An easy walking tour exploring Japan’s Inland Sea, a vibrant region of art, architecture and gourmet dining.
Walk Japan’s gentlest walking tour suitable for the most leisurely walker through one of the most intriguing regions of water in the world. An exploration of the Inland Sea’s history from times of the Silk Road, samurai warlords and pirates, 19th western explorers, Japanese and western movies, modern art and architecture, and community revival; comfortable urban hotels complemented with varied cuisine of the region.
A 10-day, 9-night tour starting in Himeji and finishing in Hiroshima. Accommodation is mostly in hotels. The maximum group size for this tour is 12 persons. We have no minimum size. If we accept a booking we guarantee to run the tour.
The Inland Sea Odyssey is a Level 2, easy walking, fully-guided tour that takes us through Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, a serene body of water that was at the furthest eastern extent of the Silk Road and at the heart of Japan’s earliest history. The Inland Sea is a 450km (280 miles) long body of water surrounded by Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, three of Japan’s four main islands. Dotted with an archipelago of islands, islets and shoals, and blessed with calm seas and a clement climate the region was called the Aegean of the East by 19th Century explorers. Thomas Cook, the father of modern tourism, wrote that ‘[It] surpassed all my dreams of beauty of that island-and mountain-studded lake...’ Like Cook, visitors today are still charmed by the Inland Sea’s beauty.
Glistening golden sunrises and slowly subsiding, blood-orange sunsets bookend many sunny days of primary-coloured, far-reaching vistas, while days of mist create shallower perspectives of subtly changing, beautiful gradations of light and shadow. It is a sea of vast and quiet stillness that is broken only by the cry of a sea bird or the rhythmic thudding and lapping wake of the occasional passing boat. On its shimmering steely-blue waters fishing boats cluster in gently bobbing shoals, ferries ply to and fro with purposeful regularity, and laden coastal freighters slowly make passage to distant ports. Villages of closely clustered clapboard houses, which seem to have been largely bypassed by modern Japan, lie on the shores of larger islands. Here and there simple, elegant Shinto shrines stand on promontories overlooking the sea protecting fishermen and sailors. The hushed solitude of the Inland Sea and its islands are in great contrast to the elegant and fascinating cities, including Takamatsu, Hiroshima and Onomichi, that cluster on the sea’s coastal periphery.
The Inland Sea Odyssey follows loosely the travels of Donald Richie, one of the greatest observers of modern Japan who wrote his classic book The Inland Sea in 1971, a literary travelogue relating his meandering journey east to west through the sea from Himeji to Miyajima. Like Richie we travel from island to island, exploring the landscape, meeting the locals, and musing on Japanese history, society and culture. Unlike him, however, whose journey was a wistful lament on a disappearing way of life, ours is a journey of hope that takes us through the fascinating rejuvenation of communities within the Inland Sea.
The Inland Sea, through which religion, culture and artifacts arrived via China and Korea from across Asia and India, was key to Japan’s early history. Here in the 12th Century the legendary Taira and Minamoto Clans fought many of their battles for supremacy, and later infamous suigun pirates, who terrorized the coastal communities of Korea and China, secreted themselves. In the Edo Period (1603~1868) the sea flourished as part of the highly organised Kitamae-bune shipping route that circuited west Japan as far north as Hokkaido. Daimyo regional barons, Korean delegations and the Dutch traders in Nagasaki also made their way via the Inland Sea to Edo, the feudal citadel that became Tokyo, to pay their allegiance and respects to the all-powerful shogun.
We explore the Inland Sea’s history, culture and society with a focus on the recent past including architecture, art and the gathering pace of recovery in the fortunes of the Inland Sea and its communities. We also explore movies made here and the cuisine of the region which has at its heart delicious seafood and citrus fruits. On our journey we delve into the work of Japan’s famed movie directors Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu; Kenzo Tange, the father of Japanese modern architecture; and American-Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi. All were drawn to the region for their work in the last half of the 20th Century. Since then many of Japan’s best artists and architects, including Kusama Yayoi, Yukinori Yanagi, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando and SANAA, are increasingly active in and around the Inland Sea adding a new vitality that is permeating into the furthest flung islands and injecting a new life and spirit into its communities.
