Nachikatsuura is a small town located at the southern end of the Kii Peninsula, a large and mountainous region home to remote hamlets and sleepy coastal fishing towns. Despite being sandwiched between, and only a few hours away from, the busy metropolises of Osaka and Nagoya, this beautiful and rugged area remains relatively undiscovered by foreign visitors. Nachikatsuura is perhaps best known as the home of Kumano Nachi Taisha. It is one of the three famous Kumano shrines linked by the ancient trails of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, a listed UNESCO world heritage site. The shrine complex sits halfway up a mountain, and the magnificent sight of its red three-story pagoda framed by the Nachi Waterfall in the background is one of Japan’s finest and most iconic views.
For nature lovers the Nachikatsuura area offers many other attractions. Nachi Beach, or Blue Beach as it is sometimes called, is a wonderful stretch of sandy beach with beautiful clear water perfect for swimming, and is popular with both locals and visitors alike during the summer months. The beach is conveniently located right next to JR Nachi Station on the Kinokuni Line, and beachside facilities include showers, toilets, and lockers.
While public transport on the Kii Peninsula is fairly good for such a remote region, there is no doubt that renting a car allows you to fully explore the area more easily. So if you rent a car be sure to explore the rugged coastline of Nachikatsuura. A whole host of secret coves, hidden beaches, and spectacular sea cliffs lie waiting to be discovered, and there are plenty of stunning coastal views around every corner. For those without their own transport, the JR Kinokuni Line straddles close to the coastline, so everyone can enjoy their own seaside adventure.
About an hour’s drive or bus ride inland from Nachikatsuura are the terraced rice fields of Irokawa. This village retains a rustic charm and the sense that nothing much has changed here for hundreds of years. In rural areas such as this, the economy and way of life revolve around small-scale agriculture, and this can be best appreciated by strolling through the picturesque rice fields which are dotted around the village. The fields change depending on the season; visit in summer to see the green fields shimmering in the breeze, or early autumn for the short but busy harvest season.
The mountainous interior of the Kii Peninsula is full of cascading waterfalls, and just north of Irokawa you can find the splendid Sennin Falls. This secretive waterfall can be reached by a 45 minute hike from the village along a winding trail through pristine forest, and is well worth the effort it takes to get there.
After a busy day of exploring there is no better way to unwind than by taking a soak in a hot spring bath, and the Kii Peninsula is richly blessed with many fantastic onsen. The Katsuura Onsen area is a popular hot spring resort and has many baths to choose from including Nakanoshima Ryokan with its wonderful open-air baths next to the ocean, and there are countless others up and down the coast.