Unexplored Japan: Tokushima and the Seto Inland Sea
As photographers we love a good adventure. The excitement that comes along with visiting a place that has not been turned into a postcard is enough motivation to roll out of any hotel bed before sunrise. The question is, where might we explore next? A good place to start are the outskirts of Japan and the small villages where, if you want to, you might just be the only Westerner for miles.
Arrival in Japan looks frighteningly similar for most of its visitors. In the airport you are photographed, fingerprinted, and given a bar code visa that has all the trappings of a future society. From there the bullet train (known locally as the Shinkansen) whisks travelers west to Kyoto or north to Hokkaido.
Japan is frequently noted for its uniqueness. That is a rather polite way of saying that even though Japan is on Planet Earth, sometimes it is hard to believe you have not stepped onto another planet. It is a peculiar place.
The reaction to the Japanese islands seem to come in two flavors … you are either mesmerized by the design, cleanliness, and Japanese-ness of things or you feel as if someone dropped you in a bizarre nether world where handshakes are replaced with bows, food comes in shapes that only appear vaguely familiar, and the pin drop silence on the busiest of streets freaks you out.
Much of Japan is in some ways unexplored … even by the Japanese.
Japan is polarizing, but if you are in the first camp of travelers then you are in for a treat. Much of Japan is in some ways unexplored … even by the Japanese. For the last few decades the popular places for Japanese tourists have been the highlight reels of Europe (think Paris, Rome, Florence, London), Hawaii, and Australia. Those seem to be the places that most Japanese go. But if you ask them, have you been to Tokushima many will say, “Yes, on Shikoku … I know it, but have never been.”
Whether you travel as a mode of exploration or it is a moment of office-reprieve, Japan has an endless offerings of places that hardly anyone visits. What do I mean?
At the moment, most of the photography world is fixated on shooting waterfalls in Iceland, temples in Burma, and old cars in Cuba. In the search for the unique places, most of the world has settled on these three spots. While just a few hours from Kyoto, you can literally step back in time and visit places where you might be the only non-Japanese person for miles, maybe even days on end.
Recently, I was invited to visit the Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku Island. The neighboring island of Kyushu tends to capture most of the attention, but the combination of Shikoku’s size and the flanking Seto Inland Sea present a maritime experience that mixes the best of the ocean with that of Japanese design and hospitality.
Over the course of one week, I was treated to a whirlwind of locations. Many of them could be enjoyed for a week on their own. The regions beyond Tokyo and Kyoto are like a grey spot on the map. Even Google has trouble getting everything right. For anyone who has attempted to navigate with Google in Japan, they know that it is only a rough approximation of any city.
However, if the aim of travel is to get lost and discover something new in yourself and the world around you, the less known spots of Japan offer an authenticity that can be as enchanting as they are confounding.
If the aim of travel is to get lost and discover something new in yourself and the world around you, the less known spots of Japan offer an authenticity that can be as enchanting as they are confounding.
Over the next few weeks, I will take you on my travels in Tokushima and outline the ways in which you can skirt the confusion and design a trip that is bound to be unique. All too often we end up traveling along the most frequented paths. Why? Because blazing new ones can be a challenge. However, Japan is laced with a network of trains and ferries that will whisk you to places you will not find anywhere on the planet. And, as a bonus, you are still be able to get back to a hotel for a dip in the onsen and a frosted beer. Join me as we explore the hidden parts of Japan together!