With its prime location on Ikuchijima in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea, the island town of Setoda could be considered the essence of Setouchi itself: a cycling paradise, a healthy lifestyle, history meets luxury, in situ artworks in the open-air. Setoda Port, located on the west coast of Ikuchijima Island, was frequented by ships sailing the “Westward Passage” connecting Osaka with Tohoku and Hokkaido during the Edo period (1603-1868), contributing to the wealth of merchants benefiting from the salt and shipping industries, with their extravagant mansions and warehouses lining the coast, contributing to the wealth of merchants benefiting from the salt and shipping industries, with their extravagant mansions and warehouses lining the coast. Setoda is a town with a long history, and some of its old streets still remain today.

Cycle off the Shimanami Kaido on Ikuchijima

As a fervent bicycle traveler, before I knew anything about Setouchi, I had read about the Shimanami Kaido. Opened in 1999, this 60 km cycling path connects Onomichi n Hiroshima on Japan’s main island of Honshu to Imabari in Shikoku, with seven bridges connecting the islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Each bridge has its own personality, with gentle inclines and a path completely separated from motor traffic, just as each island hides its own treasures beyond the irresistible sea views that cyclists can enjoy along the route.

One of the best things about the Shimanami Kaido is the famous blue line painted on the pavement to guide cyclists across the islands in either direction. On these quiet roads with few traffic lights, the continuity is addictive. Of course, there are plenty of places to stop for a drink, snap a photograph, or use the restroom. But as the route is relatively flat and the changing seascapes are endless, it’s all too tempting to just keep rolling along.

Ikuchijima’s mild climate, unique to the Seto Inland Sea, and the fact that half of the land on the island is sloping and sunny making it ideal for lemon cultivation, and lemon production is thriving.About halfway into my journey, Ikuchijima was one of the rare places that I stopped—in this case, to savor Setoda lemon and Hakata salt flavored gelato at Dolce , right off the path. The blue line continues through Setoda, where you have a panoramic view of the mountains, and along a coastal route past Sunset Beach and outdoor artworks on the way to Tatara Bridge. But this time, I had a good reason to veer off the well-cycled path, put down my bag, and stay for the night.

Relax in a historical residence at Azumi Setoda

Azumi Setoda is located near the historical Setoda port, where fishermen would wait for the tide to bring in the fish, and merchants would wait for the ships to bring in the salt. This luxury ryokan was once the residence of the Horiuchi family, who were involved in salt manufacturing and shipping since the early Edo period. By the Meiji period, they had become influential salt barons on Ikuchijima. In 1876, they called upon the best craftsmen using the finest materials from around Japan to build their estate in Setoda.

More than 140 years later, in 2021, it was restored and renovated as a new brand of inn by Adrian Zecca, a global hotelier using the fluid sukiya style of architecture, which integrates new techniques and materials with historical forms rooted in the art of tea ceremony.

Azumi Setoda naturally breathes through its primary materials of wood, stone, and soil to balance the climate , wind, and light. Every guest room includes its own cypress bathtub as well as a private outdoor space, ranging from a small inner garden to a large balcony. Each unit is tastefully secluded by a modern take on the traditional fence for refreshing ventilation.

The guest rooms have a modern impression with no wasted space, but with a sense of Japanese luxury and warmth, creating a special time for visitors.

Azumi Setoda makes a perfect accommodation for cyclists who want to split their Setouchi crossing over several days of exploratory and indulgent travel or for anyone who wants to experience a part of the region’s rich maritime history in a relaxing setting.

Enjoy the view from a white marble landscape on The Hill of Hope

Another sight worth seeing in Setoda is the exuberant Hill of Hope, a surreal landscape of sculpted white marble perched on a hill. There are also some spots not to be missed on the way . The Shiomachi Shopping Street, located on the approach from Setoda Port to Kosanji Temple, is lined with about 50 stores, including restaurants and souvenir shops. While enjoying shopping and gourmet food in the shopping street, you can also enjoy going to the entrance of Kosanji Temple, a temple dedicated to his mother by the industrialist Kosanji Kosan in 1936. Ascend the Kosanji temple grounds, and finally climb a steep flight of narrow steps (an elevator is also available) to the dazzling 5,000-square-meter marble garden above.

All of the marble used here was mined in Carrara, Italy, where the Japanese sculptor Itto Kuetani’s studio is based, and transported to Ikuchijima by container ship. The commissioned garden was designed and created over a period of 12 years before it opened to the public in October 2000. The result is a scintillating stonescape populated by symbolic figures and structures, where each stone reflects the sunlight from a slightly different angle, and the view of the surrounding area is spectacular all the way around.

