Chūgoku (中国) is the westernmost part of the main Japanese island Honshu. Aside from Hiroshima, most of Chugoku is probably well off the beaten track for a brief visit to Japan; but if time permits, you'll find a region full of memorable sights and experiences, and a side of Japan that's completely unlike the better-known destinations in Kansai and Kanto.
The name Chūgoku literally means "Middle Country", the sole surviving relic of a historical division of Japan into "Near Countries" (近国 Kingoku), "Middle Countries" and "Far Countries" (遠国 Ongoku), based on distance from the capital Kyoto. Strictly speaking, today's Chugoku covers only the Middle Countries along the San'indo and San'yodo roads, and hence Okayama is sometimes not considered a full part of Chugoku, as only three of its five component provinces (Mimasaka, Bizen and Bitchu) were Middle Countries.
In Japanese, the characters 中国 and the reading Chūgoku are also used to mean "China". (The same characters are used in Chinese, but pronounced Zhongguo.) However, as the Chugoku region is always referred to with the qualifier "-chihō" and the People's Republic of China and Republic of China can be referenced by their full names, there is usually little scope for confusion.
The San'yo Shinkansen line links Hiroshima, Okayama and other major towns to Kyushu in the southwest and Kansai (Osaka) to the east. The less populated northern Japan Sea coast is served by ordinary train services.
The JR West San'yo Area Pass allows unlimited travel along the San'yo Shinkansen and San'yo main line west of Osaka, including the Shinkansen (even Nozomi and Mizuho trains). The 4-day/8-day pass is ¥20,000/30,000. An enhanced version of this pass, the San'yo-Shikoku-Kyushu Pass, also includes travel to Shikoku and all or part of Kyushu. 5-day consecutive passes range from ¥22-25,000.
This is a list of some of the areas most famous gardens however, there are many other beautiful gardens throughout the region:
Korakuen Garden (Okayama) This is the most famous garden in the Chugoku region, as well as one of the top three gardens in all of Japan.
RSK Rose Garden (Okayama) A large garden containing a wide variety of roses from all over the world.
Shurakuen Garden (Tsuyama) A beautiful 17th century garden with no entry fee.
Miyama English Garden (Tamano) An authentic English garden created by the British man Peter Thurman
Adachi Museum of Art (Yasugi) Although there is a museum displaying over 1,000 works of art, the highlight of the museum for many is not the museum; it's the garden. Constructed in 1980, the garden is quite new but what it lacks in history it makes up for in size and beauty. This garden has been voted the best garden in Japan by the American Journal of Japanese Gardening.
Vogel Park (Matsue) One of the largest greenhouses in the world, as well as an aviary.
Yuushien Garden (Matsue) Built for beauty in every season, including winter when the camellia's bloom.
Enchoen Chinese Garden (Yurihama) One of the largest Chinese gardens in Japan. Enchoen was first built in China, disassembled, and then rebuilt in Yurihama as a symbol of friendship between Tottori and China's Hebei Province.
Tulip Fields (Hiezu) A garden full of beautiful red and yellow tulips.
Shukkeien Garden (Hiroshima) An impressive garden built by Ueda Soko, considered to be one of the greatest masters of the tea ceremony.
Sesshutei Garden (Yamaguchi) This garden is a reproduction of a scene from one of Sesshu's most famous landscape paintings.
Chōfu Garden (Shimonoseki) One of the famous gardens in Castle town Chōfu.
Although temples and shrines can be found in abundance throughout the region, these are some of the most important and most interesting temples and shrines in the Chugoku Region.
Izumo Shrine (Izumo) The second holiest Shinto shrine (Ise Shrine in Ise being number one) and certainly one o the most impressive in Japan Izumo Shrine is dedicated to the god of marriage and happiness.
Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima) As Japan's most photographed shrine, one of the top three views in Japan, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site Itsukushima Shrine is highly valued for its spiritual, cultural, and historical significance and has the credentials to prove it.
Saijo Inari (Okayama) Considered to be one of Japan's three great Inari shrines, Saijo Inari is sometimes referred to as a temple, because of its interesting combination of Buddhist and Shinto elements.
Mitokusan Nageiredo (Misasa) A cliff-side temple that one has been able to determine how it was constructed.
There are many great museums in the region, and every prefecture has its own Prefectural Museum and Prefectural Art Museum that are worth visiting, but the following are some of the more unique and famous museums in the region.
Ohara Museum of Art (Kurashiki) This museum has an impressive collection of Western art that anyone with even minimal knowledge about art should be able to recognize most of the artists. Although the European artwork is the museum's claim to fame, it also houses modern Japanese art and ancient Chinese artifacts in separate buildings of the museum grounds.
Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum (Hiroshima) As one of only two cities to have ever been hit by an atomic bomb, this museum was built to educate people about the effects of atomic warfare on cities, objects, and of the greatest interest, people. The museums is well-designed and highly educational; a must-see for anyone travelling within the region.
Kansai - With the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara and the large metropolis that is Osaka, this area offers visitors an endless number of cultural and historical sites, along with great shopping and nightlife.
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