After visiting the historical Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, it’s time for you to see the other sights that South-western Japan has to offer. With stretching views of dense canopy against the faded silhouettes of rugged mountaintops, there are plenty of places for you to admire the calm sea views and soak up the salt-tinged air.
Keep these 5 destinations in mind when planning your vacation next year!
1. Setouchi Inland Sea
Home to about 3000 islands, the Setouchi Inland Sea boasts of an abundance of water activities and interesting sights to see around the islands.
In the morning: visit the Naoshima Art Island
Having evolved from a sleepy fishing village into a modern-day museum, the entire island of Naoshima is filled with art installations - some disguised as public baths, playgrounds, and flourishing gardens. Works by big-name artists such as Claude Monet and Yukinori Yanagi grace the grounds of this tranquil little island, making it the perfect getaway for art lovers.
Access: Either from Okayama Uno Port or Shikoku Kagawa Takamatsu Port By boat. Check website for more info
In the afternoon: climb up to see the beautiful scenery at Innoshima Island
Though Innoshima may be small, it is home to a majestic mountain rich in history - the Shirataki Mountain. Said to be the base of the Inland Murakami pirates who used to terrorise the high seas, you can take a short hike up and see if you can find any traces left behind by the notorious pirates!
Address: Innoshima Island is located in the south-eastern part of the Hiroshima prefecture within the Seto Inland Sea.
Access: 30 minutes from Onomichi Station to Innoshima Ohashi stop by local bus
At night: night cycling at Shimanami cycling road
One day is simply not enough to soak up the sights in the Setouchi area, so if you really must, then go for a night cycle by the Shimanami Kaido bike route. Spanning across 60 kilometres (38 miles), plenty of old shrines and lighthouses lay in wait hidden behind unassuming shrubbery. With a total of 14 cycle rental terminals, you can rent a bike easily and rest if you ever get tired.
Shimanami Kaido Inter island road
Location: Please refer to the website
Price: rental fees from 10 USD
Access: Cycling terminals are accessible 150 metres (492 feet) from JR Onomichi Station.
Wakayama is a city that is very much in tune with its own spirituality - temple towns on top of atmospheric mountains seem to exude an aura of peace detached from mortal worries, making it the perfect place for you to unwind in.
In the morning: cat-ch a sight of Nitama at Nishi Train Station
Everything is peaceful and business at usual here at Kichi Train station, thanks to the hardworking Nitama - a cat station attendant appointed to oversee the daily happenings (read: catching unwanted pests and finishing the last pack of cat food) of the station. If you'd like to show your support for her, take a ride in the adorable calico-themed trains that operate from Kishi to Wakayama.
Station Master Nitama
Location: Wakayama Dentetsu Kishikawa Line Kishi Train Station Ticket Booth
Opening Hours (cat master duty time): On duty：Tuesday - Friday at Kishi Station
Days off：Mondays, Saturdays, Sundays
Fresh fish for breakfast, anyone?
Stop by the Kuroshio Market for your daily dose of seafood fresh from the waters! Grill up a feast at the Japanese barbecue restaurants lining the streets, and feel free to take away your food if you can't finish them (they have pretty big servings!) Before you leave, be sure to stay for the tuna preparation show which happens three times daily - you don't get to see someone gutting a whole tuna very often!
Address: 1527 Kemi, Wakayama City, Wakayama Prefecture
Opening Hours: 10 am - 5 pm (may change by season)
Contact: +81 73-448-0011
In the afternoon: embark on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route
The Kumano Kodo are a set of pilgrimage routes leading up to the sacred heart of the Kumano Sanzen Shrines - the Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha. For over 1000 years, pilgrims from all over Japan have embarked on these trails for many reasons; some seek closure, while others look to achieving a higher state of spiritual consciousness by traversing across the difficult mountain trails. Perhaps you could do the same if you feel as though you've been in a slump lately - the view from the top makes the climb worth it.
Kumano Kodo Trails
Location: Nakahechicho / Hongucho /Nachikatsuuracho, please find the details from the website below
At night: cook your own hot spring egg in Yunomine onsen
The delicious hot spring eggs of Japan are savoury to the taste, and what better way to eat one than to actually make it yourself? Drop by the local grocery store and pick out some eggs, drop them in the basins provided and wait for them to cook while you chill out!
Address: 122 Yunomine Hongu-cho, Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture
Price: rooms from 70 USD
Contact: Call to make reservation, +81 735-42-0012
Located right in the middle of the serene seas and rocky mountains is the quiet city of Kobe, where you get to soak up the beauty of vivid gardens against the backdrop of rugged terrains.
In the morning: explore the herb garden
You may feel as though you took a trip back in time here at the Nunobiki Herb Garden. With a flourishing plantation of over 75,000 herbs, feel free to take a walk through the fields for the natural aroma of sweet-smelling plants. If your legs are aching from all that exploring, take a herbal foot bath to rejuvenate and cleanse your feet!
