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.