Nanki Katsuura Onsen
For hikers traversing the Kumano Kodo or travelers exploring the rural beauty of Wakayama Prefecture, the hot springs of Katsuura are a perfect home base for relaxation and recuperation. Located on the southeast coast of Wakayama prefecture, Katsuura Onsen is home to more than 200 hot springs that release a combined 21,000 liters of spring water every minute.
Katsuura's Inland Resort
Of the many baths, hotels and resorts that take advantage of these natural resources, Hotel Urashima is one of the finest. Cut into the side of luscious green hills on a small island off Kii-Katsuura bay, the resort operates twelve hot springs that funnel water into its many sulfur-rich baths.
Once you’ve arrived at Kii Katsuura Station via the JR Kisei Line or one of the many Kumano Kodo bus lines, you’ll need to take a brief walk through town to the port. There, the hotel’s ferry will be waiting to shuttle you across the bay and straight to the hotel lobby.
I highly recommend getting a room with a Pacific view. The expense is worth the experience of waking up to a stunning stretch of ocean and falling asleep to the soothing sound of waves crashing against the rocks below. There’s nothing quite like sipping a hot cup of complimentary ocha (green tea) in the morning against sunrise over the Pacific. But even if you can’t manage a Pacific room, there’s plenty of scenic beauty to enjoy at Urashima.
The resort’s biggest draw is by far its onsen baths. Most notably, the Boki-do open-air bath is located within a large oceanside cave. Slowly eroded over centuries, the cavern left behind allows visitors to enjoy several hot baths while gazing out on the Pacific. At the edge of the bath, bathers are a mere two feet away from the water’s edge and may even catch stray ocean spray. Boki-do is also worth a visit at dawn for its sunrise views.
Alongside Boki-do, Urashima is home to several traditional baths. They include the therapeutic waters of Taki-no-yu and You-ho-no-yu’s 33rd floor views of Katsuura Bay in the premiere Sanjokan (mountaintop lodging) wing of the hotel. While many English resources say that Urashima’s larger baths are co-ed, there’s actually a partition that splits the male and female side of the room. The sides switch between morning and evening to ensure that each visitor enjoys the full onsen experience.
Besides its onsen facilities, Urashima is home to numerous attractions for visitors. It houses what’s said to be the longest escalator in all of Japan. Called the Space Walker, it ascends 154m (505 ft) from the lobby of the hotel up Mt. Noroshi, where the luxury is located.
From the top of the escalator you can access a walking trail that passes through the resort’s small amusement park and shrine on its way to the mountain summit. The Wakayama coast is historically known for its whaling and fishing industries. Fisherman would lite signal fires at Mt. Noroshi’s peak to alert the bayside villagers of approaching whales and foreign vessels. Today, the summit still boasts 360 degree views of the bay and ocean cliffs below.
Down at sea-level, the resort has several dining and entertainment options. While a kaiseki(traditional multi-course) dinner is available, the Japanese-style buffet restaurant offers a nightly tuna carving exhibition. The hotel chef guides diners through the process of cutting maguro(Bluefin tuna) into a full platter of sashimi, which guests can then enjoy fresh.
The resort also has an arcade, fishing equipment for rent and a couple small Karaoke bars. While the English selection may be limited, you’ll be sure to find some old-school classics to belt.
Whether you’re looking for a respite from the hiking trails of the Kii Peninsula or simply a few days of leisure, Katsuura Onsen offers relaxation and some stunning Pacific views.
To get to Kii-Katsuura, it is easily accessible via limited express train from Shin-Osaka or Tennoji Station (approximately 4 hours) and train transportation is covered by Kansai WIDE Area Pass. This special panda-themed train is planned to be in service until around November 2019.
If you’re looking to reach Katsuura Onsen from the Kumano Kodo, there are a few convenient bus and train routes. If you’re coming from Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine, the Kumano Kotsu Bus will give you access to Kii-Katsuura via Shingu Station. If you’re coming from the Nachi Waterfall trails, the same bus company will bring you directly to Kii-Katsurra Station.
I’m an American journalist and editor based in Tokyo. After nearly 20 years living in Japan, I’m still discovering new and exciting places in Japan outside of Tokyo and off the beaten path, such as the ancient “Kumano Kodo" pilgrimage trails and the charming seaside fishing village, Kada.