My husband’s company in Japan has 3 weeks a year of compulsory holiday: one in January, one in April and one in August. The April holiday is called Golden Week.
This means that we have to make sure we travel in these time frames. Since we have been living in Japan for a little while, we decided to spend our Golden Week getting to know Japan, so we did a tour of the Chugoku area of Japan.
We like traveling by car so we decided to go by car. This is the tour we did 🙂
Day 1: lots of driving, quick stop at Himeji, night in Okayama
Our first stop was near the Himeji castle to say hi to a friend and then drive to see the castle. We could only do the former successfully since the castle is undergoing a serious renovation until next year. I knew that but didn’t know the extent of the project.
Day 2: Okayama and Hiroshima
Second spot and our first night stop was Okayama. It’s not the most exciting city, but it hosts what is considered to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan (Korakuen Garden) and a splendid castle that you can see from the garden.
On our second day we enjoyed Hiroshima. A city that was once whipped out by the first ever used atomic bombed on populated territory. Today, it’s a normal city that took a global responsibility to promote peace and the banning of nuclear weapons.
The Peace Memorial Park and the Museum can take half a day to one full day to explore. You must go, read and soak in what really happened on that tragic day. It really helps understand how it got to that point.
The beautiful park hosts the museum and 6 key spots (the Cenotaph, Children’s Peace Monument, the Flame of Peace, the Phoenix Trees, the Peace Bell and the Memorial Mound). Then, just a few minutes away, across the river there’s the A-bomb dome.
The museum has parts showing history and stories of real people, as well as the consequences of using nuclear weapons from an individual scale to the whole world. To be honest, I could not read all the stories and definitely could not look at the pictures. Though a bit old, it’s a powerful place!
Day 3: Miyajima Island
On our third day, we went to the Miyajima island, home of one of the top three sights in Japan, the magnificent floating torii (16m tall).
You can easily spend an entire day on the island. Right after you arrive on the island with the ferry you are greeted by very gentle wild deer that are on the lookout for food. So, watch out!
There’s plenty to do. After you take like 100 pictures of the torii, the island is covered with key spots, like the shrine, treasure house, 5-story pagoda, Daisho-in Temple and so on. There’s a myriad of restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops to enjoy.
Day 4: Iwakuni, Kawachi Fuji Garden and night Tsuwano
After we left Hiroshima, we had a small stop at Iwakuni for some snapshots of the five-arched brocade-sash bridge. There is also a castle that we only admired from the bridge.
After that, we did a 5 hour detour to go see the Wisteria Flower Tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji garden for some unique sights of wisteria flowers. And it was totally worth it. The spectacular views with the flowers, the combination of fresh air and alluring scent of the flowers were something else. We didn’t get the full bloom, but enough to get an idea. The perfect period is last week of April and the first week of May. It’s located outside Kitakyushu city, GPS coordinates: 33°49’54.62″N 130°47’33.42″E, See on Google Maps)
That day we ended up in Tsuwano, a small town in a valley. This was quite an adventure. We stayed in a ryokan, our first ever. It was a beautiful place, with fresh air and more carps than its entire population.
At night we ventured out for dinner and as there weren’t many options, we ended up in a sushi joint. We had great fun, best sushi ever (Toro sushi) and super friendly people who really wanted to talk to us.
The night was rough, as sleeping on the floor takes a bit of getting used to, but that ryokan was super clean and super friendly.
Day 5: Tsuwano, drive to Izumo and Yagoto
The next morning, we wore our yukatas for breakfast, the only ones to do so. I think we made some Japanese laugh. The breakfast was mostly fish products and I was happy just with tasting it and then had my miso soup and rice.
Tsuwano is know for its outstanding shrine (Toikodani Inari Shrine), ridiculous number of carps and for its church that commemorates the 36 Christian Japanese who were martyred here.
The drive from Tsuwano to Izumo was very rural and it was perfect to get another view of Japan. We went through mountains (literally), saw lots of rice fields and just plain old, rural Japan. Quite a different sight from the very hype, technologically advanced urban areas. It was so refreshing and beautiful driving along the Japan sea and admiring the the work of volcanoes on the Japanese landscape.
Izumo is home to one of the most important and oldest Shinto shrines in Japan (the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine). Upon getting there you realize the extent of the complex. It’s a huge park that starts with huge toriis and paths that lead to the shrine. We also participated at a short traditional Japanese theater play (Kabuki).
We spent the next 2 nights in a hotel with onsen in Yonago. The town itself has nothing, but the hotel was really nice, with beautiful view of the lake Nakumi. Of course the food was all about fish and seafood and we suffered a bit 😊
Day 6: Matsue
Situated on the Shinjo lake was surprisingly beautiful. Here, we visited the Matsue castle and actually the first one we actually got into.
We went to a very old tea house (Meimei-an tea house) and had the best green tea ever. It was a unique experience.
This is also the place where Locadio Hern arrived at the end of 1800 and wrote a few books that allowed the Japanese for the first time to see their culture through the eyes of foreigners.
We didn’t have time to go inside his Memorial house, as we booked a sunset boat trip on the lake. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen and we got to enjoy the city by night.
At night we went back to our hotel and we got to try the onsen and had to face my discomfort with public nudity. As it is in many cases in Japan, I was the only foreigner, so attracted some unwanted attention 😊
An onsen is a Japanese spa with hot spring or artificial baths. The Japanese love it and it’s part of their culture, but it’s not really my cup of tea, just because I get out with a headache and woozy. On the upside, my skin felt wonderful.
Day 7: Tottori
This a very unusual sight of Japan: sand dunes! It’s quite impressive that just like that you have a patch of about 15 km of sand dunes. Apparently, volcanic ash coming from from Mt. Daisen and the winds that blew from Sea of Japan formed the dunes over a period of thousands of years.
Most people just do the 1.5km walk from the entrance to the seashore. You feel like you’re somewhere on the Middle East. You can go for camel rides or carriage rides.
The cherry on top was the visit at the sand museum right next to the entrance! Every year there’s a different theme and this year was Russia. It was a real piece of art and we were not expecting that!
In terms of infrastructure Japan is the most developed place I’ve been and I had quite a few jaw-dropping moments witnessing how innovative Japanese are with their roads. Whoever thinks they can build bridges and tunnels through mountains, should come to Japan, it’s a different planet here. But about this I will talk in a different post.
It was an amazing week that allowed us to discover more Japan, get to know the culture deeper and practice our Japanese. We have been so impressed with the friendliness of the people and how welcomed they all made us feel.