• Setouchi for Sake Lovers


Setouchi for Sake Lovers

Recommended Length: 3 Days

The Setouchi region boasts an enviable heritage when it comes to sake and on this three-day itinerary, can combine visits to some of the region’s best sights with brewery tours and ample opportunities to sample premium sake at the source of production.

Day 1
Kobe and Arima Onsen

Travel: Osaka to Kobe

・Take Hanshin Honsen Line train from Osaka Umeda Station to Mikage Station (Approx 25 minutes)

Nada Gogo, one of Japan's top sake brewing districts

Hakutsuru Sake Museum

Kobe Shinshukan

Kiku Masamune Sake Brewery Store

Make sure to sample some of the region's great sake

This three-day itinerary kicks off in the Mikage-Go and Uozaki-Go brewing districts located about 12 kilometers from central Kobe. These are two of the five brewing districts that are collectively known as Nada Gogo, an area between Kobe and Osaka which collectively produces more sake than any other brewing region in Japan.

The fortuitous combination of an ample supply of high quality Yamadanishiki rice, abundant mineral water, the seasonal cold wind that blows from the Rokko mountain range and proximity to ports suitable for transportation provided the conditions for the the growth of Nada sake during the Edo era (1603-1868).
Learn about this long history, and get insights into sake brewing methods at Kiku-Masamune and Hakutsuru and Kobe Shinshukan, three breweries with long histories and which have excellent museums and offer sake tasting.

A wide range of sake styles are produced in the Nada region, from refined and delicate to bold and robust. Each sip reveals the complex flavours and aromas meticulously crafted by skilled brewers. Whether you are a seasoned sake connoisseur or a curious novice, there is a sake to suit every palate and preference.

Experience the unparalleled culinary pleasure of Kobe Beef

Teppan-grilled Kobe Beef

When it comes to regional specialty foods, few can rival the reputation of Kobe Beef. Renowned worldwide for its exquisite tenderness and the rich flavor that comes from its impressive fat marbling, Kobe Beef originates from pedigree Tajima breed cattle that are exclusively born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture. For an unforgettable dining experience, indulge in the artistry of teppanyaki, where skilled chefs expertly grill the beef on an iron plate right before your eyes. Prices vary depending on the establishment, with an average cost of a few thousand yen per hundred grams of beef. A complete teppanyaki meal typically ranges from 8,000 to 30,000 yen per person.

Arima Onsen and Mt Rokko

Night view of Kobe from Mt. Rokko

Mentioned in revered ancient texts, the popular hot spring resort of Arima Onsen is steeped in history and renowned for its therapeutic waters with diverse properties. Delight in the restorative brownish waters infused with salt and iron, revel in the radium (radon) springs rich in radium, or immerse yourself in the invigorating carbonated springs. In fact, seven out of the nine curative water types outlined by the Japan Ministry of the Environment, can be enjoyed in Arima, making for a truly exceptional bathing experience.

Arima Onsen can be accessed by local train, but, send your luggage ahead and you can make the journey by way of Mt Rokko via a series of cable cars and ropeways. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy the mountain leisure destination that became popular among Kobe’s international residents in the 19th century. The ridge has several visitor attractions and is famed for its “10 million dollar” night view and a captivating 12-minute journey on the Rokko-Arima Ropeway drop you in Arima, a short walk to your ryokan.

Bar du Sake

Located in central Arima is a bar that offers a huge range of local sake and beer that has collaborated with Arima cider and seasonal fruit. This bar is a great way to unwind after a day of discovery, soaking in the local waters and cuisine of the area.

URL: https://www.instagram.com/arimacinq/

Arima Sansho Gosho Bessho Ryokan

Conveniently located a short walk from Arima Onsen Ropeway Station, Arima Sansho Gosho Bessho, is in a quieter part of the historic hot spring resort and feels very close to nature. From the privacy of your own villa, wonder at this tranquil enclave’s 500 year journey from temple to luxurious hotel. Revive yourself after your Mt Rokko excursion by soaking in the mineral-rich waters derived from ancient seawater. Indulge in an exquisite terroir dining experience, where traditional Yamaga cuisine takes center stage. Savor the impeccable flavors of the region’s abundant produce from mountain and sea, meticulously crafted by skilled artisans with a keen appreciation of Western sensibilities while offering a gastronomic adventure that truly captures the essence of Kobe and Arima's rich cultural heritage.

