> Chugoku—Western Honshu
Inland Sea Coast
The Chugoku Region occupies the western end of Honshu, Japan's main island. Its primary tourist destinations include Okayama for its must-see garden, Kurashiki for its charming historic district of old warehouses, Hiroshima for its world-famous Peace Memorial Park, Miyajima for its beautiful Itsukushima Shrine, and Iwakuni for its unique five-span arched bridge.
Okayama is a major gateway to Shikoku and boasts one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. It's also known for its Bizen-yaki, a local pottery produced in the nearby town of Bizen, with tea utensils, sake bottles, flower vases and tableware making popular souvenirs.
Garden is considered one of the three most beautiful landscaped gardens
in Japan (the other two are the Kenrokuen in Kanazawa and the Kairakuen in Mito).
It was completed in 1700 and contains rustic tea arbors, vast lawns (an unusual
feature of traditional gardens), ponds, streams, graceful bamboo groves and teahouses,
all tastefully arranged to harmonize with the surrounding hills and mountains.
Okayama Castle, east of Korakuen Garden, was originally constructed in the 16th century but was rebuilt following its destruction in World War II. It's nicknamed Ujo (Crow Castle) by the Japanese, due to its black exterior. The four-story donjon, served by an elevator, contains a few feudal-era relics of local relevance.
Kurashiki rates as one of Japan's most picturesque towns, with a historic district centered on a willow-fringed canal lined with old homes and warehouses that have been transformed into shops, restaurants, museums and inns. Since Kurashiki is hardly undiscovered, recommend to your clients that they avoid visiting on weekends.
Ohara Museum of Art is Kurashiki's most significant museum, founded in the 1930s as Japan's first museum of Western art. It consists of a main building modeled after the Greek pantheon housing works by such artists as El Greco, Monet, Manet, Picasso, Gauguin, Renoir, Jasper John, and Pollock, as well as a craft gallery, a building devoted to Japanese artists painting in the Western style, and a gallery of ancient Chinese art.
Hiroshima is a thoroughly modern city of wide boulevards, numerous rivers, a thriving downtown, and a population of more than 1 million. But its main tourist draw—Peace Memorial Park—is the legacy that sets Hiroshima apart: it was the world's first city destroyed by an atomic bomb (the second was Nagasaki on Kyushu island). Hiroshima has long risen from the ashes, but its past is not forgotten. In addition to Peace Park, the city boasts Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Garden, both reconstructed as they were. Hiroshima also serves as a gateway to cruises in the Inland Sea and to nearby Miyajima.
Peace Memorial Park spreads over a triangular piece of land on a delta formed by the Motoyasu and Ota rivers. There are many memorials and statues inside the park, including the Memorial Cenotaph dedicated to those who died in the catastrophe; the Flame of Peace, which will continue to burn until a real and permanent peace is achieved on earth; the Statue of Mother and Child in the Tempest; the Statue of the A-Bomb Children, where schoolchildren from throughout Japan bring paper streamers of folded cranes; and the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, which dispenses personal histories and information of the 140,000 who lost their lives in 1945. But most important is the Peace Memorial Museum, which describes in graphic detail what Hiroshima was like before, during and after the fall of the atomic bomb through photographs, actual footage and chilling displays.
Dome, formerly the Industrial Promotion Hall, stands just north of Peace
Memorial Park. As the only building whose framework survived the atomic explosion,
its skeletal remains have been left standing as a reminder of the war.
Hiroshima Castle was originally built in 1589 but like everything else in the city center was destroyed in 1945. Its five-story donjon was reconstructed in 1958 and houses an excellent museum devoted to Hiroshima's history as a thriving castle town, castle architecture, and life during the Edo Era.
Shukkeien Garden was first laid out in 1621, destroyed in 1945, and then reconstructed. The clever use of well-placed ponds, streams, hills and bridges makes it seem larger than it is.
Two museums worth noting are the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art with its cutting-edge works by established and upcoming Japanese artists and the Hiroshima Museum of Art with its impressive collection of French paintings and works by Japanese artists in the Western style.
