39 Best Sights in Western Honshu, Japan

Adachi Museum of Art

Fodor's choice

Located outside of Matsue City in neighboring Yasugi, The Adachi Museum of Art is well worth the trip. The gardens around the museum are some of the most breathtaking in all of Japan. The path around the gardens reveals new delights around every corner. Adding to their beauty is the borrowed landscape backdrop of low hills and forests beyond. The museum interior has a large selection of 19th- and 20th-century Japanese masters as well as temporary exhibitions throughout the year. The museum runs free shuttle buses every 30 minutes from Yasugi Station which take 20 minutes. Yasugi Station is 27 minutes east of Matsue Station on the local train (¥420). Try to time your arrival close to the museum opening hour of 9 am to avoid group tours, which start arriving around 10:30.

Atomic Bomb Dome

Fodor's choice

This ruin is a poignant symbol of man's self-destructiveness. It was the city's old Industrial Promotion Hall, and it stands in stark contrast to the new Hiroshima, which hums along close by. Despite being directly below the bomb blast, the building did not collapse into rubble like the rest of the city. Eerie, twisted, and charred, the iron-and-concrete dome has stood darkly brooding next to the river, basically untouched since that horrible morning. The sad old building's foreboding, derelict appearance can be emotionally overwhelming. The site is just outside the official northeast boundary of Peace Memorial Park. Take Tram 2 or 6 from Hiroshima Station to the Gembaku-Domu-mae stop.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Naka-ku Fodor's choice

Displays of models, charred fragments of clothing, melted ceramic tiles, lunch boxes, watches, and shocking photographs tell Hiroshima's story of death and destruction. A visit here may be too intense for some (especially children), but to appreciate the horror of the bombing and the hope that made Hiroshima into the city it is today, this museum is highly recommended. The heat-ray-photographed human shadow permanently imprinted on granite steps can take you well beyond sadness, and the Dalí-esque watch forever stopped at 8:15 is chilling. Most exhibits have brief explanations in English, and more-detailed information is on the audio tour, which you can rent separately.

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Izumo Taisha Shrine

Fodor's choice

Nature has arrayed a shrine of its own to compliment the ornate but somehow subdued structures: a lofty ridge of forested peaks rises behind, a boulevard of fragrant ancient pines lines the approach, and lush green lawns flank both sides. Pilgrims come here primarily to pray for success in courtship and marriage.

The honden (main building) dates from 1744 and most of the other were buildings from 1688 onward. The architectural style, with its saddled crests and ornamental roof fixtures resembling crossed swords, is said to be unique to the Izumo region, but some similarities with the main Shinto shrine on the Kii Peninsula can be noted. The taisha is dedicated to a male god, Okuninushi, the creator of the land and god of marriage and fortune. Instead of clapping twice, as at other shrines, you should clap four times—twice for yourself, and twice for your current or future partner. According to folklore, if you successfully throw a ¥5 coin so that it sticks up into the sacred hanging strands of the enormously thick 5-ton, 25 foot-long twisted straw rope, or shimenawa, suspended above the entrance to the main building, you will be doubly assured of good luck in marriage. It is almost impossible to do without some kind of cheating—which may say something about the difficulties of marriage.

Two rectangular buildings on either side of the compound are believed to house the visiting millions of Shinto gods during the 10th lunar month of each year. In the rest of Japan the lunar October is referred to as “Kannazuki” (month without gods), while in Izumo, October is called “Kamiarizuki” (month with gods). The shrine is a five-minute walk north, to the right along the main street, from Izumo Taisha-mae Station.

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Korakuen Garden

Fodor's choice

Korakuen is a "Special Place of Scenic Beauty" (as designated by the government), and one of Japan's finest gardens. It has charming tea arbors, green lawns, ponds, and hills that were created at the turn of the 18th century on the banks of the Asahi River. Maple, apricot, and cherry trees give the 32-acre park plenty of flowers and shade. The riverside setting, with Okayama Castle in the background, is delightful. The garden's popularity increases in peak season (April to August), but this is one of the country's largest gardens, so you won't feel hemmed in by crowds. From Okayama Station, it is a 20-minute walk, or you can jump on the city tram for three stops to Shiroshita Station, and then it's a five-minute walk.

