Hiroshima Prefecture is well known for its World Heritage Sites like Itsukushima Shrine and the Atomic Bomb Dome, but travelers usually miss the many other charming towns Hiroshima has to offer! What many people don’t know is that there are several islands that are part of the prefecture as well, dotting the Seto Inland Sea. I’ll bring you along for the ride as I visit a small town on one of these islands and discover why many refer to this place as the “lemon island.”

Setoda: Where Lemons Are a Way of Life

The town of Setoda, part of Hiroshima’s Ikuchijima Island, is a small town with a population of about 7,500 (as of November 2022,) located almost at the midpoint of the Shimanami Kaido, a route that connects Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture to Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture. The Shimanami Kaido is a popular route for cyclists, as it is the first cycling route in Japan that crosses a sea strait! It’s 70km of island hopping with bicycle-friendly passages, offering incredible views every step of the way.

Hiroshima Prefecture became Japan’s top producer of lemons in the early 1950s, accounting for 50% of the nation’s total production by the early 1960s. Even today, the prefecture boasts the country’s largest production volume with Ikuchijima Island’s Setoda Town being one of the most renowned production areas.

At a time when internationally imported lemons dominated the market, producers in Setoda teamed up and set out to cultivate their own lemons, and thus the Setoda Lemon brand was established! The island has a thriving processing industry that uses lemons to make drinks and sweets, and the Setoda Lemon is highly regarded by general consumers and chefs alike!

Many of the farmers in Setoda have their own lemon fields, so if you visit the island from autumn to winter, you can see bright yellow patches almost everywhere! In addition to the actual fruit, there are a number of lemon-themed sites scattered throughout the town. I myself am a huge lover of all things lemon, so this place seemed like a dream! I couldn’t wait to see and eat as many lemon treasures as possible!

All Aboard the Passenger Ship from Onomichi to Setoda!

To access Setoda, you can take a passenger ship from Onomichi Port. The port is a short walk from the Onomichi Station. From there to Setoda Port on Ikuchijima Island, it takes about 40 minutes by boat. There are a few different types of boats, depending on the day of the week and time of day. I traveled on a weekday morning, so I got to board the Citrus Passenger Ship, a small orange boat resembling a mikan orange!

If you plan on cycling, another great way to get to Setoda is on the CYCLESHIP LazuLi Bicycle Ship! It’s a bicycle-friendly passenger ship that runs on weekends only from Onomichi Port. Living up to its name, the passenger ship is equipped with numerous bike stands and has gentle slopes and grooves which make getting the bicycles on the boat safe and easy. The Citrus Passenger Ship does have some bicycle storage as well, but the number of bicycles that can be boarded is limited, so CYCLESHIP LazuLi will be the most comfortable.

The Lemon Hunt Begins at the Setoda Town Tourist Information Center!

After about 40 minutes of calming seascapes, we arrived at Setoda Port! It really made me smile to see a bunch of lemons in the shape of a Christmas tree in the port lobby, and I knew it was going to be a good day.

Just a few minutes walk from the passenger ship port, you can find the Setoda Town Tourist Information Center. Here you’ll find some helpful information by way of pamphlets and friendly staff who can answer questions, and it’s also a place to rent and return bicycles. What brings most visitors to the tourist center though are the large citrus objects out front, presenting the perfect photo opportunity!

Shiomachi Shopping Street: A Lemon-Loving Foodie’s Dream

After snapping some photos at the tourist center, I continued my journey around the retro town. The next stop on my itinerary was the Shiomachi Shopping Street, a road lined with about 50 shops. The street is around 600 meters long, and the traditional buildings give the place a nostalgic atmosphere.

I had a great time trying to spot all the lemon foods and drinks as I walked down the shopping street. I noticed signs and displays for lemon ramen, lemon beer, juice, cakes, you name it! There were an endless amount of yellow objects as well. One of my favorites was the yellow mailbox at Hisamatsu Shoten!

Okatetsu Shoten: A Nationally-Famed Mom & Pop Croquette Shop!

Along the shopping street you can also find a small shop selling fresh homemade croquettes. Although there are no lemons in these savory treats, this restaurant is still an important part of the town and its shopping street. Okatetsu Shoten started as a family butcher shop, but what really got people’s attention were their crispy, freshly fried beef and potato croquettes. They’ve been featured in several magazines and on TV over 107 times!

