What is the top tourist destination in the Kansai region? Is it Kyoto's geisha district? Is it the temples and bamboo forests of Arashiyama? Is it the town of Yoshino, with Japan's most famous cherry blossoms? The majestic views from Mount Rokko in Kobe? Or Lake Biwa, the country's largest freshwater lake? The list goes on and on, but it's doubtful that Wakanoura, a small coastal town near the city of Wakayama, would come to mind.
Yet, just a century ago, this town was at the top of the list when it came to places of outstanding natural beauty. So renowned was Wakanoura that "The Orient's No. 1 Elevator," one of the first steel elevators in Japan, had been constructed there to allow visitors to ascend a hilltop and take in the impressive vistas. Nowadays, Wakanoura is largely forgotten, and the fabled elevator is long gone.
This lost history is brought to life in the first half of Natsume Soseki's novel "Kojin" ("The Wayfarer"), serialized from 1912 to 1913, in which a well-to-do Tokyo family makes a visit to the Kansai region and decides to escape the summer heat in Osaka by visiting Wakanoura; "The Orient's No. 1 Elevator" occupies a memorable place in the plot.