5 Days Children's Museum


The city's hands-on children's museum is a good diversion for the kids. The joyful noise of excited children alleviates the somber mood of Peace Memorial Park. Kids get a kick out of conducting their own science experiments. To get here, leave the Peace Memorial Park via Aioi-bashi at the North Entrance and walk north and east, keeping the river on your left. Admission is free to the main part of the museum. If you wish to also see the planetarium, there's a fee for high-schoolers and adults.

Akiyoshido Cave

This otherworldly limestone cavern, one of Japan's largest, lies halfway between Hagi and Yamaguchi. Although the cavern is roughly 6 miles long, only a bit less than a mile is open to the public. The path is easily accessible and lighted just enough for you to marvel at the size, but dim enough to retain a sense of wonder and mystery. Although droves of tour groups can ruin the atmosphere on weekend mornings, they have mostly cleared out by the afternoon.

The Akiyoshi Plain above the cave is a beautiful limestone karst, and makes for a pleasant spring or autumn hike. The observatory (accessible by elevator from the cave) offers impressive views in every season. If you plan to cross from the San'in to the Sanyo region, stopping a couple of hours at Akiyoshido Cave is highly recommended. Buses run from Shin-Yamaguchi Station to Akiyoshido Cave in around 45 minutes.

Hirotani Shuhocho Akiyoshi, Akiyoshidai National Park, Yamaguchi-ken, 754-0511, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥1,300

Children's Peace Monument

Many consider this the most profound memorial in Peace Memorial Park. The figure is of Sadako, a 10-year-old girl who developed leukemia as a result of exposure to the atomic radiation that lingered long after the blast. She believed that if she could fold 1,000 paper senbazuru (cranes)—a Japanese symbol of good fortune and longevity—her illness would be cured. Her story has become a folktale of sorts, and it inspired a nationwide paper crane–folding effort among schoolchildren that continues to this day. The colorful chains of paper cranes—delivered daily from schools all over the world—are visually and emotionally striking.

Heiwa Kinen Koen, Hiroshima, Hiroshima-ken, 730-0811, Japan

Five-Storied Pagoda

Hokoku Shrine (also known as the Toyokuni Shrine) is a complex of buildings overlooking Itsukshima Shrine and the O-torii Gate. The Senjokaku Pavilion is a large wooden hall, and beside it is the shrine's major landmark, the 28-meter-high Five-Storied Pagoda. At night, the pagoda is beautifully illuminated.

Flame of Peace

Behind the Memorial Cenotaph, this flame will be extinguished only when all atomic weapons are banished. In the meantime, every August 6, the citizens of Hiroshima float paper lanterns down the city's rivers for the repose of the souls of the atomic-bomb victims.

Heiwa Kinen Koen, Hiroshima, Hiroshima-ken, 730-0811, Japan

Former Residence of Ogai Mori

While spartan, the house is worth a visit to commemorate the achievements of this gifted genius who called Tsuwano his home. Ogai Mori (1862–1922), son of the head physician to the daimyo of Shimane, became a doctor at the young age of 19 and, in spite of courting trouble for his outspoken criticism of Japan's backward ways, went on to become the author of such acclaimed novels as The Wild Geese and Vita Sexualis. He was also a prominent figure in the fledgling government behind the Meiji Restoration. From Tsuwano Station it's a 12-block walk south along the main road, or take the bus and get off at Ogai Kyukyo-mae.

1--230 Machida, Tsuwano, Shimane-ken, 699-5611, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥600

Hagi Tamachi Shopping Arcade

Central Hagi

This is the busiest street in Hagi, with some 130 shops selling local products from Yamaguchi Prefecture. The shopping mood is addictive, the wares gorgeous, and the shopkeepers friendly, so your money can go quickly. The arcade is halfway between Hagi Station and Higashi-Hagi Station.

