Setouchi is a picturesque coastal area in the middle of western Japan, encompassing notable regions such as Hiroshima and Shikoku. Thanks to its sheer size, you can access the area easily from most major cities. Take the shinkansen from Osaka to Okayama or Hiroshima stations, for example, and let the perfect trip unfold.
The Setouchi area is renowned for many attractions: the majestic landscape of the Oboke and Koboke Gorges; the sparkling Shimanto River, often referred to as the “last clear stream of Japan”; or the region’s delicious udon noodles and seared fresh bonito. The plethora of natural beauty, quality cuisine, stunning views and exciting activities make for an unforgettable experience in this extraordinary region of Japan. The Unveiling a New Japan, Captivating Experiences campaign by the Japan National Tourism Organization scours Japan for the ultimate travel spots, making easy-to-follow itineraries for the perfect Japan trip. This itinerary focuses on Kagawa, Tokushima and Kochi Prefectures’ best cultural icons and hidden gems.
Setouchi area recommended itinerary
|Day 1||Okayama Station ⇒ Chichibugahama Beach ⇒ Kotohira Onsen|
|Kotohiragu Shrine ⇒ Udon making at Nakano Udon School ⇒ Iya Onsen |
|Private taxi tour of the secluded Oku-Iya region ⇒ Kochi Castle ⇒ Warayaki at Hirome Market |
|SUP on the Niyodo River ⇒ Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden ⇒ Sawachi cuisine |
Day 4 another
|SUP and Canoe on the Shimanto River ⇒ Sawachi cuisine|
Savour udon, bonito, and other Setouchi delicacies
Don’t forget your camera: experience dusk skies reflected in the calm waters at Chichibugahama Beach
Kagawa’s Chichibugahama Beach is famous for the ethereal views of brilliant sunsets clearly reflected in its shallow waters, creating a striking mirror effect between earth and sky. Chichibugahama is a favourite amongst Japanese tourists, who flock to the one-kilometre-long beach during the summer for a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters or to lie on the soft sand. The view at dusk is so spectacular that Chichibugahama takes pride of place on Japan’s list of Top 100 Sunset Views.
To capture the best photo of your beach experience, aim for a non-windy day at low tide, and make sure you arrive at least thirty minutes before sunset.
- Address: 1-20 Hamano-cho, Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture
- Access: Take the limousine bus from Takamatsu Airport to Marugame Station (1 hour 15 minutes). From Marugame Station, take the JR Yosan Line to Takuma Station (20 minutes), then board the Number 11 Nicho-sen bus to Chichibugahama Beach (25 minutes).
Capture the reflections of sunset on Chichibugahama Beach
Kotohiragu Shrine: climb the 1,368 stone stairs to reach the sacred shrine
The gods enshrined at Kotohiragu are protectors of the ocean, so it’s easy to understand this shrine’s importance to local fishermen since ancient times. Even today, many Japanese people aspire to pray at this extremely popular shrine at least once in their lives.
The most famous feature of Kotohiragu Shrine has to be the 1,368 stone stairs leading up to the rear shrine. You’ll need plenty of stamina for the epic climb! Of course, it’s fine to turn back after seeing the main shrine located 785 steps up.
The approach to the shrine is lined with friendly souvenir shops and buzzing eateries – the perfect spot for lunch and a well-deserved break after a morning visit to the shrine.
- Address: 892-1 Kotohira-cho, Tado-gun, Kagawa Prefecture
- Access: 10 minutes by taxi from JR Kotohira Station.
Nakano Udon School: savour the taste of Shikoku - try your hand at making your very own teuchi udon noodles
Kagawa is so well-known for its udon noodles that it’s often called the “Udon Prefecture”. So, it goes without saying that you have to try some of the delicious, silky noodles at least once during your visit. But why stop at just eating them? Take your trip to the next level and try your hand at making them too! Nakano Udon School offers a one-hour class to perfect making traditional teuchi udon that will please both your mind and stomach. First, you’ll practice kneading with a pre-prepared mixture made by the chef himself. Then, once you get the hang of that, you can take on the challenge of making your own noodles from scratch.
During the class, follow the teacher’s lead and dance to the music while making your udon for an entertaining dinner you’ll never forget!
After the class, it will finally be time to dig into your proud creation. Savour the taste, knowing you made this traditional Japanese dish by yourself (and had a lot of fun along the way too!)
Nakano Udon School
- Address: Kotohiragu Shrine Approach, 796 Kotohira-cho, Tado-gun, Kagawa Prefecture
- Access: 10 minutes by taxi from JR Kotohira Station.