Okatetsu Shoten’s Toyoko Okada on the left and Yoshie Okada on the right

Despite their fame, Okatetsu Shoten has stayed true to their roots, with consistently low prices and the same family recipe. The croquettes have been made the same way ever since the store’s founding, using a recipe that’s been passed down for generations. Their classic croquette is made with simple ingredients: potatoes, beef, and onions. In addition to these croquettes, they also serve a thick ham cutlet.

Toyoko Okada, who married into the family in 1958, is often the one shown on TV programs, most likely because of her contagious smile! There are signboards all over the shop proudly displaying the celebrities who have visited and the TV shows and magazines they’ve been featured in. I felt very special when she asked my friend and I to make a signboard too!

Before we left, Toyoko commented: “I wish for world peace. Setoda (Ikuchijima) is a quiet and beautiful island. The whole island is art. If you come to this island, please stop by the store.” If not for the soft, warm, crunchy, and delicious croquettes, definitely stop by to say hello to Toyoko!

Shimanami Dolce Gelato Shop: Local Production for Local Consumption

Towards the end of the shopping street, I found myself at a gelato shop called Shimanami Dolce. They utilize the best of Japan’s domestic ingredients to make top-quality gelato! Their menu changes once a month, providing seasonal flavors.

The shop I visited was a smaller branch with no indoor seating, but Shimanami Dolce’s main store, also in Setoda, is in a larger building with an eat-in space inside.

Some of their most popular flavors are Hakata Salt, Setoda Navel Orange, and of course, Setoda Lemon! I was able to try a cup with three flavors and I went with lemon, navel orange, and pistachio, which paired surprisingly well together. I couldn’t decide which flavor I liked best, and kept changing my mind with every bite!

Choonzan Kojoji Temple: A Purifying Journey to the Pagoda Overlooking the Sea

After snacking on croquettes and gelato, I set out to find a temple on Mt. Choozan with an incredible three-story pagoda that can be seen alongside a serene view of the Seto Inland Sea. Along the way, I met a friendly local woman as I stopped to take a photo of a fruit stand. When we mentioned I was heading towards Kojoji Temple, she said she knew a shortcut, and walked most of the way with me. It seems that Setoda’s residents are just as charming as the landscape!

Overlooking Setoda Harbor and standing halfway up Mt. Choonzan, Kojoji Temple was built in the 1400s and hosts “zazen” seated meditation sessions for visitors who wish to participate. The temple’s vermillion-lacquered three-storied pagoda is a Zen Japanese style building but with Chinese elements. Although it’s not currently open to the public, the entire interior is just as richly colored as the exterior and is designated a National Treasure for its historical relevance.

The pagoda is a national treasure which has captured the hearts of many artists, including Ikuo Hirayama (1930 – 2009), a Japanese-style painter who was born in Setoda! On the way up to the pagoda and the viewpoint, there are many “jizo” guardian deity statues, to safely guide you up the stone steps. There were many to climb, but the breathtaking view of the calm Seto Inland Sea, Kosanji Temple, and islands in the distance made the journey worth it!

Bicycle Cafe & Bar Shiomachi-tei: Seasonal Treasures Served in a 150-Year-Old Private House

When the time came for a full meal, I decided on Shiomachi-tei, which proved to be a popular place for locals and cyclists doing the Shimanami Kaido. The cafe is located in a 150-year-old historical building which has regular tables and comfy modern sofas as well as a “tatami” (straw mat flooring) room where guests can sit on the floor and enjoy their meal while looking out at the traditional garden.

Infused with the peacefulness and retro beauty of old Japan, Shiomach-tei sapiently blends details and decor from the past and present, incorporating greenery and wooden elements to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Large windows let the sunshine in, complementing the relaxing ambience with a sense of openness.

We first sat by the garden, taking in the tranquil panorama and waiting for our order to arrive. Away from the entrance and quiet, the tatami room immersed us in the building’s retro atmosphere. Then, we moved on the wicker sofa by the window and enjoyed our meal there, relishing the lively scenery of the shopping streets and locals going about their day outside of the cafe.

They serve a number of seasonal dishes and drinks, and I could not resist ordering their deliciously refreshing signature lemonade made with naturally-grown Setoda lemons and their popular curry plate with two types of curry: a European-style curry with red wine that had a pleasantly rich taste and a butter chicken curry so mellow that it melted in my mouth. Complementing each other’s taste, the two curry created a harmonious dish!

