Japan can also be Mediterranean

Japan is not one island, Japan is many islands. In the Seto Inland Sea, which is considered the Japanese Mediterranean because of its Mediterranean climate, there are particularly many small islands. But one after the other. The Seto Inland Sea, which is about 450 kilometers long, is almost completely surrounded by the three main islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The region around the inland sea is called Setouchi and consists of the seven prefectures of Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa and Ehime. The largest inland sea in Japan is still rarely on the itinerary for tourists. Yet this area had famous advocates more than 150 years ago. German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen toured the region in 1860 and was deeply impressed by the beauty of the inland sea with its more than 3,000 islands of all sizes and mostly green rising from the calm sea.

Blick auf eine kleine Insel im Seto Binnenmeer von der Insel Naoshima aus. / © Foto: Georg Berg
View of a small island in the Seto Inland Sea from Naoshima Island / © Photo: Angela Berg

Ferdinand von Richthofen, traveled to China in later years and gave the Silk Road its name. The name Seto for inland sea also goes back to the geographer Richthofen. About the Seto Sea, he is said to have said:

“An infinite number of islands of all sizes…such elegant beauty over a vast area. Can there be anything more beautiful than this anywhere in the world?
He also warned, “I pray it can stay like this forever. Its greatest enemy will be civilization and the advent of human desire like never before.”

Ferdinand von Richthofen
The Seto Inland Sea is also what the Japanese call their Mediterranean Sea Here, citrus fruits and olives thrive as they do in the Mediterranean region of Europe.

Thomas Cook on a world tour

A decade after Ferdinand von Richthofen, the Briton Thomas Cook, considered the inventor of the package tour, traveled to Japan. It is hard to believe, but the Seto Inland Sea was on the itinerary of the first organized world tour in 1873. Cook traveled for a full 222 days with eight pioneer package tourists, crossing Japan’s Inland Sea from Osaka on their way to Nagasaki. The advertisement for this organized trip around the world is said to have inspired Jules Verne to write his famous adventure novel Around the World in 80 Days. Thomas Cook was still on the road with his travel group when Jules Verne’s new novel was already on display in bookstores. After his trip around the world, Thomas Cook was also full of praise for the beautiful nature of the region that is now called Setouchi.

Steg mit Yellow Pumpkin von Yayoi Kusama. Der berühmtem gelbe Kürbis wurde 2021 von einem Taifun isn Meer gespült. 2022 wurde an selber stelle ein neues Exemplar aufgestellt / © Foto: Georg Berg
Footbridge with Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. The famous yellow pumpkin was washed into the sea by a typhoon in 2021. In 2022 a new one was erected at the same place / © Photo: Angela Berg

Insider Tip Setouchi

The recommendations of the early globetrotters von Richthofen and Cook did not have a great effect. Even today, Setouchi is more of an insider tip than a must-see on a trip to Japan. The region not only offers beautiful nature, but also world-class art and architecture, historically significant sites, some of which are Unesco World Heritage Sites. In addition, the region with its seven prefectures offers many culinary specialties.

Pier im Hafen von Takamatsu in der Präfektur Kagawa. Fährschiffe bringen Touristen und Pendler auf viele der Inseln im Seto-Binnenmehr wie bspw. Teshima oder Naoshima / © Foto: Georg Berg
Pier at the port of Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture. Ferries take tourists and commuters to many of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea, such as Teshima or Naoshima / © Photo: Angela Berg

Port city of Takamatsu

Takamatsu is the capital of Kagawa Prefecture. The port of Takamatsu is an ideal starting point for day trips to many of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea, such as the art islands of Naoshima and Teshima. The historic port city of Takamatsu is also known for the best udon noodles, long shopping arcades, and one of the most beautiful parks in Japan. Ritsurin-Kōen Park was established in the 16th century by the powerful Matsuhira clan. Over eleven generations, the park was expanded and maintained by the clan. In autumn, evening lights highlight the foliage color of the trees in Ritsurin-Koen Park. Japanese people are not only crazy about cherry blossoms, which announce the arrival of spring from March, but also follow the foliage coloration moving from north to south.

Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu. Im Herbst wird die Laubverfärbung mit einem Lichterfest gefeiert. / © Foto: Georg Berg
Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu. In autumn, the changing of the leaves is celebrated with a festival of lights / © Photo by Angela Berg.

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The research took place on a press trip organized by JNTO.

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