Settling into a car seat allows a completely different type of travel experience, one perfectly suited to the Setouchi region with its treasure trove of rich history and culture far removed from the hustle and bustle of large cities. Regardless of your destination, world-class roads, bridges and ferries make traveling by car safe, easy, and relaxing. Having the freedom of a vehicle allows you to tailor your own course, at your own pace, through scenic countryside steeped in history and alive with culture. It’s an ideal way to see and experience the very best of the Setouchi region.
The road trip assembled here covers four prefectures in the Setouchi area, highlighting a wealth of designated cultural treasures, as well as some magnificent scenery. Whether you take to the road by yourself, or share the journey with those near and dear, the amazing array of opportunities for cultural appreciation, education and gorgeous scenery, will provide memories to treasure for a lifetime.
Watch the sea change from emerald green to cobalt blue as you drive across one of Japan’s longest bridges on your way to the resort island of Tsunoshima. The elevation and gently curving bypass of a rocky islet bring both the sea and land close at hand, allowing you to relish the vivid colors changing as you glide past. A site popular for filming luxury car commercials, it’s no wonder this bridge is considered Setouchi’s top driving destination.
Tsunoshima Lighthouse Park
Built in 1876, this historic lighthouse was one of the first commissioned by the Meiji government to make the journey to Japan safer for foreign visitors. The solid granite walls have stood the test of time, and this striking white tower still operates as a lighthouse today. Open to the public, and close to recreation and food options, it’s the perfect place to take rest before resuming your journey.
Motonosumi Inari Shrine
Be guided by 123 red torii gates as they wind toward the “Dragon Palace Geyser,” a blowhole that can shoot water up to 30 meters in the air. The mixture of red, green, blue, and white are certainly reminiscent of a fuming dragon facing into the Sea of Japan. Don’t forget to try your luck with the offertory box placed on top of the last gate — if you make the five meter throw, it is said your wish will be granted.
Hagi Castle Town
Avoiding disasters since the Edo period has left Hagi as a well preserved, traditional castle town. Although, it has been awarded a World Cultural Significance listing for a different reason, as it is considered the birthplace of modern Japan. Many famous politicians, educators, and industrialists at the dawn of the Meiji era originated from this town. Walk the streets and feel the history that changed the course of a nation. While there, make sure to cast an eye over the famous Hagi ceramic wares before moving on to your next destination.
Kagura Monzen Toji Village
Deep in the Hiroshima countryside lies Kagura Monzen Toji Village, a place dedicated to the traditional Shinto theatrical performance Kagura — a dynamic mixture of gorgeous costumes, expressive masks, and musical accompaniment. Breathe in the nostalgia of 1950s Japan, visit the Kagura museum, and be sure to catch one of the regular weekend performances at the Kagura Dome. You can try on Kagura costumes, and if you’re lucky, you may even be able to participate in a Kagura mask making workshop. Once you’re done with the theatrical fun, soaking in the on-site onsen is the perfect way to round out your visit.
Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
Take a step back in time to visit the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter in Okayama. A bustling center for trade in the Edo era, it relied on the Kurashiki river to move large amounts of goods in and out of the city’s storehouses. Walking down the quaint streets with their well-preserved buildings is a visual feast, and taking a boat ride on the canal only makes the view more impressive. Museums, traditional-style shops, and modern specialty stores will keep you browsing for hours. Maybe even take a historical stroll wearing a rental Kimono. The evening lights bring a different pace and feel to the area, and a chance to see the magnificent illuminated buildings reflected on the still river water.
Mt. Washuzan（Seto-ohashi Bridge）
If you are looking for the quintessential view of Setouchi in all its glory, you simply can’t pass up the scenic lookout on 133 meter high Mt. Washuzan, a small peninsula jutting out into the calm waters of the Seto Inland Sea. From this vantage point, you get a superb view of the Seto-ohashi Bridge connecting the prefectures of Okayama and Kagawa — one of the world’s longest bridges, supported by a succession of green island footholds. Whichever observation site you chose, the vista is postcard perfect. This site is especially famous for its fabulous sunset views.
The ‘White Heron,’ a moniker that perfectly describes the grace and beauty of Himeji Castle — a national treasure that was one of the first places in Japan to be designated a World Cultural Heritage Site. To see this beauty in full take a tour around the perimeter by car before heading in on foot to see the nation’s most impressive castle up close.