URL: http://goshobessho.com/en/

Day 2
Himeji and Kurashiki

Travel: Arima Onsen to Himeji

・Take a local train from Arima Onsen Station to Shin-Kobe Station (Approx 25 minutes)
・Take the Shinkansen from Shin-Kobe Station to Himeji Station (Approx 15-20 minutes)

Experience the enchanting beauty and rich history of Himeji Castle

Himeji's "White Heron" Castle

UNESCO World Heritage Site Himeji Castle stands as a testament to Japanese architectural brilliance. The sprawling castle grounds boast an impressive collection of over eighty meticulously designed buildings, the centerpiece of which is the Tenshu-gun, a complex comprising the donjon, keeps, and connecting structures, which showcase an intricate and highly advanced system of defense that dates to feudal times. The masterful construction and exquisite woodwork are awe inspiring, as are the elegant white plastered walls, from which its nickname, ‘White Heron Castle,’ comes.

In spring, over 1000 cherry trees come into bloom, creating breath-taking scenes viewable from both outside and inside the grounds. In the autumn the same trees turn fiery red around a week or so earlier than maple trees in the regions begin to change color.

Explore Japan’s rich garden heritage at Kokoen Garden

Kokoen Garden

Kokoen Garden

Immerse yourself in the refined elegance of the Edo era (1603-1868) as you wander through nine distinct gardens, each thoughtfully crafted to evoke a different facet of this bygone era, that make up Kokoen Garden. Unveiled in 1992, this splendid garden sits on the historic grounds of a former feudal lord's residence and has served as a backdrop for period TV dramas and movies. Take tea in the serene ambience of Soju-an tea house or treat yourself to a delectable lunch at renowned Kassui-ken where both the food and views provide a feast for the senses.

Enjoy the harmony of sake and food at Nadagiku

Located 1.6 km south of Himeji Station, Nadagiku has been brewed in Himeji since 1910. In 1994, Nadagiku switched from mass production to small-batch production and Nadagiku sake is well regarded and wins many awards both in Japan and overseas. As well as Yamada-Nishiki from within Hyogo Prefecture, Hyogo-Yume-Nishiki rice, grown by local farmers and brewing is carried out by a relatively young workforce using traditional handmade methods. Nadagiku is a lovely place to tour and they also have several restaurants on site where you can eat delicious food paired with their sake. This is a great place to try the local delicacy of Himeji Oden.

URL: https://www.nadagiku.co.jp (Japanese)

Travel: Himeji to Kurashiki

・Take the Shinkansen from Himeji Station to Shin-Kurashiki Station (Approx 45 minutes)
・Take a local train from Shin-Kurashiki Station to Kurashiki Station (Approx 10 minutes)

Take an evening stroll in the Kurashiki Bikan Historical District

The Kurashiki Bikan Historical District after the sun goes down Photo: Okayama Tourism Federation

The charming Bikan Historical Preservation District of Kurashiki's merchant quarter invites you to explore its narrow streets, lined with the beautifully preserved white-walled traditional warehouses (kura) that gave the town its name. As night descends and the streets are illuminated, and Kurashiki takes on a serene ambiance, offering a different, yet equally captivating, experience to exploring the daylight.

Accommodation: Ryokan Kurashiki

Ryokan Kurashiki, overlooking the canal that runs through the heart of Kurashiki’s historical district, is in one of the most picturesque locations in the district and is considered the best traditional Japanese inn experience in the area. Housed in a former sugar warehouse, all Ryokan Kurashiki’s eight rooms have a traditional architectural aesthetic with stylish accents and modern comforts such as low profile western beds. The Okuzashiki suite, tucked away within the depths of the ryokan, feels like staying in your own private villa. Exquisite seasonal kaiseki dinners, featuring the abundant produce of the Setouchi region, and beautifully presented breakfasts are a highlight. Use of a private onsen is also available by reservation.

URL: https://www.ryokan-kurashiki.jp/en/top.php

Day 3
Kurashiki and Okayama

Kurashiki Bikan Historical Preservation District

Kurashiki Bikan Historical District Photo: Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation.

Take a boat ride on the canal that flows through the Kurashiki Bikan Historical District. Photo: Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation

The Ohara Museum of Art in Kurashiki Photo: Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation.

Fruit desserts at Kurashiki Momoko

Kurashiki prospered as a political and trade center after it came under the direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1642. Kurashiki’s fortune continued during the late 19th century and early 20th century, this time led by the textile industry. As the town escaped relatively unscathed in WWII, the mix of traditional Japanese and Western-style warehouses and mansions built along the Kurashiki River still remain. Today they are protected as part of the Bikan Historical District which attracts people from all around the world for a taste of the Japan of old.

