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Discovering the beauty of Japan. Our very own Travel Designer Maychelle recently took a 7-day trip to Japan. She experienced the Setouchi Region of Japan (7 prefectures comprised of Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Kagawa, Tokushima, and Ehime. She spent 3 nights in Kobe, 1 night in Onomichi, 3 nights in Hiroshima, 1 night in Takamatsu. They sailed on a boat cruise along the Seto Inland Sea, visited Hiroshima and toured the museum, as well as did a 3-hour e-biking experience. She had an incredible experience and memories that will last a lifetime.
We asked her to give us some of her favourite moments on the trip. Here’s what she had to say:
What experiences did you do?
Maychelle: All of the exursions were operated by Destination Asia/KAI/Setouchi Tourism Authority. Guides were very interactive, knowledgeable, and patient.
On my first day in Kobe I had a private tour before meeting the rest of the FAM group. We mostly walked around the local area visiting different sites such as Sake factory where they were celebrating a new sake (there were performers, long lines of people lined up to taste the sake, and several food stands where you could buy traditional Japanese food such as Yakitori which is skewered chicken/meats). We also visited Kitano Tenman Shrine where there was a traditional Japanese wedding taking place – it was a super intimate experience with very few members of both sides of the families, and a few other tourists observing as well
A short ferry ride from our hotel brought us to our start of the trail, Shimanami Kaido which are a set of bridges that cross the Seto Inland Sea, connecting Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture all the way to Imabari in Ehime Prefecture. The trail itself is beautiful and had an amazing experience as the weather was beautiful. The trail is along the Shimanami Expressway which while shared with cars, there are designated lanes for both bikers and walkers going both directions. The bike ride itself was pretty flat, though there were inclines at times, however pretty easy to navigate for novice bike riders (however I was exhausted and pretty sure I shed a tear at one point). Towards the end of our bike ride we paid a visit to the Kosan-ji temple, a beautiful Buddhist temple settled on top of a hill that showcased incredible views of the local area at sunset. The view was well worth the tiring bike ride! At the end of our biking experience we took the ferry back to the port beside our hotel and enjoyed a group dinner.
We had a new guide on this day and this day in particular was not quite organized as well as it could have been. We were travelling with our luggage and backpacks on the Shinkansen train, local train, and ferry. When we disembarked from the train and had to catch our ferry, our guide led us to the wrong ferry, and we had to literally run with our luggage to the correct ferry and had just a few seconds to spare. Benesse house is both a hotel and museum, the museum itself is beautiful although you are not allowed to take photos (I snuck some photos). Certain parts of the museum were restricted to hotel guests only. We were not able to tour the rooms as it was fully booked with guests. We had a group lunch at the restaurant on site and it was a traditional Japanese meal. We also visited some of the famous sites on the island such as the red and yellow pumpkins, as well as other works of art scattered along the island. Specifically, at the yellow pumpkin, the tides were too high for us to get close and get good quality photos as we were facing the sun. We also visited the Chi Chu museum that was incredible quiet, serene, and had works of art from James Turrell and Monet. The James Turrell light exhibit was super unique.
Learn more about Naoshima Island here.
Before boarding the boat, we were gifted with water and motion sickness pills that came in quite handy. After a short boat ride, we made a quick stop to Rabbit island, although not planned, was one of my favourite experiences. We were a bit tired of seeing the bridge from all angles and questioned how many more times we would see the bridge. At Rabbit Island, there were several rabbits that you can feed by hand! After spending a mere 20 minutes on the island, we continued with our boat tour. Along the way we stopped at an oyster farm where we enjoyed several kinds of fresh sashimi and oysters. We then toured the local town of Kure where not many people reside. It seemed a bit like a ghost town as there were not many people wandering the streets. It was quite windy and, on the way, back to the dock the water levels became very rocky that we all had to retreat to inside the boat and most of us fell asleep due to the rocking of the boat.
While in Hiroshima I had quite an emotional experience at the peace memorial park and at the newly renovated museum. We each had our own audio guide and walked around the museum at our own pace where there were very graphic images of young children and their families, as well as paintings done by the victims of the blast that were quite hard to view. We were able to see children singing and honoring the young kids that were victims during the atomic bomb which was beautiful, yet quite sad. To end on a happier note, we were taken to a paper crane museum where guests are able to make their own cranes and drop them down the side of the building after making a wish. We didn’t have enough time to make our own cranes so we were each gifted with a paper crane that we could drop. There’s a very narrow, tight space where 3 people can fit to drop their cranes down the side of the building. Guests waiting to drop their cranes can watch others drop their cranes via a live camera!
Although the famed Torii gate of Miyajima will be under construction for the next 3 years, it was still such a beautiful site as there was a traditional Japanese wedding taking place (despite the gate being hidden under scaffolding). The surrounding is very picturesque and easy to walk around for independent exploration as there are several little souvenir shops, food stands, stores, and animal cafes. There were also several deer roaming around freely, much like the ones in Nara!
Tipping is not customary and can be seen as an insult
Visas are not required for a stay less than 90 days
Very safe, if you as a solo traveller wanted to hop into a Taxi to go explore you would be perfectly fine doing so
Garbage cans are very limited in Japan so you need to carry your garbage with you throughout the day until you find a garbage can. Japan is very clean!
When flying from Takamatsu to Haneda, sit on the left side of the plane because you’ll have a view of Mt. Fuji!!
There’s so much to see and do in Japan, you’d need at least 2 weeks to see most of the famous sites.
The Setouchi Region is beautiful, and more guests should visit.
Incredible views of the Seto Inland Sea along the biking trail.
Sake is a staple alcoholic drink in the Japanese diet – get used to having it during dinner and celebrations
You should slurp your noodles when dining as it shows you enjoy the food and it’s a compliment to the chef.
When exchanging business cards with others you should accept it with 2 hands and bow as a sign of respect.
The view of the Tatara Bridge is beautiful – you can view it from the sea (on a cruise along the Seto Inland Sea),by vehicle, and by biking. However, once a year it is open for the public to climb the bridge. You climb several small sets of stairs wearing gloves and a hard hat, and also go under the bridge on a moving platform that is typically used for workers to paint the underneath of the bridge. Super unique experience that we can arrange for our clients.
Travellers with tattoos WILL NOT be allowed to enter a public onsen (public bath). I was denied from entering an onsen but have a really interesting/funny story to tell. Be sure to advise your clients of this, however you can sometimes get away with covering your tattoos with bandaids and special adhesive wraps that can typically be purchased in the hotel’s gift shop.
Visiting the Hiroshima memorial and museum can be very tough and heavy for some travellers. Quite an emotional experience and graphic images.
The city of Kobe is a great entry point to the Setouchi Region as it is home to an array of great shopping. Thereis a central arcade that has a wealth of shops ranging from clothing, to food, to home goods, to pharmacies. Historic sites are a short Shinkansen train ride away. Delicious food such as Kobe beef, being the most notable.
If you can arrange for your clients to stay at a traditional Ryokan, they will really learn the traditional Japaneseway of life. They can have tea in their room and live life as a local.
Foodies, history buffs, those looking for unique experiences (such as staying in a capsule hotel in Tokyo), Instagrammers (a plethora of picturesque spots, especially during the cherry blossom season), and art lovers (Naoshima Island).
Japan is definitely a place where you can visit more than once as there is so much to do. You certainly cannot do everything within 1 week. The Setouchi region is unique and a great experience for those second time visitors seeking something different than the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.