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Japan is a land of juxtaposition – this country is home to some of the densest urban environments on the planet, while simultaneously containing some of the most vast and beautiful natural landscapes one might witness in their lifetime. Living in Tokyo for several years can make it easy to forget how stunning the natural side of Japan can be, but it is just as easy to venture out of the cities and see for oneself the calm, delicate serenity that the country has to offer both its residents and its visitors. One such place is the Seto Inland Sea National Park, a free public national park where visitors can witness the juxtaposition for themselves: a spectacular view from Mt Washu (鷲羽山 Washuzan) of the man-made Great Seto Bridge, as it drapes over the Seto Inland sea landscape.
Established in March 1934, Seto Inland Sea National Park (瀬戸内海国立公園) is the first national park to be designated in Japan. It extends over 11 prefectures and covers an area of around 900,000 hectares, making it not only the first, but also the largest national park in the country. Mt Washu, in Okayama’s Kurashiki City, is a perfect place to take in the view of the Shiwaku Islands and the Great Seto Bridge, having been dubbed one of Japan’s “Top 100 Sunset Spots”. Its name translates roughly to “The shape of an eagle spreading its wings”.
Getting to Mt Washu
Coming from Okayama, take the JR Setoohashi line from Okayama Station towards Kojima station. After arriving, turn left at the ticket gates, head outside and take another left towards bus stop #4. Take the Shimoden Bus labelled 下津井循環線とこはい号 (Shimotsui Junkansen Tokohai Go) and depart at the stop labelled 鷲羽山第2展望台 (Mt. Washu No.2 Tenbodai). Plan your day carefully as this bus only runs once per hour. Here’s a helpful tip for those new to these bus systems: you enter in the back door, take a ticket, and the number that appears at the front of the bus will correspond to the number on your ticket, and will show the price you will pay to the driver upon departing at your stop. It is rather helpful to the bus driver to bring plenty of small change with you on your journey.
A Little Mountain with a Big View
At around 133 metres tall, Mt Washu is not the tallest or most intimidating of mountain climbs. However, the purpose of this type of mountain walk is to catch the stunning sights! After getting off the bus, you will see a small bathroom area and a rather large carpark. Walk across the carpark until you reach a set of stairs, and climb up and head left.
You will soon reach the second observation deck, also known as Daini Tenboudai (第2展望台). This is a good opportunity to take a short rest on one of the several seated areas while checking out the lovely sprawling landscape of the Shiwaku Islands. There is also a gift shop and restaurant area, from which you can enjoy a nice quiet lunch with a view!
Following the directions given by the various maps and signs posted throughout the park, you can make your way to different points on the mountain in order to get various interesting views. Less than a ten-minute walk from the second observation deck is the visitor centre and first observation deck (Daiichi Tenboudai, 第一展望台). Inside the visitor centre are some interesting artifacts and information about the region, and outside you can enjoy the view of the Great Seto Bridge from the deck area. From the visitor centre, the summit can be reached in around five minutes. As I mentioned earlier – it is not a tall mountain! Follow the signs marked “山頂 (Sancho)” which translates to “mountain peak” until you reach the summit of Mt Washu.
Witness the Epic Seto Inland Sea
The summit of Mt Washu affords you a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Seto Inland Sea National Park area, including the Great Seto Bridge and Shiwaku Islands. This view is definitely one of the most stunning I have witnessed in my time living and travelling in Japan, and it was amazing to see such a quiet yet massive part of the country’s natural landscape. On the summit sits a circular bronze tablet with a compass carved into it. This is certainly one of the more photogenic spots I have visited!
Outside of the first two observation decks and Mt Washu’s summit, there is a plethora of spots from which to take in the views of Seto Inland Sea National Park. While I only travelled there for a short time, I highly recommend that visitors to this park give themselves at least a few hours to really explore and take in the sights, the smells and the sounds of this gorgeous example of Japan’s natural beauty. It’s a long way to come, so make the most of it!