Nunobiki Herb Garden
Address: 1-4-3 Kitanocho, Chuo Ward, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture
Price: from 10 USD
Opening Hours: Varies from day to day. Check website for more info
Contact: +81 78-271-1160
In the afternoon: climb up the rocky Mt. Rokko
Take half a day off to climb up the spectacular peaks of Mt. Rokko, where panoramic views of surrounding highlands surround you - it is especially beautiful just before sunset when the skies dye the atmosphere a stunning orange glow. After that, be sure to pop by the scenic Rokko Garden Terrace, a mini village with an array of restaurants and shops.
Address: Higashinada Ward, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture
Access: Please refer to the image
Price: Rokko Tourist Pass 1,000 JPY (USD 10)
Blessed with lush green forestry and crystal-clear waters, the city of Kochi is rife with idyllic nature retreats that are relatively unheard of, making it the prime spot for your next trip into the unknown!
In the morning: stop by the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden
Housing up to 3000 different species of plants, the Makino Botanical Garden was built in honour of botanist Dr. Tomitaro Makino - a Kochi-born researcher who helped discover and name many of the plants here. Take a look at his extensive research in the exhibition room, where his studies of plants are sketched out and displayed.
Makino Botanical Garden
Address: 4200-6 Godaisan, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
Price: from 7 USD
Opening Hours: 9 am to 5 pm. Closed from December 27 to January 1
Contact: +81 88-882-2601
In the afternoon: bask in the sunlight by the cerulean Niyodo River
The sparkling blue waters that catch glimmers of the morning sun have earned this river the nickname of "Niyodo Blue", a clear cerulean colour that can only be found in the ripples here. Dive into the cool waters for some riverside fun - swimming, fishing, and canoeing are just a fraction of all the activities you can do here!
Address: Niyodo River Community Tourism Council, 145 Daikokucho, Ino, Agawa Gun, Kochi Prefecture
Access: Depends on which part of the river you are visiting, check official website for more info
Contact: Niyodo River Community Tourism Council, +81 88-893-0733
At night: indulge in the famous red bonito
Savour the elusive bluefin tuna on the brink of extinction due to its popularity. Though expensive, the unique way in which it is cooked is definitely worth a try! Served as katsuo tataki here in Kochi, the fish is seared over a sweet-smelling straw fire while still raw on the inside. Dip it into soy sauce with a touch of wasabi for an explosion of both grilled goodness with a zap of tangy horseradish.
Address: 1-1-2 Motomachi, Yachiyo Bldg 1F, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
Opening Hours: 5pm - 1pm
Access: 1-minute walk from Horizume Tram Station
Contact: +81 88-820-6505
The port city of Nagasaki hosts many of its own festivities to celebrate the local food culture and traditional holidays. At night, the houses that line the slope leading up to the mountains create a stunning sight from an aerial view.
In the morning: sail out to the Gunkanjima Island
Movie fanatics may recognise this location from one of Christopher Nolan's widely acclaimed film, "Inception". The name of this abandoned island is coined after its unique appearance when approached from the side - it looks just like the silhouette of a battleship (gukanjima)! Explore the rustic charms of the remote settings, but be careful of falling debris from old buildings.
Hashima Island (Gukanjima)
Access: Get to the ferry from Nagasaki Port Ferry Terminal
In the afternoon: visit the scenic Dutch slope
Coined the "Oranda-zaka" by locals, the Dutch slope got its name from the influx of Dutch merchants who settled into the neighbourhood in the late 1900s. Unable to determine their ethnicity, the locals just called them "Oranda-jin", which translates to "people from Holland", and the path they always took was labeled as such. Today, the Western-style residences that were once occupied are now on display as an open-air museum - a beautiful place for pictures.
"Oranda-zaka", Dutch Slope
Address: Higashiyamatemachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Access: Short walk away from the Shiminbyoin-mae tram stop on line number five.
Late afternoon: take a trip down to Nagasaki Dejima Island
Examine the unique case of Dejima island, an artificial island built during the 1600s by locals to contain foreign traders. Even today, you can spot the curious fusion of Western architecture built into the traditional wooden huts of Japanese inns and houses. If you're a history buff, you will find the historical displays documenting the relationship between Dutch and Japan in the past to be rewarding!
Address: 6-1 Dejimamachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Price: from 5 USD
Opening Hours: 8am to 6pm (until 7pm in summer and during peak seasons)
Admission ends at 20 minutes before closing
Access: From Nagasaki station, take the tram no.1 to Dejima station stop 5 minutes away.
Discover the quirks of South-west Japan
The road less travelled always rewards you with a far more unique experience than common tourist spots. South-west Japan may not be the most popular destination, but there are so many hidden gems lying about in the form of art and monuments rich in history, simply waiting to be discovered by you. Take a day trip to these regions next time you're here - your real adventure has yet to begin!