Travel to Western Japan
- DISCOVER THE CRADLE OF JAPANESE CULTURE-
Discover western Japan, the region surrounding the Seto Inland Sea, which is said to be the cradle of Japanese culture that we know today.
This region is home to some of the most famous places in the country: Lake Biwa, the island of Miyajima and Itsukushima Shrine, Himeji Castle, and the unmissable cities of Osaka and Kyoto to name a few.
Cities in western Japan:
- Kanazawa, a protected city where the footsteps of the samurai still resonate.
- Fukui is a small fortified town a stones' throw from the Sea of Japan, with an amazing dinosaur museum.
- Himeji and its spectacular medieval castle which has stood the test of time and war.
- Kinosaki Onsen, one of the most beautiful spa towns in Japan with many onsen or natural hot springs.
- Tottori and its famous sand dunes, a desert on the Sea of Japan.
- Okayama, its castle has been transformed into a museum and don't miss its traditional Japanese garden.
- Yamaguchi, a crossroads city with a rich multicultural history.
- Hiroshima, a city that has become a world symbol of peace that has risen from the ashes.
- Shirahama, one of the most popular seaside resorts in Japan, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
Let's explore some of these places, cities, villages, gardens, castles and even islands, all of which play a small or significant part of Japanese history.
Essential tours in the Kansai region
The Kansai region, a flagship region in the west of Japan, is home to many cultural, historical, and religious treasures of Japan.
The city of Kyoto, the former imperial capital and guardian of Japanese ancestral traditions, is one of the essential cities to visit for any trip to Japan. The cobbled streets lined with traditional machiya houses in the Gion or Higashiyama districts (notably the Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka shopping streets) will give you a striking overview of Japan from yesterday. The city is home to many of Japan's most iconic places, such as the Kiyomizu-dera temple, the Kinkaku-ji golden pavilion, the Nijo-jo castle or the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, known throughout the world for its thousands of red torii gates.
A few kilometers from Kyoto and easily accessible by train, you will find in Nara a myriad of temples and shrines, each one more beautiful and impressive than the other. During a day visit, you can discover some of the oldest temples in Japan and see the famous sacred deer roaming around Nara park. Do not miss the imposing Todai-ji temple, which houses one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan: 450 tonnes of bronze and gold and 15 meters in height.
You will also find the modern Osaka in Kansai, renowned for its nightlife and its culinary specialties. It is nicknamed "the kitchen of Japan," and it is here that you can taste the best takoyaki and okonomiyaki in Japan! The charm of the city lies in its colorful streets, its warm izakaya, its lively markets, and its cheerful atmosphere, specific to the strong character of the locals!
- Read more: Travel guide for the Kansai region
The most beautiful castles of medieval Japan
The most famous castle in Japan is located in Himeji. Nicknamed "White Heron Castle", it is one of the only medieval castles to have survived the test of time. Built at the top of Himeyama hill, its 6-story keep has overlooked the city since the 14th century. Made up of 83 buildings, it is also the largest castle in Japan.
Smaller but just as charming, Matsue Castle, whose construction was completed in 1611, is considered one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Japan. Only the dungeon, its surrounding wall, moats and few other buildings remain; it is one of the last 12 original castles in Japan.
You can also explore what are known as museum castles. Most of them destroyed during the bombings of World War II; many were rebuilt in the decades that followed. From the outside, nothing differentiates them from other castles, however, the interior of these modern buildings has often been converted into a museum.
This is particularly the case for Osaka Castle and Okayama Castle. In these museums are you will discover the history of Japan, the way of life during the Middle Ages, as well as the secrets of the samurai warfare!
Around the Seto inland sea: visit the Setouchi region
Setouchi a region of cultural, human, and commercial exchanges for hundreds of years. The Setouchi region is also home to charming historic cities and symbolic places of Japan.
- Miyajima Island with Itsukushima Shrine is one of the most universal known images of Japan internationally. Its red torii built in the water of the Seto Inland Sea (from March 2020 the torii is currently under renovation) has toured the world and visitors flock there to admire this extraordinary view. The Itsukushima Shrine, built during the Heian period (794-1185), is also a must-see.
- The port city of Onomichi, between Okayama and Hiroshima, is well known for Kosan-ji temple, a substantial 55,000m2 Buddhist complex built in the 20th century on the heights of the city. Onomichi is also famous for the Sumiyoshi festival celebrated every August. With its 13,000 fireworks fired in one evening, it is the largest fireworks display in western Japan.
- It is in Onomichi that the entry point of the Shimanami Kaido road is located. Consisting of several bridges and passing through different islands of the Seto Inland Sea, it is the only route that will allow you to go from the main island of Japan, Honshu, to the island of Shikoku by bicycle or by foot. By taking this route, you can discover the magnificent landscapes of the Seto Inland Sea.
- Very close to the city of Okayama, the city of Kurashiki is one of the historic cities of Japan not to be missed. The city is particularly popular for its historic Bikan district, built around a canal dating from the Edo period (1603-1867) and lined with traditional houses and stalls of all kinds. The weeping willows lining the canal and the stone bridges crossing it make it one of the most beautiful places in Japan.
Have a unique experience in western Japan
Passing through the region? Here are some ideas for activities you can't do anywhere else!
- Bicycle lovers call it the holy land of the cyclist, the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido bicycle path is world famous.
- Hot sand, blazing sun, camels...you would think you are in the Sahara, but no! We are in the heart of Tottori dunes, on the northern coast of Chûgoku region.
