Why You Should Pay More Attention to the Chugoku Region of Japan
I bet you’ve heard about the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan. Maybe you’ve also heard about Kyushu. But do you know anything about the Chugoku region of Japan?
Most of you might have been there already without noticing. Yes, there are a few popular sights such as Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okayama, but the Chugoku region has a lot more to offer than that and I bet most of you just leave after visiting the places I’ve just mentioned. That might be a big mistake!
Today’s article is supposed to be just a quick overview for inspiration, so that you won’t miss anything in case you plan to visit Hiroshima, for example. I cannot add detailed descriptions for all of these sights here, this would become a book! But don’t worry, I’ll post about all of the sights mentioned in this post in greater detail very soon.
If you have any questions or if there are any sights you’d like to hear more about ASAP, drop me a comment below!
The Chugoku Region of Japan and its prefectures
The Chugoku region of Japan (中国地方, chuugoku chihou) is located in Western Japan on Honshu. Geographically it’s between Kansai and Kyushu and thus a great gate if you want to visit either of those. It’s also not too far from Shikoku.
The Chugoku region consists of 5 of Japan’s 47 prefectures: Okayama, Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane and Yamaguchi.
Okayama and especially Hiroshima are quite popular – even among foreign visitors. But the other three prefectures don’t get much attention – even Japanese tourists don’t know much about those. I remember reading about Tottori and Shimane that they’re one of the least visited prefectures in Japan. And that’s a shame, because they also have a lot to offer!
I’ll introduce some of the highlights of each prefecture. Please note that this is only a rough overview and that there’s a LOT more to see.
Okayama Prefecture (岡山県) is located right next to the Kansai region of Japan (map). It borders Hiroshima and Tottori prefectures (Chugoku) and Hyogo Prefecture (Kansai). It faces the beautiful Seto Inland Sea and Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku), so you can easily access the Shikoku region from Okayama. Okayama City (岡山市) is the capital.
Okayama City: Korakuen Garden
Korakuen Garden is one of Japan’s top 3 landscape gardens and worth a visit (especially in spring and autumn).
Okayama City: Okayama Castle
Right next to the Korakuen Garden is Okayama Castle also known as the “Crow Castle”.
Kibi Plain: Lovely Temple and Shrine Cycle Tour
Just a bit outside of Okayama City is the lovely Kibi plain where you can take a bicycle tour to see various impressive temples and shrines. Make sure to also try “Kibi dango” while there.
Kurashiki City: History, Museums and a Lovely Canal
Just a short train ride away from Okayama’s castle and garden is Kurashiki City (倉敷市). It makes a nice (half-)day trip.
It’s a historical city with a canal that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867) when the city was a major rice distribution center. Along the canal you can find a lot of interesting museums and old houses. The canal makes you feel like you’re in the “Venezia of Japan”.
Kurashiki City: Seto-Ohashi Bridge
Six bridges that span five islands – and the sight of the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. The Great Seto Bridge (瀬戸大橋) connects Okayama Prefecture (Honshu) with Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku). It’s the world’s longest two-tiered bridge system. One of the best viewing points (where I also took the photo above) is Mount Washuzan in Kurashiki. It can be accessed via Kojima Station.
Takahashi City: Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
In Takahashi City (高梁市) you can find one of Japan’s 12 original castle keeps: Bitchu Matsuyama Castle. It’s a bit farther out, but there are also a few nice temples and shrines (such as Raikyuji) nearby. A must-see for castle lovers.
Soja City: Kinojo Castle
The Demon’s Castle can be found in Soja City (総社市). The view from up there is stunning. The Kibi plain cycle tour ends at Soja Station, so maybe you want to do this as well.
Tsuyama City: Tsuyama Castle – a cherry blossom paradise in spring
Maybe you have figured it out by now, but Okayama Prefecture is really great for castle lovers like me. *g*
Actually Tsuyama Castle used to compete with Himeji Castle, but unfortunately it was destroyed in 1874. Not much remains nowadays. Yet it’s absolutely worth a visit in spring as it’s one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in the Chugoku region if not in all of Japan.
Tsuyama City: Shuraku-en Garden
The entrance to Shuraku-en Garden (衆楽園) is free. It was constructed by Mori Nagatsugu in 1657. The current structures of the garden date back to the original one.
I don’t think Hiroshima Prefecture (広島県) needs a lot of introduction. It’s located in the middle of the Chugoku region (map). Its capital is Hiroshima City (広島市).
