Perched upon the coast of the Seto Inland Sea is a little-known Japanese city with an intriguing past.
Ako city is the perfect stop-over spot to add a hint of Japan’s rich samurai history and breathtaking natural scenery to your client’s Japan itinerary.
Conveniently located on the way from Himeji to Hiroshima, Ako is ideal for an overnight stay or two for weary travellers to catch their breaths, soak in an onsen and take-in the view of the inland sea that separates three of the four main islands of Japan.
Whether you are looking for a traditional ryokan stay or something a bit more modern, Ako has a range of accommodation to choose from.
Ginpaso – Located by the Misaki onsen area next to Iwatsuhime shrine, Ginpaso features beautifully designed, Japanese style rooms and a hot spring with high levels of calcium, sodium, and chloride, which is said to help against various ailments.
Imaiso – Situated next to a stone beach, Imasio is renowned for its laid back and stylish atmosphere. Only two rooms are available, but they are huge and beautifully designed with astonishing views of the Seto Inland Sea.
The hotel also features artworks by the Okinawan artist Umehara Ryu, who comes to the hotel every year to create a fresh painting on one of the walls.
Kariya Ryokan Q – Right in the middle of Ako city is a traditional ryokan with a modern twist. The rooms are designed in traditional Japanese style but feature western beds instead of futons. Kariya Ryokan Q also features a beautiful Japanese garden to relax in.
Ako is a nature lover’s paradise featuring three noteworthy hikes that showcase the area’s breathtaking ocean views and natural wonders.
Your clients can stroll along the rocky coast on the Otsuka Kaigan trail to the Higashi Misako Observatory Square which features great views of the sea and Shodoshima Island. The area is particularly magical in spring when over 1,700 cherry blossom trees bloom against the dark blue backdrop of the sea.
For those feeling more intrepid, the Sekibutsu Juneri trail offers fantastic views of Sakoshi Bay and Ikushima Island and is lined with stone statues of Jizo Bosatsu, who protects travellers. Walking on the stony trail is more tedious than taking the road, but it definitely feels more adventurous.
If it is scenery your clients are after, Otakadaiyama hike is a short but steep trek with great views. The 253-meter hike to the top of Otakayama takes less than one hour, but the way up is quite steep sometimes. Those who make it to the top are rewarded with the best view of Ako City.
For those with children, Ako Seaside Park offers plenty of activities including a small amusement park, obstacle courses, a huge playground and tennis courts.
Foodies will be delighted by a visit to Kuidoraku, an oyster restaurant situated by the sea at the port of Sakoshi. Although winter is usually the best season for oysters, here travellers can try oysters all year round directly from Sakoshi Bay. Right next to the restaurant is a small market where you can buy oysters and other kinds of seafood.
Ako city has a rich history and played host to one of Japan’s most macabre historic events which has been adapted to the cinema and a range of plays and opera.
Ako Roshi, or the Revenge of the 47 Ronin (samurai) is the story of a group of ronin who avenge the death of their master who is forced to perform ritual suicide. As a result of punishing the court official who pushed his hand, the ronin are forced to also commit ritual suicide. The story has been popularized in Japanese culture to reflect values such as persistence, honour and sacrifice.
Each year, on December 14 Ako holds a festival in honour of the 47 ronin.
History buffs will enjoy a visit to Ako castle, which was originally built in the mid-17th century and features the Honmaru and Ninomaru Gardens and the Oishi Shrine which is dedicated to Oishi Kuranosuke, one of the leaders of the 47 Ronin.
Ako has a long history of salt production and has been nationally famous for its salt since the 1600s. The Country of Salt is an outdoor museum located within the Ako Seaside Park where your clients can learn more about the traditional way of producing salt from seawater and even make their own salt in a heated pot to take home.
The preserved streets of Sakoshi Machinami give travellers a snapshot of old Japan, featuring The Sakoshi Machinamikan, a former bank now used as the tourist information centre and a small museum, the museum of the Okuto Sake Brewery, which was founded in 1601 and still produces delicious Japanese rice wine and The Kyu Sakoshiura Kaisho, located at the end of Machinami street, which was built in the 1830s and used to function as a meeting place for law enforcement and administrative work.
Now, it is a museum and a fantastic place to get a feel for what old-world Japanese buildings look from the inside.
Featured image: iStock/coward_lion