From art to history to traditional regional delicacies, there’s plenty to see and do in Japan’s western Setouchi region
While Japan’s spring cherry blossom or sakura season may be on many travel bucket lists, those who want to avoid the crowds should consider visiting the Setouchi region in autumn, when much of the landscape turns vibrant shades of red and gold.
Setouchi comprises the prefectures of Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Hyogo, Ehime, Kagawa, and Tokushima, as well as hundreds of islands and islets in the Seto Inland Sea. Sitting slightly off Japan’s frequented ‘Golden Route’ (tracking a loop from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji/Gotemba, Kyoto, and Osaka), the region can be a great option for a quieter travel experience, with plenty of cultural, historical, and culinary attractions to explore.
Naoshima, Japan’s Art Island
A must-do for art appreciators, the island of Naoshima is home to art installations and architecture from some of the world’s most revered artists, both classical and contemporary. Go inside one of Yayoi Kusama’s iconic pumpkins; take in the modern symmetry of Naoshima Pavilion by architect Sou Fujimoto; and visit some of the island’s acclaimed art institutions, such as the Tadao Ando-designed Benesse House Museum, with exhibitions from major international and local artists.
This iconic destination in the Hyōgo Prefecture is widely considered to be among the most well-preserved examples of traditional Japanese castle architecture. Underneath the castle lie the nine, separately walled gardens of Kōko-en, which are each styled to represent Edo-period architecture and are exquisite to experience in autumn.
Okayama Kōraku -en
One of Japan’s three most celebrated gardens and one of Okayama’s top natural attractions, Kōraku-en dates to the late 17th century. Stroll around the 13 hectares of lush grounds, replete with serene water features, extensive lawns, quaint footbridges, and plum tree groves. Visit the on-site teahouse to sample Japanese matcha, or the authentic washoku restaurant, Shikisai, with dishes created using seasonal ingredients sourced in Okayama.
Taste Kagawa delicacies in Takamatsu
The port city of Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku is the capital of Japan’s smallest prefecture, Kagawa. Try an authentic taste of Kagawa by sampling two of the prefecture’s delicacies — Sanuki udon and honetsukidori, or chicken thighs grilled on the bone, seasoned with salt, pepper, and spices. While in Kagawa, visit Chichibugahama Beach, which is a popular spot to watch the sunset with its still, reflective waters.
Perched 430 metres high on a mountain peak and dating to 1240, Bitchū-Matsuyama is among the oldest surviving castles in Japan and affords stunning views of the surrounding Okayama landscape. Autumn is a recommended time to visit this attraction, as the trees turn a deep vermilion, and weather patterns lead to moody clusters of clouds surrounding the castle, usually in the early morning.