Airports: Arrive at Kansai International Airport and depart from Hiroshima International Airport
Transport: The trip from Osaka to Okayama by Shinkansen takes about one hour, as does the journey from Osaka to Takamatsu. Takamatsu to Matsuyama is 2.5 hours. From Matsuyama to Hiroshima Port by hydrofoil takes one hour.
A 20-minute ferry trip links Hiroshima Port to Miyajima, or there’s a 10-minute ferry ride to the island from Miyajima-guchi, a 55-minute tram journey west of the center of Hiroshima.
What Osaka lacks in looks, it makes up for in dynamism and friendliness. The main central sights include the reconstructed Osaka Castle and grounds, the National Museum of Art, the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, and the Floating Garden Observatory. Beside Osaka Bay is the impressive Osaka Aquarium, one of the best in Japan. The lively downtown areas of Namba and Dotonbori are best for eats and nightlife.
Kobe, 15 minutes train journey west of Osaka, has a colorful Chinatown and elegant Meiji-period homes in the hillside Kitano-cho district; both areas deserve at least a quick visit. The star attraction of Himeji, 20 minutes farther down the line, is the spectacular feudal Himeji Castle. The main keep looks fantastic after its restoration. Finish your day in Okayama another short hop by Shinkansen bullet train.
Rise early to visit Okayama’s Koraku-en Garden, one of Japan’s top-three gardens, which “borrows” the scenery of the black-walled Okayama Castle, across the Asahi River. Take a 15-minute train ride to Kurashiki to stroll around the charming Bikan Historical Area of old merchant houses turned into boutiques, cafes, and guesthouses, and to visit the Ohara Museum of Art, which includes works by the likes of Gauguin and Picasso.
From Okayama, take the mammoth Seto-Ohashi Bridge, which leapfrogs the islands of the Inland Sea, to reach Takamatsu, the first major urban center on Shikoku. The beautiful Ritsurin Garden is this city’s main landmark. A one-hour train journey from here takes you to Kotohira, home to the important Shinto shrine Konpira-san, which can be reached by climbing 785 steps up a wooded hillside. The town has lovely traditional inns to stay in and many places to eat.
Two hours from Kotohira is Matsuyama, Shikoku’s largest city. Graced by a splendid hilltop castle, it also boasts the magnificent public bathhouse of Dogo Onsen, where visitors can experience Japanese bathing culture.
The Peace Memorial Park of Hiroshima is the obvious draw of this city rebuilt after the destruction of World War II. The centerpiece is the Peace Memorial Museum, which presents a balanced view of the why the atomic bomb was dropped here in 1945. While in town, try the local specialty okonomiyaki, a savory pancake.
The vermilion gate of Itsukushima Shrine, rising out of the sea off the coast of Miyajima, is one of Japan’s most famous sights. Behind the covered walkways and halls of this seaside shrine rises Mount Misen, the summit of which provides panoramic views across the Inland Sea.
To extend your trip…
Matsue has an original castle, samurai houses, and a lovely setting between a lake and the Japan Sea. The pine tree-lined Amanohashidate Sand Bar is also one of Japan’s most scenic locations.