Our journey takes us slowly west on a journey that crosses back and forth over the Inland Sea. From Himeji we ride a local train across the Inland Sea on the impressive Seto Ohashi bridge to the elegant city of Takamatsu, we hop from island to island by regular ferries and sea taxis, visit little-known island communities and better-known Onomichi and Tomonoura, one a once wealthy sea merchant town and the other a traditional fishing port. Further travel brings us to the Shimanami Kaido, a road on a series of bridges leap-frogging islands from Honshu to Shikoku, and eventually to Dogo Onsen hot spring town. Finally, we re-cross the sea to Hiroshima and Miyajima. En route, we visit many sites of art and architectural interest that have given impetus to the region’s revival including Naoshima, Inujima, Teshima and Omishima.
Although the tour includes exploration of some of Japan’s more remote islands, each night we stay mostly in comfortable urban hotels with one experience in traditional accommodation with onsen hot spring baths. Walking is approximately 3 - 7km (1.9 - 4.5 miles) each day and can be accomplished by the most leisurely walker. Walking will include some short inclines usually over steps that can be completed at an easy pace. Walk Japan provides tour participants with easily followed, detailed instructions on how to join the tour.
Price: From JPY580,000 (JPY = Japanese Yen) per person. Single accommodation is available on a limited basis. Please contact us for further details and pricing. Please use the currency converter on this page to find the current rate in your local currency. See Booking Conditions.
What is included and not included? A fully guided tour including local travel from tour meeting point to finishing point; accommodation for 9 nights; 9 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 9 evening meals, baggage transfers, and entrance fees. Not included are flights, transport to the starting and finishing points of the tour, and drinks with meals.
Please note that on Day 4 and Day 8 our main baggage will be shipped in advance overnight. On these days all items required by yourself overnight will need to be carried in your daypack, which should be sufficiently big enough to accommodate these items. Please see the tour notes for further information.
Day 1 Himeji
The group meets for the tour briefing in the lobby of our hotel, near Himeji Station, at 6 pm. Dinner together with your Walk Japan Tour Leader follows at a hospitable, local restaurant
Day 2 Himeji – Takamatsu
An early start to visit Himeji Castle, a complex of 83 buildings, including its towering keep, and the finest example of a feudal-era, Japanese fortress. An impressive and imposing edifice, the castle has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has also been used as a location for many films including Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha and Ran, the 5th James Bond movie You only live twice, and the Shogun TV mini-series, based on James Clavells’ book of the same name.
From here we travel by local bus and cable car to visit Shosha-zan, a mountain atop which sits the 1,000-year-old and beautifully atmospheric Engyo-ji temple. The serene, unspoiled setting here appears frequently in films and was most notably used as a location for the Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise.
We return to Himeji Station to begin our journey to the shores of the Inland Sea and Takamatsu, our destination this evening. A super-fast Shinkansen bullet train whisks us to Okayama, where we change to an express train for the last leg of our journey today to Shikoku, Japan’s fourth main island. This leg of the journey takes us over the 13km-long Seto Ohashi, a bridge, for one of the best, small train journeys of the world. The Seto Ohashi is, in fact, 11 conjoined bridges that affords us vast, grandstand views across the Inland Sea. After arrival in Takamatsu, we check in at our hotel to refresh ourselves before heading out into town for our evening meal together.
Meals: Breakfast & dinner.
Day 3 Takamatsu
Takamatsu is an elegant city and one of the driest and sunniest places in Japan. Its port is a busy hub for ferries plying to and from the islands that, as far as the eye can see, pepper the Inland Sea.
