Home to some of the nation’s most loved sake brands, Kobe is a region famous throughout Japan for producing the finest quality Sake. While we can all appreciate the merits of a fine drop when it touches our lips, having the opportunity to visit the factories where the best sake is made significantly adds to the pleasure of the brew. The first stop on this sake discovery trail is “Sawa no Tsuru.” Established more than 300 years ago, it is one of the premiere spots for sake appreciation, with a comprehensive on-site museum that gives a crash course on sake brewing, and a chance to sample “raw sake” and liquor that can only be found onsite at a sake brewery. Our second stop “Kobe Shu-shin-kan” perfectly situated in the foothills of Mount Rokko, with pure flowing water and ideal conditions for growing premium sake rice. Founded in 1751, their famous “Fukuju” sake is made from a traditional recipe passed down through thirteen generations. After taking a tour and sampling a range of sake, you can enjoy your favorites with a superb Japanese meal right there within the wooden walls of the brewery. Our final destination, Kiku Masamune has a history stretching back 350 years, and a comprehensive museum that not only introduces the sake brewing process, but also contains many cultural artifacts associated with sake. Renowned for its multi-award winning ‘dry’ varieties, there are some unconventional sake products such as sweet bean manju buns and sake sauces that should not be missed.
Blessed with a mild climate and abundant nature, Setouchi is a treasure trove of gourmet foods made from the best that the bountiful land and rich sea have to offer. Taking a food-focused journey through the Seto Inland Sea provides an opportunity to give your taste buds an experience they will long remember. Join us as we take you through just one possible permutation of a “foodies’ delight trip in Setouchi.” A feast for the senses served with a generous helping of cultural discovery.
Sawanotsuru Museum／Kobe Shu-shin-kan ／Kiku-Masamune Brewery Museum
Setsugetsuka (Kobe Beef)
With its marbled texture and supreme tenderness, Japan’s wagyu beef has become one of the world’s most expensive and sought after culinary delights. Sitting at the pinnacle of Japan’s carnivorous cuisine is ‘Kobe Beef’ a dish requested by Hollywood stars and royalty alike as a steak without peer. Historically, the port city of Kobe was the place where Japanese beef was first introduced to the Western palate, and as a result “Kobe Beef” has become a generic international term for Wagyu beef. However, within Japan the criteria for determining Kobe Beef is very strict, and applies only to pure-bred, grain-fed, virgin “Tajima” cattle raised within Hyogo Prefecture. With daily routines including beer, classical music, and massages, the level of devotion and artisanal skill that has goes into rearing Kobe beef is legendary. These most pampered livestock have a fat that melts at a lower temperature than normal beef, producing a flavor-filled meat so marbled and buttery-smooth it literally melts in your mouth. Even within Japan, eating Kobe beef is considered a luxurious treat —and there is no better place to indulge yourself than in the city of Kobe itself. And few places will serve this delicacy better than “Setsugetsuka.” Here the highly skilled chefs adjust cooking temperatures and techniques precisely to the portion and position being cooked, ensuring that you will experience the pinnacle of world-class beef and culinary skill.
Accommodation; Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland
Staying at Kobe’s five-star Hotel La Suite Harborland is a treat for those requiring a bit of opulence and indulgence before heading into the heart of Setouchi. All rooms are over 70 m² and boast terrace ocean views, large jacuzzis, and anything else you would hope for to make sure you get an indulgent night’s rest. From the room windows you can enjoy beautiful views unique to the port town Kobe, such as the iconic Port Tower, and the harbor skyline beyond.Perennially popular as this hotel is, it’s success should not be attributed solely to the creature comforts in each room, because the five-star meals in La Suite, too, keep people coming back for more. Exceptionally skilled chefs prepare food from the finest ingredients, saving special attention for the local delicacy Kobe Beef, a dish served with the pizzazz its status demands. While every evening meal is a gourmet’s delight, the breakfast menu at La Suite will prove no less magnificent. Having been declared Japan’s Best Breakfast in a 2015 national survey, it certainly won’t disappoint. Fresh baked delicacies from the onsite bakery, and the finest local eggs, seafood, and vegetable produce will ensure you get a premium start to your day.