- The Fukui Dinosaur Museum is one of the 3 biggest in the world! Designed by Kisho Kurokawa, it is an architectural masterpiece which in addition to spreading over 30,000 square meters divided into 4 floors, looks like a dinosaur egg from the outside!
- Kinosaki is the very image of the Japanese onsen town. Located on the Sea of Japan, it has been a place of relaxation for centuries coming from Kyoto. You will find streets lined with shops where couples dressed in yukata walk, a river lined with trees and spring water fountains, tranquility everywhere.
Explore the Hokuriku region
Along the sea of Japan and north of the Japanese Alps, the Hokuriku region is made of the prefectures of Ishikawa, Fukui and Toyama. Let's explore this region:
- Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ainokura is one of the most beautiful villages, and the most important, of the picturesque ensemable of Gokayama. Its tradtional thatched houses called"gassho-zukuri" offer visitors a unique landscape. Isolated and difficult to access, Ainokura has been able to protect a large part of its traditional culture, notably its folk dances and music, which uses instruments unique to the region.
- Hokuriku is also the region where you can find the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, famous for it's "snow corridor" which is created every winter: Yuki no Otani, a road bordered by a wall of snow that can reach 20 meters high or more.
- The city of Kanazawa is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. The two essential places to visit during your visit are the historic Higashi Chaya district, made up of cobbled streets and elegant traditional wooden houses, and Kenroku-en Garden. Kenroku-en is considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, and an excellent example of a traditional Japanese garden.
- Fukui Prefecture is home to one of the most beautiful panoramas in Japan, a grand work of art created by nature. The cliffs of Tojinbo on the Sea of Japan are a rare geological phenomenon which one finds only in two other places in the world: steep cliffs made up of giant pentagonal and hexagonal rock columns sculpted by nature millions of years ago.
Instant escape in traditional gardens
Western Japan is also home to some of the most beautiful traditional gardens in Japan:
- Kenroku-en Garden, originally the outdoor garden of Kanazawa Castle, the garden was built in the 17th century and took almost two centuries to complete. Open to the public in 1871, it covers 11.4 hectares and is often considered the most beautiful garden in Japan. Dressed in cherry blossoms in early spring and blushing maple trees in autumn, the garden is arranged around a large artificial pond in different areas, different landscapes and little corners of paradise.
- In Okayama, the Koraku-en is a perfect example of what Japanese gardens looked like in the Edo period (1603-1868). Built on the banks of the Asahi River, the garden has a breathtaking view of Okayama Castle. It is this authentic and traditional aspect and atmosphere that attracts visitors today. Throughout the year, you can enjoy a variety of flowers here, including Japanese plum blossoms, cherry blossoms and azaleas.
These two places are the most imposing and impressive but other gardens are also worth a detour in the region like the most anonymous peony garden Yushien in Shimane prefecture, built on an island in the center of Lake Nakaumi of Matsue.
How to travel in western Japan?
Do you want to go on an adventure in western Japan? Here are our tips to plan your itinerary for traveling by train in the west of Japan.
While a Japan Rail Pass allows you to travel throughout Japan, the railway company JR WEST, are transport specialists in western Japan, offering many pass options for temporary visitors to create their perfect itinerary and route!
For example, with the Hokuriku Arch Pass, you can travel from Tokyo to Kyoto via all the must-see places in the Hokuriku region. Another popular JR WEST product is the Kansai Area Pass will allow you to explore the Kansai region in depth, and the Kansai Wide Area Pass will also open the doors of its surroundings, to the city of Okayama!
With a JR-WEST Rail Pass, you can easily travel around western Japan at a great price. It will offer you an unlimited number of journeys on company-managed trains as well as on country buses.
In order to get to western Japan from Tokyo or to move between the major cities in the region, the simplest and quickest solution is to take the Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train, accessible with a Japan Rail Pass.
There are also other passes, more suited to local exploring, to discover all the corners of a region and immerse yourself in its treasures and riches:
- SANYO SANIN PASS - 7 DAYS - Discover western japan from Kyoto to Fukuoka. Prices start from $179
- KANSAI AREA PASS - 1, 2, 3 OR 4 DAYS - Explore the Kansai region for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days. Prices start from $21, $42, $52 or $61.
- KANSAI WIDE AREA PASS - 5 DAYS - Discover the Kansai region, as well as Okayama and Wakayama. Prices start from $85
- TAKAYAMA HOKURIKU PASS - 5 DAYS. - Travel to Kanazawa, Kyoto, Takayama and Shirakawa-go, from $131.
And there are as many passes as there are possible routes:
- Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass - $128: travel the Kansai region and go along the Sanyo coast, to Hiroshima for 5 days: Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Himeji, Wakayama, Shiga, Tsuruga, Iga-Ueno, Hiroshima , Okayama, Takamatsu, Kinosaki Onsen, Amanohashidate, Tottori, Shirahama and Kii-Katsura.
- Kansai - Hokuriku Area Pass - $142: for 7 days, discover the regions around the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, Shiga, Tsuruga, Iga-Ueno, Okayama, Kinosaki Onsen, Amanohashidate, Tottori, Shirahama, Kii-Katsuura, Kanazawa and Fukui.
These regional passes are as similar as they are different. They will open the doors of essential cities, places listed as World Heritage by UNESCO but also more remote villages and other hidden gems.
Please note, the prices indicated are the selling prices outside Japanese territory and the prices in US Dollars depend on the yen rate and therefore vary according to the exchange rate. The prices indicated are those of March 31, 2020.