Explore Western Honshu
Among the Geiyo archipelago of islands clogging the Inland Sea between Onomichi and the northwest coast of Shikoku, IKUCHI-JIMA (生口島) and ŌMI-SHIMA (大三島) are both worth a visit. Of the two, Ikuchi-jima is the place to stay and has the best attractions, including Kōsan-ji, a dazzling, kaleidoscopic temple complex, and the exquisite Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art. Its sun-kissed citrus groves, attracts plenty of tourists each summer to its palm-fringed beaches, in particular the sweeping man-made Sunset Beach on the west coast. The island can comfortably be toured by bicycle in a day, as can the islet Kōne-shima, which is linked by bridge to Ikuchi-jima’s main settlement, the quaint Setoda (瀬戸田) on the island’s northwest coast. Around the island, look out for the fourteen bizarre contemporary outdoor sculptures, including a giant saxophone and a stack of yellow buckets, which form part of Ikuchi-jima’s “Biennale” modern art project.
While part of the fun of visiting these islands is the ferry ride there, you can also get to Ikuchi-jima by bus or bicycle from Onomichi along the Shimanami Kaidō. Both islands are best explored by bicycle.Read More
A giftshop-lined street leads directly from the waterfront just west of Setoda’s ferry landing to the unmistakeably gaudy entrance of Ikuchi-jima’s most famous attraction – the technicolour temple complex of Kōsan-ji (耕三寺), the creation of steel-tube manufacturer Kanemoto Kozo, who made much of his fortune from the arms trade. When his mother died, the bereft Kanemoto decided to build a temple in her honour, so bought a priesthood from Nishi-Hongan-ji temple in Kyoto and took over the name of a minor-league temple, Kōsan-ji, in Niigata. He resigned from his company, grew his hair, changed his name to Kōsanji Kozo, and began drawing up plans for the new Kōsan-ji – a collection of copies of the most splendid examples of Japanese temple buildings – which includes about ten halls, three towers, four gates, an underground cave and an enormous statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Although many of the re-creations are smaller than the originals, Kanemoto cut no corners when it came to detail, even adding his own embellishments – most famously to the already over-the-top replica of the Yōmei-mon from Nikkō’s Tōshō-gū, earning Kōsan-ji its nickname Nishi-Nikkō, the “Nikkō of the west”.
The entrance gate is modelled on one from the imperial palace in Kyoto. To the right of the main temple building is the entrance to the Senbutsudō (“Cave of a Thousand Buddhas”) and the Valley of Hell. An underground passage leads past miniature tableaux showing the horrors of damnation, followed by the raptures of a heavenly host of Buddhas. You then wind your way up to emerge beneath the beatific gaze of a 15m-tall statue of Kannon. From here you can walk up to the Hill of Hope, a collection of unusual modern marble sculptures with names like “Flame of the Future” and “Stage of the Noble Turtle”.
Kōsan-ji’s five-storey pagoda, modelled on the one at Murō-ji in Nara, is the last resting place of Kanemoto’s beloved mother, whose holiday home, Chōseikaku (潮聲閣), is right by the exit (included in admission to the temple). The home is a fascinating combination of Western and traditional styles, with two of the rooms having beautiful painted panels on their ceilings and a Buddha-like model of Mrs Kanemoto resting in one of the alcoves. Opposite the mother’s retreat is Kōsan-ji’s art gallery, a plain building housing sober displays of mainly religious paintings and statues.
Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art
Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art
Topping Kōsan-ji’s treasures takes some doing, but the Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art (平山郁夫美術館), next door to the temple’s art gallery, eclipses it with a superior calibre of art. Hirayama Ikuo (1930–2009) was born in Setoda and was a junior-high-school student in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped – his famous painting Holocaust at Hiroshima can be seen in the Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of Art. Despite travelling the world and becoming famous for his series of paintings on the Silk Road, he continually returned to the Inland Sea for inspiration. Hirayama used a traditional Japanese painting technique for his giant canvases, working very quickly with fast-drying paint – the resultant swift brush strokes give the finished paintings a distinctively dreamy quality. Because the special paint (iwaenogu) needed for this method is much less flexible and dries faster than oil paint, each picture has its own series of preparatory sketches. These full-sized blueprints for the final painting are known as oshitazu, and this museum contains many such sketches of Hirayama’s most celebrated works, as well as original paintings and watercolours.
After the Hirayama museum, you can take in the view that inspired one of the artist’s most beautiful paintings by hiking up to the summit of the hill behind Setoda. A small park here overlooks the attractive three-storey pagoda of Kōjō-ji, breaking out of the pine trees below, with the coloured tiled roofs of the village and the islands of the Inland Sea beyond.