Miyajima and its Famous Floating Red Gate
Miyajima is one of the most popular tourist spots and also one of “Japan’s Top 3 Views“.
Did you know that the famous Kintaikyo Bride of Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) is really close from there? Curious? Scroll down. ;)
Hiroshima City: A-Bomb Dome // Peace Memorial Park
Of course, Hiroshima is most famous for the atomic bomb attack in 1945. The Peace Memorial Park is always worth a visit.
Hiroshima City: Hiroshima Castle
While not an original castle keep, it’s still a really lovely castle and can be easily accessed. No reason not to visit.
Fukuyama City: Fukuyama Castle
If you’ve ever taken the Shinkansen to go from Kansai to Kyushu, you might have passed by this castle in Fukuyama City (福山市). Historically not very interesting, but yet an extremely beautiful castle tower – especially in spring.
It’s just a few steps away from the train station, so hop out if you have some extra time!
Onomichi City: Temple Walk
Not too far away from Fukuyama is Onomichi City (尾道市). It’s famous for its temple walk, but you’ll also get a stunning view once you’ve reached the top of the hill. Onomichi also has a LOT of cats, so cat lovers definitely should pay a visit.
Furthermore Onomichi is the starting point for the Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route which will lead you over several bridges and islands of the Seto Inland Sea, ending in Imabari City (Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku). Something I always wanted to do. This is still on my bucket list.
Okunoshima – Rabbit Island
If you have an extra day in Hiroshima, why not spend some time with the bunnies of Okunoshima?
Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県) touches all of Chugoku’s prefectures apart from Yamaguchi (map).
Tottori City (鳥取市) is the capital. This prefecture is often overlooked by tourists. I have no idea why.
Tottori City: Sand Dunes
Yes, this is Japan! Tottori has the largest sand dunes in all of Japan. (You can also find sand dunes in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka.)
It’s absolutely stunning and that alone should justify a visit in Tottori.
You can also enjoy various wind sports such as paragliding. There are always great sand sculputures on display as well.
Tottori City: Tottori Castle Ruins
Only ruins are left of the former Tottori Castle. but it’s a popular spot for hanami in spring.
If you have some time and are fit enough you can hike up to the top of the mountain where once the main castle keep was standing. From there you’ll have a breathtaking view over Tottori City. You can even see all the way to the ocean and the sand dunes!
Tottori City also has some nice onsen.
Kawahara Town: Kawahara Castle Museum
Historically this castle has no value, but the museum inside displays everything you need to know about the history and culture of Kawahara Town.
Maybe the castle museum doesn’t sound very exciting, but the view you get from up there surely is. You can see the sand dunes on one side and the Chugoku mountains on the other. It’s a lovely town – and great if you want to take a “timeout” in the Japanese countryside.
If you go in late February / early May, you can also enjoy the “plum-grove park” with about 1000 plum trees.
I recommend a car as public transportation is limited, but I managed without a car, so you can do it, too.
Yurihama Town: Encho-en Chinese Garden
Encho-en (燕趙園) is the largest Chinese-style garden in Japan and a symbol of friendship between Tottori Prefecture and Hebei Province.
Hokuei Town: Detective Conan Fans Should Drop By!
Hokuei Town (北栄町) as well as the Chinese Garden are on the way from Tottori City to Matsue City. I visited the garden, Hokuei Town and Matsue Castle all in one day without being rushed!
Hokuei Town is a must-see for all Detective Conan fans as Gosho Aoyama was born there.
Hokuei Town: Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory
Because it’s Gosho Aoyama’s home town, you’ll find the “Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory” there. It’s full of his works, mainly Detective Conan.
And even while you walk throughout the town, you’ll run into various “Case Closed” stone statues. Some of them are as tall as an adult!
Shimane Prefecture (島根県) is one of Japan’s “longest” prefectures (map). It’s the second least populous prefecture in Japan after Tottori. Jeez, these two prefectures really need more love! The captial is Matsue City (松江市).
There are some famous sights in Shimane such as Matsue Castle, Izumo Taisha Shrine and the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, but in fact there’s more you might want to check out before leaving Shimane again.
Matsue City: Matsue Castle
Matsue Castle is one of Japan’s 12 original castle keeps. It’s also called “black castle” or “plover castle”. It’s absolutely worth a visit, not only for castle fans.