Hiroshima Castle


Hiroshima Castle was originally built by Terumoto Mori on the Ota-gawa delta in 1589. He named the surrounding flatlands Hiro-Shima, meaning "wide island," and it stuck. The Imperial Japanese Army used the castle as headquarters in World War II, and with its significant depot of munitions it was one of the targets of the bomb. It was destroyed in the blast. In 1958 the five-story donjon (main tower) was rebuilt to its original specifications. Unlike many castles in Japan, it has lots of brown wood paneling that gives it a warm appearance, and it stands in intriguing contrast to the modern city that has evolved around it. The modern interior feels anything but castlelike, but has exhibits from Japan's feudal Edo period (17th through 19th centuries). It's a 15-minute walk north from the A-Bomb Dome.

21--1 Moto-machi, Hiroshima, Hiroshima-ken, 730-0011, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥370

Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims


The memorial recounts the stories of known victims of the atomic devastation. In addition to the extensive archives of names, a collection of personal photos lends immediacy to one of the most shocking moments in history. A spiraling ramp leads downward to the Hall of Remembrance, a sobering 360-degree panorama of Hiroshima after the war. It is only up close that one sees that the photorealistic view is actually a collage of 140,000 black and white tiles, the number of people estimated to have died in the blast and in the months following. Heartbreaking firsthand accounts and memoirs of survivors are available for viewing.

Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum


Next to the Shukkei Garden, this museum is a visual treat. Standouts include two particularly surrealistic pieces: a typically fantastical piece by Salvador Dalí called Dream of Venus; and Ikuo Hirayama's much closer-to-home Holocaust at Hiroshima. Hirayama, who became one of Japan's most acclaimed artists, was a junior-high-school student at the time the A-bomb was dropped. The museum also holds excellent rotating exhibitions of art from classic to contemporary.

2--22 Kaminobori-cho, Hiroshima, Hiroshima-ken, 730-0014, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥510

Hondori Shopping Street


Around Hiroshima's central district are hundreds of shops. Take the tram that runs from the main station to stop T-31, or simply walk east across the north bridge out of Peace Park. The big department stores—Sogo, Fukuya, Tenmaya, and Mitsukoshi—are at the east end of the arcade near the Hatchobori streetcar stop. Many restaurants—including a big, gorgeous Andersen's, a popular bakery chain (one block down on the right from T-31)—are also found here.

Hondori, Hiroshima, Hiroshima-ken, 730-8501, Japan


This is the old samurai section of town. From Shizuki Koen, cross the canal (on the middle bridge) to the east side, and head toward downtown. The tomb of Tenju-in is a memorial to Terumoto Mori, who in the early 16th century founded the tenacious clan that ruled the Choshu area for 13 generations. Next you come to the Outer Gate of Mori; the Toida Masuda House Walls are on your right as you head south. Dating from the 18th century, these are the longest mud walls in the area. At the next chance, turn right and head west to the ancient, wooden Fukuhara Gate.

Itsukushima Shrine

This shrine was founded in AD 593 and dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o-no-Mikoto, the Shinto god of the moon—also of the oceans, moon-tugged as they are. It has been continually repaired and rebuilt, and the present structure is a 16th-century copy of 12th-century buildings. The orange woodwork next to the glaring white walls is attractive, especially when complemented by a blue sky and sea. The deck has the best frontal views of the torii gate.

1--1 Miyajima-cho, Miyajima, Hiroshima-ken, 739-0588, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥300

Kurashiki Museum of Folkcraft

Founded in 1936, the Museum of Folkcraft highlights the beauty of traditional objects used in everyday life. Housed in a series of 18th-century storefronts, the atmosphere perfectly suits the many wooden, ceramic, and lacquerware objects on display. There are no detailed descriptions in English, but the elegance of the pieces on display speaks for itself.

Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum

The museum has a good collection of the author's manuscripts and other artifacts related to his life in Japan. One room also holds small rotating art and culture exhibitions related to Matsue. It's adjacent to Koizumi Yakumo Kyukyo, Hearn's former residence in Matsue. Two minutes from the Memorial Hall is the Hearn Kyukyo bus stop, where a bus goes back to the center of town and the station.

Lafcadio Hearn's Former Residence

The celebrated writer's house has remained unchanged since he left Matsue in 1891. Born of an Irish father and a Greek mother, Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) spent his early years in Europe and moved to the United States to become a journalist. In 1890 he traveled to Yokohama, Japan, and made his way to Matsue, where he began teaching. There he met and married a samurai's daughter named Setsu Koizumi. He later took posts in Kumamoto, Kobe, and Tokyo. Disdainful of the materialism of the West, he was destined to be a lifelong Japanophile and resident. He became a Japanese citizen, taking the name Yakumo Koizumi. His most famous works were Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894) and Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904). The house's simple elegance makes it worth a quick stop even for those unfamiliar with Hearn.

315 Kitahori-cho, Matsue, Shimane-ken, 690-0872, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥310

Lake Shinji

When dusk rolls around, you'll want to position yourself well. You won't get a better sunset than the one seen every night over the town's lake. As locals do, you can watch it from Shinji-ko Ohashi, the town's westernmost bridge, but the best spot is south of the bridge, along the road, down near water level in Shirakata Koen, the narrow lakeside park just west of the NHK Building. This is a great place to kick back and enjoy some tasty local microbrews and sushi. A popular yuhi (sunset) spot is the patio of the Prefectural Art Museum, visible and adjacent to the park above.

Matsue Castle

Start a tour of Matsue at the enchanting and shadowy castle and walk in the castle park, Shiroyama Koen, under aromatic pines. Constructed of exactly such wood, the castle was completed in 1611. Not only did it survive the Meiji upheavals intact, but it was, amazingly, never ransacked during the civil war–type turbulence of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Perhaps it's the properties of the wood, or the angles, or the mysterious tricks of light and shadows, but this castle truly feels alive and is a must-see sight of the region.

Built by the daimyo of Izumo, Yoshiharu Horio, for protection, Matsue-jo's donjon (main tower), at 98 feet, is the second tallest among originals still standing in Japan. Crouching as it does below and behind the surrounding lofty pines, Matsue-jo is slightly spooky, even in daytime. This is a fabulously preserved walk-in time capsule, with six interior levels belied by a tricky facade that suggests only five. The lower floors display an appropriately macabre collection of samurai swords and armor. The long climb to the castle's uppermost floor is definitely worth it for the view encompasses the city, Lake Shinji, the Shimane Peninsula, and—if weather conditions permit—the distant mystical snowy peak of Daisen.

The castle and park are 2 km (1¼ miles) northwest from Matsue Station.

1--5 Tono-machi, Matsue, Shimane-ken, 690-0887, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥680 (Foreign visitors ¥470)

Matsue English Garden

This garden is of the same scale, arrangement, and style of any traditional English garden. There's an outdoor rest area, fountain plaza, sunken garden, indoor garden, pergola, cloister courtyard, rose terrace, and laburnum arch. If you've covered everything else, try this place—it's quite stunning, and it was put together in only five years by a jovial English gardener named Keith Gott. The garden is on the lakeshore northwest of town, at Nishi-Hamasada. It's one stop (five minutes; get off at English Garden-mae Station) west of Matsue Shinji-ko Onsen Station by the Ichibata Railway, so it can be seen on the way to or from Izumo Taisha.

