Itsukushima shrine (Dreamstime)
List 18 November

7 of the most beautiful places in Japan – and how to photograph them

Just west of Kyoto, Setouchi is a land of ancient shrines, grand bridges and island vistas – all ready and waiting to captured on Instagram...

1: Itsukushima shrine, Miyajima, Hiroshima Prefecture

Itsukushima shrine, Miyajima (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Itsukushima shrine, Miyajima (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Northeast of Hiroshima bay lies Miyajima, an island known for its enchanting forests and ancient temples. Its top attraction is the Itsukushima Shrine’s 'floating' torii gate. A powerful warlord during Heian Period, Taira no Kiyomori, built the Itsukushima Shrine in 1168 for his family and today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The gate casts a beautiful reflection on the unusually still water that characterises the Seto Inland sea, and is one of Japan’s most Instagrammed locations.

2: Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge from Mt. Kiro, Hiroshima & Ehime Prefecture

Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge from Mt. Kiro, Hiroshima (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge from Mt. Kiro, Hiroshima (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Stretching for 4,015 metres, the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the world and connects the Hiroshima and Ehime Prefectures.

Since its completion in 1999, the bridge network has improved connections between once-isolated island communities and facilitates travellers’ adventures into the unbroken greenery of rural Japan.

Clamber to the summit of Mount Kiro to take panoramic photos of early morning mist swirling around the bridge.

3: Kotohira-gu Shrine, Kagawa Prefecture

Kotohira-gu Shrine (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Kotohira-gu Shrine (setouchitourism.or.jp)

It’s a tough slog up to this insta-worthy spot, but totally worth it. The Kotohira-gu Shrine stands at the end of a long path halfway up Mount Zōzu, with 785 steps to the main shrine and a total of 1,368 steps to the inner shrine.

The shrine was founded in the 1st century and pilgrimages here became popular in the 1300s. Today hundreds of visitors climb the steps of Mount Zōzu on a daily basis, with stunning sunsets behind the mountains offering great photography opportunities.

4: Higashi-Ushirobata Rice Terrace, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Farmer working on the Higashi-Ushirobata Rice Terrace (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Farmer working on the Higashi-Ushirobata Rice Terrace (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Photographers will have a field day in Yamaguchi – literally. Located by the shore in north eastern Yamaguchi prefecture, Higashi Ushirobata's rice terraces are arguably some of the most scenic in Japan.

From early May to mid June, the paddies are filled with water and reflect the sky and surroundings almost like mirrors. A typical evening from the mist-wrapped rice terraces sees the sun setting right at the end of the peninsula, near Kawashiri cape. The ideal shot captures the sunset reflecting in the paddies, with lights used by squid fishing boats bobbing in the distance.

5: Shirakabe, Yanai, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Central Yanai’s Shirakabe (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Central Yanai’s Shirakabe (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Central Yanai’s Shirakabe is a traditional white-walled street that dates back to the Muromachi Period (1337-1573), when it was a merchant quarter. About 200 metres long, its traditional architecture has become popular for budding photographers across social media.

6: Cycling, Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture

Cycling in Onomichi (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Cycling in Onomichi (setouchitourism.or.jp)

The Shimanami Kaido is a spectacular 60km road and bridge network connecting Japan’s mainland to its fourth largest island, Shikoku. The route begins in Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture) and ends in Imabari (Ehime Prefecture) crossing six smaller islands, like stepping-stones across the Inland Sea.

Onomichi is a delightful old port town, home to ancient temples and built on a hillside overlooking the sea. It’s also Japan’s cycling hot spot: Hotel Cycle is the country’s first hotel designed exclusively for cyclists with bike racks in the reception area, space to park bikes in rooms, and a cycle-through window in the restaurant.

From Onomichi, the route winds over the sea, through mountains and mangroves and was unsurprisingly regarded as one of the world’s most epic bike rides. It offers plenty of scenic photo opportunities along the way, so maybe consider capturing the route with a GoPro.

7: Nibukawa Gorge, Ehime Prefecture

Nibukawa Gorge (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Nibukawa Gorge (setouchitourism.or.jp)

Nature lovers can revel in Nibukawa Gorge’s crystal clear water running through the forests.

The mountain road from Ehime’s capital Matsuyama takes less than an hour and this serene area is largely undiscovered – allowing visitors to explore the quiet forest trails and take excellent photos without having to dodge any crowds.

For more information about the Setouchi region and its photogenic attractions, visit the Setouchi Tourism Authority website at setouchitourism.or.jp