“They rise gracefully from this protected, stormless sea, as if they had just emerged, their beaches, piers, harbors all intact…Wherever one turns there is a wide and restful view, one island behind the other, each soft shape melting into the next until the last dim outline is lost in the distance.”

Donald Richie, The Inland Sea, 1971.

It’s difficult to improve on Richie’s sublime description of the Inland Sea (Seto Naikai) and, despite his fears that it would all be ruined in Japan’s rush to the twenty-first century, this priceless panorama has changed remarkably little. Boxed in by the islands of Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku, and dotted with more than three thousand other islands, the sea is one of Japan’s scenic gems, often likened to the Aegean in its beauty.

Several islands are now connected by bridges and fast ferries to the mainland, reducing their isolation and much of their charm, but on many others you’ll be struck by the more leisurely pace of life and the relative lack of modern-day blight. The best islands to head for are Naoshima, Inujima, Ikuchi-jima, Ōmi-shima, Miyajima and Shōdo-shima, all popular for their relaxed atmosphere and beautiful scenery.

If you don’t have time to linger, consider a boat trip across the sea or heading to a vantage point such as Washū-zan or Yashima to look out over the islands. There are also several sightseeing cruises, though these are expensive for what they offer; you’re better off putting together your own itinerary using individual ferry services.

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