Written by Pete Leong
The coastal area located in the southern part of Mie Prefecture is the southernmost point of the Ria coast that continues from the Shima Peninsula. Facing the Kumanonada Sea, this area has complex rock formations and tall, sheer cliffs created by the harsh natural environment. Onigajo, the unique shapes of the rocks formed over thousands of years by rough waves, winds and uplifted by earthquakes, is designated a "national place of scenic beauty."
One particularly famous spot in the area is "Onigajo" (Demon’s Castle). Here is a scenic spot with a spectacularly shaped rock wall that stretches for about 1.2km along the coastline. Onigajo is registered as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range." As a scenic spot in the middle of the worship route "Iseji" that connects Kumanosanzan (three sacred sites in the Kii Mountains) and Ise Jingu, Onigajo has long been popular with worshipers.
We visited the area on a beautiful hot summer day. Along the route to Onigajo, we saw several very inviting beaches with surf and lots of families having fun camping and relaxing on the shore. As we made our way towards the start of the trail from the car park, we were immediately awed by the massive sharp tip that resembled a hawk's beak formation in the rock just near the beginning of the cliff-side trail.
The entire trail along the wall is quite majestic, but the highlight of Onigajo is an area known as "Senjojiki." It is a large cave that is said to be a thousand tatami mats (senjo) in size, and the flat area forms the bottom of the cave, the towering wave-like diagonal rock wall forms the backside while the front ocean side of the cave has eroded away and left an open view out to the sea. This section of the rock wall reminds me of the massive ocean waves depicted in one of the famous old Japanese ukiyo-e paintings of Katsushika Hokusai in his "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji" series.
If you look closely, there are countless holes on the rock surface of the ceiling, like a honeycomb. This has been formed by the ocean winds carving away at the rock face over the centuries. The rock itself is made of a volcanic stone known as tuff. It’s composed of ash from volcanic eruptions and is quite soft, allowing for the winds to shape it the way it is.
In addition to Senjojiki, the scenery of interesting rock formations continues along the narrow path. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to walk the length of the promenade, although some areas of the trail are quite narrow and you may need to wait for people to pass by from the opposite direction before making your way across narrower trail sections.
Along the trail, we could see people fishing off the edges of the cliffs and we enjoyed watching the ocean waves crash up onto the rocks below. Thankfully the promenade is lined with metal railings and chains to prevent visitors from falling down the cliffs into the ocean far below. The area is pet friendly and surprisingly drone friendly also (at time of writing). Although unfortunately on the day we visited the wind was too strong to fly a drone. If the winds are too high or heavy storms are forecast, the area will be closed to visitors.
We visited during a hot sunny summer day this time, but heard that dusk is even more beautiful. It is also a superb spot for viewing the stars on a clear moonless night. Just be sure to bring your headlamps if visiting at night as there is no lighting along the path.
Once you’re finished adventuring around the Onigajo trail area, there are several shops and restaurants back by the car park at the Onigajo Center worth checking out. Just inside the entrance to the souvenir section, there is a massive firework ball on display, and the area is also famed for its dazzling fireworks performances. Take a break with a "Niihime Ice Cream." They use the citrus "Niihime," which is a specialty of Kumano City. It was a tasty, refreshing treat, just be sure to eat it quickly if visiting on a hot summer day!
There is so much to explore and great food to try around the Kumano area. But Onigajo rates high on the list of must-visit spots. Be sure to stop by and be awed by its natural beauty on your next trip around southern Mie.