Both curries were not only photogenic but also incredibly delicious. I tend to finish my least favorite parts of the meal first and save the best for last, but I couldn’t choose which curry I liked best, and went back and forth the whole time, creating an endless flavor journey!

My friend also ordered the Unshu “mikan” mandarin orange juice ーanother of Setouchi’s famed citrus fruitsーand loved its refreshing and not overly sweet taste!

Shimagokoro SETODA: Where Over 8,000 Lemon Cakes Are Produced Everyday

Another must-see location in Setoda is Shimagokoro SETODA, where you can find freshly baked lemon cakes and other sweets. The shop was founded by patissier Ryuzo Okumoto, a native Setoda resident, in 2008, after he rediscovered the magic of Setoda lemons and set out to revitalize the town by using “Setoda = lemons” as the selling point. It was also his idea to make the mailboxes on the island yellow!

Utilizing lemon peels, which are usually discarded but actually have the most fragrant elements of the fruit, carefully cut by hand by skilled staff, the confectionary shop produces about 8,400 lemon cakes per day! You can take some of these mini cakes home as souvenirs, or enjoy them in the shop alongside various lemonade drinks and other delicacies. Locals also adore the cream puffs. Those pastries don’t include lemon, but longtime customers begged for them to stay on the menu because they were so delicious.

In the shop, I enjoyed a lemon cake and green lemon squash drink made with a whole lemon. Cakes made with green lemons, which have a slightly fresher flavor than a regular lemon, are available for a short time from October to December.

For souvenirs, I grabbed a few lemon cakes for myself and friends. I went with the classic lemon, but also could not resist the multitude of seasonal lemon cakes on sale. There were a number of other interesting flavors like black sesame, “kabocha” Japanese pumpkin, and Japanese cherry. I ate one of the sesame cakes at home a couple days after, and immediately regretted not buying an entire box. It was amazing.

LEMON FARM GLAMPING Shimanami: Dog-Friendly Glamping Overlooking the Sea!

As the sun was soon to set, I arrived at the final destination on the island, the glamping facility LEMON FARM GLAMPING Shimanami. This glamping facility was created when Citrus Park Setodaーa citrus theme park that opened in 1998 and was temporarily closedーwas reopened in August 2022.

The glamping site, called Lemon Farm Glamping Shimanami, features 8 glamping facilities which all house between 2 and 5 people. There are 6 suite villa-type suites and 2 panoramic glamping domes available. As for the suite villas, 2 out of 6 are dog-friendly and have a garden space that can be used as a private dog run.

The interior of both the panoramic domes and suite villas were very stylish, with fluffy beds, comfortable chairs, and beautiful light fixtures. They even have tent saunas and everything you need to make a campfire! The facility also offers fully-equipped private kitchens and if you decide to go for the meal plan you can relish fresh ingredients from the Setouchi area such as Japanese beef, locally harvested vegetables, and fish from the Seto Inland Sea.

From the glamping facility you can also see a field of baby lemon trees. It will take a few years for them to grow and bear lots of fruit, but it will be an amazing view when they’re ready! The landscape of the sea is visible from the outdoor areas designated to each villa and dome, and half the rooms even have a view of the sea from the bathtub!

In the reception area, there is all-you-can-drink lemon water, orange juice, oolong tea, and even draft beer and high balls* on tap. There is equipment you can borrow for barbecuing and other cooking needs, along with some board games you can use during your stay. They sell environmentally-friendly local goods in their shop like backpacks produced in collaboration with Onomichi’s Tachibana Textile Institute and dyed using discarded lemon leaves and iron powder leftover from shipyards. And to top it all off, the welcome sweets that they offer to guests are macaron made in collaboration with Shimagokoro SETODA, the shop I previously went to for lemon cakes! It’s lovely to see these local businesses teaming up.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Go to Setoda!

After a long day of eating and exploring on the island of lemons, it was time to catch the passenger ship back to Onomichi. I was quite sad to leave this lovely island behind, but I plan to come back again someday with friends and family. With all the wonderful food and sweets I ate and the friendly faces I met, I can definitely understand why the locals take such pride in their town and its produce. Whether you want to explore on foot or on a bicycle, the people of Setoda are waiting for you!