Adventure & Experience

7 Awe-Inspiring Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Setouchi

7 Awe-Inspiring Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Setouchi

Picture this: you’re embarking on an exhilarating journey as you climb waterfalls in Hiroshima, gazing deep into Japan's largest whirlpools in Tokushima, or spelunking 100 meters underground into Japan's immense limestone caves in Yamaguchi. While popular tourist spots are great, venturing off the beaten path can lead to rewards that truly elevate your Japan trip, and Setouchi is home to a plethora of unique and unforgettable experiences!

Without further ado, here are seven awe-inspiring off-the-beaten-path experiences in all seven prefectures of Setouchi!

Go Waterfall “Shower” Climbing and Trekking in Hiroshima Prefecture

Visitors looking to get outside to explore the natural splendor have plenty to start with in Hiroshima. The Okuyuki Shower Climbing adventure is designed for outdoor enthusiasts who seek an exciting experience upstream of the Minochi River. The activity involves climbing up waterfalls and diving into clear river basins, all while enjoying the scenic beauty of the hot spring resort town of Yuki, just one hour from the center of Hiroshima City.

Their course offers two options — one for beginners, which runs for three hours, and one for intermediate-level individuals, which lasts seven hours. Depending on your experience and physical strength, you can pick the one that's right for you.

Taking on a challenge can be tiring, so there is a planned break during the course where you can warm up and enjoy some delicious curry with your fellow participants. And once you're all fueled up, intermediate participants can move on to the rest of their course, ready to tackle whatever comes their way.

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If you're looking for off-season activities when shower climbing is not an option, consider a guided trekking tour up to Mt. Omine, the highest peak in Hiroshima City. At the summit, your guide will prepare a hot drink for you to share while enjoying the views of the Seto Inland Sea, which includes several islands, including the iconic Miyajima, home to its “floating” torii gate. And if you're lucky enough to be there on a crystal-clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of Kyushu and Shikoku.

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On Mount Omine, you can easily distinguish between the natural and planted forests, particularly during autumn when the natural forest undergoes seasonal changes, showcasing stunning fall colors, while the planted forest remains evergreen. 

Your guide's passion for hiking, spending time outdoors, and raising awareness about people's impact on the natural environment will make your hike even more memorable. 

Make your Own Bizen Pottery Masterpiece in Okayama Prefecture

Discover traditional ceramic-making techniques for creating Bizen pottery at Bizen Pottery Gallery Wakamiya in Okayama Prefecture. Located in the suburbs of Setouchi City in Okayama, this pottery-making experience is the perfect opportunity to delve into the ancient history of Bizen ware, which dates back over 12,000 years to the Jomon Period (12400-250B).

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Bizen pottery, often used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, beautifully captures the natural warmth of the earth and embraces the unique patterns created by fire rather than relying on elaborate colors or designs. This unpredictability is all part of the charm of the experience, as unseen minerals in the clay reveal themselves after firing, ultimately determining the ceramic's color.

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Led by the Bizen ware artisans Tomio and his family, you'll be taken on a journey through the creative process. The Bizen Pottery Gallery Wakamiya uses a kiln made of brick and is fueled by firewood, unlike electric kilns that offer consistent heating. The unique technique employed at the gallery allows for a wide variance in the appearance of the finished product that makes Bizen ware so interesting. 

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The pottery is crafted using a small wheel turned by hand, resulting in a warm, handmade appearance expressing the visual concept of wabi-sabi, which adds value to the finished work.

Visit Japan's Largest Limestone Caverns and Plateau at Akiyoshidai, Yamaguchi 

In Yamaguchi Prefecture, you can explore the breathtaking rock formations above and below ground at Mine City's Akiyoshidai and Akiyoshido. Japan's largest karst landscape, Akiyoshidai, was formed over thousands of years by the erosion of limestone. Akiyoshido, on the other hand, is known for its cavernous caves and underground rivers, making it Japan's largest limestone cave system.

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The unusual karst formations that protrude from the pastoral green landscape are both stunning and surreal, offering visitors a glimpse of what the ocean floor looked like about 350 million years ago when it was still underwater.

Visitors to Akiyoshidai can enjoy numerous trails that allow them to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours trekking through this stunning landscape. In the spring and summer, visitors to Akiyoshidai’s walking trails are treated to views of rolling hills interspersed with oddly shaped rough rocks that jut up from the earth, softened by the green grass of the sloping landscape. In the autumn, the karst formations turn reddish gold; in the winter, they are covered in snow, offering interesting seasonal variations throughout the year.

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The Akiyoshido Cave is undeniably one of Japan's most impressive limestone cave systems, boasting a colossal length of over 10 kilometers and towering ceilings that reach a height of 80 meters. The cave is adorned with breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites that have taken shape over thousands of years. Visitors can easily explore a 1 km long stretch of the cavern, thanks to clearly marked, well-lit pathways that lead to unusual terraced rock formations and pools of water or large ponds reflecting eerily from the interior lighting.

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The cave has two entrances, one at either end of the 1 km tourist route. The first entrance is a beautiful cave passage leading into one of the most picture-worthy and marvelous caves of Akiyoshido, while the other is an elevator that takes visitors down to the cave's depths on the opposite end of the route.

