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Discover Setouchi… Japan’s tranquil haven

| 14 Mar 2019

The Seto Inland Sea is the largest of its kind in Japan. Stretching 450km end-to-end and encompassing nearly 3,000 tiny islands, it winds around the historic southern prefectures of Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa, and Ehime. The surrounding Setouchi region is little-visited compared to Japan’s magnetic cities, but there is much to explore; it offers gorgeous scenery, tranquil islands devoted to religion and art, historic castle towns, and it’s blessed with a temperate year-round climate.

Hiroshima

Modern Hiroshima skyline

At the centre of the Setouchi region is Hiroshima City, these days a young, lively and inviting city. The A-Bomb Museum & Peace Memorial Park reopens in spring 2019 after an eight-year, $51 million refurbishment. The site was established by the people of the city to symbolise their wishes for everlasting peace, and is a place of great tranquillity and reflection.

Hiroshima jō, also known as Carp Castle, is another highlight of the city. Originally built in 1589, it was restored to its former glory in 1958. The small museum holds historical artefacts from the original building and its society. You can also enjoy impressive views of the castle moat from the top of the castle’s five storeys.

Hiroshima jō

Whilst in Hiroshima, we also recommend trying the regional delicacy, okonomiyaki. This savoury pancake-style recipe is made with egg noodles and a variety of delicious fillings.

Explore by bike

Shimanami Kaido cycle route

The Shimanami Kaido is an easy-going cycle route linking six tiny islands like stepping stones across the Seto Inland Sea. A separate 70-kilometre route takes cyclists away from the main roads, and recently added trails wind through citrus and olive groves. A dedicated bike ferry also opened in 2018, connecting Honshu to the lesser-visited island of Shikoku.

Along the cycling route you can visit attractions such as the Hirayama Museum which houses works by many artists, including Hirayama Ikuo, one of Japan’s most famous painters. You might also spot the Kosanji Temple of Ikuchijima Island along the way. This Buddhist temple was founded in 1936, and took more than 30 years to construct. Feelings of déjà vu are common here, as the temple houses many replicas of famous buildings such as Yomeimon Gate and Phoenix Hall.

 

Miyajima Island

View of Miyajima Island

Located just off the mainland, between Hiroshima and Kyushu, Miyajima is a mountainous island covered with lush vegetation and has some excellent walking trails. Mount Misen is the tallest mountain on the island and provides great views once you reach the top. There are several different hiking paths to choose from, each taking around two hours. Along the trails, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to spot some of Miyajima’s friendly deer population. Deer are sacred in Japan and are said to be messengers of the Gods in the Shinto religion.

Miyajima Island’s most celebrated landmark is the large, bright-red Shinto tori (gate), floating in the water in front of Itsukushima Shrine. The gate is thought to be the boundary between the spirit and the human worlds and is coloured red to keep bad spirits at bay. We also recommend visiting the five-story pagoda that houses the Buddha of Medicine. Standing at over 27 metres high, the structure overlooks the water and is hugged by blossom during the spring months.

You can experience some of the island’s culinary delights on Omotesando Street. Lined with restaurants, sweet shops and coffee shops, it’s the perfect place to try some of the local cuisine or marvel at the world’s largest rice spoon. We recommend trying the sweet bean paste treat called Momiji Manijyu. To complete the experience, stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and enjoy the beautiful simplicity of this minimalist Japanese accommodation style.

Traditional Japanese Ryokan linens

 

 

Naoshima Island

Pumpin by Kusama Yayoi, Naoshima Island

Naoshima is commonly referred to as Japan’s art island, as it’s chiefly known for its contemporary art galleries, museums and installations. It makes for a calming daytrip away from Japan’s frenetic cities, with its sandy beaches, outdoor sculptures and unexpected curiosities. Though small enough to see in a single day, an overnight stay is more rewarding. We recommend a visit to Yayoi Kusama’s famed giant pumpkin statue, one of the many colourful art installations on the island. The Benesse House museum is a particularly good place to spot eclectic outdoor art. You can also enjoy a selection of pieces within the museum that celebrate the coexistence of nature, art and architecture.

Cox & Kings organises tailor-made travel and escorted small-group tours to Japan, including visits to Hiroshima, Miyajima Island and Himeji Castle in the Setouchi region. Japan’s Cultural Treasures is available as a 12-day escorted tour. To find out more or plan a tailor-made itinerary, speak to one of our Far East experts. Alternatively, if you complete our tailor-made request form one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.



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