26 min. from Hiroshima by train followed by a 10-min. ferry ride from Miyajimaguchi,
is a jewel of an island in the Inland Sea. It's ranked as one of the three most
scenic spots in Japan (the other two are Matsushima in Tohoku and Amanohashidate
on the Japan Sea Coast). With an area of only 30 sq. km. (12 sq. miles), it's
densely covered in woods, with Mt. Misen rising in the middle, and is famous for
its cherry blossoms in spring and its tinted maples in autumn. Since ancient times
it has been revered as a site for nature worship, and until the Meiji Restoration
in 1868 there were decrees forbidding deaths or births on the island, with the
result that even today there is no cemetery on Miyajima island. Tame deer roam freely
on the island and monkeys live on the slopes of Mt. Misen. But it's for Itsukushima
Shrine that most visitors come.
Itsukushima Shrine, one of the UNESCO'S world heritage site, is said to have been built in the reign of Empress Suiko (554-628) and then enlarged in the 1100s to its present splendor. Its huge torii, or shrine gate, stands off shore and is one of Japan's largest, measuring 16 m. (53 ft.) high and creating a striking image with its brilliant red color. The shrine, also painted a brilliant vermilion, is built over the water on stilts and consists of a main shrine, subsidiary shrines, high and low stages and a Noh stage, all connected by broad corridors.
The Miyajima Municipal History and Folklore Museum Treasure Hall is actually a home that once belonged to a soy-sauce merchant during the Edo Period. It contains everyday items donated by the people of Miyajima Island, including farm tools, household objects, furniture and more, providing interesting insight into a way of life that has all but vanished.
Mt. Misen, with an altitude of 530 m. (1.749 ft.), rises from the middle of the island and is easily accessible by foot or cable car. Densely covered with primeval forests that serve as home to a thriving monkey population, Mt. Misen affords a fine view of the Inland Sea. Near the summit is also a temple founded in the early 9th century by Kobo Daishi, a famous priest interred on Mt. Koya.
Iwakuni is an important industrial town but is on the tourist circuit because of a bridge, cormorant fishing that takes place on the river below it, and an old samurai district that has been turned into a park.
Kintai-kyo Bridge is considered one of Japan's most beautiful bridges, with five linked arches forming a graceful span across the Nishiki River. Because of its unique shape, it is also known as the Abacus Bridge. Although originally constructed in 1673, it was washed away by a flood in 1950 and then reconstructed in 1953 as an exact duplicate. It's considered an engineering marvel, since only clamps and wires—no nails—were used in its construction. Cormorant fishing takes place on the Nishiki River in summer.
Kikko Park, next to Kintai-kyo Bridge, was once the domain of a feudal lord who lived here surrounded by his samurai retainers until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Several samurai houses remain, along with the Kinunkaku Pavilion beside a canal, the Chokokan historical museum and a shrine.
Iwakuni Castle, connected to Kikko Park by a 3-min. ropeway, stands atop Shiroyama Hill with a view of Kintai Bridge, the city and the Inland Sea. It was completed in 1608 by a feudal lord but was torn down in 1615 by orders of the Tokugawa shogunate (the feudal lord then moved down to what is now Kikko Park). For nearly 350 years the castle remained a ruin, until in 1962 it was reconstructed in Momoyama style with a hint of European architecture—making it a very unique castle in Japan. Its interior houses a collection of armor and swords.
Japan Sea Coast
Tottori, a former castle town, is a major city in this district and a thriving spa resort. Hot springs gush to the earth's surface virtually everywhere—on the beach, in the mountains and beside the lake. Main spots of interest include the unique Tottori Sand Dunes, the Tottori Folk Art Museum with a fine ceramics collection, Ochidai Shrine and the ruins of Tottori Castle.
The Tottori Sand Dunes stretch 16 km. (9.9 miles) long and 2.4 km. (1.5 miles) wide along the coast of the Japan Sea, with the Sendai River flowing down its center. The wind swept dunes ripple in fantastic patterns, and together with twisted pines on the fringe, create a striking image, considered best at sunrise and sunset.
Daisen-Oki National Park centers on the 1,729-m.- (5,700-ft.-) high Mt. Daisen and also includes Shimane Peninsula and the Oki Islands, a cluster of volcanic islands lying about 74 km. (46 miles) north of Shimane Peninsula and famous as the place of exile for Emperor Gotoba and Emperor Godaigo during the Kamakura Period (1102-1333). In addition to its scenic beauty, the park is also known for its abundant plants, rare birds and insects.