Kurashiki’s historical quarter is not only expertly preserved, it is also quite lively. As well as museums such as the Ohara Museum of Art with its impressive collection of internationally acclaimed masterpieces, the Kurashiki Museum of Folkcraft and Kurashiki Archaeological Museum, a wide variety of shops, cafes and eateries, from traditional to trendy, occupy many of the traditional buildings. Ivy Square, a red brick facility on the site of a former cotton mill, offers a variety of workshop activities, including Bizen-yaki pottery making, one of Japan’s oldest pottery styles. Walking from place to place passing through an historically preserved cityscape offers a fascinating and historically seamless transition from one attraction to the next.

There are many places to eat around Kurashiki’s historical district, but, if you are looking for a refreshingly sweet treat, one in particular deserves a special mention. Kurashiki Momoko is very popular for its gorgeous and tasty parfaits, desserts and cakes featuring seasonal fruits, including many that are locally grown in Okayama Prefecture. Okayama’s mild climate and technical skill of its farmers have earned it the nickname of the “Kingdom of Fruit” and Kursashiki Momoko is a great place to sample some. There are four outlets to choose from, but the original Sohonten has an impressive collection of French Art Nouveau glassware by Émile Gallé on display.

Travel: Kurashiki Historical Preservation District to Kikuchi Sake Brewery

・Take a taxi from Kurashiki Bikan Historical Preservation District to Kikuchi Sake Brewery (Approx 25 minutes)

Kikuchi Sake Brewery

Immerse yourself in the rich heritage of Kikuchi Brewery as you visit their beautifully preserved traditional sake brewery, nestled within the historical district of Tamashima. Kikuchi Brewery is renowned for their unwavering commitment to excellence and has a proud history dating back to 1878.

At the heart of Kikuchi's esteemed reputation lies their remarkable creation, the award-winning Sanzen sake. This exceptional brew has garnered prestigious accolades, winning top honours at the Annual Japan Sake Awards for four consecutive years, and clinched gold medals at the esteemed International Wine Challenge in 2012, 2016 and 2017. The consistent recognition of Sanzen sake speaks volumes about the unwavering quality and unparalleled craftsmanship that defines Kikuchi Brewery.

Kikuchi Brewery employs a steadfast commitment to sourcing only the finest locally-grown rice, the purest water, and the utmost skill in their sake production process. Every step is meticulously executed, ensuring that only the highest quality ingredients are harmoniously blended to create their top-tier offerings.

URL: http://kikuchishuzo.co.jp/en/

Travel: Kikuchi Sake Brewery to Okayama

・Take a taxi from Kikuchi Sake Brewery to Shin-Kurashiki Station (Approx 10 minutes)
・Take the Shinkansen from Shin-Kurashiki Station to Okayama (Approx 10 minutes)

Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden

Okayama Castle Photo: Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation

Korakuen Garden Photo: Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation

Hayashibara Museum of Art

The majestic black facade of Okayama Castle, from which it earned its moniker, 'Crow Castle', provides a striking contrast to the pristine white walls of Himeji Castle. Positioned gracefully alongside the flowing Asahi River, Okayama Castle invites you to relax and absorb the breath-taking views of the castle itself and adjacent Korakuen Garden. Explore distinctive architectural features of Japanese castle design, view the discover workshops dedicated to the region’s famous Bizen-yaki pottery before your visit to an authentic kiln later in the day and don traditional princess or feudal lord attire for a memorable photoshoot.

The Hayashibara Museum of Art, in the castle grounds, has a prodigious collection of swords, armor, Noh costumes and masks, furniture, paintings, calligraphy, lacquer work and pottery. The building itself is also impressive. Designed by Kunio Maekawa, one of Japan’s most respected architects, seamlessly merges tradition with modern architectural brilliance.

Korakuen Garden, ranked among the top three in the country, is a harmonious fusion of meticulously manicured landscapes, tranquil ponds, and enchanting traditional architecture. Immerse yourself in the timeless beauty of sculptured landscapes, traditional tea houses, and vibrant koi ponds—a symbol of wealth and power in Japanese culture.

Within the garden you can experience several Japanese traditions. Any time of the year you can try a Japanese tea ceremony in one of the tea houses within the garden. At certain times of the year, some of the formal buildings host tea ceremonies where masters host and teach you the art of tea.

To fully immerse yourself in this rich cultural enclave, we recommend obtaining the Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden Pass.

URL: https://okayama-castle.jp/home-en/