Honshu's best kept secret
Bordered by the more famous regions of Kansai and Kyushu is one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens, the country’s oldest shrine and ever-changing sand dunes.
Most visitors will end up in the Chugoku region because of Hiroshima but there’s a lot more to the westernmost part of Honshu than travel guides give it credit for. Of the five prefectures in Chugoku, Hiroshima and Okayama are the most well-known, while Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi are among the least visited prefectures in Japan.
Hiroshima prefecture is dominated by its vibrant capital city with an infamously tragic past. Tourists to the prefectural capital visit the Peace Memorial Park, Peace Memorial Museum and the UNESCO World Heritage A-Bomb Dome. Other sights in the prefecture include Hiroshima Castle and Miyajima Island which is less than an hour away from the city center.
Okunoshima or Rabbit Island is famous for its adorable population of wild rabbits. There are also beaches, a small resort and onsen (hot spring baths) if you need a break from all that cuteness.
One of the most famous sights in Okayama is Korakuen which is hailed as one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens and is right beside Okayama Castle. Just outside of Okayama is Kurashiki, a charming canal town with historic buildings and local shops selling Chugoku’s famed white peaches. Visitors to Kurashiki can also buy some of the best quality locally made denim goods in the country.
Shimane prefecture is home to the ancient Izumo Grand Shine. Nearby, the Iwami Ginzan mine complex is a World Heritage site, and you can visit the historic shafts and galleries that made up part of what was once the world’s leading silver mine. The prefecture is also home to a distinct style of Kagura or Shinto related ritual performance called Iwami Kagura.
For something you didn’t expect on your Japan itinerary, the 50 meter high sand dunes that run along the Sea of Japan coast in Tottori prefecture are a spectacular sight, and there’s plenty of sand-related activities including camel riding and sand-boarding to try. The prefecture is also referred to as the Manga Kingdom since there are a handful of famous manga artists that hail from the prefecture. There are several manga museums that visitors can visit as well as famous motifs scattered around town. Start your manga themed itinerary at the Tourist Information Center outside Sakaiminato station and get going.
Yamaguchi is the furthest point on Honshu and offers easy access to Kyushu and Busan by ferry. The most popular tourist attraction in the prefecture is the reconstructed copy of Kintaikyo Bridge. The wooden structure has five arches which symbolize western Japan and in the past was meant to deflect invasions. Crowds from all over the country flock to the bridge during cherry blossom season as it is said to be at its most picturesque. Motonosumi Inari Shrine is also a highly visited tourist spot that offers beautiful ocean views and a trail of over 120 torii gates. For nature lovers, Akiyoshidai plateau offers some great hiking trails all year round.