We spend the day exploring Takamatsu by private-hire vehicle starting at the fabulous Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, sited in the Mure stone-working district on the outskirts of the city. Here, with luck, we meet Masatoshi Izumi, a stone mason and assistant of Noguchi who collaborated with the artist to create the monumental works of art that are now found around the world. Izumi, who is a self-effacing gentleman, is renowned in his own right for his use of stone in architecture, sculpture and garden landscaping, producing work for many projects well-known in Japan. We finish today at the Setonaikai Folk Museum, which is interesting not only for its displays on life of the Inland Sea but also its architecture in which Izumi played a prominent role.
From here we visit other sites of architectural interest including those designed by Kenzo Tange, one of the most significant Japanese architects of the 20th Century and the nation’s first Pritzker Prize winner. On our travels we also learn about Masanori Kaneko, Kagawa Prefecture’s first democratically elected governor who had the insight to introduce modern architecture to Takamatsu and was instrumental in bringing Noguchi and Izumi together. In doing so Kaneko set the early foundations for the growth of modern art in the Inland Sea region.
En route on our travels today, we stop off at the beautiful Ritsurin Koen, a showcase garden of the Edo-Period (1603-1868). It is particularly known for its exquisite niwaki sculpted pine trees, while a tea house aside a pond is the epitome of serene traditional Japanese architecture.
We enjoy lunch together on Sanuki udon wheat noodles, a simple but very popular, local delicacy. We return to our accommodation in the late afternoon to freshen up before another foray into town for our evening meal.
Note: Meeting Masatoshi Izumi is subject to his availability.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Day 4 Takamatsu – Teshima – Inujima – Okayama
An early breakfast before sending our main luggage by overnight courier to our hotel in Onomichi on Day 5. We then boarding a sea taxi for a day island hopping.
The 450km (280 miles) long Inland Sea is protected by land on all sides and is one of the calmest bodies of salt water in the world. Even the greatest landlubber should have little problem aboard our water-borne transport for the day. We begin our journey visiting one or more of the smaller islands lying close by Takamatsu before heading to Teshima and then Inujima.
Many islands in the region have found a new stimulus through association with the Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary art festival. In common with much of rural Japan, the islands here have long suffered from declining and ageing populations. The principal aim of the festival, which was established in 2010, is to reverse these trends in a sustainable and creative way. Much of the artwork has remained in situ after each Triennale and is to be found juxtaposed with the everyday life here in sandy coves, little harbours, and fishing villages that pepper these islands.
On Teshima island we visit the spectacular art museum, designed in collaboration by Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rie Naito. The museum structure, an artwork in itself, is a freestanding concrete shell designed to resemble a water droplet poised by water tension. Nishizawa is the co-founder of SANAA architectural practice, another Pritzker Prize winner. From Teshima we cross the waters to Inujima and the audacious Seirensho, a long-disused copper smelting works transformed into an immense artwork to a concept created by Yukinori Yanagi, one of Japan’s most stimulating and interesting artists. Over the coming days elsewhere during this tour we come across Yanagi’s work and, with luck, the artist himself.
Finally, our sea taxi takes us to the mainland for onward transport to Okayama and our accommodation for the evening. Time to refresh ourselves before venturing out into town for dinner together.
Meals: Breakfast & dinner
Day 5 Okayama – Naoshima – Onomichi
After breakfast in our hotel, we make the short journey to Naoshima, the small island at the centre of the Inland Sea’s art boom, by local train and ferry. Our arrival at Miyanoura, Naoshima’s tiny ferry port sets the scene for the rest of our day here. The terminal building is a simple, modernist structure designed by SANAA. Adjacent are two psychedelic pumpkins, motifs of Yayoi Kusama, perhaps Japan’s most successful artist today.
A fast, easy to use island bus service allows us to leisurely explore the whole island including the Benesse House Museum, Chichu Art Museum, and Art House Project. Tadao Ando, one of Japan’s most prolific architects and another Pritzker Prize winner, was instrumental in the successful revival of Naoshima, which has overcome in a remarkable way the devastation once caused by industry. Besides Ando’s architecture we also enjoy work by some of the world’s great artists from the West, Asia and Japan including Richard Long, Christo and Jean-Claude, Jean Michel Basquiat, Bruce Nauman, Lee Ufan, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Yukinori Yanagi amongst many other artists of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.
