Take the path less traveled on this artist’s journey down the cities of the Seto Inland Sea. This tour leads from the verdant Mt. Misen of Hiroshima’s Miyajima to the unique outdoor exhibits of Naoshima. Visit as well one of Japan’s greatest treasures: Himeji Castle—a rare example of Edo period architecture. Then finish in Kobe, a unique and international city.
Day 1: Osaka to Hiroshima
This morning depart from Osaka station, bound for Hiroshima via Shinkansen. Not only are these machines some of the fastest trains in the world, traveling at a maximum of 285km on some sections of track, but they are also some of the most frequent—in some cases leaving the station once every two minutes.
Arrive in the late morning at Hiroshima. A city such as this needs no introduction—its name has been immortalized since 6 August 1945. Yet from the ruins of the atomic bomb, the city has reinvented itself and grown into a thriving metropolis. While perhaps quieter than its counterparts, the city is nonetheless lively. Not far to its south lies Miyajima, famous for its torii gate and exceptionally beautiful autumn leaves.
Disembark the Shinkansen at Hiroshima station. An English speaking guide awaits there. Begin the visit to this beautiful city with a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Park. Once the city center of Hiroshima, Hiroshima Peace Park was established to serve as a memory to the events surrounding the atomic bombing. The museum located within the park offers an unsettling reminder of human suffering inflicted by the use of atomic weapons. Of the park’s many poignant displays, the Atomic Bomb Dome, stands out. Designed by a Western architect, this building was one of the few left standing after the initial blast.
After the somber visit to the park, head back to the hotel.
Overnight in Hiroshima
Day 2: Hiroshima (Miyajima)
With a guide, embark via public transit to Miyajima, a small island to Hiroshima’s southwest. After a fifteen minute ferry ride across the water, disembark and begin exploring. Stop at one of the island’s great landmarks and one of the best views in Japan: the red torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine. When the tide is in, the gate seems to float out on the water. As the tide goes out, the beach becomes evident. Stop and take a few photos here before moving on to the shrine itself.
For a great view of the ocean and town, take a ride up the Miyajima ropeway, a set of cable cars that spirit travelers to the island’s top. For those with a more intrepid spirit, a trail ascends from the ropeway’s terminus to the summit over one kilometer, which offers an incredible view of the city. The way is quite steep, however, and should only be attempted by those in good physical condition.
In the afternoon return to the city and meet again for dinner later this evening.
Overnight in Hiroshima
Day 3: Hiroshima to Naoshima via Teshima
Take an early breakfast this morning and then walk to Hiroshima station. There, board the Shinkansen bound for Okayama. At Okayama an English Speaking guide awaits and we carry on to the coastal town of Uno via the local train. At Uno change to a ferry which arrives at Ieura port at Teshima.
A small island in the Seto Inland Sea, Teshima, along with its sister islands of Naoshima and Inujima, has been converted into a kind of open air art museum. While here, take public transit around the island and visit the Teshima Art Museum the island’s main attraction. Visit as well Yokoo House, designed by Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo. With its odd arrangements and hued windows, this museum offers a wealth of varying perspective. Take the last ferry from Teshima and set sail for Naoshima.
A grand modern art project, Naoshima hosts several modern art museums and is a kind of open air museum itself. The quaint little island, with its relaxed atmosphere offers a stark contrast to the busy metropolises of Osaka or Tokyo.
Check into the hotel this evening and enjoy a night of rural charm and relaxed attitudes.
Day 4: Naoshima
Spend a complete day on Naoshima visiting the various art projects and museums that the island offers. Begin with the Chichu Art Museum. Designed by famed Japanese architect Ando Tadao (like many of the other installations here), this museum uses only natural lighting to illuminate the displays. Thus the experience of visiting can vary drastically from minute to minute and hour to hour.
Next visit the Lee Ufan Museum, which a relatively new building dedicated to Korean artist Lee Ufan and designed by the preeminent Ando Tadao. Further on, visit a museum dedicated to the island’s main architect himself, the aptly named Ando Museum. Around Honmura port, there is also the Art House Project, which is a collection of homes that have been turned into artworks by various Japanese artists.
Return to the hotel this evening.
Overnight in Naoshima
Day 5: Naoshima to Kurashiki
Wake this morning and enjoy breakfast before taking a public bus to Miyanoura. From there take a ferry back to the mainland and transfer back to Okayama. Then it’s another train ride to the next destination, Kurashiki.
Once a trading hub of the Edo period, Kurashiki used to be known for its rice granaries. Many wealthy merchants once called this place home and many of their homes still stand today. Since rice storage is no longer a major contributor to the Kurashiki economy, many of its homes and buildings have been converted into museums.
As an old trading hub, Kurashiki used canals and waterways to ship many goods to market. Some of the old canals still exist and along them, many of the old storehouses have been restored. Among them is the Kurashiki Toy Museum, which displays old toys from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
At the opposite end of the canal find Japan’s oldest museum dedicated to Western Art, the Ohara Museum. Inside visitors can find works from Picasso, Gaguin, and many others. There are also some Japanese works of art, as well as a building dedicated to Kojima Torajiro, who fused Japanese spirit with his Western style of painting.
Check in to the hotel this afternoon and then enjoy the evening at leisure among Kurashiki’s cafes and shops.
Overnight in Kurashiki
Day 6: Kurashiki to Kobe via Himeji
Take the train this morning back to Okayama and change to Shinkansen bound for Himeji. The second largest city in Hyogo prefecture after Kobe, Himeji claims its fame through the world heritage site of Himeji Castle. One of the few original castles from the feudal age of Japan, Himeji is a remarkable sight. Nicknamed Shirasagijo (White Heron Castle) for its brilliant white exterior, the castle is immensely popular with Japanese and foreign tourists alike. Spend the morning visiting the castle before taking the train the rest of the way to Shin-Kobe Station.
Kobe styles itself an international city, and with good reason. In the 19th century the Port of Kobe became one of the first cities to open to international trade. European traders made their homes in the city’s Kitano district, and many of their old Western-style homes and mansions still stand. After the massive 1995 earthquake that nearly leveled it, the city has rebuilt and is now considered one of the most beautiful in Japan. Indeed, with the mountains close by and the sea just a few kilometers away, it’s no wonder many people choose to call Kobe home.
Check into the hotel upon arrival and enjoy Kobe on your own this evening. It’s not a bad time to enjoy one of Kobe’s signature products either, Kobe beef.
Overnight in Kobe
Day 7: Kobe Departure
This morning take breakfast at the hotel, then transfer to Kansai International Airport or join us for another tour of the Land of the Rising Sun.