The Seto Inland Sea, or "Setonaikai" in Japanese, is a body of water surrounded by three of Japan’s four main islands, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. It is the largest of Japan’s inland seas, stretching over 450 km east to west and 15 to 55 km north to south. The entire region including the sea and the coastal areas around it is often collectively called “Setouchi”. There are some 3,000 smaller islands in Seto, only 300 of which is inhabited; even the inhabited islands have suffered depopulation, as well as aging populations; as such, it is not uncommon to have islands where residents have an average age above 70.
The Inland Sea has long served as an important water route for Japan, a thoroughfare for both people and goods. The sea water is calm, like that of a lake and the scenic beauty, consisting of the sea dotted with thousands of islands, makes it one of Japan’s most beautiful places. Westerners who visited the Setouchi region at the end of Edo period and Meiji era, such as Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold and Thomas Cook, are said to have greatly admired this beautiful scenery. In 1934, the Setouchi area that covers parts of the Okayama, Hiroshima and Kagawa prefectures were designated as Japan’s first national park, Setonaikai National Park. The unique cultures and traditions that are nurtured by the region’s nature and its history of trade serve as significant attractions; these aspects are still deeply rooted in people’s everyday lives today.
Life on the islands is as calm as the weather of the region, as well as simple. The people who live on the islands are open and friendly to visitors from outside; they do not tend toward exclusivity, as you may imagine from the word “island.” It may be difficult to talk to them, due to the fact that not many speak English; however, once you greet them with a smile they will respond, even with limited English, and may use gestures. Such casual communication with the local people contributes to the pleasant experience of travelling through the small islands of Seto.
Another attraction of the area is the colors of the sky and the Inland Sea. During winter, as the sea becomes colder, the clarity of the water improves and its blue color becomes deeper due to changes in the water's reflective index. In summer, the water's clarity declines, causing the color to change to an emerald green. The magnificent views, gradations of blue water and sky, alongside the calm sea, are truly beautiful. Dawn and sunset, which changes colors depending on the season, humidity and the clouds, are views that one can take in many times. The views from Setouchi provide a sense of healing, as the light and air is calmer here compared to that of tropical beach resorts. It is an ideal environment in which to find peace. Find and enjoy your own way of travelling the islands, and appreciating the relaxed flow of “island time” and other aspects of island life.