Tomonoura, a quaint port town located close to Fukuyama City in Hiroshima Prefecture is one of Japan’s scenic gems. Blessed with a safe and picturesque circular harbor, the Seto Inland Sea has always been at the centre of this town’s economic and cultural life, reaching a peak as one of the trading centres of Edo Japan. The town’s well preserved architecture presents a window to the bustling hive of activity characteristic of old Tomonoura, a beacon on the Seto Inland Sea attracting traders and travelers alike — a constant flow of people making the most of their time in town while waiting for a favorable tide. Just strolling through the streets takes you back centuries. — no wonder Tomonoura is becoming a popular backdrop for anime, and even Hollywood movies. Be sure to visit the Fukuzen-ji Temple with its famous view of the port town and picturesque islands across the strait. The immaculately preserved Ota Residence, famous for its medicinal herbal liquor, also offers a fascinating insight into life in those times. While the scenery will keep you reaching for your camera, when the tummy starts rumbling you are well served with delicious options, from charming seafront eateries to Meiji era restaurants, and more.
Accommodation; Migiwatei Ochikochi
When staying the night in Tomonoura there are few better options than Migiwatei Ochi Kochi. Located right on the waterfront, every room provides excellent sea views, letting you gaze on the passing water traffic from the comfort of your chair — or even while soaking on the balcony in an open-air bath. The elegantly designed Ochi Kochi pairs its delightful interior with luxurious and artfully crafted cuisine. Though the menu is heavily weighted toward Setouchi’s seafood bounty brought straight from the local harbor, the superbly prepared meats and seasonal vegetables lose nothing in comparison. Every dish comes together as a work of art. Enjoy your dining treat from the comfort of your room, or in the stylish restaurant where every seat has a sea view. Your time in Ochi Kochi will be a treat to remember.
Hiroshima City and the Atomic Bomb Dome
A visit to Hiroshima to see the World Heritage Site Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum is highly recommended for any visitor to Japan. Taking in the historical significance of these sites, and the hopes they contain for a future world without the scourge of war and nuclear weapons, gives us the opportunity to think more deeply about our world as well as our place in it. However, the city of Hiroshima offers much more than just a sad reminder of war and somber hope for peace. With fresh seafood, first class Japanese and international cuisine, there are no shortages of ways to tempt your taste buds in this city. If one dish was to be claimed as representative of Hiroshima though, it would have to be the local specialty Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese grilled pizza distinct to the prefecture.
Okonomiyaki, the mixture of flour, vegetables, and assorted meats and seafood grilled flat on a hotplate, is not considered part of high Japanese cuisine. Rather, it better understood as one of the nation’s ‘soul foods,’ a dish that gained prominence in the post-war years because it was simple, inexpensive, and filled hungry stomachs. But being simple does not mean it lacks in flavor, and this is particularly true for the Hiroshima variety of okonomiyaki which adds a thin crepe-like base and a heap of noodles to the standard recipe. Wherever you go in Hiroshima you will be sure to find an Okonomiyaki store close by, but few serve a better dish than Okonomiyaki Koshida. A family business now in its third generation, Koshida is one of those restaurants you can tell from just looking at the exterior, and the queue of people waiting to get in, that whatever they’re making inside has got to be good! Tasty enough to get into the “Michelin Guide Hiroshima 2013 Special Edition,” Koshida’s traditional Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, as well as the performance that goes into making it all, will not disappoint. Also not to be overlooked is the extensive side menu that makes great use of Okonomiyaki Koshida’s massive hot plate grill, including a set of sweets, such as their ‘hot cakes,’ that prove a consistent favorite among those in the know.
Miyajima and Itsukushima Shrine
The vermilion torii gate rising majestically out of the sea is an iconic image associated with Japan, famous throughout the world. A visit to Miyajima island to see this torii gate, and the Itsukushima Shrine for which it serves as an entrance, holds pilgrimage status for many people that have longed to come to Japan. The shrine and its surroundings are visually stunning, not only for the architecture and aura they possess, but also for the dramatic changes rendered as water flows into the tidal bay, covering the sandy bottom with a liquid mirror which magnifies the vivid colorings of the centuries-old buildings. With easy access from central Hiroshima, spending time on this picturesque island, with its famous temples and ever-present friendly deer, provides not only a swathe of photo opportunities, but a chance to sample Hiroshima’s famous oysters.
Oyster shop Kakiya
For more than 400 years, the gently flowing and nutrient-rich Seto Inland Sea waters surrounding Hiroshima have proved the ideal location to grow the best oysters in all Japan. Hiroshima accounts for between 60 and 70% of Japan’s total oyster production, and the oysters in Hiroshima are renowned for being large, fleshy, and very tasty. With oyster festivals and specialty restaurants at the ready, Miyajima Island stands apart as having taken oyster cuisine to its highest level. Oyster connoisseurs visiting Miyajima should keep an eye out for Kakiya (literally Oyster Shop), that serves top quality oysters in an amazing array of dishes sure to please even the most discerning oyster aficionado. Whether you like your oysters fresh, flame grilled, fried in batter, marinated, or gratineed, there is sure to be a style here to please. Also home to a 3000 bottle wine cellar, you will have no trouble finding a liquid companion for these gastronomic delights. Lookout for the large grill outside the shop and then follow your nose.
