Setouchi Areato Photo Writer List
Available Write Up: 141
At first glance, Kotohira strikes me as just another small town in the Japanese countryside. But as it turns out, this township of 10,000 people boasts not just one, but two historic gems.
Making my way along the small street along the river, the first things I notice are the fishing boats moored as far as I can see. Looking up, I realize I’m surrounded by mountains. Ahead of me, even the sea before me seems to be populated by peaks rising sharply from the Sea of Japan. I had come to Hagi to visit the world heritage site, I had not anticipated such captivating scenery and it brought a smile to my face.
Nestled in verdant mountains beside a beautiful river lies the luxurious, traditional ryokan inn Bettei Otozure — an ideal place for those seeking an escape from the pressures of daily life.
When you first lay eyes upon Iwakuni’s Kintaikyo Bridge, located just a short bus ride from Hiroshima City, you may find yourself feeling like something just doesn’t quite add up.
Kokian operates as an oasis of serenity in the city of Yamaguchi. After driving past the surrounding buildings and hotels in this popular hot spring resort area, it’s a surprise to step into the crisp open spaces of the silent lobby. Through the glass, grass seems to glow green in the sunlight. Lining the lawn sits a row of comfortable seats for ashiyu, hot springs specifically to warm and relax your feet.
Sitting down at the huge teppanyaki hotplate, the first thing I notice is the friendly chef grinning his welcome. The second point is that I don’t feel hot at all, despite the massive grill directly in front of me. Turning to my left, it’s impossible to miss the room-sized glass cellar full of wine. This establishment is stocked to the rafters with super fine vintages, and even carries a Michelin star.
The first thing that strikes me as I stroll toward the illustrious Himeji Castle is its gleaming white surface. Shimmering in the sunlight against a bold blue sky, there’s no question as to where its monikers Hakuro-jo and Shirasagi-jo (“white egret castle” and “white heron castle”) come from. The wooden masterpiece is snow-white and elegant, like a bird poised for flight.
Cooking has never been my strong point, especially when it comes to making foods from scratch by following a recipe. But, when presented with the chance to learn the art of making Sanuki udon — the scrumptious soul food of Kagawa Prefecture — I couldn’t pass it up.
“Konnichiwa, dozo!” the boatman exclaims cheerily as he hands me a conical-shaped hat made of straw like the one he is wearing — a sugegasa, as it is called in Japanese. Traditionally these hats were worn to shield the wearer from rain and harsh sun. Admittedly, I hesitate, feeling a bit silly.
“Tooi inaka!” exclaims the man next to me on the bus from Osaka when I tell him my destination. Even for my fellow Japanese passenger headed to Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, the Iya Valley is considered tooi inaka — deep countryside.
When I disembarked at Tadanoumi Station I knew I was heading for the same place as everyone else. Every year, over 100,000 visitors flock to the ferry port at Tadanoumi to sail the short distance across to Okunoshima Island – better known to the world as ‘Rabbit Island’.
Itsukushima Shrine needs no introduction. Its vermillion torii gate rising from the sea is an image recognized throughout the world. Every year millions flock to this small island off the coast of Hiroshima to marvel at the architecture and soak up the atmosphere of this World Heritage Site.
Look out to sea from Hiroshima Prefecture and you’ll see bamboo rafts floating on the serene waters of the Seto Inland Sea. Fishing boats with crane attachments sail from one raft to the next before returning to their makeshift jetties. These are Hiroshima’s oyster-cultivators. They grow their crops of succulent oysters on wires hanging down into the water from the bamboo struts.
The world-renowned Pritzker Prize winning architect Tadao Ando has strong ties to the Seto Inland Sea. He worked closely with the Benesse Corporation turning the provincial island of Naoshima into one of the best-known art locations in the world. On the island, Ando is responsible for having created three museums and the hotel ‘Benesse House.’
As I strolled through the streets of the small harbor town of Mitarai, it felt like time stood still. The charming streets and alleyways meander through beautifully preserved Japanese houses – some dating back over 200 years. Seasonal flower arrangements hang off the houses in bamboo vases and the townsfolk go about their day at an unhurried pace.
On my first visit to Bikan Street in Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture, I expected a scenic, if somewhat touristy, walk-through historical preservation with old-time charm and some nice photo opportunities. Like a less crowded version of Kyoto’s Gion, albeit straddling a more recent timeframe.
Awaji Island is slightly off the beaten track for many foreigners visiting Japan. A little challenging to access, as there is no train line, most visitors make the trip from Kobe via bus or car, crossing the giant bridges that span the straits. For those who make the extra effort, Awaji has gorgeous beaches in summer; quiet, rural ryokan; and a quirky science center dedicated to the Naruto Bridge.
The curators of the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum Japan like to retain the mystery around the sculpture master.
In something of a pilgrimage, from early November to mid-March, hordes of hungry tourists descend upon Japan’s coast for crab season. Kinosaki Onsen in northern Hyogo prefecture has been voted Japan’s best hot-spring town both for its glowing autumn colors, as well as its famed crab kaiseki banquet.
You’ll never guess what I discovered while visiting Jeans Street in Kojima, Japan. It’s a bit of a secret, really—about Jeans Street. Turns out, it’s not really about jeans. In fact, it’s not even about denim.
Where am I? Blurry-eyed, having just awoken to twilight from the deepest sleep I’ve had in years, the answer comes to me. I’m tucked in a cozy futon in an old Japanese kominka (traditional wooden house with a thatched roof), deep in the heart of the Iya Valley on the island of Shikoku.
The smell hits you first. That strong smell of fermentation — a pungent, wet-dog odor wafting up as the workers of the Aizumi History Museum in Aizumi-cho, dip bundles of string into deep vats of indigo. Travel is about experience, and I’m here to try my hand at this traditional craft.
Hotel Limani doesn’t merely stand beside the Setouchi Sea—it embraces it. From the panoramic lobby on through the restaurant, lounge, exercise room, spa, and outdoor pool with its swim-up bar, one is never without an arresting view of the sea. In fact, when you book your stay, there’s no need to ask for an ocean view—for every one of Hotel Limani’s sumptuous guest rooms faces the ocean.
Strolling through Miyajima’s famous shrine, photographing the torii gate and posing with obliging deer are all musts on any trip to Hiroshima’s famous World Heritage Site. But if you’re itching for a workout and want to burn off some sushi dinners, hiking up Miyajima’s famous Mt. Misen is the perfect way to sightsee and exercise at the same time.
At the concierge’s suggestion, I slip off my shoes and into my hidey-hole for the night at the special Villa Bel Tramonto annex of Resort Hotel Moana Coast in Naruto. Classical music plays softly amid gently dimmed lights. The glass doors look out on a forested mountain scene.
What dishes spring to mind when you think of ”Setouchi cuisine”?(Hyogo, Tokushima, Kagawa)
What dishes spring to mind when you think of ”Setouchi cuisine”?(Okayama, Hiroshima, Ehime, Yamaguchi)