What You Need to Know about Setouchi

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Setouchi is the authentic, soothing, unique region of Japan and it’s no wonder. A land framed by the Seto Inland Sea where life moves at a slower pace than some of its neighboring locales, it beckons with backdrops of impossibly gorgeous color, indescribable views, and a wealth of natural wonders that invite you to explore the outdoor whilst so much of its character is reflected in its cuisine and customs.

Even the region’s largest cities like Hiroshima and Takamatsu strike a large contrast against hyper-energy centers like Tokyo. Here, the pace of life is relaxed, slow, purposeful and always with an element of acknowledgement to the past.  Perhaps Japan’s best kept secret, regaling visitors with its beautiful blend of nature, wellness prospects, culinary wonders and adventurous thrills.

Easy to reach by multiple bus and rail systems from Tokyo and Osaka, it’s a celebrated land of seven prefectures including Yamaguchi, Kagawa and Okayama, surrounding its archipelago spanning 727 islands ranging from .1 km and beyond and each carry with it an isolated, remote and secluded feel.  The iconic Honshu Shikoku Bridge is built over the sea, and through that you can travel between the two large islands, Honshu and Shikoku by car or rail.

A lifetime of days would never be enough bur for the curious traveler that is short on time, there is always a world of wonder to be explored.

One of the brightest and most unique attractions of Setouchi is the balance between the land and the sea, best explored by infusing a privately chartered boat cruise into a day, lending itself to incredible photographic opportunities whilst island hopping and if seclusion is what you seek, consider overnighting on a private island.  Kujira Jima, or Whale Island as it’s locally known due to its shape, hosts only one exclusive group per day and welcomes with wide open spaces, a full cottage, spacious area for camping under the stars and a full kitchen/BBQ setup ideal for a private chef to create works of art.

One can’t mention Setouchi without considering its savory culinary scene, a true celebration of ancient recipes and traditions that lie at the core of the cuisine.  From fresh seafood to exceptional citrus fruits to  noodles and plenty of local brews, it’s a feast anywhere you look.  Kagawa is known as the Udon Prefecture due to its high concentration of eateries per square km, and for an extra treat, hop into an Udon Taxi, driven by a special guide fully schooled in the art of udon and who know all the hidden haunts.

Saijo in Hiroshima is sake central, with 7 breweries in 1km walk from one another where one can discover the art of the blend.  And, meat lovers can pursue meat that is a cut above with varieties of the famed Wagyu beef that originates in Yamaguchi.  Local tip- pair the steaks with fabulous oysters, in fact when you take a visit to the Shimada Suisan, you can watch them being pulled from the sea in the early morning hours and brought to the shore to be grilled over charcoal right in front of your eyes.   

A feast for the eyes, the Bikan Historical Quarter in Kurashiki is not to be missed, filled with ships amid carefully preserved traditional structures and spectacular ancient sights like the famed Himeji Castle, often referred to as “the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture” should be on anyone’s list.  

Though Setouchi is nearly always its own living art museum, a series of exceptional contemporary works breathe new life into the islands every three years at the Setouchi Triennale, an international art festival that aims to restore the vitality of the region. Whilst making friends with the local islanders, artists from around the world create specific works that complement the natural surroundings and celebrate the culture and history.  The next Setouchi Triennale will happen in 2022 with fruitful, plentiful exhibitions to come.  

When it comes to fitting in fitness and health, one should always find time for cycling, Setouchi’s ubiquitous riding paths are framed by the most impressive natural scenery and one never needs to worry. Support cars and “bike boats” are available at the ready to collect guests at any point along the way.   On foot, hiking paths await in the relatively undiscovered Iya Valley in western Tokushima.  Beloved by active locals who marvel at its steep inclines and deep gorges for the active challenges they seek, centered in nature.  One of its highlights are its kazurabashi, or vine suspension bridges.  Only several still exist today, crossing over waterways for an adrenaline-fueled walk.  Local tip? Soothe the stress with a cable car ride deep into the valley to the nearly hidden Hotel Iya and dip into their open air bath whilst being serenated by birds.

