No matter where you stand, the Seto Inland Sea never looks the same. Like the sky, its appearance constantly changes according to seasons, weather, and time of day. One of the best ways to appreciate Setouchi’s naturally fluctuating beauty is to observe its landscape over time from a tastefully curated perspective—to position yourself within its myriad sightlines to immerse yourself in its seascape while soaking in the intimacy of a hot springs bath. Here are exceptional boutique hotels with exquisite onsen that allow you to do just that.
A spectacular view and healing at Migiwatei Ochi Kochi
The historical port town of Tomonoura is located in the center of the Seto Inland Sea coast. The town’s iconic solid stone Joyato Lighthouse still stands watch at the tip of its quiet cobblestone harbor as Japan’s largest remaining Edo-period navigational beacon. You might recognize its authentic port town setting in various Japanese television dramas or the Hollywood film Wolverine, set and shot on-site in Tomonoura in 2013.
Migiwatei Ochi Kochi, located near the Tomo Port, has an old-style feel with modern facilities that fit right into the picture.
The main entrance, made of wood, covered with hongawara tiles, and painted with bengara, is a reproduction of a building from a bygone era and has a dignified appearance that gives you a sense of the good old days of Japan. At the same time, the modern interior is spacious and open, offering sea views all around—from the sun deck terrace lounge and lateral dining room to tastefully framed windows and lattices in more secluded spaces.
There are a total of 17 guest rooms on the second through fifth floors. All rooms have an open-air bath with an ocean view, giving you a luxurious feeling.
For a mystical, centrally framed view of the uninhabited volcanic island of Sensui-jima and its red seaside torii illuminated at night, two dedicated and sheltered private onsen (Hae “south wind” and Kochi “east wind”) are available exclusively for hotel guests to use free of charge in 45-minute sessions. All suites and rooms also include private open-air baths with ocean views of their own.
Don’t miss the sumptuous meals made with Setouchi’s seasonal produce and seafood caught from the Seto Inland Sea. The specialties are “tai kama-meshi” (sea bream rice cooked in a pot) and okoze-ryori (using Okoze stonefish, high-class fish that symbolizes the Seto Inland Sea.) The fresh fish is carefully selected and prepared in any way you prefer, such as “sugata zukuri” sashimi or fried.
Breakfast is beautifully presented with a choice of either Japanese dishes (including Tomonoura’s local sea bream porridge, organic miso soup, and local Hitomebore rice from Sera) or Western dishes (including fresh eggs from local free-range chickens, three different types of bread from the town bakery and Hassaku orange juice from Onomichi).
Hotel Ridge: Rich time surrounded by nature and a spectacular view of Naruto Strait
If the Ridge were not a tiny boutique hotel, it could just as well be an exclusive upscale resort for luxury wellness retreats. Situated on a forested cliff overlooking the Naruto Bridge linking Shikoku to Awaji island, Hotel Ridge caters to 10 spacious suites nestled comfortably in the secluded Naruto Park Hills.
By the same token, a private onsen-style bath is an integral part of each suite—Western-style rooms include two sun decks on either side, while modern Japanese-style rooms include a deck and a garden—all with front-row views of the eastern Seto Inland Sea. The resort’s lofty location also affords a clear view of the starry night sky, undimmed by city lights and undisturbed by urban noise.
WASO modern Japanese style room
Of the ten rooms, six are Western-style, and four are Japanese-style. All of them are modern and have a view of the Naruto Strait. The hotel also offers a wide range of high-quality amenities for women.
The baths in the guest rooms have large windows that give a sense of openness, and some of the rooms even have a view of the Naruto Strait from the bath window. The spa and esthetic services in the hotel are also not to be missed, with a full menu of facial and body therapies.
California Cuisine Restaurant is a casual dining room with a grand view and open veranda, open to outside guests for lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea. The cuisine is French fusion with an emphasis on Pacific seafood and seasonal ingredients from Tokushima and Naruto for farm-to-table freshness—all deliciously paired with wines from around the world, including many from Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino, California. After hours, the Ridge Bar serves Tokushima craft beer and specialty cocktails to top off your evening.
Enjoy the cobalt blue sea at the Hotel Nishi Nagato Resort
On the northwestern tip of Yamaguchi prefecture facing the Sea of Japan, Hotel Nishinagato Resort exudes a beach-chic vibe that successfully leverages its opportune location next to the Tsunoshima Bridge. While the age-old island of Tsunoshima has its own tourist attractions, it’s the 1,780-meter-long bridge opened in 2000 that has appeared in countless TV commercials, photoshoots, and other social media posts.
At the Hotel Nishi Nagato Resort, the rooms on the north side of the building overlook the Tsunoshima Bridge, which spans the turquoise sea, while the rooms on the south side offer a distant view of the Hibikinada Sea and northern Kyushu (Fukuoka Prefecture).
But it’s the resort’s southwest-facing rooftop onsen, with large infinity baths blending seamlessly into the seascape at any time of day or night, that steals the show. The open-air Amagase no Yu immerses you directly into the changing marine environment, while the wooden-sheltered Yuunagi no Yu lets you feel the sea breeze as you appreciate the scenery from a romantically shaded oasis. The indoor Observatory bath offers yet another perspective of the sea through floor-to-ceiling windows. Then relax in the tea lounge with ice cream as you admire the bridge.
Nishinagato’s main restaurant specializes in fresh ingredients from the mountain and the sea for traditional kaiseki and sushi. Seasonal chef’s recommendations include the Shimonoseki specialties of live kottoi squid and fugu, as well as fresh-caught abalone grilled on your table. You can even see live fish and squid swimming inside an open tank on site. Breakfast is a generous buffet offering a wide choice of Japanese and Western dishes, fruits, and vegetables.
Kyukamura Setouchi Toyo: Enjoy a relaxing time in the Seto Inland Sea
Established in 1965, Kyukamura Setouchi Toyo is perched on a hill 60 meters above the sea along Sakurai Beach, known for its white sand and green pines, just south of Imabari in Ehime prefecture.
This is one place where you will also want to go out to play. Even if you’re not into active sports, this family-friendly hotel organizes morning walks through the garden or to view Kawazu or Yoshino cherry blossoms around Toyo, stargazing excursions at night (summer only), and even firefly viewing field trips in summer. You can also opt to camp out and enjoy swimming, fishing, and barbecuing at Kyukamura’s dedicated campsite right next to Sakurai Beach.
All the hotel rooms, decorated in contemporary blends of Japanese and Western styles, have unobstructed sea views in a comfortable setting.
The bright sea-facing Hiuchinada Onsen includes both indoor and open-air wide communal baths offering swooping panoramic views of the surrounding archipelago by day and by night. The hypotonic alkaline waters flow from Hondani Onsen, one of the top three hot springs in the Iyo region with Dogo and Nibukawa Onsen. On a clear day, you can see all the way down the Kawarazu coast to sacred Mt. Ishizuchi, the highest peak in western Japan.