Shikoku and Inland Sea
SHIKOKU AND INLAND SEA
Osaka or Kobe can serve as bases for extended travel to regions around the Inland Sea, Chugoku Region and Shikoku Island.
The Inland Sea, blessed with superb scenery and a mild climate, is fondly regarded as the most beautiful waterway in Japan. Stretching 496 km. (307 miles) between Osaka and Beppu (on Kyushu island) and seldom deeper than 400 m. (1,230 ft.), it's a vast emerald sea dotted with some 3,000 islands of various shapes and sizes. Much of the area between Honshu and Shikoku lies protected within the Inland Sea National Park, one of two national parks covering mostly sea (the other is Saikai National Park in Kyushu). Islands with beautiful shores skirted by white surf and supporting fishing villages, small ports and farms offer visitors the chance to explore a laid-back lifestyle surrounded by natural beauty.
bridges cross the Inland Sea from Honshu to Shikoku. The Seto Ohashi
Bridge, links Kojima and Sakaide by train and car,
the Akashi-kaikyo Ohashi Bridge, for vehicular traffic only, between
Kobe and Awajishima island, the Shimanami-Kaido route links Hiroshima
and Ehime prefectures. It's a series of 10 bridges that connect six islands on
its journey across the Inland Sea. Your more adventuresome clients may wish to
cycle across the Inland Sea on the dedicated 70-km. (43-mile) biking trail that
runs alongside the Shimanami-Kaido across the bridges but then diverges through
countryside on the islands. Rental bikes are available.
Omishima Island, one of the islands traversed on the Shimanami-Kaido route, is known for its beautiful scenery, including rock cliffs, tunnels, caves and stone columns. It's home also of Oyamazumi Shrine, worshipped for centuries by samurai and worth visiting for its museum housing one of Japan's most impressive collections of samurai swords, armor and helmets, donated by samurai thankful for their victories in battle.
Ikuchijima Island, also on the Shimanami-Kaido route, is noted for the colorful Kosanji Temple in the port town of Setoda. It was founded in 1936 by a locally born businessman, Kozo Kanemoto, who dedicated the shrine to his mother and spent the next 30 years constructing full-scale replicas of famous Japanese temples and shrines, including the Hall of Dreams at Horyuji Temple in Nara, the Main Hall of Shitennoji Temple in Osaka, and the Yomeimon Gate of Nikko.
Naoshima, about 1 hr. 30 min. from Okayama by train, ferry and car, is an island of art blessed with nature, and attracts worldwide attention.
Benesse Art Site Naoshima features a fine contemporary art museum, and its architecture blends in with the island's serene natural environment.
Takamatsu, on the northeast coast of Shikoku overlooking the Inland Sea, is the main gateway to the island. From 1642 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it served as the stronghold for the powerful Matsudaira clan, who left behind Takamatsu's most famous attraction, Ritsurin Park.
Ritsurin Park, regarded as one of the most outstanding landscape gardens in Japan, was once the private summer retreat of the Matsudaira family. It took more than 100 years to complete and is famous for its principles of "borrowed landscaping" in which elements from the surrounding scenery such as Mt. Shiun are incorporated into the garden's design. The garden is divided into two parts: the classical southern garden with its traditional landscaping and the northern part with its grassy open areas and lotus ponds. This is an oasis gardening enthusiasts will not want to miss; a bonus is the Kikugetsu-tei teahouse, where guests can contemplate views as they sip ceremonial green tea.
Shikoku Mura Village is an open-air architectural museum of more than 20 homes and other structures dating from the Edo Period, brought to the museum from all over Shikoku and picturesquely arranged on a wooded slope of Yashima hill. Included are thatched-roof farmhouses, a rural Kabuki stage and storehouses.
Matsuyama, located on the northwest coast, is Shikoku's largest town and is linked to Honshu by rail and to Beppu on Kyushu and to Osaka by ferries departing from nearby Takahama. Its tourist attractions include one of Japan's best-preserved castles and a historic bathhouse. The Shimanami-Kaido, a series of bridges connecting Ehime and Hiroshima prefectures, is nearby.
Matsuyama Castle dominates the city's skyline from its perch atop a hill in the center of the city. One of Japan's best-preserved feudal castles, it was first built 400 years ago before falling under the domain of the Matsudaira family. The three-story donjon serves as a museum with samurai-related items, objects belonging to the Matsudaira family, and other feudal-era displays.
Dogo Spa, on the outskirts of Matsuyama and easily reached by streetcar, is said to be the oldest spa in Japan, with a history that purportedly goes back 3,000 years. Many Japanese inns and hotels are located here, but the main attraction is the wonderful Dogo Onsen Honkan, a three-story Japanese-style wooden bathhouse dating from 1894. Taking a bath here and then relaxing on tatami mats drinking tea and eating rice crackers is like a step back in time, and one your clients shouldn't miss.