Things to Know Before You Go! Basic Knowledge on the Chugoku Region
Traveling is a lot more enjoyable if you know the characteristics of the places you are visiting! With that, here is an introduction of Japan’s Chugoku region, which is comprised of the Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tottori, and Shimane Prefectures. Please read this article in order to boost your knowledge on this region.
The Chugoku region is made up of five prefectures: Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tottori, and Shimane. It is located in-between Kita Kyushu (North Kyushu), which has been influenced by continental cultures since ancient times, and the central region of the Yamato Imperial Court, hence why it has played the role of a corridor for culture, politics, and economics. The region itself is divided into two areas: Sanyo and San’in. The Sanyo area, which is along the coast of Seto Inland Sea, is where commercial cities that used ships for transport thrived, which is why there are many bustling port towns in the zone today. On the other hand, the San’in area – located on the side of the Sea of Japan – is where ancient Izumo culture flourished, centering on Izumo and Matsue. This area is known as the setting of mythology.
The climate differs greatly between the San'in region on the side of the Sea of Japan and the Sanyo region on the side of Seto Inland Sea. There are many areas of San’in that get snow during the winter, with all of Tottori and parts of Shimane, Okayama, and Hiroshima included in the belt that experiences heavy snow. Meanwhile, the Sanyo area gets little rain throughout the year. It is a temperate zone, so winter there is characterized by lots of sunny days.
People who live in Okayama are known to be both intellectual and theoretical. They are enterprising and earnest, but are also said to be calculating in nature. Most of the people in Hiroshima are said to be cheerful and optimistic. They love colorful and fun events, such as festivals and games, but they are also the most restless bunch in the region. Meanwhile, people in Yamaguchi live by the samurai spirit that values honor and justice. They are vain and hate losing. Many of them are stubborn and picky. In Tottori and Shimane, the personalities of the locals vary significantly depending on the area, with those living in the eastern portion of Tottori – the center of rice farming – seen as very tenacious and diligent. However, they are also poor talkers and conservative. People who live in the western portion of Tottori, where the production of commodities is booming, are characterized by their sordid spirit. Citizens of the eastern area of Shimane are serious and diligent. They tend to close themselves off from outsiders, which is why people say that it takes a while to get to know them. On the other hand, most of the people who live in the western area of Shimane are cheerful, proactive, and open-hearted.
The dialects spoken in the Chugoku region are divided into the Unpaku and Chugoku dialects. The Unpaku dialect is spoken in the western region of Tottori, eastern part of Shimane, and Oki Islands. It is characterized by “shi” and “su” sounding like “chi” and “tsu”, respectively. The other dialect that is spoken in the region is the Chugoku dialect. When you speak this dialect, the “~dakara” in standard Japanese will transform into “~kee” and “~ken”. In the case of “~da”, it stays that way in San’in, but changes into “~ja” at the end of the sentence in the Sanyo area.
The most convenient way to get to the Chugoku region from Tokyo is by air, with travel time to any of the prefectures in the region taking approximately 1.5 hours. Hopping on a shinkansen (bullet train) is another good option if you’re heading to Okayama, Hiroshima, or Yamaguchi, as it takes only 3 – 4.5 hours by Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen. If you plan to come from Osaka, you will arrive in Okayama, Hiroshima, or Yamaguchi in about 1 – 2 hours by shinkansen. Taking the JR limited express train will have you in Tottori in around 2.5 – 3 hours. If you choose to get on a plane, you will arrive in Shimane after about 1.5 hours, but if you take a combination of the shinkansen and JR limited express, it will take you 3.5 – 4 hours. There are also regular direct flights to/from various Asian countries in Hiroshima Airport, Okayama Airport, and Yonago Airport.