Savor Japanese food culture at the birthplace of Sanuki Udon
Kotohira Onsen: ideal accommodation near Kotohiragu Shrine
Kotohira Onsen is the most renowned onsen (hot spring) area in Kagawa Prefecture and a firm favourite on Japan’s official Top 100 Onsen ranking. Two things, in particular, make this hot spring area special. First, there are three different types of spring water to choose from to soothe muscle and joint pain, and wash away any hint of tiredness or stress. Second, the onsen area is right next to Kotohiragu Shrine, making it an excellent location for a spot of sightseeing. Kotosankaku Hotel in Kotohira Onsen offers luxurious rooms with several massive baths, and if you stay at the Hitenkan section of the hotel, you’ll be able to enjoy stunning open-air baths and breathtaking scenery.
Kotohira Onsen Kotosankaku
Address: 685-11 Kotohira-cho, Tado-Gun, Kagawa Prefecture
- Access: 5 minutes’ walk from Kotohira Station.
Private taxi tour of the secluded Oku-Iya Region: venture into one of Japan’s three most remote areas
Tokushima’s Iya region is designated as one of Japan’s three most remote areas, comprised of a unique V-shaped valley surrounded by mountains. This area is also home to Ochiai Village, an ancient mountainside hamlet dating back over a thousand years and designated an Important Preservation District of Historical Buildings by the Japanese government. During the day, mountain fog sweeps across the landscape, casting a mystical blanket over the valley and creating the illusion of floating above the clouds.
The imposing Niju-Kazurabashi (double vine bridge) of Oku-Iya was braided from vines over a thousand years ago so the Imperial Family could escape any pursuing enemies. Crossing the primitively designed bridge certainly gets the heart racing, but don’t forget to take a moment to gaze at the breathtaking valley above and the crystal-clear stream flowing beneath.
Nagoro Scarecrow Village is another unique stopping point. Hundreds of scarecrows wearing traditional clothes stand in various poses dotted around the village, all lovingly created by a single town resident.
Setting off first thing in the morning on a private taxi tour is the best way to enjoy these out-of-the-way Oku-Iya gems. Plus, the local taxi drivers are often brimming with interesting facts and insider knowledge.
Address: Tokuzen Nishi, Nishi Iyayamamura, Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture
- Access: Get off at Oboke Station on the JR Dosan Line and take a taxi.
The mysterious valley of the hidden Heike warriors
Iya Onsen: relax in stunning open-air baths at Oboke Gorge
Iya Onsen district is filled with traditional ryokan hotels, the majority of them with high-quality hot spring water abundant with minerals. Take a dip in the natural onsen here, and you’ll emerge with silky smooth skin and a glowing complexion. Hotel Obokekyo Mannaka faces the Yoshino River, offering some of the best views in town. Gaze upon the magnificent greenery of the Oboke Gorge, and listen to the gentle sound of the river flowing as you soak away any tension and find ultimate Zen.
Hotel Obokekyo Mannaka
Address: 1644-1 Nishiu, Yamashiro-cho, Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture
- Access: 5 minutes by shuttle bus from Oboke Station on the JR Dosan Line.
- URL: https://www.mannaka.co.jp/hotel/hotel.html
Shimanto River: enjoy SUP and canoeing on one of the three clearest rivers in Japan
Kochi Prefecture’s Shimanto River is known as the “last clear stream of Japan” and is also recognized as one of the “three clearest rivers of Japan”. The river also has forty-seven chinkabashi (sinking bridges) — low water crossings with no handrails to prevent the structures from being washed away by floods.
Touring the river by traditional pleasure boat is a popular activity, as are more active water sports, such as SUP and canoeing. Canoeing is an ideal activity for beginners and families with children as it is fairly straightforward. Once you’ve got the knack of it, enjoy cruising around on the clear water and take in the beautiful green surroundings.
Address: 1841 Misato, Shimanto City, Kochi Prefecture
- Access: 20 minutes by taxi from Nakamura Station on the Tosa Kuroshio Railway.
Paddle down a crystal clear river on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) excursion
Niyodo River: master SUP on a clear blue river
Kochi Prefecture is known for the high quality of the water in its rivers, and the Niyodo River is no exception. Known for its “miraculous clarity”, Niyodo has been dubbed Japan’s clearest river by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism three years in a row. Located only one-and-a-half hours by train from Kochi’s city centre, the Niyodo River is a popular and convenient day trip for tourists staying in Kochi.
SUP is the best way to experience the “Niyodo Blue” — the azure waters of the Niyodo River. There’s plenty of time to practice, so even complete beginners are guaranteed to master the motions before you head out onto the crystal-clear river. The current will gently carry you along at some points, letting you simply stand and appreciate the wonders of nature surrounding you. Take a moment to lie down on the board, and you can gaze upon the sunlight cascading through the canopy, feel the light breeze brushing your skin and listen to the gentle sounds of the river and birds calling through the trees. It’ll be an unforgettable experience.
