You might not be familiar with Setouchi Japan. But it should be on your bucket list, especially if you like off-the-beaten-path travel. This coastal region of western Japan offers a mild climate, amazing food and culture, scenic vistas, and more. Read on to discover everything there is to love about Setouchi and the Seto Inland Sea islands.
CONTENTS – In this article, you will learn all about Setouchi, Japan so you can begin planning your visit. This includes:
- An Introduction to Setouchi
- How to Get to Setouchi Japan
- Island Hopping – Seto Inland Sea Islands
- Setouchi’s Culinary Delights
- History & Art – Setouchi
- Setouchi for Outdoor Enthusiasts
- Where to Stay in Setouchi
- Final Thoughts on Setouchi Japan
About Setouchi Japan
Setouchi is the authentic, soothing, unique region of Japan and it’s no wonder.
A land framed by the Seto Inland Sea where life moves at a slower pace than some of its neighboring locales, it’s breathtaking.
It beckons with backdrops of impossibly gorgeous color, indescribable views, and a wealth of natural wonders that invite you to explore the outdoors.
At the same time, you’ll find the cuisine and customs reflect so much of its character.
Even the region’s largest cities like Hiroshima and Takamatsu strike a large contrast against hyper-energy centers like Tokyo.
Here is a relaxed pace of life, slow, purposeful and always with an element of acknowledgement to the past.
Perhaps Japan’s best kept secret, Setouchi enchants visitors with its beautiful blend of nature, wellness prospects, culinary wonders, and adventurous thrills.
How to Get to Setouchi Japan
Easy to reach by multiple bus and rail systems from Tokyo and Osaka, Setouchi is a celebrated land of seven prefectures–including Yamaguchi, Kagawa, and Okayama–which surround its archipelago.
The archipelago itself spans 727 islands. They range from .1 km (330 feet) to the largest island, Awaji-shima, which is just over 228 square miles (592 km2). Many of the Seto Inland Sea Islands are uninhabited but each carries with it an isolated, remote and secluded feel.
Built over the sea, you’ll find the iconic Honshu Shikoku Bridge. Through that you can travel between the two large islands, Honshu and Shikoku by car or rail.
A lifetime of days would never be enough to thoroughly know all that Setouchi Japan offers. But for the curious traveler who is short on time, it’s a world of wonder to explore.
Island Hopping – Setouchi Cruise
One of the brightest and most unique attractions of Setouchi is the balance between the land and the sea.
Infuse a privately chartered boat cruise into your day to explore it. This will also lend itself to incredible photographic opportunities while island hopping.
If seclusion is what you seek, consider overnighting on a private island.
Locally known for it’s shape, Kujira Jima, or “Whale Island” hosts only one exclusive group per day/night.
The island welcomes you with:
- Wide open spaces
- A full cottage
- Spacious area for camping under the stars
- Full kitchen/BBQ setup ideal for a private chef to create works of art
Setouchi’s Culinary Delights
One can’t mention Setouchi without considering its savory culinary scene, a true celebration of ancient recipes and culinary traditions that lie at the core of the cuisine.
From fresh seafood to exceptional citrus fruits to noodles and plenty of local brews, it’s a feast anywhere you look.
Kagawa is known as the Udon Prefecture due to its high concentration of eateries per square mile.
For an extra treat, you can hop into an Udon Taxi, driven by a special guide fully schooled in the art of udon and who knows all the hidden haunts!
Saijo in Hiroshima is sake central, with 7 breweries in just over .5 mile (1km) walk from one another. There, you can discover the art of the blend.
And, meat lovers can pursue meat that is a cut above with varieties of the famed Wagyu beef that originates in Yamaguchi.
Local Tip: Pair the steaks with fabulous oysters. In fact when you take a visit to the Shimada Suisan, you can watch oysters being pulled from the sea in the early morning hours. Then, they are brought to the shore to be grilled over charcoal right before your eyes.
Ehime’s Food Scene
As far as under-the-radar culinary scenes go, Ehime is a bubbling hotspot that’s about to take the stage in Japan and beyond.
Hidden away in the stunningly beautiful Setouchi region, it’s long been beloved by cyclists who brave its Shimanami Kaido cycling path and adventurists who trek its diverse topography.
