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Shirahama Sandanbeki Cliffs

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Visiting amazing Shirahama Sandanbeki Cliffs

Published by Grgo Petrov — 3 years ago


Here comes the story and photos of visiting one of the most beautiful sightseeing and landscapes in Japan - Shirahama and its cliffs. I promised to deliver you special article regarding our trip to this amazing and breathtaking place. It happened on the Day 15 in the afternoon after a bike tour.

I have to say that there are more places with the same name in Japan and up to writing this article it kept confusing me as a week later with the Lions Youth Camp we visited again Shirahama but the Shirahama White Beach located near. I had no idea about that back on the Day 15.

By the way, this whole area and the name of Shirahama are one of the most famous places in Japan as well as one of the most beautiful ones.

Getting to Shirahama by car

We planned to go there after having lunch in the afternoon and were also accompanied by one friend of host family who spoke English. They asked her if she can come as my host dad spoke a little English and that way the trip can be then much interesting. And that was a huge help as you are going to see (or read the article of Day 15). She also showed me a little photo album with the pictures of the paintings of one of the Japanese places (I am pretty sure it was one of those we had already visited or in the region) sketched and illustrated by the European travellers a hundred years ago.

I sat in the car on the left seat, dad Tetsuya-san was driving on the right and our friend behind. The trip was not that long, I think less than an hour on the highway and at first I had no idea whether we were going to the north or to the south. This place was apparently in south of Gobo. During the trip we were talking a bit of Japanese design and architect compared to one in Europe and in general differences between these two cultures.

The landscape again was pretty much the same like on the rest of the trips. The highway would go around the hills, through the valleys and with many tunnels. Again, you can see how they create and build the settlements in the valleys surrounded with mountains. And all of that without the orange roofs typical for the west.

Being close to our destination we passed by another greater town in the area called Tanabe. I remember seeing it once we did a circle around the bay. Yes, the city is situated in Tanabe bay where the coastline is pretty crowded with several smaller island around. This city is the second biggest in Wakayama Prefecture with the population of about 80 000. I remember it looked much bigger to me from the distance.

We were approaching now Shirahama (according to our GPS) and I noticed we started climbing a bit up the hills and the scenery was now only about greenery. Lots of forest around and one more town in the valley where we had to go through. The road started climbing again uphills and I was really curious what this was all about. At few points from the hills and mountains you could see the ocean being a hundred or two hundred meters below us. That was fantastic.

Welcome to Shirahama Park

The landscape around me reminded me a lot of the one from the Jurassic park! The forest and the trees looked a bit tropical and at some places I saw the huge fence or walls. We searched for the parking lot along the road and found one not far away from the entrance.

I was excited to see what dad Tetsuya-san had planned us to see and started following them. We reached the entrance and step into about 500 meters long street that led to the cliffs. It was full of little stores selling tons of souvenirs but also good food. There was plenty of diverse ice creams, hot dogs and hamburgers calling the visitors to buy them. We bought an ice cream on our way back to the car later as it was too hot.. and they were so attractive.


At the end of the street we found ourselves on a little circular square and had a few possibilities to continue further. But all we wanted at the moment is to go forth to the edge and have a view over the ocean. As you can see above on the photograph there is a wooden fence that goes as far as possible to the edge of the cliffs until it becomes really dangerous. Luckily, they said there was no danger of the cliffs collapsing down into the ocean. I was thinking about it a bit and thought it would not be nice indeed if it. And here is why.

The astonishing scenery of Sandanbeki and its story


Once we reached the wooden fence all my eyes saw were the huge waves hitting the cliffs and almost reaching us above. These were enormous cliffs and the height was from 25 up to 50 meters close to us. You can see the house on the other side and compare it (scroll down for the pictures of the moment when the wave hit the rocks).

The name of the place we were currently at is called Sandanbeki which means Three Step Cliffs. I think the coastline is about 1. 5-2 kilometres long and with many caves within. Actually, on one of the photographs you might notice one entrance into the caves we were going to visit within 10-15 minutes. I tried to document everything around me as I have never been to such a place before with such giant waves. Speaking of the cliffs and the height I stood only at one place where the cliffs much higher than here and it was in Croatia where the maximum height of the cliffs above the sea level was around 160 meters. The sea there was pretty calm though.


The weather turned cloudy and here one could see the power of the ocean. I was observing the waves and far to the horizon and compared it with the ships travelling on. The ocean was moving so fast and the waves that were being produced would probably break you and make you drown quickly. I was thinking about my possibilities to survive in the case I fell down (hoped not to be so stupid). In conclusion, even if I was 200 meters away from the cliffs the sea currents would either drag me quickly further around the coast or to the open Ocean (then I would probably get overrun by some Japanese or Chinese vessels) or most likely the tide and waves would bring me to the cliffs within half a minute where even not dying when being thrown at the cliffs at a great speed I would probably get drowned after the waves starts returning back and sucking everything beneath the surface.