Izumo City: Izumo Taisha Shrine
Izumo Taisha Shrine (出雲大社) is one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in Japan. It’s a really impressive shrine you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Shimane.
Tsuwano Town (津和野町) is geographically closer to Yamaguchi Prefecture’s capital. Thus, it makes a nice day trip from Yamaguchi or Hagi City, but not from Matsue. Many people mistakenly think that Tsuwano is located in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
It’s a lovely, small town surrounded by mountains. You can find the Tsuwano Castle ruins on one of the hills. There’s also a preserved samurai district.
Tsuwano Town: Taikodani Inari Shrine
It doesn’t always have to be the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine of Kyoto! Tsuwano is known as “Little Kyoto” and has its own impressive Inari Shrine with lots of red gates. After all it’s one of the five greatest Inari Shrines in Japan.
Tsuwano Town: Tsuwano Catholic Church
The chruch was built in 1931 by a German Catholic priest. Right next to the church you can find a waterway with lots of colorful carps.
You can also find the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in Shimane Prefecture which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thus probably worth a visit. I haven’t been there myself yet.
Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県) is the “last” prefecture on the main island, Honshu (map). Thus it’s the connecting point to Kyushu (Fukuoka Prefecture). The capital is Yamaguchi City (山口市), but the largest city is Shimonoseki (下関市).
Yamaguchi (especially Shimonoseki) is famous for blowfish (フグ, fugu). If you happen to be there, TRY IT!
I’ve eaten it many times. I really like it, though the raw version doesn’t really have any taste in my opinion.
Yamaguchi City: Rurikoji Temple
Rurikoji Temple’s 5-storied pagoda is quite famous and a national treasure. In fact, it’s one of Japan’s three greatest pagodas.
So, it’s no surprise that Yamaguchi City is often called the “Kyoto of the West”.
Yamaguchi City: Ichinosaka River
This is a small insider tip from someone who has lived in the Chugoku Region for 4 years (= me! *g*). The Ichinosaka River in the center of Yamaguchi City is a lovely cherry blossom viewing spot. In early June you can enjoy hotaru (fireflies) there as soon as it gets dark. It’s kind of on the way from Yamaguchi Station to Rurikoji Temple.
Yamaguchi City: Xavier Memorial Curch
This church was built in 1952 to remember the time when Francis Xavier visited Yamaguchi 400 years ago.
Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. You’ll find his traces in Kyushu nowadays (especially in Kagoshima, Nagasaki).
Yamaguchi City: Joeiji Temple Sesshutei Garden
This garden was created about 500 years ago by the famous painter and garden designer Sesshu.
If you like Zen buildings and Zen gardens, you really shouldn’t miss this one!
Shimonoseki City: Kaikyo Yume Tower
Shimonoseki City (下関市) is not the capital but yet the biggest city in Yamaguchi Prefecture. It’s famous for blowfish. If you want to eat it, there’s your best chance.
The Kaikyo Yume Tower (海峡ゆめタワー) is the tallest tower (153 m) in Western Japan.
Shimonoseki City: Kaikyo Yume Tower Observation Platform
This is the stunning view you’ll get. The bridge you see in the photo above connects Yamaguchi Prefecture with Fukuoka. That means what you see on the right is already Kyushu!
North side view from the Yume Tower.
Shimonoseki City: Akama Jingu Shrine
The shrine is dedicated to the loser of the Battle of Dan-no-ura, Emperor Antoku of the Heike Clan. You’ll find his imperial mausoleum there as well as a few interesting statues and a treasure hall.
Near the tower there are a lot of other interesting sights in walking distance such as the Shimonoseki Aquarium (Kaikyokan).
Shimonoseki City: Chofu Teien
Chofu Teien (長府庭園) is a spacious, beautiful Japanese garden. It was originally the residence of a high-ranking samurai.
Shimonoseki City: Kanmon Bridge
Kanmon Bridge (関門橋) connects Honshu (Shimonoseki) with Kyushu (Mojiko). It’s among the 50 longest suspension bridges in the world.
Shimonoseki City: Kanmon Pedestrian Tunnel
The really cool thing about the bridge is the following: You can actually walk from Honshu to Kyushu! It’s one of the world’s rare undersea tunnels. With only about 700 m one-way a lot of people walk from either side to do sightseeing in Shimonoseki or Mojiko likewise.
You can collect stamps on either side as well!
It shows you exactly when you’re leaving Honshu (Yamaguchi Prefecture) and entering Kyushu (Fukuoka Prefecture). It’s a pretty unique and a cool experience!