But, the local food scene is experiencing a surge of popularity due to its perfection of local beloved specialties that catch the eyes, hearts, and stomachs of residents and visitors alike.
One that is eternally in style is Japan’s classic soul food mix, Imabari yakibuta tamago meshi, currently making the rounds on menus across the country.
Created less than 50 years ago as a quick fix meal for restaurant staff because it was inexpensive, easy to create quickly and hearty, it rapidly became an in-demand dish but there are some serious rules that apply when you’re considering digging in:
- DON’T overcook the Yakibuta strips of grilled pork or the 2 obligatory eggs
- RATHER, DO lay the meat gently on steamed rice and top it with 2 sunny side up eggs, runny of course
- DON’T drizzle soy sauce
- RATHER, DO add dashes of sweet and sour sauce
- DON’T use a standard spoon
- RATHER, DO use a Chinese spoon
- DON’T eat each item one at a time
- RATHER, DO make a messy mixed fusion and eat it all together, the runny yolk blending with the sauce coating all of the morsels
Be sure to add this dish to ‘must-try’ culinary bucket list when you’re in Setouchi.
Historical & Art Attractions | Setouchi Triennale)
Another feast for the eyes not to be missed is the Bikan Historical Quarter in Kurashiki. It’s filled with ships amid carefully preserved traditional structures and spectacular ancient sights. One of them is the famed Himeji Castle, described as “the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture.” Needless to say, it should be on anyone’s list.
Though Setouchi is something of a living art museum, a series of exceptional contemporary works breathe new life into the islands every three years. That occasion is the Setouchi Triennale, an international art festival that aims to restore the vitality of the region.
While making friends with the local islanders, artists from around the world create specific works that complement the natural surroundings and celebrate the culture and history.
The next Setouchi Triennale will happen in 2022 with fruitful, plentiful exhibitions to come.
When it comes to fitness and health, you will want to find time for cycling in Setouchi.
Setouchi’s ubiquitous riding paths are framed by the most impressive natural scenery and one never needs to worry.
Support cars and “bike boats” are available at the ready to collect guests at any point along the way.
On foot, hiking paths await in the relatively undiscovered Iya Valley in western Tokushima. Active locals marvel at its steep inclines and deep gorges, providing the challenges centered in nature they seek.
One of its highlights are its kazurabashi, or vine suspension bridges. Several still exist today, crossing over waterways for an adrenaline-fueled walk.
Local Tip: Soothe any stress with a cable car ride deep into the valley to the nearly hidden Hotel Iya for a dip into their open air bath while being serenaded by birds.
Setouchi’s onsen (hot spring) scene delivers on the promise of physical and spiritual healing. Framed by natural backdrops, these experiences provide soothing baths of sparkling, fresh clean water to help restore balance between body and mind.
Some are best for skin beautifying qualities, others are said to heal joint problems – and the list of remedies goes on. Regardless, it’s a soothing bath of sparkling, fresh and clean waters generally framed by impossibly gorgeous views and backgrounds.
Where to Stay in Setouchi
You can tie the experience up in a bow with a selection from a diverse range of accommodations.
Travelers seeking a true homestyle experience are perfect for a ryokan.
There, not only the surroundings are calm and authentic but many times, open travelers up to a true sense of place. Whether that be an invitation into the kitchen by the chef preparing timeless dishes, a castle stay for a slice of what life was like in centuries past.
Design lovers leap to the other end of the spectrum with a collection of ultra-sleek contemporary hotels each with their own style and unique architectural attributes.
Final Thoughts on Setouchi Japan
Now that you know more about Setouchi Japan, it may be hard not to be drawn to it. It’s an incredible travel destination where you’ll find there’s something for everyone–but not everyone knows about it.
Even better for you.
Setouchi is the soothing side of Japan, the authentic network of seven interconnected seaside prefectures deeply rooted in culture and tradition. For more information and details on culinary experiences, wellness ideas, adventure prospects and beyond, please reach out at [email protected]. Or, visit https://setouchifinder.com/en and follow along with incredible Setouchi adventures at @setouchifinder.
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Photo credits: Setouchi Bridge, Setouchi Okonomi, Setouchi Castle Stay photos courtesy of Setouchi DMO; All other photos courtesy of Canva Pro.
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