Melissa C. Koh

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Discover Western Japan

JAPAN

Our love affair with Japan continues, after only a day back in Singapore, we find ourselves back but this time in 2 regions we’ve never explored before, in collaboration with Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

Chugoku and Shikoku, located in the western part of Japan, are regions well known for their historical sites and rich traditions. Within the regions, are sectors known as prefectures. In total, we visited 5 prefectures which necessited long bus rides on a daily basis. The bus rides took us past many scenic areas so we almost didn’t mind.

Our very first activity was a visit to Izumo Oyashiro (or Izumo Taisha), one of Japan’s most prominent shrines. We were taken through the shrine’s vicinity and introduced to the various customs, practices and the shrine’s rich history. The highlight of the visit was probably seeing the largest “Shimenawa” (or Sacred Rope) in the world, which weighs about 6 tons and is 13 metres long.

We braved the rain to get to our bus which took us to our next activity, lunch (yum). We dined at Kenjo Soba Haneya, a restaurant that’s been making and specialising in soba (buckwheat noodles) since the 1800s. Needless to say, it was nothing short of scrumptious.

Next, we made our way by car to Matsue Castle, candidly nicknamed “the black castle” after it’s darkly-coloured walls. After admiring the castle’s grand exterior for a bit, we toured the inside of the castle which houses many cultural and historical artefacts.

Day two and we found ourselves in Okayama Prefecture. We went on a tour of the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum where we were given a live demonstration of how Japanese Swords are made. It was an eye-opener watching these skilful craftsmen pour their heart and soul into what they do, and take so much pride in it.

Next, we visited the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, an iconic area of Kurashiki town which boasts a well-preserved city scape from olden days. Shop houses with earth and wooden walls and weeping willows lined the sides of Kurashiki River. We wish we had visited this area during the spring time as the flowers had not bloomed yet. Nonetheless, the river made for an excellent photo opportunity. Apparently, this place is a famous location for many filming and movie scenes. We also chanced on the opportunity to go on a mini-shopping spree, buying locally made green tea, Japanese sweets like Red Bean Pancakes and enjoyed a really wholesome and delicious peach-flavoured Soft Serve, also known as “Momo” Soft Serve.

We got back on the bus, which made it’s way towards the next prefecture. We were ahead of schedule, so we made a quick pit stop to get a gorgeous view of Seto Ohashi Bridge, which connects the Okayama Prefecture to Kagawa and Tokushima prefecture.

On the third day of the trip, we were in Tokushima City to witness a cultural dance performance.

The Awa Odori dance originated in Tokushima City and is performed during the Awa Dance festival held across Japan in mid August. We had a fun time learning some new dance moves and fully immersing ourselves in their culture.

For lunch, we had a quick meal at Tokushima Ramen Omago Kuwaiti Store before getting back on the bus and making our way to Oboke Gorge for a boat ride down Toshino River and to marvel that the majestic Shikoku Mountains the flanked the river side.

After our river cruise, we took a short bus ride to Kuzarabashi Bridge. “Kuzarabashi” which means mountain vines is exactly what it’s name suggests, a picturesque suspension bridge made completely out of vines.

Crossing the bridge is a nerve-wrecking experience for some because of the gaps between each step, large enough to see (and step) through to reveal the ravine and rushing waters below but I really enjoyed the thrill.

Dinner that night was at Hira Sake and Food Takamatsu Store which served barbecued meats, stews, and tofu dishes, almost like Izakaya style. We’re glad to have been able to try less mainstream Japanese dishes on this trip and we’re so thankful to JNTO for providing these experiences.

Day 4 took us to Kuribayashi Park, a gorgeous, peaceful and serene Japanese garden (that’s why Japanese gardens are known for being “Zen Gardens”, haha) where we experienced a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The cool weather and calming scenery made for a relaxing stroll. We took the time to explore the park and took in as much of the breathtaking scenery as we could. What a perfect way to begin the day!

We then had lunch at an Udon restaurant in Kompira town, famously known for the Kompira/ Kotohira shrine situated on top of a hill. After our Udon-fix, we were made to “work for the view” as we made our way up about 785 steps to get to the main hall of the Kompira shrine. The climb up to see the shrine was covered in lush greenery which made it quite scenic. I got myself an Oiri Soft Serve along the way because I was so drawn by those colourful rice cracker balls. It did not only looked pretty, it tasted really nice with the milk cream soft serve.

The morning of Day 5 and our last day of the trip was spent visiting Matsuyama Castle. We took a cable car from the city centre of Matsuyama city, up a hill, to the castle. I cannot get over how beautiful and majestic castles are in Japan, with each tracing back to it’s own tremendous history.

As it was still on the tail end of winter, we were lucky enough to see some plum trees blooming. These plum flowers start to bloom before the sakuras so we were really blessed to catch a close up glimpse of them. We climbed up the castle to enjoy a wonderful view of Matsuyama city. That seemed like the highest point in the city as we had a perfect unobstructed view of our entire surroundings.

With time to spare, we decided to walk into a cafe for some green tea lattes. Lo’ and behold, we were treated to a lovely and clean cafe interior. Goes without saying, we took tons of pictures there. Mustakivi cafe, you gem!

Lunch was at Oidenka, where we had probably our current favourite Japanese dish.

We ordered Taimeshi, meaning rice with red snapper, which was complemented with bashi broth. It was so comforting, especially on a cold and windy day!

The last item on the itinerary was a visit to Dogo Onsen, one of Japan’s oldest and most iconic hot springs. Apart from learning about the rich history of the Onsen, we also seized the chance to take a dip in the therapeutic hot springs. Perfect for our tired and wore out legs at the end of an eventful and enriching trip to Chigoku and Shikoku region in Japan.

I hope you guys will get a chance to experience the beauty and magic of Western Japan too, some day.

This post was sponsored by Japan National Tourism Organization. Check out their latest app

I hope my post will help you when planning your future trip.
If you’re looking for a consolidated view of my travels in Japan, do check out my Instagram hashtag #melissackohinJAPAN.

I’d also highly recommend the Japan Official Travel App. There, you discover hidden gems in the different prefectures from categories ranging from the type of places you’d want to see (for e.g. castles, parks, gardens, museums, etc) and things you’d like to do or experience (for e.g. hot springs, activities, festivals, events etc). You can also find travel tips and discounted tickets and passes that may be useful when planning your trip.

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