Accomodation; Miyajima Kinsuikan
“Miyajima Kinsuikan,” is located right on the waterfront, a five minute walk from both the ferry terminal and Itsukushima Shrine, and with an entrance directly onto the busy shopping street Omotesando Dori. It would be hard to think of a more perfect location to spend a night in Miyajima. Kinsuikan is the epitome of easy, comfortable, and convenient travel. English is widely spoken amongst the staff, and menus and instructions are tailored for the international visitor. The rooms have either a lush mountain view, or look out directly over the sea. With a sea view room you can even sit and watch the famous torii gate change its appearance with the tides and nighttime illumination, all from the comfort of your armchair on the enclosed balcony. Simply bliss. The spacious rooms and excellent cuisine made from the highest quality local ingredients will have you wanting to extend your stay. Something you could contemplate during a long soak in one of the island’s few natural onsen baths. Or maybe it will be going through your mind as you stroll down to see the nightlights of Itsukushima Shrine in your yukata robe.
The Kintai-kyo Bridge, a series of five wooden arches spanning the Nishiki River, are postcard perfect. First built in 1673 by a local lord wanting to connect his castle to the opposite side of the river, the bridge initially proved vulnerable to the regular fierce flooding. After decades of experimenting with one failed design after another, the present design, with solid stone foundations and a gravity suspended superstructure, took shape. It is a marvel of feudal design that has stood the test of time. The bridge itself is nestled amongst a beautiful natural setting, whether surrounded by the delightful pinks of spring’s cherry blossoms, the verdant greens of summer, the fiery hues of autumn, or the shimmering white of winter snow, it is a stunning photographic setting, and one that highlights the beauty of Japan’s famed four seasons. Not only has Kintai-kyo bridge served as a way to connect two banks, it is also most visitor’s first stop in Yamaguchi Prefecture, thereby serving as an entryway into a vast array of historical, cultural, and gastronomic treats awaiting visitors.
Asahi Shuzo Brewery DASSAI Store
The Asahi Shuzo Brewery located deep in the mountains of Yamaguchi Prefecture is owned and operated by the Sakurai family. Using only high end Yamada Nishiki rice, the best rice for brewing sake, they produce a premium Junmai Daiginjo sake under the brand name ‘Dassai.’ However, Asahi Shuzo is no ordinary sake brewery. Rather than the painstaking traditional brewing process carried out under the watchful eye of a Master Brewer, this brewery has been driven by innovation, introducing revolutionary techniques and technology in an effort to attain the perfect sake. A sake for sipping and relishing each drop, not one for knocking back and having a grin on your face. Milling the rice grain to its very core to gain the maximum percentage of starch, or introducing centrifuges to ‘press’ their sake rather than traditional machines, these are just some of their revolutionary leaps in brewing sake. Asahi Shuzo’s results stand on their merits, and their latest benchmark, ‘Dassai Beyond,’ is as close to perfection in sake as can be imagined. It is a sake of unparalleled quality, one in a long line of superior brews that have been given to heads of state and royalty as gifts of national distinction. If you book a week in advance you can tour the brewing facilities, otherwise a trip to the brewery store will give you direct access to hard-to-acquire bottles, and a wide range of boutique products such as sake cakes and ice cream. There is something for everyone to enjoy in this most unique sake brewery.
Shunpanro ( Blowfish )
The deadly Blowfish meal is legendary throughout the world, and not without reason — incorrectly prepared blowfish can, and does, kill unlucky diners. In fact, it was considered so dangerous that it was banned for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until the early days of modern Japan that you could legally eat this dish. Yamaguchi is the home of this adventurous meal, and the expert chefs capable of safely preparing it for your table. Pride of place amongst Blowfish restaurants belongs to Shunpanro in Shimonoseki, where in 1887 this courageous restaurateur first served the illegal dish to the sitting prime minister. Fortunately, he loved the taste and abolished the ban.the rest is history, and blowfish is now one of Japan’s most famous dishes. Experiencing a full course Blowfish meal is a treat worthy of retelling to the uninitiated. If your schedule allows, take advantage of the well-appointed accommodation at Shunpanro, where every room has a panoramic sea view over the Straits of Kanon which separate the Honshu mainland from the southernmost island of Kyushu. A perfect place to watch the sea traffic passing in the distance while you gather your energy for further adventures.