Wakayama Marina City
Wakayama Marina City
My day at Wakayama Marina City began with continental breakfast. Carrying pastries and coffee from the little bakery shop in the lobby of the Royal Pines Hotel, I retired to the parasol dotted lawn overlooking the outdoor pool.
About a fifteen minute bus ride from Wakayama Station, just south of Kansai International Airport on the JR train line, this "city" is built on a reclaimed island in Wakayama Bay, so it could be a port of call on a sea voyage as well. Completed in 1994, rather than a city proper, it is a resort town that offers attractions for young or old, practical or frivolous, modest or extravagant.
The marina, run by the Wakayama Marina City Yacht Club, is extensive. Docking facilities are nestled well back from the protective seawall, with slips that will accommodate up to 80-foot cruisers, and include water and waste services.
There is also a storage area, closer to the bay, for smaller boats kept on trailers, with a mechanical launcher that lifts them quickly and effortlessly from land to water.
Whether you come by sea or by land, the first attraction you will encounter is the Royal Pines Hotel. The docks of the marina make a seamless transition to the grounds behind the hotel, and the lobby doors face the ample car parking area. Accommodations run from 9,500 yen for a double room to 36,000 yen for a suite for two during the off season, or 25,000 yen to 61,500 yen at peak rates.
The hotel can accommodate large parties and special occasions with banquet halls with sea and sky decor reflecting their environment, and even the small Royal Pines Wedding Chapel.
Those with aspirations less grand can still enjoy dining at the hotel. There are two options. Shikisai is a traditional, Japanese style restaurant where, dishes are prepared for the pleasure of the eye just as much as for their taste.
Caro et Cara is an Italian restaurant with a sweeping floor space that spills into walls of glass providing a panoramic view of the harbor. Dinner at the hotel will cost between 6,000 and 12,000 yen per person.
On the other side of the island, facing onto the bay, is a less formal and more affordable option that is just as much a delight for the epicure. The fish market, Kuroshio Ichiba, shares its name with the world's second strongest ocean current. The warm Kuroshio (Black Tide) Current flows past the southern tip of Wakayama on its way north, bringing with it an abundance of ocean fare. The market is a fine place to sample the aquatic wealth.
At the entrance there is a small stage where demonstrations of tuna filleting are held at regular intervals throughout the day. Immediately after the show, the prized otoro, silky textured, raw slices from the fat-laced under side of the tuna, go on sale. Benches and tables are provided nearby so you can sit and savor them without delay.
The wide variety of fish and shellfish available from vendors along one side of the long building is just as fresh. Most of it is still swimming. When you buy seafood in the market, they will ask if you'll be taking it with you, or want it prepared for the barbecue.
On the other side of the market is the entrance to Umi Doko. Not exactly a restaurant, it is two floors of seating space, filled with picnic tables. Each has a gas-fired charcoal grill set into it. In the center of the market is a cafeteria-style service area where you can pick up barbecue packs, including vegetables or salads, or individual items ready for the grill.
Any tongs, shears, bibs, lemons, salts, or sauces you might need for a seafood feast are provided. There are selections of beef and sausages, as well, so there is something for everyone, but the seafood is of, by far, the better quality.
The fruits of the earth, on the other hand, are well represented at the farmers market right in front of Kuroshio Ichiba's main entrance. You can fill your larder or your lockers with locally grown fresh produce and you will also find artisanal products such as gluten-free soy sauce or cranberry vinegar. In both markets the prices, as well as the items on sale, vary with the seasons, but are always reasonable.
Across the street from the markets there is the Kuroshio Spa. There, the idea of a warm ocean current is translated into Japanese style hot baths overlooking the sea. The spa includes a sauna, and a small restaurant.
The largest attraction, both in scale and concept, is the brainchild of a corporate merger. A few years before the completion of Wakayama Marina City, Japan's Matsushita Electrical Industrial Company acquired the American company, MCA, which had designed the Universal Studios theme parks in California and Florida. MCA would later be resold and go on to adopt the name, Universal Studios, for itself, but in 1995 during the brief union, they created Porto Europa.
Between the markets and the hotel, the setting of a seaside Mediterranean village is reproduced in such detail, it is easy to get caught up in the illusion while strolling between restaurants, coffee, and gift shops. The park employs state of the art technology that can draw you into a universe of imagination inspired by science fiction movies or deep sea adventure, alongside a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, and cotton candy vendors.
And don't think you have to leave the dog at home! At Porto Europa there is a special area where the staff keep our best friends entertained while their humans roam the park. Basic admission is 1,400 yen and separate tickets for attractions can bought within the park. There is a variety of options for comprehensive passes.
The promenade between Porto Europa and Kuroshio Ichiba is packed with little shops that sell everything from toys and games based on themes from the amusement park to stuffed dolls and seaside memorabilia to textiles and jewelry of local artists.
On the other side of the park the Wakayama Kan provides space for vendors of more traditional crafts. There you can find lacquer ware, woodwork, and other distinctive products of the Wakayama region. Wakayama Kan also hosts a series of automated exhibits using cartoons and animated dolls to tell a brief the history of the area.
You can fill your time at Wakayama Marina City with activities that stimulate the mind and body, or amuse the the palate and intellect. Mine ended with fireworks. On selected nights throughout the year (especially during August and at New Year's Eve), Marina City puts on a rare kind of display that does not simply rely on the dazzle of individual pyrotechnics. It carefully combines them to create abstract pictures in the sky above and the water below that express a central theme and bring closure to a refreshing day.
Royal Pines Hotel, Tel 073-448-1111 Fax 073-448-1111
Other Japan Articles by Alan Wiren
'To the Stronger Spirit': Nanzenji Temple Complex, Kyoto