Mt. Daisen, the highest peak in the Chugoku Range, is popularly known as the Mt. Fuji of Hoki Province (now a part of Tottori Prefecture), due to its graceful cone shape reminiscent of Mt. Fuji when viewed from the west. When seen from the south or north, however, it looks rugged with rocky crags. About halfway up the mountain, accessible by bus, are Daisenji Temple and Ogamiyama Shrine, closely associated with mountain religion. From here it's about a 2.5-hour hike to the summit, where hikers are rewarded with beautiful views of Shimane Peninsula and the Oki Islands. Because of its gentle slopes and snow depths that can reach 2 m. (6.6 ft.) in winter, Mt. Daisen offers some of the best skiing in western Honshu. From summer to autumn, it also offers good mountain climbing, camping and hiking.
Hagi was once a bustling castle town, protected by hills, a fork of a river and the sea. Only ruins of the castle remain, which are still popular for the many surrounding cherry trees that bloom in spring, but the old samurai district is the major tourist draw. The fishing town is also known for its summer mandarin oranges and its 360-year-old tradition of Hagi-yaki pottery.
Chomonkyo Gorge is known for its steep cliffs, fantastically shaped rocks, cascading falls and deep pools. The gorge stretches approximately 10 km. (6.6 miles), though tourists commonly visit only half of it, from Chomonkyo Station to Ryugubuchi. The scenery is especially fine in autumn, when the maples turn gold and crimson.
Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park centers on Akiyoshi Plateau, the largest karst topography in Japan. Eroding limestone has created fantastic formations, including rows of pillars that look like tombstones, basins and grottos. Among the many grottos, Akiyoshi Cave with its many stalactites, stalagmites and stone pillars is the most striking and one of the largest of its type in the world.
Matsue, the capital of Shimane Prefecture, is nicknamed the "City of Water" due to its location at the joint of Lake Shinji and Nakaumi Lagoon, the Ohashi River that runs down its center, and the old castle moat that defines the city. Its reconstructed castle serves as the town's focal point and is surrounded by a number of historic structures and museums. Matsue is also known for its associations with Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), who lived here for 15 months as an English teacher at Matsue Middle School, became a Japanese citizen, married a Japanese and assumed the Japanese name of Koizumi Yakumo. Hearn's impressions of Matsue are presented in an essay "In a Japanese Garden," part of a larger volume called Glimpes of Unfamiliar Japan.
Lafcadio Hearn's Old Residence is Hearn's former house, located near the moat of the old castle. The former samurai mansion has a small garden that inspired Hearn's essay "In a Japanese Garden." Next door is the Hearn Memorial Hall with photographs, manuscripts and other items relating to Hearn.
Castle is the town's most dominant structure, surrounded by a moat with
several historic structures on its fringe. The castle was first built in 1611,
reconstructed in 1642 and then renovated in 1950. Its five-story donjon (keep)
affords a good view from the top and houses samurai artifacts and possessions
that once belonged to the castle's feudal lord.
Adachi Museum, 20 min. from Matsue by train to Yasugi, is one of Japan's most visually stunning museums, combining modern Japanese art from the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods with a beautiful landscaped garden. The art, which includes many works by renowned painter Yokoyama Taikan, changes with the seasons, so as to complement the perfectly sculpted garden which comes continuously into view through windows, framed as though it were part of the exhibition.
Izumo is famous as the home of Izumo Taisha Shrine, Japan's oldest shrine displaying the Taisha style of architecture, which is the earliest style of architecture known in Japan. Dedicated to Okuninushi-no-Mikoto, the Shinto deity credited with the introduction of medicine, sericulture and farming, it has a history stretching back at least 1,000 years, when it was built atop huge pilings 23.6 m. (78 ft.) off the ground. The present main shrine dates from 1744 and is surrounded by a double fence. It's flanked on the east and west by long buildings, where all the Shinto gods are thought to gather one month every autumn to determine the events of the coming year. Nearby is a shrine dedicated to marriage—those who succeed in tossing a coin into a twisted rope so that it sticks will be blessed with happiness.
The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine Site, situated in Ohda city of Shimane prefecture, was registered as a World Heritage in 2007. For hundreds of years from the 16th century, it played an important role as a source of silver which used to be taken overseas to Europe. There remain ruins of the diggings, mine shafts and a group of historic buildings as well as the transport routes between the mines and ports. By walking around the mining area and its surroundings, visitors can trace the history of silver production. Yunotsu, a port town where many traditional buildings are well preserved, is also known for its hot springs.