At the southwest end of the main island, Honshu which is facing the Seto Inland Sea is a
region with a mild southern climate and seaward outlook. The region’s islands have a
stunning panoramic view, amazingly delicious food, unforgettable Japanese traditional
experiences and many exciting things to see and do.
Here are some of Setouchi's top destinations.
Naoshima Island is a small island in the Seto Island Sea. The island is easy to explore on foot or by bike which can be rented on the island. The island is considered one of the must see places in the world because of its modern art coexisting with the Island’s natural habitat. Experience the unique setting of contemporary art and architecture amidst the beauty of nature. A must see is Chichu Art Museum which was built underground. Art by Claude Monet is permanently displayed in the building. A unique Art House Project is on display in Naoshima’s Honmura district. Artists have taken seven empty houses and turned the spaces into works of art, weaving in the history and memories of the period. There are many other unique art projects and museums that can be visited.
Setouchi Triennale 2016 is an international art festival that is held once every three years. A prodigious experience where presentations of top artists from Japan and around the world can be viewed while surrounded by beautiful nature. During the last festival held in 2013, more than 1 million people visited during the 108 days of its run.
For more information about Setouchi Triennale 2016, please visit here.
For more information about Benesse Art Site Naoshima including Chichu Art Museum and Art House Project, visit here.
From Miyanoura Port on the island of Naoshima, ferries run to Takamatsu port and take about 60 minutes. Takamatsu JR station is a hub for travelers in need of transportation that stretches out all over Shikoku.
From Takamatsu JR station head south and catch the "Shimanto" express train for about one hour to reach to the center of Shikoku, set at the foot of a remote mountainous valley.
Iya valley is situated in the western part of Tokushima prefecture and located almost in the center of Shikoku island. Displaying deep rocky gorges formed by charming mountains, the area is one of the three unexplored regions of Japan due to its mountainous area. The traditional manners that have been passed onto subsequent generations still exist. The most famous attraction is "Iya Kazurabashi," a suspension vine bridge 45 feet above the Iya River and approximately 140 feet long. Crossing the bridge can be a thrilling experience as the bridge swings. "Chiiori," a 300 year old farmhouse is also located in the Iya Valley. Mr. Alex Kerr, born in the state of Maryland in the USA, purchased the house in 1973 and named it "Chiiori" meaning a house of the flute. The house is now managed by NPO, The Chiiori trust. The whole house is available to stay and provides accommodation with well-equipped facilities such as bathroom, air conditioning and floor heating. If you would like to just visit to see the house, it can be arranged with an advanced booking.
If you happen to visit Tokushima prefecture in August, drop in on one of the most famous dance festivals in Japan, "Awa Odori Dance festival." The festival takes place mid August every year, and over 1 million people come to see the festival. The festival has a 400 year history. Traditional instruments like shamisen (three stringed instruments), bells and drums accompany passionate Awa dance groups who welcome back the souls of their ancestors returning for the annual Obon festival. As the lyrics to the traditional Awa Odori song say, "It's a fool who dances, and a fool who watches, so you might as well be a fool and join in the dance!"
About 10 minutes driving from Takamatsu port, there is a famous must see historical garden in Japan.
At this beautiful natural sanctuary in Takamatsu you can stroll through 185 acres of lush splendor. The garden was awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide Japan. With blissful enchantment one must take pleasure to view the six ponds, a waterfall, bamboo forest, and of course the dazzling cherry trees, all set against the green pines of Mount Shiunzan. If you are interested in how daimyo (feudal lords) enjoyed the garden in the Edo Era, catch a Japanese boat tour, relax and take in the surrounding views from the South pond. Need some rest? Enjoy a bowl of green tea and Japanese sweets on tatami (a Japanese straw mat floor) at Kikugetsu-tei a traditional tea house. The charming Garden view from the tea house offers a rewarding and peaceful break time.
For more information about Ritsurin Park, visit here.
Located 1 hour from Takamatsu JR station you can catch the train to Kotohira town, a great traditional village experience.
Kotohira-gu is the biggest shrine in Shikoku Island located halfway up Zozu Mountain in Kotohira town. The shrine is commonly known as Konpira-san and dedicated to fisherman and the safety of their voyage as well as good commerce, good harvest and bountiful fishing. The shrine is famous for its long 1368 steps and known as one of the most difficult shrines to access. The journey to the shrine starts with browsing traditional shopping arcades with rows of souvenir shops and Sanuki Udon restaurants on the front approach. While walking up the steps, there are museums displaying treasures from the shrine. It is worth the effort of climbing the first 785 steps to Hongu (main shrine) as you will be rewarded with incredible views from the lookout point (824 feet above sea level). A further challenging 583 steps from Hongu need to be cleared to reach the final point called Okusha (innermost shrine).
For more information about Kotohira area, visit here.
On the way back from KOTOHIRA-GU shrine it is worthwhile to stop at Kanamaru-za to look at the oldest existing playhouse in Japan, built in 1835. Dramas are performed by famous Kabuki actors in April every year and people visit from all over Japan. Discover Edo atmosphere by visiting inside.
Take a journey west for about 3 hours from Takamatsu station by bus or train to unwind in Japan’s oldest spa in Matsuyama city where an abundance of historical Japanese atmosphere exists.
Dogo Onsen Hot Spring is the oldest spa in Japan believed to have a 3000 year history. The symbol of this spa resort is “Dogo Onsen Honkan” and its main building is an impressive wooden structure built in Japanese castle style. The white heron watch tower is on the top of the building. A Japanese drum hung inside the tower announces the opening of the hot spring at 6am, then noon and 6pm. Lay back, relax and listen to the drum sounds in the warm alkaline natural water which promotes spa rejuvenation and beauty. After the bath, casually slip into served "Yukata" robe and enjoy Japanese tea and rice crackers. Additionally a perfect way for exploring the town after the relaxing spa experience is to meander in the shopping arcade full of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants.
For more information about Dogo Onsen Hot Spring, visit here.
Sanuki Udon (Kagawa)
Kagawa is the birthplace of Udon noodles. Don't leave here without trying. You cannot miss Udon restaurants as they are almost everywhere in Kagawa. Sanuki (the ancient historical name for Kagawa)-Udon are strong, thick noodles and quite different to Udon in other regions. It is served in a soy sauce and dashi-flavored broth. Visit several of the Udon restaurants to encompass the diversity of soup flavors and noodles to taste Japan's truly superb noodle cuisine.
You cannot leave Kochi without trying Katsuo no tataki, one of kochi’s most famous dishes. It is bonito simmered and served raw with ginger, garlic and soy sauce.
If you are planning a trip to Japan this year, be sure not to miss Setouchi. It may be the littlest of the islands in the country side of Japan, but it will reward you with lots of natural, historical and culinary experiences.
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