The small fisherman's village of Kada offers a view into parts of rural Japan rarely written about in guidebooks and unlike the urban tourist traps of nearby Osaka and Kyoto. Sitting on the northwestern coast of Wakayama Prefecture, a visit to Kada is a tranquil and authentic experience that is difficult to replicate in major city hubs.
Kada – A Rich History as a Port Town
Kada has a rich history as a port town. The port is even mentioned in Kojiki, the oldest written record in Japan, dating back to 712 AD. During this time, when the capital of Japan was located in the nearby Kansai city of Nara, the town was a major trading hub. But even after the capital moved to Edo—what is now called Tokyo—Kada was an important rest stop for feudal leaders across Japan who were required to make a biannual pilgrimage to Edo under the sankin-kotai system. While Kada has long since lost its powerful position as a transportation hub, it retains this history in its quiet narrow streets.
Awashima Doll Shrine
The village’s main attraction is Awashima Shrine, which borders the ocean with its bright red lacquer façade and novel theme. The shrine is devoted entirely to dolls. Worshippers who come to Kada from all parts of Japan bring with them used dolls and figurines as offerings to the shrine. In turn, the shrine displays them proudly. In fact, the shrine is the originator of Hinamatsuri, the Girl’s Day Doll Festival, which is now a national holiday (March 3rd) celebrated across Japan.
Everything from the traditional hinamatsuri dolls to ceramic figurines of lucky cats, frogs, and tanuki (a raccoon featured frequently in Japanese folklore) can be found in Awashima Shrine’s vast collection. The dolls themselves are placed on and in the shrine buildings and across the grounds. Visitors often use the outing to Awashima Shrine as an opportunity to pray for safe childbirth and fertility health.
Nankai Novelty Train
The trip to Awashima Shrine is filled with its own charms. The best way to reach the fishing village is from Wakaymashi Station via the Nankai Kada line. Recently, Nankai unveiled its new medetai (happy) train cars on the line. A series of blue and pink ocean-themed trains with shellfish handholds and painted scale exteriors, the novelty trains will infuse your trip to Kada with a bit of kitschy fun.
Once you arrive at Kada Station, it’s best to walk through town towards Awashima Shrine and the water. You’ll have the opportunity to soak up the locale atmosphere, especially as you stroll down Awashima Kaido, a street lined with small mom and pop cafes. With a short detour you can also visit Kada Kasuga Shrine. It is a relatively modest structure, but still highlights the best in neighborhood shrine culture.
Experience Local Culture
As you reach the end of Awashima Kaido you’ll see the large torii gate that marks the entrance to Awashima Shrine. To the left of this entrance is a row of dining shacks offering the best local Kada seafood cuisine. Sakida Shoten is a great spot to try yakiokugai (grilled shellfish). The welcoming staff and locals drinking highballs and draft beer, make it quite the scene on any given afternoon.
After making your visit to the shrine don’t miss the views of Kada’s Pacific Ocean inlet, with a brief walk to the beach and pier. If you’re there around sunset you may catch locals gathering on the pier to fish. Parents, children, the elderly and teenagers biking with their fishing poles all set up along the water with tackle and bait in hand. You won’t regret making the trip out to Kada as you take in this portrait of life in a fisherman’s village with the sun setting behind the islands of the Kiisuido Straight.
Although closed off from public access, the canal can be viewed from the street, providing an elevated view. Here, you can see the whole canal and its surrounds – trees lining both sides of the canal providing a tranquil setting matching the sound of the flowing water. This is a nice hidden spot that hasn’t been discovered by tourists yet and there was no one there when I went.
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.