A vast area located around the Seto Inland Sea, the Setouchi region is as geographically diverse as culturally rich.
From the large urban areas of Hiroshima and Okayama to the small art islands of Naoshima and Teshima, from the natural treasures of the Shikoku mountains and rivers to the pristine coastlines of Shimanami Kaido, this region offers unforgettable landscapes and ravishing historical, artistic and culinary panorama.
Here are some of our favourite hidden gems to be experienced in Setouchi.
The essence of soy sauce
Shodoshima, a large island in the Seto Inland Sea is not only home to the largest cultivations of olives in Japan but it also boasts a long tradition of soy sauce making, with a number of soy sauces artisanal factories that have been in business for generations.
Visit one of these factories to witness how soy sauce, a product now well-known worldwide, is produced in the old way: letting it rest for more than a year in wooden barrels, some of which have more than 100 years of history.
Get to know the current head of the factory who inherited this family business from the previous generations. He is keen to promote artisanal soy sauce use around the world and he is also producing the traditional wooden barrels for other factories wanting to produce soy sauce following the traditional system.
Enjoy a coffee in a cosy area of this ancient artisanal factory while learning about soy sauce making and try one of the sweets featuring soy sauce. Our recommendation is vanilla ice cream: few people may believe it goes so well combined with half a spoon of the saishikomi type soy sauce until they actually try it!
As an option, we are happy to arrange lunch at a cosy restaurant with a sea view for a meal featuring a variety of soy sauces, including a couple of tastings of the same ingredient seasoned or cooked using different types of soy sauce – the ideal way to understand how a different type of soy sauce can dramatically exalt or modify flavours.
Before the meal, a soy sauce sommelier can also arrange a presentation about the history and use of soy sauce.
Yokai: the fascinating stories of these "friendly ghosts"
A visit to Shodoshima is not complete without paying a visit to the Yokai Museum.
Yokais are legendary creatures personifying objects or domestic animals: in ancient times Japanese houses were often poorly illuminated and at night stories and legends about yokai -common use objects coming to life at night in the dark corners of the house- flourished among both adults and children.
The Yokai Museum collects an impressive quantity of beautiful artworks featuring yokai. An audio guiding experience is also offered to allow guests to go through the collection by being guided by the yokai creatures themselves!
An insightful dip into traditional Japanese folklore.
The port town of Takamatsu is well-known for its exquisite Ritsurin Garden, one of the most impressive and varied landscaped gardens in Japan.
The presence of bonsai in this garden is just a small trace of the fact that Takamatsu hosts dozens of bonsai studios and artisans.
Today visit one of these bonsai sanctuaries to learn more about this ancient art.
Be guided by the local bonsai master through a vast collection of these small living works of art and understand their sophisticated structure and the lifelong work they require. Some of the bonsai you will see have been living and slowly changing throughout generations.
Take part in a bonsai workshop during which you will be able to perform some maintenance work on some existing bonsai: this way you will become a part of these beautiful small artworks’ life.
The first Japanese ryokan brand of Aman Resorts, Azumi has been designed by renowned Kyoto architect Shiro Miura.
Located on a small island part of a picturesque chain of islands linking Honshu’s main island to the nature-rich island of Shikoku, citrus trees are the main sight of this area, giving it a Mediterranean feel.
The heart of this island is Setoda, a quaint town which used to be the local centre for salt production and commerce during the Edo period (1603-1868). Located within Setoda, Azumi makes you feel like a local the moment you step outside into the town, and in a paradise of relaxation the moment you return.
Modern Japanese rooms combine the utmost comfort with a strong authentic feel, reinforced by the use of artisanal products crafted locally.
For dinner, enjoy a modern Japanese fusion course meal featuring the best of the local cuisine, from citrus fruits to oysters, from octopus to locally grown vegetables, without forgetting the famous local salt.
For younger guests or guests looking for a very local experience, the nearby Yubune property offers an authentic but comfortable experience and plenty of chances to interact with locals: a public bathhouse within its premises is open to both locals and guests until the evening.
Luxury yachting along the pristine Setouchi coastlines
To enjoy the view of the beautiful Mediterranean-like coastlines of the Setouchi region, there is no better way than boarding a yacht for a half-day of sailing.
The vessel is owned and managed by a New Zealander brought up on yachts in different parts of the world. His passion for yachting is seen in the details of this yacht, which resembles a Polynesian fishing boat in its design, with a strong sense of stability and openness.
Depending on the weather, we will propose the best sailing route to make sure you can see the best of Setouchi coastlines while relaxing with a drink onboard.
Visit a large monastic facility located on the hills of Hiroshima prefecture.
Only one Australian monk is resident here and he will take you through a fascinating introduction to zen philosophy and lifestyle.
You will be able to take part in a number of activities at your pace: dry garden making, Buddhist sutra writing, zen meditation (one session in the evening and one in the morning are highly recommended) and a simple tea ceremony overlooking the garden.
Rooms are Japanese style, simple but comfortable and the monastery only receives one booking per day, making you the only guests this evening.
For dinner, shojin ryori is served, a vegan-friendly Buddhist cuisine using only selected ingredients but successfully exalting their taste in surprising ways. You are also welcome to relax using the large onsen facilities at the hot spring bathhouse just a few minute’s walks from the temple.
Both in the evening and in the morning we recommend taking your time walking through the enormous temple facilities and its gardens. Stargazing at night or an early morning sunrise walk is ideal to dedicate some time to find inner peace.
Uchiko and Ozu are impressive small towns where time seems to have stopped.
Rarely have townscapes from the late 1800s been preserved so well in Japan and walking through these beautiful towns can bring about images of old Japan sometimes seen in movies or history books.
At Uchiko, a beautifully restored Kabuki theatre is still in use to this day.
In Ozu, the beautiful villa of a wealthy local family can be visited, with its tea ceremony hall jutting out on a cliff facing the river, making it one of the most spectacular tea rooms in Japan. Its recently rebuilt castle also brings back the splendour of this ancient castle town.
Your accommodation will be Nipponia, where luxury meets authenticity.
This hotel recently restored original buildings from the historical centre of Ozu, tastefully turning them into authentic yet comfortable luxurious guest rooms.