Papa Tetsuya-san thinking about life.

They told me we were going to go to the other side. As I forgot to describe beneath our platform or viewpoint there was a vegetation, some bushes and trees that grew on the rocks and around. The much higher cliffs were to the left of us and had vegetation too. To our right side was a little narrow bay but a deadly one if you fell in. There one could have also observed how the waves were coming and leaving. I had fun trying to follow some waves and guess how big are they going to be. I think everyone around me was feeling happy too when we would notice 'the big one' and then the water-like fireworks happened! All in all, this was just like some of the Jurassic park movies or those about shipwreck and pirates. Pirates? Yes!


Notice the people up there in the corner to compare it it with nature.

There are also stories and legends about the pirates hiding themselves here in the caves centuries ago. The two groups of them are Tagamaru and Kumanosuigun pirates who were hiding their ships in the bays of the cliffs and built the shelters and homes within the cave systems. These are not just pure stories and tales from the folk tradition as you are going to find out soon. And do not forget the cave that can be visible somewhere on the photo. If you cannot find it that is good as the pirates used them to hide from the unwanted eyes.

Going below the ground and visiting the pirate caves... and pirates


Time to visit the caves and their secrets below us! And the old guys pirates. Who does not like pirates and stories about them?! The only better thing is to go, visit and walk around the places they had been inhabiting in the past.

We returned back and then entered the huge building you saw up on the photographs. After finding the entrance we went to buy the tickets for the caves and exhibition there. In the welcoming hall I saw many ship models and what was even more attractive to me - old samurai and Japanese navy armours. I will tell more of them (and photos) once we get back on the surface.

There was an elevator that went up to 2 floors below our level which means up to 30 meters. We went down and the elevator's doors opened.

Now this looked very interesting! We found ourselves in some bigger cave that used to be like a hall. There was a boat with several figures on it. As you can see on the picture the guys were wearing relatively light armour with a dress beneath, and long sticks for hunting, there were also some blades and the samurai-like sword. On their heads they had those triangle-like hats which is from the Western perspective pretty Eastern Asian looking. In front of the boat were some other figures with heavy armoury, probably pirates and samurais, and you could put your head on their neck to take pictures. I wanted to do this but there was already one bigger group or a family / friends before us, some Americans, and it would take too much time waiting for them.

We made of course a tour around the whole place and checked everything they had. There are certainly two more things that remained in my memory as something totally awesome and like living the scenes from the adventure films.


Firstly, we headed into one hallway of caves to our left side. The ground was at some points pretty wet and I was careful not to be caught off guard and surprised by falling on my ass if the things get slippery. The thing was, one part of the ground we walked on were the old rocks and the wooden planks. But since it is almost all the time wet there you had to be careful. On our way to desired destination, and that was pretty cool and a thing you cannot feel and no photographs or videos helps unless you stay there, we saw a few more exhibited figures, artefacts and parts of the boats of the pirates and some captains.


I am sorry for the bad quality and that some are unsharpened, it was difficult there as it was in the dark... and my camera is not the best.

I have to admit that when I saw the armour on the first photograph above I immediately thought of the Lord of the Rings and some mixture between the golden Elvish armour for the chest and the helmets from Isengard. Instead of Saruman's white hand there was this red colour.

You can also notice the weapons behind the armour. All of that is pretty interesting if you are this kind of a person. I might mention another story from Croatia that I was reminded of when listening to the tales behind the caves. In Croatia in the area of the town Omiš in Dalmatia it was also the place well known for the pirates of Omiš. They had there a bay and some caves and caused lots of problems to our neighbours from Venice. Long time ago.

And now comes one of the unique experience no camera or video on TV in front of you can describe and make you really feel it, experience what it is like.

Experiencing the real simulation of the ocean waves hitting the ship

After reaching the end of the hallway the "ceiling" above us became now really close to our heads and I had to be especially careful if I did not want to hit something. I think it would hurt me more than the caves.

There were two more short hallways that went into a circle (as I found out later) but one in the middle of them was leading to the big entrance of the huge cave or actually the opening in the cliffs. As soon as we left the pirates 2 minutes earlier and started approaching this open area one could hear more and more the sound of the ocean and the smell of the salt in the air.

Then we reached something that I would describe as "a rock balcony of the ship". We were now staring onto the other side of this huge-cave passage that must have been around 6-7 meters high. In front of us there was the opening of our smaller cave we just came from and to each of my sides was then the rock climbing up 2-3 meters and then merging with the top of the greater cave.

