Like disparate siblings, the two coasts of western Honshu have distinctly different personalities. Taken together, they embody the ancient and modern—those two seemingly bipolar time frames that exist in a more profound juxtaposition in Japan than perhaps in any other country in the world.
While the southern coast, or San-yo, has basically gone along with Japan's full-steam-ahead efforts to set the pace for the developed world, you can still encounter pockets of dramatic old-world charm among the modern and shockingly new. The San-in coast, on the other hand, has largely escaped the scourge of overdevelopment, yet you may be surprised to learn that everything you'd want in a city can be found up there, concentrated in and around lovely Matsue.
Happily, neither coast is short on history, religious significance, scenic beauty, or culinary delights. Hiroshima survived one of history's most horrible events to become a lively, famously friendly, forward-looking city. Kurashiki has a remarkably preserved old-style district that can whisk you back to Edo times with a stroll down willow-draped canals and stylishly tiled warehouses. Hagi is a scenic bayside town that for 500 years has been the center of Hagi-yaki ceramics, coveted light-color and smooth-texture earthenware glazed with mysteriously translucent milky colors.