Kansai Scene Magazine
 

 

Sea inside

The Seto Inland Sea

The broad channel of water between Honshu and Shikoku known as the Seto Inland Sea contains over 300 islands and harbours uncounted places to relax, opportunities for outdoor or water sports and a varied mix of the old and the new Japan — and it’s all just a short trip from the Kansai by local train, Shinkansen, long-distance ferries or highway buses.

Don’t expect Mediterranean-style beach resorts, but rather an abundance of small beaches, homely minshuku (Japanese style pensions), hiking courses with breathtaking views from the island tops, fresh seafood, old port towns, cycling tours from island to island.

Two islands have become especially popular. Naoshima Island, reached from Okayama City by train or bus and ferry, is home two famous art museums and hotels designed by Tadanao Ando, but also features some fascinating art projects in an old-style Japanese village. On the other hand, Shiraishi Island, close to Kasaoka City, offers cheap accommodation in an international villa and some minshuku right on the beach, a beach bar, surfing and sailing trips with English speaking guides.

When I first arrived in Japan from a northern country many years ago, I took to the beach as soon as the sun became warm enough, which for me was May. I still remember how surprised I was to have the beaches all for myself until July. Given the mild climate, gentle waves and soft breezes, marine leisure is less popular than might be expected. However, sea kayaking has caught on quite rapidly, and you can have a kayak tour tailored just for you starting from different locations like Shodoshima or Onomichi. Less than one hour on the Sanyo train line from Kobe, Kiba Marina in Himeji offers sailing classes and cruising trips. You can also enjoy the water from above: cycle along the Shimanami bridges connecting Honshu and Shikoku — hand back your rental cycle at one of the many cycling terminals along the route.

Last but not least, if you speak some Japanese, history freaks will be delighted by the rich legacy of pirates, traders, Korean delegations and others who traveled this area when it was still the main artery for Japan’s trade and culture.

The islands are an ideal getaway, but sometimes not so easy to get to. However, a special homepage has started to offer English information on the area. It is provided by two NGOs active in the area, Setouchi Anchorage Network and NPO Holistic Life Okayama. So, most information comes directly from locals of the places introduced.

Information is organized in activities like kayaking, sailing, visiting old port towns, and in areas centering on major train stations like Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Okayama etc. Links provide access to further information on sightseeing, transport, accommodation facilities and leisure activities. While many places have no English homepage, it is often possible to make enquiries by e-mail.

Text: Carolin Funck
Photos: Murakami Kayak, Carolin Funck, TAK

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Ways & means

By train: Shinkansen to Fukuoka. Information for suggested routes and places on the homepage is organised around Shinkansen stations and most destinations can be reached easily from one of the stations on the way to Fukuoka. • JR Sanyo local line: This line travels along the Honshu coast of the Seto Inland Sea, slowly but with lots of nice views along the way. If you use the seasonally available “Seishun 18 Kippu” it will take you all the way for about ¥2,000.

By ferry: Cheap but a bit complicated: some places like Matsuyama or Shodoshima can be reached by long distance ferry from several ports in Kansai.

By bus: Osaka is connected to many major cities around the Seto Inland Sea by highway buses.

On the web: www.anchorage.jp/setouchi