How does two weeks in the Chugoku region in western Honshu sound?
It's here where our next adventure begins.
In order to make the most of that time, I have planned an itinerary that takes in at least nine locations but, at the same time, doesn't see us crazily running around non-stop.
Here's the low-down on how my wife and I put the tour together.
2 Week Tour of Chugoku: Easy 16 Day Itinerary
by Rob Dyer
How we put our Chugoku itinerary together
What we've come up with gives us time to pause, relax, stroll, socialise, spend time with family and friends, and generally chill, drink coffee and eat cake. 🙂
Feel free to use this as inspiration for building your own version.
Links to a whole bunch of resources that we used can be found at the end of the article.
And who knows where else we might squeeze in a day trip to? 😉
Chugoku Location Map
The northwestern coastline of Honshu
Given that we only have two weeks we decided to keep our travels limited to the main island of Honshu. That way we keep the distance to travel between destinations relatively modest, so we can see more, do more, enjoy more and spend less time actually doing the travelling bit (though I do love that too!).
Of course, we want to explore the lesser-known destinations, more than the more popular tourist places. So, in preparation, I opened my ageing Rough Guide to Japan to look at the map of Honshu and to see where on the coastline I've not yet been to, and to read about some of the places found there in more depth.
One area stood out: the north-western coastline of Honshu – between Kinosaki and the southern island Kyushu – two areas I've done some exploring in already. Filling in the gap between them felt like a good plan.
SEE ALSO: Discover Honshu (Island Guide)
With friends in Tokyo, a friend's band (Mechanical Cabaret) playing their first gig in Japan in the capital, and the invitation to DJ at a club the following day (I also run an electronic/alternative music review website: dsoaudio.com), we decided to begin our trip by flying into Tokyo for a couple of days, before heading over to Kobe, which we will use as the base for the rest of our adventures.
After our travels around Western Honshu, we'll be flying back to England from Kansai International Airport in Osaka.
RELATED: 5 Days in Kyushu - Itinerary
Day 1 – Arriving Tokyo (Haneda International Airport), stay in hotel (in Gotanda)
Day 2 – Tokyo - DJ-ing. Evening Nozomi shinkansen from Tokyo to Kobe
Day 3 – Kobe - Chill
Day 4 – Kobe - Chill
Day 5 – Takahashi, stay in ryokan
Day 6 – Return to Kobe from Takahashi (via Okayama)
Day 7 – Asago (for Takeda Castle) day trip
Day 8 – Kobe - Chillout
Day 9 – Hagi, stay in guesthouse
Day 10 – Tsuwano, stay in ryokan
Day 11 – Return to Kobe from Tsuwano
Day 12 – Kobe - Chillax
Day 13 – Kyoto day trip
Day 14 – Osaka day trip
Day 15 – Kobe - Shopping
Day 16 – Depart to England (Kansai International Airport)
A comment about our itinerary
Our itinerary was built around using Kobe as our base as we were staying and wanted to spend time with family. You could substitute any city in the region that you want to use as a base. Or you could not have a base at all and simply keep moving to new destinations every day or so. If you'd like me to help you build such an itinerary then check out my Travel Planning Service.
VIDEO: To Hagi From Kobe by Shinkansen and Bus
Highlights from the tour
This trip is about mixing new destinations with familiar ones. The new destinations are all much of a kind, in that they are all off the beaten track (of course!) and are examples of the more historical/traditional side of Japan.
Here's a few highlights from each of them...
Takahashi (and Tenchi Muyo!)
Takahashi town in Okayama Prefecture is pretty innocuous. Even by Japan's standards.
So much so, that in 2014 the authorities there invested in developing an anime series, Ai: Tenchi Muyo!, set in Takahasi to help raise its profile and hopefully drive some of the millions of Tenchi Muyo! fans there in pilgrimage.
Tenchi Muyo! creator Masaki Kajishima is from Okayama prefecture. There's a castle (Bitchū Matsuyama) and a Buddhist temple (Raikyū-ji) best known for its Japanese garden. My Rough Guide tantilisingly describes it as “A small, charming time-warped castle town... evoking images of a long-lost Japan”. That sounds like a piece of The Real Japan to me!
Asago (Takeda Castle – the 'Japanese Machu Pichu')
The sole reason for going to Asago is to see Takeda Castle, also referred to as The Castle In The Sky/The Castle In The Clouds. Referred to locally as the 'Machu Pichu of Japan', it is the ruins of a castle built in 1441.
At 353 meters above sea level, meaning that in autumn mornings clouds form below the peak it sits on, forming a ring of clouds below the castle – making the castle appear to be floating on the clouds.
I'm not sure if this place gave inspiration to Hayao Miyazaki for the Studio Ghibli film Laputa: Castle In The Sky, but images of it suggest it may have (but either way I love and recommend that film).
Hagi: samurai houses and merchant quarter
Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture was chosen to fulfil my insatiable desire to wander around places in Japan that have barely changed in hundreds of years.
Hagi is home to samurai houses and merchants' quarters dating back to 1604. A place where traditional crafts, such as the Hagi-yaki pottery that the town is famous for, and regional specialities like the whitebait caught in the Matsumoto river which divides the town, are maintained to this day. Hagi offers all of this.
VIDEO: Morning View Over Hagi From Our Guesthouse Balcony
Tsuwano: street canals teaming with koi
Like Hagi, nearby Tsuwano was also chosen to revel in the ancient, traditional side of Japan. Tsuwano is older than Hagi and sits below the 908-metre Aono-yama volcano, and is known for its picturesque main street, 'Tonomachi' which is lined with Edo-era buildings and canals teaming with koi.
The old town with the streams running through it reminds me a little of Hida Takayama in Gifu Prefecture.
You could visit Hagi and Tsuwano in a single day but you wouldn't have enough time in each, so we opted to travel to Hagi first, stay there overnight, then spend the next full day in Tsuwano, where we will stay in a ryokan.
Kyoto's amazing train station
Not off the beaten track and a well-known international tourist destination, but with good reason, Kyoto is always worth a visit if you have the time. The main area of interest, including the shrines, temples and old town, is relatively compact and a lot can be covered on foot in just one day.
In stark contrast to the traditional temples and shrines Kyoto is famous for, the interior of its train station is a jaw-dropping example of modern Japanese architecture at its finest. You should allow some time to linger inside, taking in the striking design and engineering of the vast atrium spanning its 15-storey high interior.
There's also a shopping mall, restaurants and even a cinema if you want to spend a few hours here (and you easily could).
SEE ALSO: Exploring Kyoto's Train Station
Our pre-planning checklist
SEE ALSO: How I Plan Trips To Japan
To read how this trip actually panned out you might want to read this follow up article:
Changing Travel Plans, Discovering New Places
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About the Author
A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s 6,800 islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.
Skyscanner (for flights)
JRPass.com (for trains)
Jalan.net (for accommodation)