Quite popular with domestic tour groups, Kure still hasn’t made it onto the radar of many visitors from overseas. The town was badly affected by July’s extreme rainfall with the train connection severed and road traffic highly congested for several weeks. The roads are now clear and the trains were have been running since mid-September and it was good to see tour groups, some of which included Japanese veterans, making their way around the Yamato Museum.
Whatever the Yamato Museum says about it being all about the technological contributions made by its local shipbuilding industry, its raison d’etre is the huge World War II battleship Yamato, built nearby, which was sunk on a suicide mission en route to Okinawa in 1945. For many overseas visitors, the Yamato Museum’s explanation of Japan’s road to war is problematic, but to me, this is one of the museum’s most interesting aspects, especially when viewed in contrast to Hiroshima’s Peace Museum. That and the jingoistic gift shop!
After a quick stop at the JMSDF museum which is housed in a huge decommissioned submarine, and, with excellent English explanations and the chance to peer through a periscope while imagining you are a submarine commander, must be one of Japan’s best free museums, we took a brief tour of Kure’s retro shotengai shopping arcade. Kure is something of a “B-grade gourmet” mecca, especially when it comes to baked goods. We didn’t make it to the town’s famous Melon Bread shop, but we did sample custard-filled taiko-manju and fried cake (which is just as it sounds!) from shops that have been providing calorie-packed comfort to Kure’s residents for over half a century.
Licking our fingers we were back on the bus and bound for Takehara. The train line to Takehara, famous for its well preserved historical district and being the birthplace of the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, is still closed as a result of summer’s landslides. It was, however, encouraging to hear that the town’s recent annual bamboo candle illuminations festival was well attended, which bodes well for the town once the train line reopens in mid-December. The news that one of the historical district’s many old buildings is to be refurbished into an upscale hotel was also welcome to hear, and, if well executed, should help encourage more visitors to stop by Takehara on the way to or from our next destination, Okunoshima, better known as ‘Rabbit Island’.
The magnetic power of rabbits is not to be sniffed at. Despite the fact that Tadanoumi JR Station was yet to reopen and visitors had to come either by car or temporary bus service, the rabbits were enjoying quite a feast from all the visitors that had refused to be deterred.
The train line reopens in mid-December and hopefully the hiking trails on the island’s hills will follow soon after.
Continuing by ferry onward from Okunoshima takes you to the Omishima on the Shimanami Kaido, famous for its 70km bike route. A short hop from Omishima is Setoda on Ikuchijima which, at around halfway along the route, is a good place to stay overnight. Unfortunately, the weather hid the daily evening light show that for which Setoda’s Sunset Beach is named, but we were more than entertained by the owner of the nearby Shimanami Roman restaurant who served up fresh seafood rice bowls and and vegetarian tempura.
Continuing by ferry onward from Okunoshima takes you to the Omishima on the Shimanami Kaido, famous for its 70km bike route. A short hop from Omishima is Setoda on Ikuchijima which, at around halfway along the route, is a good place to stay overnight. Unfortunately, the weather hid the daily evening light show for which Setoda’s Sunset Beach is named, but we were more than entertained by the owner of the nearby Shimanami Roman restaurant who served up fresh seafood rice bowls and vegetarian tempura to the hungry influencers.
The final morning of the “Genki-na Chugoku Tourism” tour was devoted to Kurashiki’s beautifully preserved historical district. We started in the always inpressive Ohara Art Museum which has an incredible, and incredibly varied, collection that can take the best part of day to do it true justice. Watching art can be hungry work. That’s my excuse for following up the museum with a ¥3000 fresh fruit parfait at Kurashiki Momoko anyway!
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Kurashiki is very popular with tourists and it was quite busy, even on this weekday morning. Just as on Miyajima, however, it is possible to escape the crowds. The further away from the pretty canal at the heart of the historical district you go, the quieter it gets and it is here that you will discover some of the area’s most interesting shops selling wares both traditional and fashionable.
Taking part in this tour was a great reminder of just how much this area has to offer, and we barely scratched the surface. I would certainly not recommend that anyone try and pack in everything we did into just two and half days; the Setouchi region rewards slow travel that allows for serendipitous encounters between the main sights that provide structure to your journey. Even after 22 years here, in every location we visited I found myself wishing (don’t tell the organisers) I could lose the group and spend hours exploring all the enticing nooks and crannies that make off the beaten track such an adventure.
Read about Day 1 to Iwakuni | Miyajima | Hiroshima
You can view all the photos taken by the micro-influencers who took part in the “Genki-na Chugoku Tourism” tour here.
If you’d like to hear more about travel in this region, please feel free to get in touch at [email protected]