Stretching along the scenic coastline of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu is an area characterised by mild climate and a calm inland sea dotted with beautiful islands — The Setouchi Region.
One of the world’s greatest archipelagos, it includes an estimated 3,000 isles and is home to the world-famous Hiroshima Peace Memorial and iconic “floating” torii (鳥居) gate of Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社).
Be blown away by the best that Setouchi has to offer with our specially curated four-day itinerary, perfect for those on a tight schedule!
Day 1: soak in history and the arts
There is no better way to begin exploring the area’s historical buildings than with the elegant Himeji Castle (姫路城).
Otherwise known as the White Heron Castle due to its appearance, the grand structure is both a national treasure and a world heritage site. More than 400 years old, the castle has over 80 buildings within its compounds connected by a labyrinth of paths and numerous gates.
Found in Osafune (長船町), an old town located within Okayama Prefecture, the Bizen Osafune Sword Museum is a dream come true for history buffs or fans of Japanese samurai. Here, you can watch master craftsmen practicing the art of sword-making; from shaping and polishing of the blade to painting of the sheath.
Regarded as one of the top three landscape gardens in Japan, Okayama Korakuen (岡山後楽園) was constructed over a period of 14 years during the Edo Period. Once used as a place for entertaining important guests by the feudal lord Ikeda Tsunamasa, the garden has been open to the public since 1884. Ponds, rice fields and even a crane aviary can be found on its premises.
Day 2: rejuvenating power spots
Kick off your second day with a trip to Sensuijima, found in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima. This power spot located within the Setonaikai National Park is surrounded by pristine blue waters and rich greenery. Drink in the scenic sights on the island, where you can spot natural phenomena such as the goshikiiwa (五色岩, five-coloured rocks) and sea fireflies.
Stop to rest and recharge at Taichoro (對潮楼). Offering a million-dollar view of the nearby Bentenjima and Sensuijima through the veranda, visitors may be surprised to find a statue of Maria Kannon housed here. Made to look like the Buddhist Bodhisattva Kannon during the Edo Period (as Christianity was banned at the time), the statue is actually that of Virgin Mary.
End the day with a casual stroll around the perfectly preserved canal area of Kurashiki (倉敷), the “town of storehouses”. Many of them have since been converted into museums, cafes and boutiques, with Ohara Museum being one of its most impressive pit stops. The private museum features Western art and is the oldest in Japan, founded by renowned collector Magosaburo Ohara.
Day 3: glimpse into the past
Jump back in time with a visit to Saijo Sake Town, a small area where you will encounter some of the world’s most prestigious and oldest sake breweries. A total of eight breweries dot the streets in this neighbourhood; stop by each one to learn more about their traditional brewing processes, sample unique sake and purchase some sake-related souvenirs!
The 70-kilometre-long Shimanami Kaido highway links Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture to Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture, and is the world’s longest series of suspension bridges. This bicycle-friendly route extends over six smaller islands in between, so cyclists can stop to admire and photograph the sublime views of the Seto Inland Sea along the way.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was opened in 1955 with the aim of advocating world peace and to push for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
A grim yet powerful reminder of the destructive nature of man-made weaponry, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or Genbaku Dome (原爆ドーム) was the only structure left standing after the atomic bombing in 1945. The site has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Day 4 – picture-perfect island adventure
Slightly over 500 meters above sea level, Mt. Misen (弥山) is a sacred mountain and the highest peak on Miyajima. You can either hike up the mountain via its three main trails (Momijidani is the shortest but steepest while Daisho-in offers the best views) or take the ropeway, which cuts through the lush forests of the area.
Stop by the Reikado (Hall of Spiritual Flame) to see the fire lit by the legendary Kōbō-Daishi when he began worshipping there.
Found on the grounds of Toyokuni Shrine is Senjōkaku (千畳閣), literally translated as the “pavilion of a thousand mats” as the building is roughly the size of one thousand tatami mats. Commissioned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three unifiers of Japan, the sparse hall was built for chanting Buddhist sutras for fallen soldiers but was never fully completed.
With more than 1,400 years of history, Itsukushima Shrine (嚴島神社)’s star attraction is the “floating” torii gate. Since ancient times, people have revered the island as goddesses — the great torii serves as the boundary between the spirit and human worlds.
Contrary to popular belief, the base of the torii is not buried in the seabed but stands by its own weight. Held secure by custom-made wedges driven into intersections to absorb movements and keep the six pillars and roof stable, it does not move even during typhoons or earthquakes.
(This feature was adapted from WAttention Singapore magazine, Jan/Feb 2018 Vol. 42)