Although a small island, Naoshima has plenty to intrigue us for the whole day. Late afternoon, we board the ferry and then trains to Onomichi, where we spend the next two nights. We relax over our evening meal in town
Meals: Breakfast & dinner.
Day 6 Onomichi – Momoshima – Tomonoura – Onomichi
Ferry to Momoshima island to visit Art Base, the home of Yukinori Yanagi, the artist behind Seirensho on Inujima and some of the marvellous artworks we saw on display yesterday in the Benesse Museum on Naoshima. Art Base is one of Yanagi’s latest projects using art as a catalyst for the revival of the islands of the region. If he is in residence, he will personally welcome us and explain his art and aims.
Transferring by ferry to Tsuneishi-ko harbour from Momoshima, we pass close by a shipyard, where large ships in different stages of completion appear as works of art on an industrial scale. A further transfer by taxi brings us quickly to Tomonoura, where we have lunch before exploring this picturesque fishing port of charming clapboard houses and narrow lanes.
In the 1990s, the locals successfully fought to preserve Tomonoura’s bay from development. A nationwide cause célèbre at the time, their efforts protected a delightful sea vista. We leisurely explore the town, which was the inspiration for scenes in Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo. It has been the location for many films including, perhaps surprisingly, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. We return by local bus to Onomichi, where we refresh ourselves before heading out into town for dinner.
Note: Meeting Yukinori Yanagi is subject to his availability.
Meals: Breakfast & dinner.
Day 7 Onomichi – Ikuchi-jima
We spend today strolling around Onomichi, a elegant town aside a busy waterway. The old centre of tightly packed houses, many built about a century ago in an intriguing Japanese-Western fusion style, in a maze of narrow lanes is perched on a hillside overlooking a charming shopping district and the port area. Here we also find the ancient and beautiful temples that attest to Onomichi’s centuries-old merchant and seafaring wealth, which had its roots in the Kitamae-bune trading ships that plied between Osaka and Hokkaido via the Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan during the samurai Edo Period (1603~1868).
The town is regularly used in movies most famously by Yasujiro Ozu, who filmed his acclaimed Tokyo Story at Jodo-ji, one of these temples. Nagisa Oshima, who was acclaimed for his later films Realm of the Senses and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, also set one of his earliest films, Boy, in the town.
Our stroll begins at Jodo-ji and takes us on a fascinating, meandering exploration of Onomichi. Although our route today includes a number of climbs and descents our pace is relaxed allowing us to gentle appreciate the town’s delightful atmosphere and enjoy some splendid vistas that open up to us at higher points. En route we see wonderful old properties that are in different stages of being brought back into use, and meet some of the younger Japanese who are lending a hand in the building work and establishing the new businesses that occupy these splendid buildings. A highlight is a journey by cable car to a hill top from where we descend through a temple complex to Miharashi-tei, one of these newly revived buildings. Once a sumptuous retreat for a local shipping magnate, the building fell into disuse and decay before being rescued by a local, NPO group led by a prominent architect, Yoshitaka Watanabe. Today, Miharashi-tei has been brought back to life as a lodging and café, and is one of many shining examples of the renewed vigour being brought to Onomichi.
Late afternoon we transfer to Ikuchi-jima, an island in the Inland Sea and our accommodation in a quiet town aside a narrow sea straight.
Accommodation: Japanese-style hotel accommodation.
Meals: Breakfast & dinner.
Day 8 Ikuchi-jima – Shimanami Kaido – Dogo Onsen
We send our main luggage by overnight courier to our hotel in Hiroshima on Day 9 before starting our exploration along the Shimanami Kaido, the road linking Honshu to Shikoku via a series of bridges connecting a chain of islands across the Inland Sea. Our journey includes a visit to the ancient Oyamazumi Jinja, an atmospheric Shinto shrine associated with the Minamoto Clan who after decades of conflict were victorious over their enemies the Taira Clan in 1185. We also visit some great examples of modern Japanese architecture including one designed by Toyo Ito, who was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2013.