Setouchi’s onsen scene delivers on the promise of physical and spiritual healing.Always framed by natural backdrops, these experiences provide soothing baths of sparkling, fresh clean water and a restorative balance between the body and the mind.  Some are best for skin beautifying qualities, others are said to heal joint problems, and the list goes on but regardless, it’s a soothing bath of sparkling, fresh and clean waters generally framed by impossibly gorgeous views and backgrounds.

Tie the experience up in a bow of with a selection from a diverse range of accommodations. Travelers seeking a true homestyle experience are perfect for a ryokan, where not only the surroundings are calm and authentic but many times, open travelers up to a true sense of place whether it be an invitation into the kitchen by the chef preparing timeless dishes, a castle stay for a slice of what life was like in centuries past. Design lovers leap to the other end of the spectrum with a collection of ultra-sleek contemporary hotels each with their own style and unique architectural attributes. 

For more information, visit https://setouchifinder.com/en and follow along incredible Setouchi adventures at @setouchifinder

If restorative is your mantra, then Setouchi is your place.  And why? This naturally wondrous region is blessed with rich, therapeutic mineral waters and unique healing experiences throughout and is truly the wellness center of Asia.   Exactly what you need to maintain balance as you move forward in this new world reality,

Whether you’re craving emotional, spiritual or physical healing, Setouchi’s incredible onsens, found nearly everywhere are the new “hot spots”. These bubbling springs refresh with hot mineral-rich waters that rise to the surface at 25 degrees Celsius minimum and they connect your body with your mind and create a new unique space in your mind to be able to think more clearly and set you on a revitalized pathway forward.

One can easily find an onsen at a range of boutique hotels and traditional guesthouses, or whilst trekking or exploring on foot, indicated on signs and maps by the kanji 湯 (yu, meaning “hot water”),  and it’s best to familiarize yourself with the rules and etiquette of enjoying one as is customary with many experiences in Japan!

Setouchi’s onsen scene delivers on the promise of physical and spiritual healing.Always framed by natural backdrops, these experiences provide soothing baths of sparkling, fresh clean water and a restorative balance between the body and the mind.  Some are best for skin beautifying qualities, others are said to heal joint problems, and the list goes on but regardless, it’s a soothing bath of sparkling, fresh and clean waters generally framed by impossibly gorgeous views and background.

Want the insider scoop on the top hot spring hot spots? Several top the list with a blend of phenomenal healing waters and pitch perfect locations.  Dogo Onsen is Japan’s oldest, said to have been curing ailments for over 3000 years and the experience goes beyond the waters with recommended strolls through nearby shops, tea tastings and a sampling of local dumplings.  Arima Onsen lies peacefully in the foothills of Mount Rokko and features waters unusually rich in minerals and natural elements. And, dating back 1300 years is Kinosaki Onsen, best known for its seven public springs where each of the local bath houses work in tandem with one another formulating a cozy, connected ryokan-style intimate experience.  Here, it’s entirely acceptable to roam around in your robe and wooden geta sandals while exploring local haunts.

Wrap up this soothing experience enveloping yourself in a cocoon of authentic style with a stay in a ryokan, where not only the surroundings are calm and authentic but many times, open travelers up to a true sense of place whether it be an invitation into the kitchen by the chef preparing timeless dishes,  or a castle stay for a slice of what life was like in centuries past. And, if you’re into cutting edge design, there’s a contrasting sleek set of modern era hotels infused with the most luxe, lavish artistic touches and unique architectural design that you’ll love.  It’s a place of contrasts so why not. Mix it up?

Setouchi encompasses 7 prefectures and features over 700 islands that dot the Seto Inland Sea, and beyond wellness, it is a haven for lovers of adventure, art and nature.

For more information, visit https://setouchifinder.com/en and follow along incredible Setouchi adventures at @setouchifinder

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