City of Air
I’ve spent so much time running around buying housewares and staples, lugging them back to the apartment, so I thought I’d take a little break and see some more of Japan. I decided to get out of the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto metrozone and see some places just a little further afield. So I hopped on a train south to the city of Wakayama, capital of Wakayama Prefecture, on a peninsula just south of Osaka Prefecture.
Some brief history: Wakayama was founded as one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s fortresses in the 1585 as he was conquering mainland Japan. When the Tokugawa clan usurped power from the Toyotomi, they gave Wakayama to the Kishu branch of the family in 1619, and it rapidly grew into one of the largest cities in Japan during the feudal era. After the 1867 Meiji Revolution, Wakayama lost population and stature as the former samurai moved back to their ancestral homes. A sizeable but moderate city by the standards of the 20th century, it found new life as a steel town, reaching its record population of 400,000 in 1980. Since then, though, the mills have closed, and the city is slowly losing people, now around 350,000.
What a strange city…I left the environs of the train station and was struck with the uncanny sensation that no one was here. A few cars and the odd pedestrian or cyclist, but above all, silence. The roads in Wakayama are also unusually broad, with a whole lot of lanes, yet the streets hardly seem jammed. It adds to the empty space in between city blocks. I wouldn’t use the term “ghost town,” but there were areas of the city devoid of human contact.
So what are my thoughts on Wakayama?
Well, it’s definitely a city that feels like it’s emptying out, like it was originally put together for a larger populace than currently can use all the space. There are quite a few vacant storefronts, and I spent a good while searching for a place to eat lunch.
At the same time, it’s a nice place- open and quiet, compared to Osaka’s labyrinthine and unceasing commotion. Way too quiet for me, uncannily so, but nice in its own way still. The air is far fresher, and once I returned to Osaka I realized how much warmer Wakayama was, too. Maybe it’s because Osaka is perpetually in the shade of its own buildings…
A lot of the natural and historic features the city is known for are all on the periphery, so I had no chance to see them in one afternoon, only to explore the city space. I’ll have to go back I guess, maybe in the summer, and book a hotel. They do say the coastline is fantastic.