Eat and lounge with the locals at Soil Setoda

When you’re ready to come down from the heavens, the charming cultural spots of “SOIL SETODA KURA”, a renovated 140-year-old warehouse, and SOIL SETODA LIVING, a newly built building across the street, are the two facilities that provide accommodation, restaurants, coffee shops, and other facilities to bring together tourists and local residents.

The guest room on the second floor of SOIL SETODA LIVING is a space where you can relax and enjoy the peaceful Setoda Waterway flowing in front of you.The rooms are available for short, medium, and long-term stays, and are equipped with desks and chairs making them ideal for workcations. The first floor of SOIL SETODA LIVING is a free space with free Wi-Fi and power supply that anyone can freely use.

But the real attraction of Soil Setoda is its food culture. At Minatoya, a wood-fired restaurant located in SOIL SETODA LIVING, fresh local ingredients are gathered to cook  Setoda’s specialty citrus fruits and a variety of seafood over a hearth fire with.

The adjacent SOIL SETODA KURA serves home-brewed coffee sourced from farms that prioritize environmental stewardship through a long-term approach to soil health, biodiversity, and community stability. At the Overview Coffee bar, visitors can participate in occasional coffee-tasting and cupping sessions.

Search for art at the Setoda island-wide Shimagoto Art Museum

Back on the bicycle, another active adventure on the island is to search and find all (or at least some) of the 17 outdoor art sculptures scattered along the coast of Setoda as part of the Shimagoto Art Museum. The works were originally installed for the Setoda Biennale, a local art project held since 1989. The artists themselves chose the locations for their sculptures, which express their inspiration from the landscape, sounds, and sensations they experienced at each site.

Don’t worry if you’re not an orienteering athlete, as more than half of the artworks are concentrated around Sunset Beach on the northwest shore between Setoda Port and Tatara Bridge. Among these, you can’t miss the towering sky blue eyeglasses of Shin Matsunaga’s Clairvoyance, with mini versions in bright yellow planted in the sand: “Look through the glasses, you can see the world from Setoda.”

If you do have the time and inclination, hunting down these contemporary, mostly abstract metal sculptures is a good excuse to tour the quieter, more rural south side of the island along many roadside citrus orchards. Kisaburo Kawakami’s intriguingly geometric Belvedere Setoda is even installed a few meters offshore, standing alone in the water within a remote residential neighborhood.

If you’re really up for a challenge, seek out Koichi Namekawa’s Cats Dance. It’s nestled in a secluded mountain area that is only accessible via a steep and winding hillside road, so perhaps best to approach it coming from Citrus Park Setoda. Once you arrive, you’ll find one of the most playful and rewarding artworks on public display, overlooking a wide-open view of the Seto Inland Sea and Hakata island to the south.

Situated halfway between Onomichi and Imabari on the Shimanami Kaido, the historical port town of Setoda on Ikuchijima is the ideal place to venture off the bike path, explore the island’s deep history and local food culture, visit a temple on the hill, view artworks by the sea, soak in an open-air private bath, and stay for the night.

Needless to say, Setoda is best accessed by bicycle via the Shimanami Kaido , which runs along the north shore of Ikuchijima. Alternatively, the motor traffic-oriented Nishiseto Expressway runs across the south side of the island. There are also ferry services to Setoda Port from Mihara port in Hiroshima prefecture on Honshu.

Photographs and text by Cherise Fong

More Information
・Azumi Setoda
269, Setodacho Setoda, Onomichi-shi, Hiroshima
HP (Japanese): https://azumi.co/setoda
HP (English): https://azumi.co/setoda/en

・The Hill of Hope
553-2, Setodacho Setoda, Onomichi-shi, Hiroshima
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Price: 1,400 JPY (adult), 1,200 JPY (age 65+), 1,000 JPY (university student), 800 JPY (high school student), free entry for J unior high and elementary school students and younger (includes Kosanji temple grounds and Kongo gallery)
HP (Japanese): https://www.kousanji.or.jp/hill_of_hope.html
HP (English): https://www.kousanji.or.jp/english/#The-Hill-of-Hope

・Soil Setoda Living
257-2, Setodacho Setoda, Onomichi-shi, Hiroshima
Hours: Breakfast from 8:30 AM, Lunch from 12:00 PM, Dinner from 6:00 PM Thursday-Sunday (closed Wednesday)
HP(Japanese): https://soilis.co/locations/setoda/
HP (English): https://soilis.co/en/locations-en/setoda-en/

・Shimagoto Art Museum
Opening Days: All year
Price: Free