Witness the Spectacular Whirlpools of Tokushima Prefecture Close-Up

Prepare yourself for an exciting boat ride through the Naruto Strait, where you'll have the chance to witness the amazing whirlpools famously known as "Uzushio!" The whirlpool cruise will take you right next to these natural marvels as you get up close and personal with the swirling currents.

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The Wonder Naruto is one of several cruises that depart from the Tokushima side of the Onaruto Bridge and can carry almost 400 passengers on a 30-minute cruise in the waters surrounding the bridge. 

Only during the spring and autumn tides can you witness the phenomenon of these large whirlpools, spanning 20 meters in diameter.The boat is constantly in motion, maneuvering for the best angles and searching for the largest whirlpools. The ultimate prize angle is a large whirlpool near the boat, with the Onaruto Bridge rising from the water behind it.

When planning your cruise, remember that they appear more frequently and at a larger scale closest to low or high tides. You can confirm the best cruises for a particular day based on the tides via the website and on-site ticket counter.

If you're looking for another cruising experience, you can opt for a similar cruise that departs from the Awaji side of the bridge. The larger boat, akin to a pirate ship, will take you on a journey to capture the perfect shot of the Onaruto Bridge, a large whirlpool, and the ship itself.

Discover the Art of Pearl Culture in Ehime Prefecture 

Are you fascinated by the beauty of pearls? Doi Pearl in Ehime prefecture invites you to learn about the fascinating world of pearls in Uwajima City, where you get to witness firsthand how the pearls of Uwajima form and master the art of distinguishing between good and bad pearls. 

Doi Pearls is a third-generation pearl culture farm in Uwajima that has been thriving since the end of WWII. Doi Nobunori, the founder, upon his return to Uwajima after the war, established Doi Pearls after becoming interested in culturing pearls. 

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Kazunori, the third-generation son, has taken his family's pearl business to the next level by offering various tours that give visitors this extraordinary experience. Guests can enjoy one of the different courses available, from watching the extraction of pearls on a pearl culturing raft, learning how to insert the nucleus into the oyster, and even making their own piece of Uwajima pearl jewelry.

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In the end, visitors take home a pearl as a souvenir. Doi Pearl Co., Ltd. offers a tour that will educate and inspire you with an unforgettable experience at their aquaculture farm.

Go on an Akashi Kaikyo Bridge Cruise in Hyogo Prefecture

Here’s a lesson in local island history, ocean views, and Japan's engineering prowess for you! This cruise takes visitors up to Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which holds the record as one of the longest in the world— an engineering marvel that connects the city of Kobe to Awaji Island in Japan. 

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The boat is modeled after the steamboat "Kanrin Maru," the first Japanese ship to cross the Pacific Ocean to the United States, which adds another intriguing element to your cruise. As you set sail on this 75-minute boat cruise, you'll be taken to the bridge to marvel at the sheer size and elegance of this suspension bridge.

On-board guides provide commentary on the history of Awaji Island, its historical sites, and other points of interest, offering a unique opportunity to appreciate the beauty of nature and human ingenuity all on one ride. 

As the tranquillity of the sea views sets in, you can admire this vital transportation link that symbolizes Japan's ingenuity, as it seamlessly blends with the serene surroundings of the Seto Inland Sea.

Learn the Secrets of Sanuki Udon Making at UDON HOUSE in Kagawa Prefecture

On average, the people of Kagawa Prefecture consume 188 bowls of their regional Sanuki udon yearly. Known for their chewy, almost bouncy texture, each slurp of this beloved noodle is like a dive into Kagawa's culinary culture, evident from the fact that there are just as many udon shops as convenience stores in the region.

One way to truly experience this Kagawa culinary culture is by making udon noodles yourself. At UDON HOUSE, a beautifully restored 80-year-old Japanese home, you can participate in a unique noodle-making workshop in a hostel run by a team of passionate Japanese and international staff who are eager to share their knowledge and love of Sanuki udon with visitors.

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During this six-hour course, you learn about the history of Sanuki udon and the basics behind what makes a good soup stock, practice the techniques that give the Sanuki udon its signature texture, and even visit a local farmer to pick veggies to accompany your handmade udon dish. And, of course, the healthy reward of trying your own udon noodles for lunch!

There are only three ingredients in making udon noodles: salt, flour, and water. However, in order to maintain a consistent quality of the noodles, it is necessary to adjust the formulation according to the season.

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At the end of your Sanuki udon-making course, you’ll receive a certificate as proof of your effort, serving as a fun reminder of the knowledge you gained of this Kagawa specialty. Additionally, you’ll get vacuum-sealed udon noodles that come in packaging designed after the workshop house. 

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For the overnight stay plan, the experience also includes a tour of two udon restaurants and a brief introduction to how to eat udon, especially the self-serve udon, which is prevalent in Kagawa.

This may be the most comprehensive udon recipe you'll find!

These off-the-beaten-path experiences offer a chance to discover hidden gems and create memories that will last a lifetime. So, step off the usual tourist trail and embark on a Setouchi adventure!

Text by Mika Senda

Photographs by Mika Senda, Todd Fong

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Hiroshima

Hiroshima is the central city of Chugoku region. Hiroshima Prefecture is dotted with Itsukushima Shrine, which has an elegant torii gate standing in the sea; the Atomic Bomb Dome that communicates the importance of peace; and many other attractions worth a visit. It also has world-famous handicrafts such as Kumano brushes.