Another photo-worthy sight in Shimonoseki is the view onto the bridge that connects to Tsunoshima. Unfortunately I haven’t been there yet, but it’s on my bucket list.
Hofu City: Hofu Tenmangu Shrine
Most tourists will probably never come to Hofu City (防府市) which is a shame. I admit there’s not that much to see.
However, the Hofu Tenmangu Shrine is one of Japan’s “Three Great Tenjin Shrines” together with Fukuoka’s Dazaifu and Kyoto’s Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. It’s also known as Japan’s first Tenmangu shrine.
Hofu City: Mansion and Garden of the Mori Family
Not too far away from the shrine you’ll find the mansion and garden of the Mori Family which you could visit as well.
Iwakuni City: Kintaikyo Bridge and Iwakuni Castle
The Kintaikyo Bridge (錦帯橋) of Iwakuni City (岩国市) is famous! Not only is it beautiful, it’s also made entirely of wood without the use of any nails, buit in 1673. It’s crossing the Nishiki River. It’s most beautiful in spring as cherry blossom trees have been planted all along the riverbed.
On the top of Mt. Yokoyama in the background of the photo above you can see Iwakuni Castle. From up there you have a stunning view onto the bridge and Iwakuni City.
As it’s very close to Miyajima – and Hiroshima City – it can easily be done as a day trip from there.
Mine City: Akiyoshi Cave (Akiyoshido)
In Mine City (美祢市) you’ll find Akiyoshido (秋芳洞) Japan’s largest and maybe most impressive limestone cave.
The cave alone would be enough reason to visit, but we’re not done yet, because right above the cave you’ll find this:
Mine City: Akiyoshi Plateau (Akiyoshidai)
Akiyoshidai (秋吉台) is a plateau with the highest concentration of karst formations in Japan.
The plateau used to be a coral reef about 300 million years ago! This kind of landscape is rare in Japan.
The landscape changes depending on the season. I took the photo above in February, but in spring and summer it’s all green, in winter it’s (often) white, in autumn it’s reddish!
Hagi City: Daishoin Temple and Tokoji Temple
Hagi City (萩市) is a small, pleasant castle town, bearing lots of history. So, it’s especially interesting if you’re interested in the Mori Family or the “Choshu Five“. The city is also famous for its pottery (Hagi-yaki, 萩焼).
You can follow the traces of history by visiting the various temples and shrines. Most of them can be reached on foot or by bicycle.
Two of the most famous ones are Daishoin Temple (大照院) and Tokoji Temple (東光寺). Daishoin was constructed as a family temple of the Mori Clan. Its main attraction is the burial side of half of the Mori lords (see photo above).
Tokoji Temple offers beautiful Zen temple buildings.
Hagi City: Hagi Castle Ruins
Hagi Castle was built in 1604. Unfortunately only ruins remain in Shiuki Park. It’s a very spacious park featuring a lot of stray cats.
Hagi City: Enseiji Temple = Detective Conan “shooting location”
Enseiji Temple (円政寺) was apparently featured in episode 519 of “Meitantei Conan” (Case Closed).
Have I convinced all Detective Conan fans to visit the Chugoku region of Japan now? ….
There’s one more stunning sight in Yamaguchi Prefecture I yet have on my bucket list, so I need to mention it here as well. It’s so beautiful, I have no words! It’s a bit far out, so you better have your own vehicle: Motonosumi Inari Shrine in Nagato City
And that’s it. I hope I was able to convince you that the Chugoku region of Japan is well worth a visit beyond Hiroshima and Okayama. If you have the feeling there are other sights worth mentioning, then feel free to help me out in convincing people why they should pay more attention to the Chugoku region. *g*
Let me know what you think and if you have any questions, drop me a note in the comments below!~
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Events in Mar/Apr 2017:
- Mar 1-14 : Omizutori (Nara)
- Mar 11-12: Sagicho Matsuri (Shiga)
- Mar 12: Takaosan Hiwatari Matsuri
- Mar 15: Honensai Fertility Festival (Aichi)
- Mar 20: Aizu Higan Shishi (Fukushima)
- Mar 31 - Apr 3: Beppu Hot Spring Festival
- Apr 2: Kanamara Phallus Matsuri (Kawasaki)
- Apr 9-16: Kamakura Festival
- Apr 14-15: Takayama Festival
- Apr 27: Kamikochi Mountain Opening Festival