 101 unique illustrations of Tama the Station Master—the world’s most famous cat station master—spread throughout the cabin walls.
Information on both trains above can be found here, and yes, they can all be ridden using the Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass!
Once your day in Wakayama City is complete, take one last train to Shirahama (白浜) to wind down for the night.
Day 2: Shirahama
Enjoy a relaxing hot spring soak while taking in the salty ocean breeze. (Image credit: JNTO/Shutterstock)
Zip-lock your Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass and break out your bathing suit because it’s time to unwind in Shirahama (白浜)! True to its name, Shirahama is known for its pristine white beach, which measures half a kilometre long, and a variety of other beachside resort attractions. Shirahama is filled with an abundance of hot springs, making it one of the best places to soak in an onsen complete with stunning ocean views. Some of these include Saki-no-Yu (崎の湯), a thousand-year-old onsen so close to the ocean that you may feel the misty sprays from the waves against the rocks, and Shirasuna (しらすな), a very enormous open-air bath where swimsuits are required and the whole family can bathe together.
(Image credit: Adventure World)
Another major attraction of the area is Adventure World—an amusement park, zoo, and aquarium all rolled into one. Besides being home to a broad and diverse number of animal species, Adventure World is also known for having an entire family of Giant Pandas who are the main stars of the park.
(Image credit: JR West)
Recently, Adventure World has also launched a brand new Panda Kuroshio Smile Train (パンダくろしお Smileアドベンチャートレイン Panda kuroshio Smile adobenchātorein) series in collaboration with JR West. Decked from front to end in various panda and animal decals, this train is sure to bring a smile to the faces of any animal lover! This train will be running along the Kuroshio Line at different times every day, so go on ahead to the Panda Kuroshio website to find out more!
Day 3: Kumano
The Seigantoji Pagoda, like a scene straight out of a movie (Image credit: Shutterstock)
Next, we will be heading over to the Kumano (熊野) area of Wakayama Prefecture, which is host to many religious sites and shrines. Take a train from Shirahama Station (白浜駅) over to Kii-Katsuura Station (紀伊勝浦駅) before boarding the Kumano Kotsu Bus bound for Nachisan (那智山) bus stop. The bus ride is half an hour long and is covered by your handy Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass.
Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) is one of the main destinations for pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) Pilgrimage, and this grand landmark is designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. Nestled deep in the valleys of the Kumano region, the shrine is also blessed with the majestic Nachi Waterfall (那智滝 Nachi no Taki) as a backdrop. At 133m high, the Nachi no Taki is the tallest single waterfall in Japan and is very popularly photographed with the Seigantoji Pagoda (青岸渡寺 Seiganto-ji) in the foreground, making for a strikingly mystic image.
If we were to travel to our next destination from Kii-Katsuura Station to Taki Station (多気駅) by conventional JR lines alone, it will be necessary to change trains at Shingu Station on the Kisei Line before boarding a train that would take 3 hours to get to Taki Station. Including the time spent in transit, this journey would take at least 5 long hours to complete! But we have good news for you—there is a less painful way to get there.
The Limited Express Wide View Nanki (ワイドビュー南紀) is a special limited express train that starts at Kii-Katsuura Station and ends in Nagoya City (名古屋市 Nagoya-shi) in Aichi Prefecture (愛知県 Aichi-ken). If you hop on this train at Kii-Katsuura Station, your total travel time to Taki Station will be cut down to a little under 2.5 hours! What’s more, you’ll be in for an extra-scenic ride thanks to the wider windows that are better for photography and sightseeing. Here’s the only catch: there are only three trains that depart from Kii-Katsuura Station daily, at 8:55am, 12:24pm and 5:11pm. Do pay special attention to these timings while planning your itinerary for the day—it wouldn’t be fun to miss these trains.
Day 4: Ise
The Ise region, otherwise known as the Ise-Shima (伊勢志摩) region, is an area in Mie Prefecture that is known as the home of the Ise Grand Shrine (伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū). To get there from Taki Station, take a 20-minute train to Iseshi Station (伊勢市駅). Ise Grand Shrine is split into two main buildings, with the Outer Shrine (外宮 Gekū) being a short 10-minute walk from Iseshi Station, while the Inner Shrine (内宮 Naikū) is a 20-minute bus ride away.
The Ise Grand Shrine is one of the most important Shinto shrines in the history of Japan, as it is said to be where the Sun Goddess Amaterasu (天照) dwells. The Outer and Inner Shrine buildings themselves are constructed with a very clean, unique woodwork style, and have to be completely rebuilt every twenty years. While entry is strictly forbidden to the public, we are allowed to come close enough to admire the architecture.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)
The traditional approach, or path, that brings visitors to the Inner Shrine is rather famous as well. This stretch of road leading up to the Inner Shrine is called Oharaimachi (おはらい町), a kilometre-long district of traditional Edo-style shophouses selling food and products tailored to visitors and pilgrims to the shrines. At the main entrance of the Inner Shrine is the Uji Bridge (宇治橋 Uji-bashi), a 100m-long wooden bridge that is a beautiful landmark in its own right. While the shrine grounds may appear austere in comparison to more grandiose places like Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, it’s undeniable that this venerable sanctuary exudes a noble and quiet charm.
Day 5: Nagoya
To complete a full train journey along the entirety of the Kii Peninsula coastline, we will be bookending this trip with Nagoya. Take either the Mie Rapid train or Limited Express Nanki from Taki Station to Nagoya Station (名古屋駅).
(Image credit: annintofu / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city, though it is more well known for its industrialisation and transport industries than for its tourism. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of sights and activities to be enjoyed in this well-connected city. A must-visit for train lovers, the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park (リニア・鉄道館 Rinia Tetsudōkan) is the train museum owned and operated by Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central), where you can learn about the plethora of trains and Shinkansen all across Japan, and also get a firsthand peek at the up-and-coming Maglev train that can travel three times faster than a conventional Shinkansen. Besides this, there are multiple Toyota car museums and factory tours scattered across Nagoya, and several theme park attractions like Legoland Japan and Nagashima Spaland as well.
How much do you save?
Information based on Hyperdia
Total cost: ¥20,300
- Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass (5 Days) price: ¥11,210
= Savings: ¥9,090!
The Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass is a very cost-effective way of exploring the regions described above, and can even do so much more besides that! It can also cover a side trip to Nara if you’d prefer going there instead of Nagoya, and complete a full circle back to Osaka City. The rail pass can also be used to rent bicycles from Ekirin stores at Wakayama and Shirahama stations for free, which would make for a leisurely sightseeing trip along the scenic routes at those locations!
The Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass is available for purchase online and at selected overseas travel counters, including the JTB Rail Pass Counter available at JAPAN RAIL CAFE. If you’ve ordered a Mobal SIM Card online, you can choose to collect your SIM card at JAPAN RAIL CAFE before heading to Kansai! Read more about how JR West, the major railway company operating trains around Kansai region, is taking countermeasures against the spread of the novel coronavirus here (link). Learn more about how JR West is taking countermeasures against the spread of the novel coronavirus with its train operations around the Kansai Region.
JAPAN RAIL CAFE
Address: 5 Wallich St, #01-20, Singapore 078883
Opening hours: 11am–8pm (daily)
(JTB Rail Pass Counter and Travel Communicators' Desk are temporarily closed due to Phase 2 measures)
Header image credit: JR Times / Afiq