Below us was the ocean water going inside the cave and out. We were not able to see the end of the cave as it probably goes 10-20 meters more inside the cliffs around the corner, who knows... but I can remember that the water was about 3-4 meters below us. The only thing that was protecting us from falling down was the improvised fence sculpted from the rock there and it was sculpted in the form of the ship's balcony of the captains quarters behind.

And here comes the finale!

While observing the place before my eyes and smelling the salt in the air suddenly the whole room darkened. As if something just closed the entrance of the cave outside. I got confused for a second.

And in the next one I started running behind. This something that closed the opening of the cave was the huge wave approaching. If I stayed there at the balcony I would have surely gotten totally wet. We tried to cover 2-3 meters behind but the water still reached us after the wave passed by and blasted the rocks. That was an awesome thing! I could not leave the cave without recording this so we waited 2 minutes more until the next "darkening" and "the end of the world". I then ran just a bit behind but my camera got some drops on it. You will also see the video, just be a bit patient.

Shrine in the underground


We came back the same way, went through the hall with the elevator (those Americans were still there taking pictures of themselves disguised as the samurais and pirates). We entered another "room" after walking through a short hallway and this was now a bit different and not that wet as with the prior experience of running away form the wave.

This was some kind of a shrine inside and the air was filled with a smoke from the lit candles in the corners. It all looked pretty mystic and reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End when they go to Singapur and everything is in smoke and fog, similar artefacts to be found in the room, flags, powder, candles and Kanji signs. We spent there few minutes and I was checking every corner for some hidden artefacts or if something else mysterious could be found.

Back on the top and Samurai armour


We were done with out tour below and it was really fantastic. We went back to the elevator (the Americans were still there so I was fine with my destiny of no photos as a samurai or a Japanese pirate) and went up. After spending 20 or more minutes 30 meters in the caves and shadows things got much clearer above.

We moved on to the next exit and had to walk through a bit longer hallway. On our way there we found exhibited samurai and other navy armours and weapons. I mentioned above I was going to comment this later and here we go!

I think everyone as a kid has always had a dream to be or at least see a samurai. I was like more than once to both see the dead one (his armour though) and a living one in costume and take a picture of him later (wait for the other posts).

Everything looks cool but there was one thing that surprised me a bit and was laughing when I thought about the history. All those armours for the adult samurai warriors looked like they were made for children. Apparently, people used to be much shorter in the past (not to mention that even Europeans are short in many countries and regions) and this one guy who used to be a samurai was at least 2 heads, if not even 3, shorter than me. I tried to imagine what it was like to be that kind of a samurai and a 'silent warrior' sneaking around, stabbing people, throwing shurikens and so on... Surely they could have hidden much better than I would be able to right now if someone transported me back through the portal in time. Though the guys were dwarves from modern perspective the armour looked heavy.

Nonetheless the outfit looked cool and I tried one samurai hat when no one looked. Time to move further!

The garden and hot spring Onsen for your feet


We left the building in order to reach the other side of the cliffs (Senjojiki) where one had much more of freedom to walk around... and the first thing you see and enter is a traditional green garden with some sculptures. It looked pretty nice and decorated. There was even a garden pond. It all looked pretty Japanese. What I liked where was the path made from stone tiles and wood. As well as small fence from wood as you can see.

But before we continued our journey through that garden to the other side of the Shirahama cliffs we stopped at the corner of the building at hot spring water or Onsen.

Dad Testuya-san and our friend told me it was very healthy for the body to relax there. Thus I was told to putt of my sandals, sit down and put my feet inside the hot water. At first I had to do it slowly to get used to it but afterwards it became a very good feeling. I spent about 5-10 minutes sitting there, watching the ocean and talking with them and it was difficult to get your feet out then. I remember, a year ago, when I was in Switzerland we did the same thing which was kind of a good thing for your health at one park in the mountains. But instead of the hot water there was the freezing cold one where firstly we had to put our hands inside with both hands until elbows were under the surface and survive. And then make a walk with your bare feet in the freezing cold lake where you did not feel your body party almost. This was a bit nicer experience though one has to try everything!


After leaving the divine water I took the handkerchiefs to dry my feet before stepping into the sandals again and we continued further to the Senjokiki rocks.

Jumping around the Senjokiki rocks


It took us about 5-8 minutes until we reached the other side seen from the platform there (see the building up? There were we standing first once we reached the cliffs). To get there we went through the garden which led us then about 50 meters through the small "forest" of trees and bushes following the stairs made from rocks and wood. To our left was the edge with a fence and a 2-4 meters away started the fall. No one tried to go there of course. Again, walking through this, listening to the waves, being surrounded with this kind of a flora and eventually sneaking around through the bushes I felt like I was with Frodo, Sam and Smeagol in Ithilien. And then the road started going down.



