Setouchi is Japan’s authentic, soothing side. Nestled peacefully in the southwest, the region hugs the stunning Seto Inland Sea and its 1200 islands that lie in between, whilst on land providing incredible insights into how life may have been lived here long ago. A standing testament of time is found in its gardens, which are vast, diverse, and always beckoning with incredible colors and spectacular photographic opportunities. Here is your guide to get the most out of Setouchi’s most special gardens.
Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu proudly holds the highest rating in the Michelin Green Guide and has been long regarded as one of the most special places in Japan. Close to the city center yet somehow evoking a feeling of being far, far away.
Here, visitors are treated to a seemingly endless display of diverse wonders from a red rock-filled pond filled with stepping stones to serpentine foot bridges, waterfalls, caves, and colorful flora. Perhaps one of the most special aspects is its extraordinarily high concentration of pine bonsai trees in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Takamatsu, where the garden is located, is responsible for 80 percent of Japan’s bonsai production and the diversity is beautiful.
Explore the strolling pathways on foot and you’re surrounded by brilliant colors and wonders on the eyes. Board a small wooden boat with a guide and enhance the magic by looking down after you look up to discover koi fish of all sizes and colors swimming around you as you sail.
Shinshoji Zen Museum and Gardens
As we settle back in gear in the new normal, wellness and self care are becoming more and more important to integrate into everyday life. With the rise of interest in Zen Buddhism comes a revitalized interest in places like the Shinshoji Zen Museum and Gardens in Hiroshima.
Beyond the garden, the experience continues through its training dojo, teahouse, and monastery onsite where you can try meditation, scripture copying, and even painting. One of the most revitalizing experiences is an extraordinary bath with intense colorful floral views. The tub is created from zelkova timber and is filled with natural hot spring water designed to soothe you into a brief nap.
Pair the garden visit with some unique confectionary treats and a matcha tea at the elegant café creating rich, inexplicable flavors of sweets constructed from secret recipes.
Awaji Island – Akashi Kaikyo National Park
Awaji Island is known as the oldest island in the world, and beyond that, it boasts impressive gardens with spectacular ocean views.
The northeast of the island is home to the beautiful Awaji Yumebutai designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando. Just next to it lies the Awaji Island Akashi Kaikyo National Park boasting a flower garden, lake filled with boats, and terraces offering incredible views. One special site to take in and snap up is the significant octopus-shaped flower monument on the south side of the park. The tram car is the most ideal way to get from point to point while visiting.
Though it offers impressive colorful sights all year round, the autumn cosmos are vibrant flowers to behold, forming a rainbow of colors especially significant in the beginning of October. And, don’t miss the Moon Terrace with its spectacular observation platform with views of the southern side of the park and the peaceful Seto Inland Sea beyond. On a clear day, the view stretches all the way to Tomogashima Island.
Created three centuries ago by Okayama’s feudal lord, Korakuen Garden was created as a place of relaxation and today, it is a place where people gather to achieve inner peace. The scenery is akin to a gorgeous work of art and nearly every square inch is highly Instagrammable.
“GENSO-TEIEN” means “fantastic garden” and it’s in full effect at Korakuen Garden. This special event held at night during spring, summer, and autumn seasons pairs so beautifully with the views in the daytime when pink cherry blossoms in spring are in full bloom and the crisp stark colors of fall foliage including azaleas and verdant grass cut impressive figures in the sunshine as a gorgeous contrast to the illuminations at night. Here, you can take part in a tea ceremony, a Japanese flower arrangement experience, even try your hand at the harp, and admission is free if you’re donning a kimono. For a uniquely different vantage point, board a Peach Boat and spy the scenes from the water.
NB – Okayama Castle is a stone’s throw from Korakuen and is illuminated spectacularly during the Ujo Togenkyo festival period evenings where the structure is bathed in a soft light surrounded by lanterns and candles. A stunning complement to the garden jaunts.
For more information, visit www.setouchifinder.com/en
Photo courtesy of the Setouchi DMO