We eat lunch together at a local restaurant and later visit the Mt. Kiro-san Observation Park an early work by Kengo Kuma, another one of Japan’s top architects. From here we have a final spectacular view today over the Seto Inland Sea before crossing the last bridge of the Shimanami Kaido to reach the Shikoku mainland and finishing our journey in Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest hot spring towns in Japan. The atmospheric building containing the original onsen baths here was an inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki in the creation of his film Spirited Away. We enjoy a relaxing soak in baths before dinner in our accommodation, a delightful modern-style Japanese inn.
Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Day 9 Dogo Onsen – Matsuyama – Hiroshima
An early start after breakfast to visit the museum in Matsuyama that celebrates the life of Juzo Itami, who wrote and directed wryly humourous and insightful films on his fellow Japanese including The Funeral, Tampopo, and A Taxing Woman. We make our way to Matsuyama’s port to catch a Super Jet Ferry, which whisks us back across the Inland Sea to Hiroshima. Here we transfer to Miyajima, an island famed for its ancient shrine that is built out over the sea. This is also where Donald Richie completed his journey through the Inland Sea.
We return to Hiroshima, a vibrant city that belies its tragic past, to check into our hotel before heading out into town for our final evening meal of the tour.
Meals: Breakfast & dinner.
Day 10 Hiroshima
We round up our tour with an early morning visit to the Peace Park, the design of which was entrusted to Kenzo Tange. His Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, found within the park, set the tone for modern post-war architecture in Japan. We also include a walk across the bridge, which was rebuilt according to designs by Isamu Noguchi and learn how his design for the park’s cenotaph became the basis for the final version realised by Tange.
The tour finishes back at our hotel. Onward transport to Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo is easily made by Shinkansen bullet train or by air from Hiroshima Airport.
This itinerary is subject to change.
The airports closest to the tour start are Kansai International and Hiroshima. The journey is also easily made from Fukuoka Airport, Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport, and both Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda International Airports.
FROM OSAKA’S KANSAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (KIX)
JR Haruka Express trains depart for Shin-Osaka Station. Transfer here to the Shinkansen bullet train for Himeji. The total journey is approximately 1 hour 40 minutes.
FROM HIROSHIMA AIRPORT (HIJ)
Buses depart every 60-120 minutes for Fukuyama Station. Change here to the Shinkansen bullet train for Himeji, which is approximately a 50 minute journey.
FROM FUKUOKA AIRPORT (FUK)
A taxi from Fukuoka Airport’s International Terminal is the simplest and, at 10 minutes, the fastest way to travel to Hakata Station, Fukuoka’s main station. Transfer here to the Shinkansen bullet train for Himeji, which is approximately a 2 hour 10 minute journey.
FROM NAGOYA’S CENTRAL JAPAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (NGO)
Meitetsu trains depart for Meitetsu Nagoya Station. Change to the neighbouring JR Nagoya Station for onward journey by Shinkansen bullet train to Himeji. The total journey is approximately 2 hours.
FROM TOKYO’S HANEDA AIRPORT (HND)
Tokyo Monorail trains depart for and terminate at Hamamatsu Station. Transfer here to the trains on either the JR Yamanote or JR Keihin-Tohoku Lines for Tokyo Station. To Himeji from Tokyo Station please see the section below.
FROM TOKYO’S NARITA AIRPORT (NRT) JR Narita Express (NEX) trains depart every 30 minutes for Tokyo Station. To Himeji from Tokyo Station please see the section below.
FROM TOKYO STATION
The journey to Himeji is made on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen, one of the super-fast bullet train lines. Departures are every 10-20 minutes and the journey is approximately 3hours 10 minutes.
The Pre-tour Pack includes detailed instructions, including a map, for travel to the accommodation at the start of the tour.