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Seven secret places in Setouchi to visit in 2024

PR Deadlines 8 mins read


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With year’s end approaching, the Setouchi DMO is announcing seven locations in each of its participating prefectures that deserve to be in the tourism spotlight for 2024. These locations are not yet on the radars of many international visitors to Japan. With the problem of over-tourism as bad as ever, it’s becoming advisable to leave the beaten path and visit the lesser-known but compelling attractions.


While the likes of Hiroshima and Naoshima are well recognised overseas, Setouchi region is not yet well understood. Comprising seven prefectures (Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Ehime, Kagawa, and Tokushima), Setouchi is arguably one of the most diverse parts of Japan. Spanning the area from the mountainous core of western Honshu to the far side of the Seto Inland Sea, Setouchi’s allures are varied and compelling.


The following list has been chosen for tourists. The destinations selected for ‘must visits’ in 2024 have the infrastructure in place to welcome travellers from across the world. As popular locations like Miyajima are now far past their capacity for tourism, visitors to Japan are advised to divert their paths away from these mainstream attractions in favour of places like these seven.

Hyogo Prefecture: Kinosaki Onsen

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Hyogo Prefecture's Kinosaki Onsen is a captivating traditional hot spring town with a history dating back over 1,300 years. Situated in the northern parts of the scenic Setouchi region, the town presents a blend of cultural heritage and serene landscapes. Known for its Edo-period ambiance, Kinosaki Onsen's charm lies in its seven public bathhouses, each offering unique therapeutic experiences; and traditional ryokans renowned for their exceptional hospitality.


The town’s picturesque setting is accentuated by the willow-lined Otani River and quaint streets, enhancing the authentic Japanese experience. Visitors can indulge in yukata-meguri, strolling in traditional yukata and wooden sandals, from one onsen to another. This unique practice allows for a deep cultural immersion and creates a vibrant atmosphere, especially when the streets are softly illuminated by lanterns in the evening.


Kinosaki Onsen's accessibility makes it an appealing destination. Conveniently connected to major cities like Kyoto and Osaka via public transport, the town serves as a gateway to explore the natural beauty of the Setouchi region. The journey to Kinosaki Onsen Station itself is an experience, offering stunning views of the region’s landscape, making it an ideal destination for those seeking an authentic and tranquil Japanese experience.


Okayama Prefecture: Fukiya Furusato Village


Fukiya Furusato Village, located in the mountains of Okayama Prefecture, is a historic village offering a unique glimpse into Japan's rich cultural heritage. Renowned for its distinctive reddish-brown architecture derived from bengara pigment, the village's well-preserved Edo-period streetscapes provide a tranquil escape from modern life, transporting visitors back in time.


Its history is deeply intertwined with bengara production, and its old factories and workshops have been transformed into museums and cultural spaces. Visitors can engage in interactive experiences such as traditional bengara dyeing workshops, adding a tactile dimension to their visit. Surrounded by lush mountains and scenic landscapes typical of the Setouchi region, the village also offers various outdoor activities including hiking.


Fukiya Furusato Village is accessible from urban centres like Okayama and Kurashiki, providing a convenient and scenic route through the picturesque countryside of the Setouchi region. This accessibility allows visitors to explore its rich history and scenic beauty, making it an ideal destination for those interested in the historical and cultural richness of rural Japan.


Hiroshima Prefecture: Sera Kogen


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In the serene hills of eastern Hiroshima Prefecture lies Sera Kogen, a hidden gem that captivates with its natural splendour and floral beauty. Often overlooked in favour of the region's more famous destinations, Sera Kogen offers a tranquil and picturesque escape. Known for its expansive flower fields, this area presents a vibrant tapestry of colours that change with the seasons, making it a photographer's paradise and a haven for nature lovers.


Sera Kogen's charm lies in its vast flower parks, such as the Sera Kogen Flower Forest Park, which blooms with different flowers throughout the year. From the vivid tulips and daffodils of spring to the sunflowers and dahlias of summer, each season brings a new spectacle. The park also features unique attractions like a renowned English rose garden, providing visitors with a variety of ways to enjoy the floral landscapes. Autumn brings the cosmos and dahlia flowers, while winter transforms the area into a serene, snow-covered wonderland.


Accessibility to Sera Kogen is straightforward, with convenient transport options from Hiroshima City and Onomichi. Visitors can take a scenic drive or opt for public transportation, enjoying the lush countryside of Hiroshima Prefecture en route. This accessibility, combined with the area's natural beauty and seasonal floral displays, makes Sera Kogen an alluring destination for those seeking a peaceful retreat amidst nature's finest displays in Setouchi.


Yamaguchi Prefecture: The Town of Hagi

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Yamaguchi Prefecture’s coastal town of Hagi offers a historical window into Japan's feudal past. As a cradle of the samurai-led revolution that ushered in modern Japan, its well-preserved samurai and merchant quarters alongside the ruins of Hagi Castle provide a unique and authentic historical experience. The town’s traditional Edo-style architecture adds to its historical ambiance.


