Explore Japan off the beaten track: Iwakuni & Suo-Oshima

A four-part series on the country's hidden gems worth seeking out

Written by Time Out. Paid for by MGM Resorts Japan

The castle town of Iwakuni and Suo-Oshima island across the bridge are scenic coastal destinations along the Seto Inland Sea in southeastern Yamaguchi prefecture. Until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), this vast stretch of water was the main transportation route between the seaside communities of Kansai and Kyushu. To protect their interests, some of the lords who ruled over the domains employed private suigun (which loosely translates as ‘pirates’ or ‘navy fleets’) to guard the coasts.

Your first port of call in Iwakuni should be the historic castle, which not only boasts postcard-perfect views over the town but also hosts an exhibition of samurai swords and armour. When it comes to eating, don’t look past the super-fresh seafood that is caught directly off the nearby coast and served up at one of Iwakuni’s charming restaurants.

The third largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, Suo-Oshima is about an hour south of Iwakuni by car. Thanks to its close relations with its sister island Kauai, the fourth largest Hawaiian island, Suo-Oshima is referred to as Japan’s ‘Little Hawaii’. It’s well-known for its natural beauty and fresh fruit, especially mandarins.

5 things to do in Iwakuni & Suo-Oshima

Iwakuni: Discover traditional culture at the Iwakuni Art Museum

1. Iwakuni: Discover traditional culture at the Iwakuni Art Museum

Fans of the samurai will love the Iwakuni Art Museum, where the exhibits showcase the military elite’s illustrious history from the Nara period (710-794) right through to the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). Out of the museum’s 6,000-item strong collection – some of which are National Important Cultural Properties – 200 pieces are on permanent display.

2-10-27 Yokoyama, Iwakuni, Yamaguchi (Kawanishi Station). 0827 41 0506. 9am-5pm daily, Dec-Feb until 4pm. ¥800, university and high school students ¥500, junior high and primary school students ¥200, FREE for younger children.

Iwakuni: Stroll across the iconic Kintaikyo Bridge

2. Iwakuni: Stroll across the iconic Kintaikyo Bridge

This historic wooden structure, complete with five arches stretching across massive stone pillars, is the most popular attraction in Iwakuni. It was originally built in 1673 but suffered major damage from typhoons and floods. The bridge was later reconstructed using exclusively traditional techniques to return it to its former glory.

1-2 Iwakuni, Iwakuni, Yamaguchi (Kawanishi Station). 0827 29 5116. Open 24 hours. Round trip ¥310, primary school students ¥150.

Suo-Oshima: Explore the Museum of Japanese Emigration to Hawaii

3. Suo-Oshima: Explore the Museum of Japanese Emigration to Hawaii

Japanese emigration to Hawaii formally began with the Kanyaku Imin (government-contracted emigration). The first ship arrived at Hawaii in 1885, with one-third of those on board from Oshima; throughout the Kanyaku Imin period, about 3,900 people from Oshima crossed the ocean to Hawaii. The museum was established to document this notable period in Japanese-Hawaiian history. It has searchable records of about 135,000 Japanese across the  country who moved to Hawaii. The museum receives many visitors from Hawaii, America and Japan, who come searching for their roots.

2144 Nishiyashiro, Suo-Oshima, Oshima-gun, Yamaguchi. 0820 74 4082. 9.30am-4.30pm, closed Mon (Tue if hols). ¥400, junior high and primary school students ¥200, FREE for younger children.

Suo-Oshima: Enter the kingdom of jam

4. Suo-Oshima: Enter the kingdom of jam

Suo-Oshima is famous for its fresh fruit, especially mikan (mandarin oranges), which is made into an amazing jam at Setouchi Jam’s Garden. The shelves at this fruit specialist are
lined with up to 30 varieties of fruit preserves and you can sample most of them before purchase. Flavours range from kabosu citrus and kiwi to strawberry and apple. There’s even a small café on-site, offering delicious sweet treats featuring the shop’s original marmalades, jams and fresh fruit.

331-8 Hikuma, Suo-Oshimacho, Oshima-gun, Yamaguchi. 0820 73 0002. 10am-5.30pm (Summer hols; Sat, Sun & hols between Mar-Nov), 10am-5pm (Dec-Apr & Mon-Fri from Mar-Nov), closed Wed & Thu (jam shop is open on Thu, café is closed).

Suo-Oshima: Unwind at the Hotel & Resort Sunshine Sazanseto

5. Suo-Oshima: Unwind at the Hotel & Resort Sunshine Sazanseto

The perfect beach getaway, this resort in Suo- Oshima comes complete with blue ocean views, a white sandy beach, and plenty of swaying palm trees. If you love being in water, you’ll be glad to know that the hotel has indoor and outdoor pools (open at different times of the year) as well as a hot spring bath. On Saturday evenings in summer, don’t miss the hula dance performances under the stars.

Hirano Katazoegahama, Suo-Oshimacho, Oshima-gun, Yamaguchi. 0820 78 2121.

How to get to Iwakuni & Suo-Oshima

From Tokyo Station, it’s approximately five hours by shinkansen and then a local train (transfer at Hiroshima Station) to Iwakuni Station. Suo-Oshima is about an hour by car from Iwakuni; there are no trains on the island.

Why I love Iwakuni & Suo-Oshima

The large island of Suo-Oshima in the Seto Inland Sea has so much to offer – beautiful beaches, delicious produce and seafood, and a fantastic history, including old pirate lore. I've visited Iwakuni many times and it continues to become ever-more attractive as a tourist destination. I was particularly impressed by the superb collection at the Iwakuni Art Museum. If you’re visiting Kansai or Hiroshima, I hope you will consider going to Iwakuni and Suo-Oshima as well.
- Jason Hyland, president of MGM Resorts Japan

Explore more of Japan

    You may also like
    You may also like