Along Japan’s Southern Seas: a trip with the Setouchi Area Regional Pass!

The Setouchi Region is a coastal region that crosses into multiple islands of Japan, including Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. This lends to a rich diversity in culture and attractions that are accessible via the Setouchi Area Regional Pass!

 
   
       
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The largest city in Kansai is no stranger to international attention. Though it is often seen as a “second-city” to the capital city of Tokyo, no-one takes this moniker with as much zeal and as much a challenge as the people of Osaka.

As artistic as it is lively, Osaka is a major of hub for culture, chosen as the site for Japanese artist Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun (太陽の塔) and the eclectic museum where it is currently located. 

The iconic, yet cryptically designed, sculpture was erected for the Expo ‘70, the World’s Fair held in 1970 that was especially noted for its display of unique, often dubbed “avant garde,” artwork. Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun has become the most recognizable of such and has evolved into a symbol of the city of Osaka as a whole.

Tower of the Sun by Taro Okamamoto in Osaka, Japan

Tower of the Sun by Taro Okamamoto in Osaka, Japan

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Shinji Pond at Expo'70 Commemorative Park

Shinji Pond at Expo'70 Commemorative Park

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The Tower of the Sun Museum is actually located within the Expo ‘70 Commemorative Park, and aside from the museum, there are a medley of different attractions and facilities for visitors to go and see. Throughout the park many flower varieties and there is also a Japanese-style garden where tea ceremonies are often held.

The next World Expo is actually set to take place in Osaka once again in 2025, 55 years after the original. Visiting the Commemorative Park will be a great way to commemorate both the city’s past and future.

Famous for its street food culture, visitors ought to try Osaka’s signature Okonomiyaki, a type of savory cooked batter dish mixed with cabbage and other toppings like meat and vegetables. With a medley of different shops operating in the bustling Dotonbori district and all around other parts of the city, it’s a satiating dish that’s easy to personalize, as its name, meaning “as you like it,” implies. 

Osaka-style Okonomiyaki

Osaka-style Okonomiyaki

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An hour from Osaka via the Sanyo Shinkansen is Okayama City, the capital of the prefecture of the same name. The prefecture’s southern border is completely made up of Seto Inland Sea coastline and exists right above the island of Shikoku.

In Okayama City, the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter exists as a gateway back in time. This mix of both commercial and residential areas consists of traditional buildings that were constructed during the Edo and Meiji Periods. Running through the district is the Kurashiki Canal, where riverboats can be ridden, providing a relaxing way to do sightseeing. There are also a number of museums within the district, including the Ohara Museum of Art, which is actually the first modern art museum to have been opened in Japan.

Canal boat ride in Kurashiki Bikan Historic District, Okayama

Canal boat ride in Kurashiki Bikan Historic District, Okayama

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Another jewel of Setouchi’s cultural attractions is that of Okayama’s Koraku-en, one of the three great gardens of Japan alongside Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, and Kairaku-en in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture. Korakuen is said to embody the strength and spirit of the Samurai and Daimyo whose power reigned just over 300 years ago, when the garden was first created. 

At the center of the garden is the Enyo-tei House, which were originally erected as a living quarters. A variety of flowers and foliage go on for acres and even a traditional Noh performance art theater can be found in the garden as well. 

Koraku-en Garden in Okayama

Koraku-en Garden in Okayama

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Barazushi

Barazushi

@Wikimedia

The park itself is centered around the main, arch-shaped memorial where the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony is held. 

Also on the Peace Memorial Park grounds is the easily recognizable A-Bomb Dome, the building closest to the blast epicenter that managed to maintain its base structure. The city of Hiroshima has chosen to maintain the condition of the building after the blast as a reminder of that day, but also a symbol of progress and peace. 

Going further back in Hiroshima’s history by a few hundred years, the iconic Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima is accessible via ferry that is covered by the Setouchi Area Pass. This shrine is particularly noted for its iconic torii gate that appears to be floating on the water and is an especially striking scene during sunset when the surroundings glow. The actual shrine itself is a treat with its elaborate treasure room and main buildings that also appear to float during high tide.

 

 

The "Genbaku Dome" in Hiroshima

The "Genbaku Dome" in Hiroshima

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Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park

Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park

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Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

@Wikimedia

Another great location for scenery is that of the Nakayama Town Senmaida Rice Paddies. Senmaida in Japanese means “one thousand rice paddies,” in reference to the collection of layered rice paddies in one area, creating a unique geometric design in the landscape. This scenery is especially beautiful during spring, when the rice paddies are first filled with water and the sun reflects in the paddies. 

Just as awe-inspiring on Shodoshima as the natural landscape is the wildlife, and one of the best places to witness it is Choshikei Monkey Park. Home to around 800 Japanese Macaques, visitors can also purchase food to feed the animals. Also in the park is an observation post that gives a full view of the surroundings on the island. 

 

Senmaida on Shodoshima

Senmaida on Shodoshima

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Olive trees at Shodoshima Olive Park

Olive trees at Shodoshima Olive Park

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Japanese Macaques

Japanese Macaques

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On Shikoku, visitors can engage in the 88 Temple Pilgrimage, known as the Henro. Eight of these temples can be found in Matsuyama, all of which date back to the 8th century AD. Out of these eight, the most celebrated by travelers and locals alike is Iwaya-ji Temple. Located within a gorge, it is seamlessly intertwined with the surrounding nature that is as much of a site to behold as the temple structures themselves. The temple priest’s main dwellings are constructed right into the cliffside. The temple is especially beautiful during wintertime when snow is scattered around the grounds.

Also extending deep into Matsuyama’s history is Dogo Onsen, the oldest hot spring house in all of Japan, found in historical records going back over 1,000 years. The onsen holds a powerful presence within the city, existing on the corner of a popular street and illuminated with colorful lights at night.

Iwaya-ji Temple, Matsuyama

Iwaya-ji Temple, Matsuyama

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Ehime Mikan Oranges

Ehime Mikan Oranges

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Dogo Onsen at night in Matsuyama

Dogo Onsen at night in Matsuyama

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Relocating to the actual outdoors, one should not miss a chance to see the unique scenery of the Sasaguri Kyudai Forest. This spot is located on the Western end of Kyushu University who also own the forest and use it for research purposes. It’s an ideal location for any nature-lover to have a nice stroll, and its most famous attraction is the section of bald cypress trees that are often submerged in water. Though this isn’t witnessable 24/7, it’s a distinct visual that will not be forgotten, especially during dawn or when a light mist rises from the water, creating a slightly eerie, yet charming scene. Even when the water is drained during drier periods, the distinct look of the fauna is enough to captivate visitors. 

Fukuoka is also world-famous for its indulgent food culture. It’s best experienced in the district of Hakata, famous primarily for its food stalls, called yatai in Japanese.

Kasuya Research Forest

Kasuya Research Forest

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Yatai Stalls in Hakata, Fukuoka

Yatai Stalls in Hakata, Fukuoka

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen

@Wallpaper Flare

Explore Japan's southern coasts with the Setouchi Area Pass!

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