Now one here has much bigger freedom of moving around. After leaving the trees behind us the road turned into rocks. There were gray-brownish rocks around and lots of other visitors going after us or returning back "up-rocks". I noticed that I could use the chance to start running a bit and jumping from one rock to another one at the same time, just for fun. That was my hobby in Dalmatia when I was younger (now there are too many people around so I would feel stupid) but here it was totally fine and one could not resist doing it.

There was also a fence marking the area and a line you were not supposed to cross. I paid attention to it for the most of the time. But once I needed some pictures I made an exception and crossed it. As I know my parents are reading this and I can expect angry calls from my mom - no worries, I was still several metres away from the edge and no danger threatened me. Unfortunately, my analog shots were the biggest failure in Japan and I learned the lesson of measuring the light better. The problem was - gray sky, almost white water because of the waves and just the cliffs were good so my camera and I were crazy.

I told the others that I will just go jumping around a bit more to check what else one can see and take more photographs. This whole place truly was amazing and one has to visit it if being in southern Japan. If I continued walking on this rocks I would get to those which are close to the ocean level thus going down and down more. Also, if one continues moving in this direction (to the north) one would reach the Shirahama city and the beautiful Shirahama White Beach. I had no clue about anything of that when we were there but we visited Shirahama Beach a week or more later when I was with a camp. Also, at the Beach and the place I was confused of hearing the same name for two different things and thought that we were not probably close to the place I visited with my host family. So you know now there are more Shirahamas around.


And here is what you see when looking towards the horizon. Practically nothing except for the place where the dark blue sea and the sky meet. I also saw two larger ships on the horizon and wandered how much far away they were. Again, some fishermen boats or smaller ships were several hundred meters or a few kilometres away from the coast. And the ocean was moving fast. Then again I turned towards the bay and the place we came from and watched the waves hit cliffs. One of them would practically reach us on the platform if we stayed there! (Check the photos below! )




Amazing, isn't it?

Before being done with the tour of Shirahama and going back to our car I wanted to take a photo of dad Tetsuya-san. He was sitting on some rocks a bit far away and had his red shirt on. This looked like a perfect scene for a photograph. But as soon as I took my analog camera he got up and when seeing me standing there he started waving. In the end we have another historic shot.


I took us about 15 minutes minutes to reach the parking lot as we also stopped in the street with ice creams and Tetsuya-san bought us some to enjoy.

Soon we got into the car, waited a little bit until everyone ate the ice cream and then left the Shirahama Jurassic World.

At the restaurant on the top of a hill


After getting into the car the two of my Japanese host started discussion some other possibilities, sightseeing or places we could visit while still here in the area.

I remember discussion involved some pandas but I was confused (we saw no pandas, no worries). Instead of going down towards the valleys we on contrary were climbing up the hills and the road was going zig-zag at times. I was then totally disorientated and had no idea where we now were. After 10-15 minutes of a ride we reached our destination. It looked like a huge building, some kind of a hotel and we found its garage and parked our car there.

As soon as we climbed up and entered this place I noticed some panda symbols on the souvenirs and the shop they had within the first hall.

We found one bigger hall which was decorated nicely and they had a piano in the middle of the restaurant. We were looking for the tables outside to sit on the terrace and found something. Standing there at the fence once could see pretty far away.

The first thing I saw was more or less what you see above on the photograph. Greenery everywhere and it reminded again a lot of building a Jurassic Park. It looks like the island of Sorna. Forest was dividing us from the Shirahama's rocks and cliffs we visited and there relatively far away one could see 5-6 kilometres away coast and the river of Kumano-Hwy. I guess nothing special.

In front of us there was this construction site, the whole terrain and lots of excavators. As it seems and looks like from above on Google Earth this place was going to be turned into a golf playground.

We were drinking coffee and started talking in peace finally. Our friend translator told me papa Tetsuya-san finally found time to talk with me as he was busy earlier (he also had to work at home in the office plus going to other towns and places outside Gobo to visit the construction sites). We chatted there for an hour maybe and talked about life in Japan, difference between Croatia and Europe towards Japan, life style, fun, history... I was curious to know more about the local history and of the region Kansai. Somehow we also ended up talking about Yakuzas, the Japanese infamous mob with their headquarters in Osaka. But dad Tetsuya said they are not like the others and in Japan they ever do harm towards the normal, ordinary people and "civilians" but are rather gentlemen and even participate in many open events and festivals without problems. They are only going to fight in-between or with other groups.

Last few photos of the area and we headed back to our car. We came home relatively quickly now and then went all together to a restaurant for a dinner. Before that I also played a bit piano until Sumire came from her school.

In conclusion

I hope the photographs were worthy more than thousands of words I wrote. If you are ever going to have a chance to visit it surely pays off and is an unique experience. I am thankful to my host family and our friend for the trip!

Thanks for reading.

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