- Address: 2658 Shimobun, Hidaka-mura, Takaoka-gun, Kochi Prefecture
- Access: 15 minutes’ walk from Omurajinjamae Station on the JR Dosan Line.
Maneuver the water with a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) adventure among Kochi’s charming nature
Downtown Kochi: exciting historical sites such as Kochi Castle, Harimaya Bridge and more!
Even after you arrive back in Kochi City, there’s still plenty to see! Kochi Castle, also known as Takajo (Hawk Castle), was constructed in the Edo period and is one of Japan’s only twelve remaining castles. The castle is a treasured cultural artefact, boasting Japan’s only surviving honmaru goten, an inner bailey palace. Situated just a 15-minute walk from the castle is the scarlet Harimaya Bridge, a famous landmark of Kochi City. Plenty of lively shops line the streets around these tourist attractions, making them the perfect spot to shop for bonito snacks or traditional sweet treats to take home as souvenirs.
- Address: 1-2-1 Marunouchi, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
- Access: Take a Tosaden Kotsu bus from JR Kochi Station. Get off at Kochijo-mae bus stop, then walk for 5 minutes.
- Address: 1 Harimaya-cho, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
- Access: 10 minutes’ walk from JR Kochi Station.
Katsurahama Beach: the birthplace of Sakamoto Ryoma
Kochi is the proud birthplace of Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai and beloved hero that gallantly sought to protect Japan in the Edo period. He was known to have a soft spot for Katsurahama — a beautiful white sandy beach with unparalleled views of the majestic full moon. The views at Katsurahama Beach are breathtaking, especially during the harvest moon every autumn when locals gather for moon-viewing parties.
At the Ryuozaki viewing platform, you can gaze upon the blue sky and the endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean juxtaposed against the impressive statue of Sakamoto Ryoma. Don’t forget to visit the picturesque Watatsumi Shrine too.
Katsurahama Watatsumi Shrine
Address: 9 Urado, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
- Access: 30 minutes by Tosaden Kotsu Bus Number S3 from Kochi Bus Terminal.
The Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden: be amazed by over 3,000 different species of plants
Mount Godaisan is home to the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden — a colossal garden equipped with a giant greenhouse, medicinal plant garden, garden viewing platform and several other fascinating areas.
There is an astounding selection of over 3,000 species of plants, many of which are native to Kochi Prefecture, rare and exotic species from around the world, and unique plants discovered by garden founder Mr Makino himself. The Botanical Garden is a place visitors can enjoy all year round.
The Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden
- Address: 4200-6 Godaisan, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
- Access: 30 minutes by My-Yu Tourist Bus from JR Kochi Station.
Hirome Market: savour the flavour of straw-seared bonito, the soul food of Kochi
Kochi is known as the “Katsuo Kingdom” for good reason! The ultra-fresh katsuo (bonito) sourced here draw in foodies from all parts of Japan. The local traditional cooking method, warayaki, uses straw to sear the fish at exceedingly high temperatures, supposedly to over 1,000 degrees Celsius! By searing the bonito using this method, any fishy smells and oiliness are removed, leaving only the lightly charred aroma and rich flavour that melts in your mouth.
For the most authentic katsuo warayaki, head to Kochi’s Hirome Market, a buzzing hub for gourmet and entertainment. Here, you can also enjoy other famous Kochi dishes such as yatai gyoza dumplings and other delicious bar snacks.
- Address: 2-3-1 Obiyamachi, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
- Access: 15 minutes’ walk from JR Kochi Station.
Sawachi cuisine: an assortment of regional Kochi delicacies that packs a flavourful punch
Whilst in Kochi, it’s imperative that you try sawachi cuisine! An assortment of sashimi, sushi, fried dishes and regional specialities is piled onto one huge plate, the sawachi, in true Kochi style. This entertaining way of serving food is a local custom often used for large events or family occasions. It not only looks amazing, but the quality and taste are unparalleled; it uses local vegetables, fresh fish from the nearby Shimanto and Niyodo rivers, and high-quality wagyu beef from the local Tosa region. Food this highly curated is often hard to come by, so savour every last bite of this gourmet experience.
The Japan National Tourism Organization campaign, Unveiling a New Japan | Captivating Experiences, is showcasing many more exciting regional activities and must-see spots throughout Japan. See the website for more information and inspiration to make your trip to Japan an unforgettable experience.
Savour udon, bonito, and other Setouchi delicacies
Unveiling a New Japan, Captivating Experiences