When I was contacted by My Secret Wakayama asking if I could spend a few days in Wakayama city to research and do a write up of the local food and sake scene for Wakayama City tourism, I must admit I was a bit excited.
I have been to Wakayama city many times before on business and it was usually a “get in and get out” scenario, but Wakayama is famous for having excellent fish and produce (mikan, umeboshi and peaches) not to mention some fantastic sake, so this time I was looking forward to exploring some of the city’s izakayas and sake bars.
The first place I hit up was Mizu Beza. Located very close to Nankai Station (Wakayamashi) this stylish sake bar not only has a relaxing sunset view but also has some of the best sake in Wakayama. The owner Jun Takeuchi has a bit of architect and interior design experience behind him and guessing from the music playing in the bar he is an old school hip-hop fan as well.
You can easily spend an hour or two here listening to some relaxing funky tunes, sipping sake and watching the Wakayama sunset. A wooden beam from the old kura at Heiwa Shuzuo has been incorporated into the ceiling of the bar and the sake list is local and impressive with names like Heiwa (Kid), Kuroushi and Minakata.
Some great local craft beer as well from Voyager, Nagisa and you guessed it Heiwa Craft. Jun speaks a little English so you can get by without having to read or speak Japanese and he loves to have a chat about sake.
Light bar food is available and it’s quite good. The main focus is on oden but there are also some other winners on the menu – the pickled vegetables were super tasty, also a nice punchy potato salad with anchovies, but the star of the show for me was a special Kumano Pork Sausage with sancho pepper (there’s also a local Wakayama chicken sausage as well.)
Open everyday from 5pm – Mizu Beza is one place I will be stopping at again if I am back in Wakayama – Heiwa Craft beer and Kumano pork sausage followed by some amazing Wakayama sake – you can’t go wrong at Mizu Beza.
Yakitori and sake is one of my favourite combinations. Tori Q has an impressive sake list, only two from Wakayama (KID and Kuroishi) but it boasts some Japan favourites such as Kariho, Masumi, Obata, Dassai 23, Juyondai, Suigin and a few others as well. I was impressed by the yakitori here, they even let you order single sticks.
The owner, Mr. Takeshita, uses Binchotan from Tosa because it is a little cheaper than the stuff from Wakayama. The menu consists of all your standard yakitori fare plus a few extras. The glass fridge case at the counter is great for checking out what you would like grilled on a stick, expect to pay about 4000 Yen or so per person with a couple of beers and a few good sake.
No English is spoken at Tori Q and they don’t have an English menu either – but Mr. Takeshita says he often has foreign tourists in for dinner and enjoys watching the staff dancing like chickens and using body language to communicate.
This izakaya has a heavy focus on local fish (sashimi) and Wakayama vegetables with a bit of yakitori thrown in as well. There isn’t an English menu here and none of the staff speak English, but they are happy to have foreign tourists – communication may be a little difficult though.
The sashimi here is really second to none and the local vegetables that Kishuunoshizuku use makes it the place to go if you really want to experience some well prepared local Wakayama produce.
The sake list only contains Wakayama sake, which is poured to overflow not once but twice, once from the glass into the masu and then from the masu onto a plate. and local sake. It’s a busy place so definitely make a reservation if you are a group of 3 or more.
Another fantastic little izakaya that serves great sake is Naru Naru. Specialising in sashimi and Oden amongst other izakaya fare the owner Shunsuke Nakajima pours smaller servings of sake so you can try a quite a few without having to worry about falling off your chair.
Shunsuke, having lived in Melbourne Australia for a year, also speaks enough English for you to get by without reading or speaking Japanese. He has a few Wakayama sake on the menu as well as some other great labels from around Japan.
With Police, Radiohead and Oasis busting out over the speakers this is a place you could easily settle in for the night enjoy some great food accompanied by great sake.
Situated a little south of Wakayama city in Kainan is the Kuroshio market. More of a BBQ and souvenir market than an actual fish market but still it has some great stuff to offer. The market is more of a food and tourist place where you can buy loads of different seafood and cook it yourself in a huge BBQ hall. The tuna show is 3 times a day at 11:00, 12:30pm and 15:00. The market also has lots of dry goods and Wakayama specialty foods – and one of the best retail sake selections I have seen with all the local labels from Wakayama. You can get the bus from JR Station to Marina City it takes about 40 mins and costs 510 yen.
Located a few minutes walk from Daiwa Roynet and Wakayama Castle, Ramen Marui is the perfect spot for lunch, diner or that ramen fix in between. They have an English menu here and a few different ramen choices. Ramen Marui is famous for their ramen covered in Negi (spring onions) but if you are up for a bit of extra spice try their Pira Kara Ramen. Check out their website here
Seino Kintetsu Hyakkaten Wakayama
This is a great little Ramen place tucked away in the depachika (food area) of Kintetsu department store building right next to JR. They serve authentic Wakayama ramen. The place only has about 10 seats so its best to go in between meal times unless you are prepared to wait a bit. There’s no English menu but they have pictures with prices. Prices are the usual 750 yen to 1000yen or so.
You can’t go to Wakayama and not visit the castle. Built in 1585 under the instructions of the powerful warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi the castle looks out over all of Wakayama city. Old swords, spears and armour from the years of civil war are on display inside the castle and the view from the top of the main tower is pretty impressive.
Where to stay
This is a pretty big call, but I am going to say that Daiwa Roynet Hotel in Wakayama is one of the best business hotels I have ever stayed at in Japan (and I have stayed at a fair few business hotels). The service was fantastic, rooms were modern and clean and the facilities very good. Make sure you book a room that overlooks the castle – it is lit up each night until about 9.30pm.
Breakfast at the Daiwa Roynet Hotel was outstanding. Usually at a business hotel in Japan breakfast is terrible, bad scrambled eggs, mediocre coffee, pasta and mayonnaise maybe some mini croissants if you are lucky. They had everything from cereal to tofu, a station where you can make your own Udon, a chef that makes omelettes, bacon and eggs, salmon and other fish, muffins, toast, croissants and baguettes, a variety of juices, coffee that is ground to order and wait for it … because this is Wakayama … there was a selection of 6 different styles of umeboshi.
From Osaka Namba (Nankai Station)
Wakayama is not a difficult to get to as you might think. By far the easiest way is from Nankia Namba Station in Osaka. The Limited Express Southern leaves every 30 minutes, at twenty past and ten to the hour.
The first four cars of the Limited Express Southern are premium reserved seating – it’s only 510 yen more than non-reserved but it makes for a much more comfortable ride. You can get tickets for the reserved cars on the platform or alternatively you can buy them from the conductor once you are on the train.
From JR Osaka
You can also catch JR from Umeda or the Osaka Loop Line. Catch the Airport Rapid Service (every 15 minutes) and if you are going to Wakayama make sure you are in one of the last four cars. The train gets uncoupled at Hineno – the first four cars go to Kansai International Airport and the last four go to Wakyama JR station.
The buses in Wakayama are a great way to get around – there is also a good amount of English at the main bus station in front of JR Wakayama and at also tourist spots like Wakayama Castle. All of the izakayas and food places I went to (except for Kuroshio Market) are within 15 mins walk of the Daiwa Roynet Hotel. Also many hotels have bicycles that you can use for free to explore the city at your leisure.
Although this trip was paid for by Wakayama City tourism the places that I visited, the food, sake, and hotel, were all my own choice and not paid endorsements.