The Chugoku Region is made up of five prefectures; Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Shimane and Tottori. With the Japan Sea to the north, and the Seto Inland Sea to the south, there is plenty of natural beauty.
The region also includes one of the top 3 most scenic spots in Japan, as well as one of the top 3 Japanese gardens. You can see these and more in a trip as short as five days.
Korakuen Garden – Okayama
The top tourist spot in Okayama is the beautiful landscape garden, Korakuen. As one of the top three in the country, along with Kairakuen in Mito and Kenrokuen in Ishikawa, there will be crowds at weekend. Aim for a weekday and relax in the spacious gardens, where there are plum, cherry and maple trees for seasonal variation.
Across the river from Korakuen Garden is Okayama Castle. The admission to the garden only is 400 yen, and you can get a ticket for both for 560 yen. While most Japanese castles are white, Okayama Castle has a dark exterior and is therefore also known as “crow castle”.
Miyajima – Hiroshima
Miyajima is famous for the floating orange torii gate belonging to Itsukushima Shrine. It is one of the most recognisable images of Japan and Miyajima is one of the ‘Nihon Sankei’ – top 3 most scenic spots in Japan.
The other two are Matsushima in Miyagi and Amanohashidate in Kyoto.
Itsukushima Shrine has several waterside buildings and makes for a very nice day trip. Located on an island, access is by ferry – from which you can see the floating torii gate as you near the island.
Highlights here include a boat ride under the gate, walking to the gate at low tide, and a stroll around the shrine after dark – when it is beautifully lit up.
Mt. Misen, Miyajima
Time allowing you could take the ropeway up Mt. Misen. The ropeway takes you to about 400 meters and has an observation deck with a great view. If you have sensible shoes and are ready to walk for about 90 minutes, you can reach the top – 500 meters – which is Miyajima’s highest point. From here the 360 degree panoramic view is breathtaking. You can see Hiroshima to the north and look out over the Seto Inland Sea, which is incredible in fair weather.
Peace Park – Hiroshima
This 120,000 square meter garden is in memorial to those who died as a result of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The A-bomb Domb serves as a Peace Memorial and most visitors also visit the Peace Memorial Museum.
Akiyoshido Cave – Yamaguchi
Yamaguchi is the western-most point of Honshu – Japan’s main island. When you reach Akiyoshidai Plateau, you’ll find vast sloping hills decorated in limestone. You can enjoy the views from the winding road or hike the various trails to get closer to the interesting karst formations.
A five minute walk from the Akiyoshidai observation deck, you’ll find Akiyoshido Cave. Admission is 1,200 yen and you’ll be able to walk alongside the deep blue water, see limestone pools and waterfalls. This whole area is somewhat different from the scenery elsewhere in the country.
Izumo Taisha – Shimane
Izumo Taisha is perhaps Japan’s oldest shrine. The date it was built is unknown, but records show that it was already there in the 7th century. It is also one of the most important shrines in Japan.
The deity that ruled the Izumo clan was called Okuninushi. Not only was he significant in Izumo, he apparently created Japan. If you are looking for a partner, or wishing for a good relationship with your existing one, look no further. Okuninushi is also the deity of relations and marriage – which explains why the custom is different at Izumo Taisha. Rather than the usual two claps, people clap four times when praying to Okuninushi (twice each for both themselves and their partner).
An hour from Izumo Taisha is Matsue, which has lots of great sunset spots along the coast.
Tottori Sakyu (Sand Dunes)
The sand dunes in Tottori are the biggest in Japan, up to 50 meters high. The sand dunes stretch along the Japan Sea coastline for a good 15km. From the top of the dunes you’ll enjoy a splendid view out to sea. Many visitors enjoy running down the dunes – getting back up is considerably harder.
Tourists can relax and let a camel do the hard work, as rides are available most of the day. After that the Sand Museum is an interesting way to spend a couple of hours. Artists from around the world sculpt their works out of hardened sand, and the theme of the exhibition changes in April each year.
While it might seem tough to visit 5 prefectures in 5 days, it is absolutely possible, albeit a little tiring, to see all of these sights. Aim to have contingency plans regarding travel. While a loop, in the order the prefectures are introduced here, is going to cover the shortest distance, you may wish to alter your plans according to the weather. Visiting a shrine or a cave in the rain can be very enjoyable – whereas you really want the sunny days when you visit Korakuen Garden, Miyajima and Tottori Sand Dunes.