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3-Day Model Trip Outline of the region

East Chugoku Shikoku

3-Day Model Trip Outline of the region / East Chugoku Shikoku / Discover the Heart of Japan and Its Superb Ocean and Mountain Scenery

From the Grand Shrine of Izumo on the Japan Sea Coast, this journey takes us across Japan to a beautifully preserved historic town on the spectacular Inland Sea and then to Shikoku Island via one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Seto-ohashi Bridge. On Shikoku, white-robed pilgrims make their way from temple to temple on a pilgrimage dedicated to Japan's most revered holy man.

Izumo Shrine

In Japan's old lunar calendar, the tenth month is referred to as kan’nazuki, "the month without gods." It is believed that during this month, all of the eight million gods of Japan, congregate at the Izumo Shrine for a convocation with the resident deity, Okuninushi no Mikoto. And if you visit Izumo Shrine, you will see on either side of the inner sanctum two long structures with 19 small shrines to accommodate all these visiting deities.
Whenever you visit the Izumo Shrine, it has a dignified charm and a marvelous patina of age, evident in its moss-encrusted thatched roofs, that makes it a very special place.
Okuninushi no Mikoto is the god who blesses the "joining of people," and so Izumo Shrine is popular for weddings, particularly in the tenth lunar month when all the gods are there.
One of the greatest love affairs between a man and a country was born between the scholar Lafcadio Hearn when he visited the city of Matsue, near Izumo, in 1890. Hearn, who went on to become one of the earliest and most ardent of Japanophiles, stayed in Matsue for seven months, captivated by its civilized and charming people. He wrote of his experiences in such books as “The Classic Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.” In Matsue you can visit the house where Hearn lived.

Glimpses of the Past

Lovers of the tea ceremony will want to head straight for Meimei-an, one of the most famous tea arbors in Japan, built in 1779 by Matsudaira Harusato, titled Fumai (1751-1818), a major arbiter of tea taste in the Edo Period (1600-1868), who resided in Matsue. Relics of his inspiring influence dot the whole area. There is even a stone water basin he designed at the Yakumo Honjin Inn in Shinji Town, one of the very few surviving honjin in Japan, the official accommodation for feudal lords. Now you can stay there, too.
A special room was added to the inn for a visit by Emperor Taisho (1879-1926), who came just to try the inn's specialty, a duck meat hot pot served in a huge abalone shell over a small charcoal brazier. One of the enjoyments is to cook your own soup stock and then dip in the duck meat along with copious quantities of crisp, fresh vegetables.
From the Matsue area, why not head for Yonago, where we can catch the train for a relatively quick journey to the other side of Japan. On the way, a splendid detour can be made by going inland through beautiful hill-shrouded riceland to the Adachi Museum in Yasugi City. In addition to a collection of renowned Japanese paintings and ceramics, this museum has a stunning "borrowed scenery" garden, where the distant mountains act as a backdrop for a carefully composed foreground garden.

The Other Side of Japan

Just over two hours by train from Yonago brings you to the other side of Japan, to Kurashiki, home of a beautifully preserved former rice merchants' quarter, and one of the most visited tourist spots in Japan.
Before making that trip, however, the energetic may be tempted on a detour to climb holy Mt. Daisen, where Daisen-ji Temple, an important center of Tendai esoteric Buddhism, awaits pilgrims. From there, in the summer season, make the two-and-a-half-hour climb to the summit for an amazing view of Shimane Peninsula, the Hiruzen Mountains, and the Oki Islands.
For those who would linger longer, there is also Tsuyama City, whose old castle grounds are planted with some 5,000 cherry trees, as well as a 17th century villa garden, the Shurakuen.

Where Time Stops

In Kurashiki, the preserved former merchants' quarter, where rice and cotton were dealt, sits in its own time-stopped world of white plaster buildings checker-boarded with black tiles along willow-lined canals. Those who are ready for a rest from the hubbub of Japanese megalopolises will be rewarded by a quiet night in one of the old inns in the canal district, affording the chance to stroll the hushed streets of the town in the morning before the day tourists arrive.
Other tourist attractions include the Ohara Museum of Art, which carries a first-rate collection of Western art and Japanese folk art, and the Kurashiki Folk Craft Museum, housed in 18th century rice granaries. There is also a whole day's worth of browsing in craft shops for the likes of the famous local Bizen pottery, which takes seven to ten days to fire in wood-fired kilns.

Sumo Salt

From Kurashiki, it is easy to access Kojima, the departure point for the Seto-ohashi Bridge -- the longest bridge in the world carrying both rail and road traffic -- which will take you to the island of Shikoku. The view of the island-dotted Inland Sea is one of the most spectacular sights in the world.
But before departing there is an impressive house you should visit. In Kojima is the former home of salt baron Nozaki Buzaemon, where you can buy some of the very same salt that is used by sumo wrestlers to purify the ring before they clash. Six magnificent black and white storehouses on the Nozaki property are used to store materials for salt farming. Under the pine and maple trees in the courtyard by the warehouses are clusters of wheel-shaped stones. They were used for weighing the coals that heated the salt water. The workers would put one stone weighing 60 kg on a boat and measure how far the boat sank. Then they would load coal up to the same level. The enormous flat stone in front of the reception room of the main Nozaki house was where important guests alighted from their palanquins.

Shikoku Pilgrimage

Alighting on Shikoku, you are within half an hour of Takamatsu City and the amazing Ritsurin-koen, a former feudal lord's stroll garden, now a large park, with some of the most elegant and expressive pine trees in Japan.
Now, don your white robes, and pick up a staff, for we are about to enter the land of pilgrims. The Zentsuji Temple here is one of the holiest temples on the 88-temple Shikoku Pilgrimage, which is dedicated to Kukai (774-835), Japan's most revered saint. Kukai went to China and returned to found the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism in 807. Though architecturally undistinguished, the Zentsuji is the highlight of the Shikoku pilgrimage for many, as it is the birthplace of Kukai.
The nearby Kotohira Shrine, better known as Kompirasan, is an even more popular destination for tourists. It enshrines the same god as the Izumo Shrine. But it is also home to the god of the sea and has long been a place of worship for fishermen and seafarers. The poor samurai in the nearby port of Marugame, a castle town, made uchiwa fans, which they sold to the fishermen pilgrims. Join the crowds thronging the colorful streets leading to Kompirasan, which is also the place to find a rare original Edo Period playhouse.
From here the road leads to Kochi. Once thought a truly remote outpost because of the formidable mountain range that isolating it from the rest of the island, Kochi indeed seems like a world apart, with its sub-tropical atmosphere and palm-lined streets. Traditional dishes include barely seared and sliced bonito fish with garlic, shiso herb, and citrus. Its favorite son is Sakamoto Ryoma, a daring samurai, who helped engineer the overthrow of the shogunate and usher in Japan's modern era. His statue stands outside the handsome 8th century Kochi Castle, his hand tucked Napoleon-like in his robe.