Hagi is also celebrated for its Hagi-yaki pottery, with various kilns and workshops open for exploration. Visitors can take pottery-making classes, experiencing the traditional craftsmanship first-hand. Additionally, Hagi's location along the Sea of Japan allows for delightful culinary experiences with local seafood and provides opportunities for serene beach walks.


Access to Hagi is through the scenic landscapes of the Chugoku region, with regular bus and train services from major cities like Yamaguchi and Shin-Yamaguchi. This connectivity makes Hagi a compelling destination for exploring Japan's historical and cultural landscape, offering a blend of feudal history, traditional crafts, and serene natural beauty.

Ehime Prefecture: The Isle of Aoshima

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Aoshima, affectionately known as 'Cat Island,' is a unique destination in Ehime Prefecture, set in the tranquil waters of the Seto Inland Sea. Less than 2 km wide this small island is renowned for its large population of cats, which significantly outnumber the human residents. Aoshima's feline inhabitants roam freely, offering a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors and cat enthusiasts from around the world.


The island's history is as intriguing as its current status as a cat haven. Once home to 900 people in the 1940s, Aoshima has seen a significant decline in human residents, with only about 20 people currently living there today, primarily aged between 50 and 80. This shift has allowed the cats, originally brought to the island to help control mice in fishing boats, to become the dominant presence, creating a unique and charming atmosphere that has captured the hearts of visitors.


Reaching Aoshima involves a scenic ferry ride from mainland Ehime Prefecture, providing stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea along the way. The journey and the destination offer a serene escape from urban life, where visitors can enjoy the simple pleasures of a rural island community alongside its furry inhabitants. Aoshima, with its blend of natural beauty and unusual feline dominance, stands as a fascinating and peaceful retreat within the diverse offerings of the Setouchi region.


Kagawa Prefecture: Shodoshima 

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Known as Kagawa Prefecture's ‘Olive Island,’ Shodoshima is a fusion of Mediterranean and Japanese culture. Its olive groves, scenic landscapes like Kankakei Gorge, and the mystical Angel Road offer a variety of experiences. The island also boasts a rich soy sauce brewing tradition, with opportunities for visitors to explore traditional sauce production and noodle-making workshops.


Shodoshima’s cultural landscape is enriched by its culinary heritage, offering visitors a taste of local specialties. Accessible by ferry from Kagawa's mainland and neighbouring islands, the journey to Shodoshima is as enjoyable as the destination itself, offering stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea and making it an enticing destination for nature and culture enthusiasts.


In addition to its natural and cultural attractions, Shodoshima provides a serene and reflective atmosphere for visitors. The island's small, charming fishing villages and tranquil beaches offer a peaceful retreat from the fast pace of urban life. Moreover, since it’s served by the same ferries as those that go to the art islands of Naoshima and Teshima, access couldn’t be easier.


Tokushima Prefecture: The Iya Valley

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Tokushima Prefecture's Iya Valley, one of Japan's 'Three Hidden Valleys,' is renowned for its dramatic landscapes and rich folklore. Its vine bridges, like Iya Kazurabashi, and steep mountain slopes offer a blend of adventure and history. The valley changes with the seasons, offering unique experiences throughout the year, from lush greenery to spectacular autumn colours and serene snow-covered landscapes.


Adventure and exploration are central to the Iya Valley experience, with opportunities for hiking and white-water rafting. The valley's historical background as a refuge for the defeated Heike clan adds a layer of intrigue, with various local legends and historical sites piquing the curiosity of visitors. This mix of natural beauty and deep historical roots provides a captivating escape for those seeking to explore Japan's more rugged and mystical side.


Accessibility to Iya Valley is an experience in itself, with public transportation from major cities in Shikoku offering scenic views of rural landscapes. This hidden treasure, somewhat secluded yet reachable, presents a journey back in time, allowing visitors to connect with the serene and untouched aspects of Japan’s natural world. Whether seeking solace in nature's embrace or the thrill of outdoor adventures, Iya Valley is a compelling destination that promises an unforgettable experience.


So Much More to Setouchi

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The highlights noted above only begin to scratch the surface of what Setouchi has to offer. The region is truly a treasure trove of hidden gems and wonderful adventures and no list can ever cover it all. As over-tourism increasingly impacts mainstream areas, those seeking an authentic taste of Japan in 2024 will find themselves venturing off the beaten path.


Fortunately, the Setouchi region stands out as one of the best in Japan for this. With numerous bullet train stops across western Honshu and a comprehensive network of ferries connecting Shikoku and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea, Setouchi offers a vast array of enchanting experiences. 


Whether you're a seasoned traveller or a first-time visitor, the region's rich tapestry of culture, history, and natural beauty is ready to be explored and cherished in 2024.


For more information


David Frost, PR Deadlines




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