Travel to Chugoku Shikoku Region

Chugoku region consists of the south west part of Honshu Island. An alternative name for the region is the San-in San'yo Chiho. Chugoku includes five prefectures: Okayama, Shimane, Hiroshima, Tottori and Yamaguchi. Chugoku is heavily industrialized along its Pacific Coast but much more rural in its mountainous interior and along the Sea of Japan Coast. The weather in the region is similar to that in Kansai and Kanto with heavy snowfall in the winters along the Sea of Japan Coast and hot and humid days in summer. 

Shikoku is Japan's fourth largest island, southwest of Japan's main island Honshu. True to its name, Shikoku is divided into four prefectures: Ehime, Kochi, Kagawa and Tokushima.

Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle was built on top of a hill near the edge of Lake Shinji in Shimane Prefecture. Surrounded by 200 cherry trees, it is one of only 12 original castles that currently exist in Japan. It is also called “Plover Castle” because of its beautiful appearance similar to a plover spreading its wings. The castle was built by Horio Yoshiharu, a feudal lord known for his talents in designing strong, functional castles. It took five years to build, and was completed in 1611. Horio and his grandson ruled here, but were succeeded by the Matsudaira clan, direct descendants of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). The main tower has a black wooden exterior, and an interior with five floors and a basement. The top floor offers a 360-degree view of the castle grounds, the city, and Lake Shinji. The castle was prepared to face battle at any time. Holes from which rifles could be fired are found in the outer walls throughout the castle. There are also small openings along the walls of the second floor, from which big rocks could be dropped to fend off enemies trying to climb up the stone walls. The basement was used to store daily goods in case the castle came under siege, and also had a well 24 meters deep that could provide drinking water at all times. Nowadays, samurai armor, helmets, and swords are on display.

Kazurabashi Vine Bridge

The Kazurabashi Vine Bridge hangs 15 meters above the Iya River. Roughly made from hardy kiwi vines, it is 45 meters long, two meters wide…and creaks and sways gently under the feet of those who cross it. The Iya Valley lies deep in the heavily forested mountains of central Shikoku and is one of Japan’s most remote spots. Some 800 years ago, two noble clans, the Taira and the Minamoto, were engaged in a desperate fight in Kyoto for control of the Imperial Court and the ability to choose the next emperor from their own ranks. The Taira were ultimately defeated and fled to this inaccessible place. Legend has it that they made bridges out of vines to cross the river so they could quickly cut them down to foil pursuers. Many vine bridges once spanned the 10-kilometer-long Iya Valley, serving as vital routes for its inhabitants. Today, only three remain: the Kazurabashi and the “husband and wife” bridges of Oku Iya. The bridges are taken down and remade from fresh vines every three years for safety and to keep this tradition alive. While the gaps between the vines that make up the bridge floor can make crossing a vertiginous experience, the whole structure is reinforced with steel cables.

Noshima castle ruins, Murakami Kaizoku "Pirates"

The Murakami Kaizoku built their castles on headlands, capes, and small islands. Noshima Island is surrounded by fierce tides in one of the Setonaikai Sea’s most dangerous areas, making its castle a natural stronghold. The castle was built in the 14th century and was used until the 16th century. Today, the island is uninhabited.Many of the reefs surrounding the islands have man-made holes that once contained pillars, probably support for mooring ships or island defenses. From the highest point of the island visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the castle. There are boat tours to see the fierce tides of the surrounding seas.