Chugoku-Shikoku Region

Outline of Chugoku-Shikoku

The Chugoku-Shikoku Region is a collective term combining the Chugoku and Shikoku areas. The former is the western portion of Honshu, the main island of Japan, and it consists of five prefectures: Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Tottori, and Shimane.

Location of the Chugoku Region, Japan (中国地方の位置)

The latter is the smallest of the four large islands of Japan and consists of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The waters sandwiched between these two pieces of land are called the Seto Inland Sea.

Location of the Shikoku Region (四国地方の位置)

The Chugoku Mountains stretch from east to west throughout the most of the Chugoku area. These are generally low and gently sloping mountains, with heights of 1,000 meters to 1,300 meters. There are many plateaus on the hillsides, which are often utilized as a pasture for dairy/beef cattle.

Jersey cattle in the Hiruzen Plateau, Okayama Prefecture (蒜山高原のジャージー牛)
Jersey cattle in the Hiruzen Plateau that is part of the Chugoku Mountains.

On the other hand, the Shikoku Mountains, which occupy a large portion of the Shikoku Island, are a succession of steep peaks and deep ravines. Many of the peaks reach nearly 2,000 meters and the highest one is Mt. Ishizuchi in Ehime Prefecture, which has a height of 1,982 meters.

Mt. Ishizuchi in Shikoku (石鎚山)
Mt. Ishizuchi over the fields of Saijo, Ehime Prefecture.

These two big mountain ranges often extend as close as the seashore, and this is why, in the Chugoku-Shikoku Region, the total percentage of flat lands is small, compared to the other six Regions.

Map of the Chugoku-Shikoku Region, Japan (中国四国地方の地形)
Nine Prefectures in the Chugoku-Shikoku Region.

The Chugoku-Shikoku Region is often divided into three areas: San’in (pronounced as sun-inn), Setouchi, and Southern Shikoku. Each area has different characteristics, and in particular, the difference in climate is distinctive.

San’in Area

The San’in area is the area to the north side of the Chugoku Mountains. Bordering the Sea of Japan, a lot of snow falls here in winter, and there are many ski resorts in this mountainous area. But the coldness in the winter time is not so harsh because of the influence of the warm Tsushima Current that passes nearby. San’in is blessed with fertile fishing waters, and in particular, the port of Sakai in Tottori Prefecture boasts of the large number of fish hauled in there.

Landing sardines at the port of Sakai(境港のイワシの水揚げ)
Landing sardines at the port of Sakai, Tottori Prefecture. (Photo: ©Tottori Pref.)

San’in has many fascinating places to visit. Izumo Taisha Shrine in Shimane Prefecture is one of the oldest and most important Shinto shrines in Japan, with its founding stories often told in Japanese mythology. Mount Daisen is the highest mountain in the Chugoku Region at 1,729m, and it is one of the symbols of Tottori Prefecture. The surrounding areas of the mountain are designated as Daisen-Oki National Park, and the largest buna forest in Western Japan covers its slopes (Buna is a Japanese Siebold’s beech). Also, San’in has a number of towns and streets that preserve the historic atmosphere, and some of them are now utilized as tourism resources.

An old street of Mihonosaki, Matsue(美保関の青石畳通り)
An old street of Mihonoseki, Matsue, in Shimane Prefecture. (Photo: Courtesy of the Shimane Prefectural Government.)

Setouchi Area

The Setouchi area consists of the Seto Inland Sea (Seto Naikai) and its surrounding land areas (which are the southern part of Chugoku and the northern part of Shikoku). This area boasts of the dry and sunny weather with a small amount of precipitation throughout the year. This is because the humid seasonal winds in summer and winter are shielded by the huge mountain ranges to the north and south before they reach Setouchi. However, as a trade-off, people in Setouchi struggled with repeated water shortages. To solve this problem, people created a lot of reservoirs and irrigation canals.

A view of the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海の眺め)
A view of the Seto Inland Sea from an observatory on Oshima Island, Ehima Prefecture.

The Seto Inland Sea contains about 3,000 small islands and has been known for its scenic beauty for centuries. In 1934, the sea and its surrounding areas became one of the first national parks in the country when they were designated as the Setonaikai National Park.

The port of Tomonoura along the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海の鞆の浦)
The port of Tomonoura along the Seto Inland Sea.

In the Edo Period (1603 -1867), this sea played an important role as a sea route, as the rice and marine products harvested in the north countries of Tohoku and Hokkaido were shipped to Osaka and Kyoto via the Seto Inland Sea. Small towns like Tomonoura in present-day Hiroshima Prefecture and Shimotsui in present-day Okayama Prefecture developed as the port towns for these ships. And when we visit these towns today and see their old, narrow streets, we can still get a sense of their past glories.

 Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island(宮島の厳島神社)
Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island.

Among the numerous small islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea, the island of Itsukushima (also known as Miyajima) is especially famous. Since the mid-17th century, the island has been recognized as one of the three most scenic places in the country and has been attracting many tourists and religious worshipers. And since 1996, when Itsukushima Shrine, the island’s main attraction, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the number of visitors, including quite a few international travelers, has increased even more.

Southern Shikoku

Southern Shikoku is the area to the south side of the Shikoku Mountains. Under the influence of the Japan Current (Kuroshio) passing nearby, this area is characterized by its warm and rainy climate. The annual precipitation sometimes exceeds 4,000mm in the mountains (the nation’s annual average is 1,700mm), and typhoons often hit the area in autumn. Since the rain precipitates the growth of trees, such as cedar and Japanese cypress (hinoki), forestry has been one of the crucial ways to support the local people’s lives here (although the number of people engaging in forestry is decreasing). Other occupations prospering in South Shikoku include fishery in the Pacific Ocean and vegetable farming, including the wide spread use of greenhouses. In particular, Kochi Prefecture is Japan’s No.1 producer of several vegetables, including eggplant, ginger, myoga ginger, shishito pepper and yuzu (as of 2020).

Morning Sunday Market in Kochi (高知の日曜市)
Morning market in Kochi, held every Sunday.

Several rivers originate in the Shikoku Mountains, and after meandering through the land of South Shikoku, they eventually flow into the Pacific. Among those rivers, perhaps the Shimanto is the most famous. Flowing through the western part of Southern Shikoku without any large-scale dams, it has been called “the last clear river in Japan.” The Niyodo River, which runs in the central part, is also known for its clear water, and according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in 2010, the water quality of this river ranked among the best in the country. Now these rivers have become weekend recreation spots for local residents and tourists alike.

Ittohyo Chinka-bashi over the Shimanto (四万十川の一斗俵沈下橋)
One of the chinka-bashi over the Shimanto River.

On visiting these rivers, we can sometimes see an unusual type of bridge with no railings, which is constructed in the relatively lower position than normal bridges, with not so much distance between it and the surface of the river. This kind of bridge is called a low-water crossing or low-water bridge in English. In Japan, people commonly call it chinka-bashi (literally, “a sinking bridge”). If a river was flooded by a heavy rain, a normal bridge could be broken by floating objects like driftwood hitting its railings. So, people created those bridges with no railings, assuming that the bridges would be under the surface of the water when the river was swollen. Kochi Prefecture has the largest number of chinka-bashi in Japan, and the Shimanto River alone has nearly 50 of them. Of course, through these bridges, we can get a sense of the local people’s long-time struggle against the elements, but now some of these bridges have become popular tourist destinations.

Photographs: Properties of Unfamiliar Japan,
unless otherwise noted.