7 Reasons Setouchi is Sizzling in 2018
Here are seven good reasons why Setouchi, Japan's inland sea area west of Kyoto, should be on your Japan bucket list this year!
As Japanese food stays firmly in vogue across the UK, London braces itself for the opening of Japan House in 2018, and travellers continue to seek authentic cultural experiences from destinations, Setouchi – the area around Japan’s Inland Sea to the west of Kyoto in central Japan – is the ideal location to experience and taste the real Japan in 2018.
Here’s some of the top reasons Setouchi is a hot destination for 2018:
The Food: Sample fine delicacies or eat by the taxi-load
The UK’s love affair with sushi and ramen is not a new phenomenon, however the launch of several Japanese-inspired restaurants, sake bars and opening of Japan Centre in 2017 has whet the appetite of many Brits for Japanese food.
Foodie visitors to Setouchi can take an Udon taxi to sample Kagawa’s authentic noodle shops; visit Oyster Huts across Hiroshima to sample the Inland Sea’s finest delicacy; sample Kobe beef in its home city and wander the fresh fish markets – with fugu (blowfish) on offer for those who dare to try it!
The Drink: An abundance of the local tipple
Blessed with proximity to the source of key ingredients for sake brewing (rice from the Banshu area and Miyamizu water, in case you were wondering!), the Nada neighbourhood in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, is a premier spot for sampling sake even within Japan. Ideally located among rice fields and by a harbour for transportation, the area has prospered as a sake brewing region since the Edo Period (1600-late 1800s), becoming the largest sake brewing region in the world, responsible for one third of all Japan’s sake.
Visitors to the area can head to Sakagura-dori (Sake Brewery Road), where an abundance of famous breweries line the street, then explore the Hakushika Memorial Sake Museum, with its own brewery hall which operates in a wooden storage house from the Meiji Period (late 1800s). Sake aficionados will be delighted to hear that a local sake experience is not limited to Nada or even Hyogo Prefecture, however, as over 275 sake breweries can be found across the Setouchi region!
The Kominka: A rise in traditional accommodation
In the Setouchi area, as in much of the rest of rural Japan, the number of derelict traditional houses, known as kominka, is increasing due to Japan’s aging and decreasing population. In a bid to preserve these authentic Japanese houses and welcome tourism, Setouchi Tourism Authority is carrying out a restoration project, with the aim of restoring 100 of them as accommodation by 2020. Offering guests the run of the whole house, a stay in one of these refurbished high-end accommodation options can be neatly complemented by cookery experiences with local people, enabling visitors to truly experience ‘living like a local’.
Opened in late 2017, ORI (100 years old) and HISA (150 years old), in Uchiki, Ehime Prefecture, are the latest kominka to open their doors to visitors. Situated in the town’s Yokaichi Gokoku Preservation District, both the renovated houses have retained their unique original Meiji Period features. Each property houses up to eight guests across five bedrooms. It costs £330 to rent the entire kominka per night, with £16 supplement per guest.
The ‘Boatel’: Luxury afloat
Launched in October 2017, Guntu floating hotel allows guests to explore different islands around the Setouchi Inland Sea, without having to step too far from their hotel room. Named after a local species of blue crab, the luxury ‘boatel’ has 19 guest rooms, a lounge, gym and sushi counter, serving freshly-caught seafood which is delivered directly to the boat by teams of local fishermen.
Once on board, guests can explore the Inland Sea’s multitude of islands large and small using tenders to and from the luxury vessel, gracefully navigating the Inland Sea’s famously calm and wave-free waters. All cruises on Guntu start and end in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture. Cost per night is around £2,000 all inclusive, with a minimum of three nights.
The Art: Islands full of it
Culture-seekers and Instagram fiends should beat the crowds and head to Japan’s famous art island, Naoshima, in 2018. Naoshima is one of twelve islands in Setouchi that together host the Setouchi Art Triennale – one of Japan’s biggest art festivals – which will next take place in 2019.
As visitors arrive to the island by ferry, they are met by one of Japan’s most iconic art installations, Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin, surrounded by the blanketed expanse of Setouchi’s calm sea. Facing this welcoming installation is the island’s most famous hotel, Benesse House, an art museum with 65 rooms, based on the concept of nature, art and architecture co-existing.
Seven art museums are scattered across the art festival’s twelve hosting islands, including Japanese architect, Tadao Ando’s ChiChu Art Museum, which houses installations by James Turrell, Claude Monet and Walter de Maria. This uniquely-designed museum was built to be hidden underground to avoid overshadowing the natural beauty of the island and surrounding sea.
The Rugby: Be ahead of the scrum
In September 2019, Japan will host the Rugby World Cup, with Setouchi’s Kobe Misaki Stadium expecting an influx of enthusiastic rugby fans as three out of four home nations (England, Scotland and Ireland) matches all take place at the venue.
Perhaps best known for its Kobe Beef, the city is also home to several sake breweries (Nada Sake Brewery area) and hot springs (including Arima Onsen), and is the perfect springboard for sports fans looking to explore the wider Setouchi region. Intrepid travellers looking to discover the ‘real Japan’ ahead of the rugby world should take a trip in 2018, before the hordes of eager rugby fans descend!
The Festivals: From bean throwing to wisteria watching
Setouchi has myriad festivals throughout the year, which showcase an eclectic mix of the destination’s culture and traditions, as well as the downright bizarre. The Kotohira-gu Shrine Cherry Blossom Festival takes place at Marugame Castle every April, featuring 700 Yoshino cherry trees bursting into blossom simultaneously each year. Meanwhile, Fuji Park in Okayama Prefecture hosts the Wisteria Festival throughout April and May, boasting the most wisteria that can be seen in one place in Japan.
To scare away evil spirits, visitors should take their beans and head to Hyogo’s Bean Throwing Festival, taking place every year in February. Alternatively, watch 9,000 men wearing just a loin cloth compete for a prize of a pair of lucky sacred sticks in the depths of winter at the Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival) also held every year in February!