There are several JR lines that run in the Chugoku region. If you plan to travel east to west to visit other cities and prefectures, then you can take routes like the Sanyo Main Line that runs along Seto Inland Sea and the San’in Main Line on the Sea of Japan side. If you are going south to north, then it is recommended to use lines like the Hakubi Line, Geibi Line, or Yamaguchi Line. You should also try the trams in Hiroshima, which are handy for getting about, as well as the retro steam locomotive (SL) trains that go between Yamaguchi and the western parts of Shimane.
Starting with the World Heritage Sites in Hiroshima – there’s Itsukushima Shrine, which is the only shrine in Japan where the main shrine and its massive torii (shrine gate) are built on a place where tides rise and fall, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (more commonly called the “Atomic Bomb Dome”) that was erected to pray for world peace. The Chugoku region is filled with many must-see tourist spots like these. Okayama offers the beautiful townscape of Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, where there are stretches of houses with white walls and latticed windows, while Yamaguchi has attractions with stunning natural beauty, such as the Akiyoshido cave that is listed as one of the three greatest limestone caves in Japan, and Akiyoshidai, which is a karst plateau of limestone sprawled on top of the cave. The staple sightseeing destination in Tottori is the Tottori Sakyu (Tottori Sand Dunes) – the largest sand dunes in Japan that have slowly built up over 100,000 years. Shimane is home to Izumo Shrine, where Yaoyorozu no Kamigami (eight million deities) – a collective term for a myriad of deities in Shinto – is said to gather in October. Famous for its deities for good marriage and luck, this shrine is flocked by worshipers from all over Japan.
Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter (Okayama Prefecture)
Izumo Shrine Kagura-den (Shimane Prefecture)
If you visit the Chugoku region, then you need to eat fresh seafood caught from Seto Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan. The oysters (“kaki” in Japanese) in Hiroshima are particularly famous, as they are large in size and rich in taste, even when caught outside of winter (their peak season). In Okayama, you have to taste the sawara (Japanese mackerel) sashimi, which has a refined taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture. If you go to Yamaguchi, make sure to try the fugu (puffer fish) dishes. Puffer fish sashimi is an exquisite delight that will let you enjoy the taste of puffer fish, as well as its beautiful presentation. Meanwhile, the ingredient that best represents Tottori is crab (“kani” in Japanese), which is a typical winter ingredient in the prefecture. Kanimeshi (crab rice) – made by boiling crab, and then sprinkling it on top of rice or mixing it with the rice – is a popular eki-ben (boxed lunch that is sold in train stations) at Tottori Station. If you visit Shimane, you have got to sample the specialty Izumo soba (buckwheat noodles) topped with fresh seafood like shiro-ika (white or southern squid). It is characterized by the black color of the noodles that comes from the hulls of the buckwheat, robust aroma, and superb nutritional value.
Oysters (Hiroshima Prefecture)
Fugu Sashimi (Yamaguchi Prefecture)
When shopping for souvenirs, don’t you want to choose something that’s unique to the area that you’re visiting? If you are in Okayama, why not pick up some Bizenyaki (Bizen ware) that has a 1,000-year history? It is traditional pottery that is made over hot fire and without glaze. Another recommended souvenir is Hagi Yaki (Hagi ware) from Yamaguchi, which has been prized by tea masters since ancient times. Both are famous for their texture that extracts more flavor the longer you use them. The Kumano-fude – a type of brush that is handmade by skilled craftsmen – from Hiroshima could prove to be a great souvenir. This brush, which is carefully made one piece at a time, boasts of superior quality that makes it a favorite among makeup artists worldwide. As for Tottori, you can buy postcards, bookmarks, and lampshades that use the region’s traditional craft – Inshu-washi paper. Finally, in Shimane, the best souvenir would have to be the Yakumo-nuri Shikki (Yakumo lacquer ware), which feels pleasant to the skin and looks translucent. Beautiful chopsticks, hand mirrors, and other items that have a lacquer finish are also available.
Bizen Ware (Okayama Prefecture)
Kumano-fude Brush (Hiroshima Prefecture)
After deepening your knowledge about the Chugoku region, please try to actually visit it and experience the allure of each town there!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.