Last Updated: Jun 25, 2023
Welcome back to yet another one of my Japan area guides. Like with all other installments, we’ll be taking a look at an oft-neglected part of the country. This time, the topic at hand will be Wakayama’s hot spring town of Shirahama. Literally meaning “White Sandy Beach,” this onsen resort has been both extremely relevant historically as well as during the modern era. Located only around 100 kilometers south of Osaka, Shirahama is a great addition to many Kansai region itineraries (especially for those of you looking to tackle some of the Kumano Kodo).
At least as far as we can tell, the first mentions of Shirahama date from as far back as a millennia ago. As I just wrote in a recent article on Oiwa Shrine though, this period of Japanese history is rather problematic for those attempting to study it. You see, the written word only really first entered Japan via the teachings of Buddhism. As a result, we don’t have many reliable references dating from before the arrival of Buddhism that aren’t mytho-history. Likely, Shirahama evolved as a hot spring escape in lockstep with the area’s rise to prominence.
While Shirahama’s historical legacy may indeed be a bit of a question mark, its time in the present-day limelight is well known. Thanks to its proximity to the city of Osaka, Shirahama has evolved to be one of the largest three onsen collectives in all of Japan (an honor that is shared with Beppu in Oita and Atami in Shizuoka). While not the most homely of hot spring towns, Shirahama’s resort vibe is really great for large groups of travelers. Also, should you happen to come during the summer holidays, you’ll get to see an amazing fireworks show too — something Osakans often make day trips for.
All things considered, while I can’t say that Shirahama is my favorite of all of the hot springs (it has too much of a “resort” energy to it to take that title), it certainly is one that is worth visiting if you are planning on exploring Wakayama. Whether before or after a trying trek along the Kumano Kodo, a trip to Shirahama will be a rejuvenating experience. Definitely consider checking it out if you ever happen to find yourself down in this bucolic part of Japan. I promise that it will be a…