The Mediterranean of Japan: Discovering Seto Inland Sea

By Jamie Rockers

Recently I took a trip to Shiraishi-jima, an island of “mists and trances” in the Seto Inland Sea. This little island is just one of the 250 islands of the Seto Inland Sea.

A lot of foreigners overlook the islands in the Seto Inland Sea and opt for Okinawa or Shikoku instead. However, there are a lot of rare and beautiful places to be discovered in these islands. Japanese people usually refer to the Seto Naikai as their own Mediterranean. However, on Shiraishi, you’ll find no five-star hotels or all-you-can-eat and drink specials, no bar crawls, no nightclubs. Not even a McDonald’s or Family Mart.

No, Shiraishi is off the beaten track and not for people who like to spend their vacations getting spa treatments and room service at five-star hotels. Instead, you can sleep on the beach or, of course, stay in one of several accommodations on the island, including Minshuku Harada, Shiraishi International Villa, The Beach Cottage, Otafuku Ryokan, or San-Chan’s (who also operates the only restaurant on the island).

Only about 700 people live on this island and arriving there, I had never seen so many people tending their gardens at one time before. These people truly seem to live off the land and they would almost have to, as there is only one grocery store on the island (four short aisles) with just basic necessities such as a few kinds of locally grown vegetables, a little meat, rice, a few sweets and snacks. Most people fish and live off the produce from their gardens.

Although there are no nightclubs and not a lot of choice when it comes to eating (think curry udon, regular udon, yakitori, rice, and donburi), there are still plenty of things to do on Shiraishi Island. Kayaks and windsurfing boards are available for rent, 1,000 yen per hour. Kayaking around the western point of the island gives way to stunning views of other islands of the Seto Inland Sea. You can even find your own private beach, with clear waters and beautiful views.

In addition to kayaking, there is also a 400-year old pilgrimage route that circumnavigates the island and is similar to Shikoku’s 88-temple pilgrimage. It takes two days to complete but you don’t have to hike the whole thing. There are several trails and the easiest one to find is located across from the international villa. There are stunning views from various lookout points on the hiking course and the only things you are likely to run into are possible spiders in the forests. Other than that, it is peaceful and serene.

There are two temples on the island and one is a very unique Thai-style one which is called Bussharito and is said to actually contain some of the ashes of Buddha. The other temple is called Kairyuji Temple and is located near to Bussharito. A beautiful garden is next to Kairyuji Temple and is a great place to relax and take a break after your hike.

During the summer time, there is a beach bar called the Moooo! Bar run by a foreign couple, an Australian and an American. They can arrange motorboat trips to other islands in the Seto Inland Sea to take you to places rarely seen by tourists. The beach bar is open all day until sunset for cocktails, beer, wine, milkshakes, and various snacks. They sell beach wear, sunscreen, and even books in case you forget yours back at home. You can even get a massage on the beach for only 3,000 yen for one hour. Now when have you seen prices like that on the mainland?

All in all, Shiraishi was a wonderful place to relax and to escape the city. From Osaka, just take a train to Okayama, then another train to Kasaoka, where you will take a ferry to Shiraishi. If you choose to take limited express trains and save some money, you can get there with under 5,000 yen. Much cheaper than a plane ticket to Okinawa.

© Japan Today

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ive been to seto naikai several times, although i live in saitama. my most memorable vacation was three years ago with my bestfriend in ehime who drove me to the shimanami kaido! we camped out or stayed in minshuku for our lodging, and saw the beautiful sunset almost every night, for a week!!! beautiful, beautiful trip!!!

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Sounds lovely!

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Read Donald Richie's, The Inland Sea, a true classic of travel literature on Japan.

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next time when I am in Osaka, will surely do it. sounds great

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Actually a lot of gaijin go to Shiraishi because of the Okayama prefecture Shiraishi International Villa; so it is not really 'off the beaten track'. Also you didn't mention the view of the huge gas-works on the opposite shore... You wouldn't really want to get stuck there for a week.

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