The Seto Inland Sea lies between Japan's largest island Honshu and the smaller islands of Shikoku and Kyushu. Surrounding this serene body of water is the Setouchi Region, which features historic cities, castle towns and islands devoted to religion or art. These include the cities of Hiroshima, Okayama, and Himeji (all on Honshu); Matsuyama (on Shikoku); and the tiny islands of Miyajima and Naoshima. The Setouchi Region is a tranquil part of Japan, offering a more laidback and less crowded experience than Tokyo or Central Japan, but with just as many historic and cultural attractions. Here's why you should plot a course for the islands today.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the atomic bomb victims. The Atomic Bomb Dome – the preserved shell of a former exhibition hall – is the park’s most striking sight. The park also includes a cenotaph; the Rest House, a restored building that was damaged by the bomb; a children’s monument and other sculptures and memorials. There is also a museum with poignant exhibits of the damaged possessions of victims, including toys and clothing.
There are also other attractions to see. Hiroshima Castle is an elegant castle with wooden panels and surrounded by a wide moat. Shukkeien Garden is a beautiful landscape garden with a lake, bamboo groves, a small forest, and even a miniature hill. There are also several art museums such as the Hiroshima Museum of Art and the Prefectural Art Museum. For shopping or eating, visit Hondori, a huge one-km-long covered pedestrian street arcade, and its surrounding lanes.
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Dogo Onsen is a famous hot spa that was used by the emperor in the past. The Dogo’s main bathhouse, the Honkan, is a beautiful black-roofed wooden building. You can take a soak inside the Honkan (pay more and you can even view the facility set aside for the emperor) or in Dogo’s other more modern bathhouses. Do note the Honkan will undergo a seven-year renovation from January 15, 2019, so not all of its facilities will be open.
Matsuyama can be reached from Hiroshima by fast or slow ferry – taking one and two and a half hours respectively.
Close to Okayama is Himeji, a former castle town, home to Japan’s largest and most spectacular castle. Himeji Castle is a beautiful white complex with winding paths designed to obstruct invading forces. Having been built in 1333 and called the “White Heron Castle” due to its appearance, Himeji Castle is considered the finest intact example of Japanese castle architecture, having survived both earthquakes and World War II. The castle complex features a massive main building and the former princesses' residence (Nishinomaru).
Himeji can be visited on an easy day trip via train from Okayama or Osaka.
Other interesting temples in the area include Daishō-in Temple and Senjokaku (Toyokuni Shrine), built in 1587 and featuring an open wooden hall. You can also hike up or take a cable car to 535m Mount Misen to enjoy splendid views of the sea. Nature lovers will enjoy a visit to Miyajima, where wild but gentle deer that wander freely.
Naoshima is another small isle near Okayama that is almost wholly devoted to art. It is home to numerous art museums and sculptures, and it also hosts part of a regional triennial art festival with other nearby islands. The next Setouchi Triennale will take place in 2019.
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