330-1 Nishi-Hamadasa-cho, Matsue, Shimane-ken, 690-0122, Japan
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Rate Includes: Free, Apr.–Sept., daily 9–5; Oct.–Mar., daily 9–4

Matsue History Museum

Situated right beside the moat of Matsue Castle, this small museum gives visitors a good overview of Matsue's 400-year history. In addition to a diorama of the old castle town and scenes of daily life (including models of typical Edo-era meals), the photographs of Matsue in the Meji-era offer a rare chance to see what a provincial capital in Japan looked like at the beginning of the 20th century. English audio guides are available free of charge. The adjoining café, Kissa Kiharu, offers workshops such as making Japanese confectionery or incense among other traditional crafts. It is also a good place to relax and have coffee while looking out over the museum's Japanese garden.

279 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane-ken, 690-0887, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥510, Closed Mon.

Meimei-an Tea House

Built in 1779, this is one of Japan's best-preserved tea houses. Located next to the former samurai residence, the teahouse offers views of Matsue Castle and for a small fee you can have a cup of green tea and locally made sweets. To get here, leave Shiroyama Koen, the castle park, at its East Exit and follow the moat going north; at the top of the park a road leads to the right, northwest of the castle. The teahouse is a short climb up this road. Before you enter, turn around for one of the best views of Matsue's hilltop castle.

278 Kitahori-cho, Matsue, Shimane-ken, 690-0888, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥410, ¥820 with a cup of green tea

Memorial Cenotaph

Designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, the cenotaph resembles the primitive A-frame houses of Japan's earliest inhabitants. Buried inside is a chest containing the names of those who died in the destruction and aftermath of the atomic bomb. On the exterior is the inscription, "Rest in peace, for the error shall not be repeated." Looking through the Cenotaph at the Flame of Peace at night, after the sun has set and crowds have gone home, is an eerily beautiful experience. The cenotaph stands before the north side of the Heiwa Kinen Shiryokan.

Heiwa Kinen Koen, Hiroshima, Hiroshima-ken, 730-0811, Japan

Momijidani Park

Many people spend only half a day on Miyajima, but if you have more time, take a stroll through the park that is inland from Itsukushima Shrine. It is most famous for the colorful maple leaves (momiji) in the fall. Continuing on from the park you can take a cable car or hike to the summit of Mt. Misen. From the cable car upper terminus to the top of the mountain is still a short hike, but from there you can look out over Seto Island Sea and all the way to Hiroshima. If you walk all the way up the mountain rather than using the cable car, it takes around 90 minutes depending on your fitness level and how hot and humid the day is. Iwaso Ryokan is located in the park amongst the maple trees.

Miyajima, Hiroshima-ken, 739-0588, Japan
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Rate Includes: Free; cable car ¥1,800 round-trip

O-torii Gate

Miyajima's O-torii gate stands nearly 50 feet tall at the entrance to the cove where the ancient Shinto shrine is. This, the 18th version, was built in 1875, and has become one of the nation's most recognizable symbols. Hotels and ferry operators have tide charts so you can maximize your photo opportunities. At low tide, though, you can walk over the sand flats to admire the gate up close. From June 2019 to December 2022 the torii gate was covered in scaffolding for structural repairs.

If you stay overnight on the island, and if the weather cooperates, you're guaranteed to get some photos to die for, because the gate is lighted up in spectacular fashion at night. The nearby five-story pagoda and the shrine are also illuminated.

Ohara Art Museum

In 1930, noted art collector and founder Magosaburo Ohara built this Parthenon-style building to house a collection of Western art with works by El Greco, Corot, Manet, Monet, Rodin, Gauguin, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others. They were shrewdly acquired for him by his friend Kojima Torajiro, a talented artist whom he dispatched to Europe for purchases. The museum is wonderfully compact and can be appreciated in a single morning or an afternoon. Two wings exhibit Japanese paintings, tapestries, woodblock prints, and pottery—including works by Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach—as well as modern and ancient Asian art, much of it also brought home from trips made by Torajiro at Ohara's behest. The adjoining Kogei-kan (crafts hall) displays a selection of ceramic and textile art and is housed in a beautiful Edo-period storehouse.

1--1--15 Chuo, Kurashiki, Okayama-ken, 710-0054, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥1,500, Closed Mon.