Enrich Your Spirit Through Thousand-Year-Old Traditions and Mindfulness in Setouchi, Japan’s Soothing Hideaway

Getaways infused with art, Zen, and local traditions await you in Setouchi, a vast region blessed with immaculate nature and refined craftsmanship. Experience the power of a culture dating back over a thousand years and join local artisans in the worlds of udon noodles and “washi” paper gilding, or find peaceful hideaways where immersing yourself in art and Zen will spark mindfulness. With the following four destinations in Setouchi, you’re sure to spend an enriching time while remembering all the key values that busy modern people tend to forget!


Things to Do

*This article was written in collaboration with the Setouchi Tourism Association.

Ikazaki Shachu: Saving Thousand-Year-Old Washi Paper Traditions Through Gilding

Dating back to the Heian Period (794 - 1185), Ehime Prefecture’s premium Ikazaki “washi” paper is crafted from extraordinary pure water and beautiful local “kozo'' Japanese mulberry and “mitsumata” paper bush. Prized for its superior qualities as calligraphy paper, Ikazaki washi became one of Japan’s most prominent papers before suffering from decline as the demand for handmade washi gradually shrank and the number of younger artisans diminished in recent years.

Striving to keep such amazing artistry alive is Ikazaki Shachu, the heart of Ikazaki’s miraculous revitalization as one of the few mills still operating today and the only producer of gilded washi wallpaper in the world!  When Ikazaki washi was selected by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the JAPAN BRAND Program as one of Japan’s traditional crafts that would be promoted overseas to nurture the international community’s interest in the country, Ikazaki Shachu’s CEO Hiroyuki Saito got to exhibit the company’s washi at an interior trade fair in Paris. There, he encountered French-based Hungarian designer Gabor Ulveczkiーa master in applying gilding techniques to paper to discover shiny effects never seen beforeーwho helped develop Ikazaki Shachu’s original gilded washi, a line of products so successful that it has even brought about collaborations with famous international brands!

Also working on conveying the charms of its paper to the world, Ikazaki Shachu organizes workshops where I could try my hand at gilding washi postcards. It was an extremely immersive process, during which I could abandon myself to the creative flow after listening to the instructor’s directions. Surrounded by the glimmering traditions of Ikazaki washi, I applied my favorite metal foils over my chosen designs among the eight available, flattened them, and finally brushed off the excess to reveal the final result beneath. As each foil creates unpredictable shimmering patterns when pasted on paper, each postcard turns out unique and different, allowing me to bring back home some one-of-a-kind souvenirs and invaluable bits of local papermaking mastery!

atelier O-HUIS: A Former Atelier Immersing Guests in Art and Rural Tranquility

Different from your usual luxurious accommodation, atelier O-HUIS is surrounded by nothing but the idyllic countryside of Ehime Prefecture. The sculptor Kees Ouwens must have observed this creativity-nurturing scenery many times during the 25 years he spent in Ehime creating art pieces before establishing a new studio in Mexico in 2014. As atelier O-HUIS was originally his personal studio, the magnificent building and gardens were crafted as works of art themselves, now letting guests experience the beauty of his work and the power of art and the comforts of a curated inn with 24-hour room service, Michelin-starred chefs, and a private hot spring spa!

One group of guests per day can appreciate the artworks and decorative details left untouched from the time when the inn was purely an atelier together with the many rejuvenating spaces of the inn. Wood and warmer tones imbue the kitchen and living room with a sense of gentleness. A sumptuous bathroom and open-air bath overlooking the forest adds to atelier O-HUIS’ superior atmosphere of relaxation. Finally, putting my heart at ease was also the sensation of uninterrupted connection with the magnificent natural surroundings!

Zenbo Seinei: A Zen Hideaway to Refresh Your Mind and Regain Balance in Your Busy Life

Dreaming of a full Zen retreat in nature? Hyogo Prefecture’s Zenbo Seinei will fill your day with meditation sessions, healthy cuisine, and Zen spirit! Reminiscent of Japan’s traditional temple stays, this extraordinary wellness and accommodation facility is the go-to place for cultivating mindfulness, as even its rooms are designed around the idea of sleeping on one single tatami mat to appreciate simplicity and encourage meditative practices! Hidden amidst a flourishing landscape, the building is a latticed masterpiece, mounting the 100-meter-long ZEN-Deck where visitors can meditate or practice yoga while immersing in 360-degree views of the natural surroundings. Tastefully minimalistic in each and every detail, Zenbo Seinei is meant to be a space that will surely to remind you of important life values!

Rejuvenated by the calming view of the surrounding open nature, I started my first ever guided meditation class as the cloudy sky emitted a sense of peaceful stillness. Different weather conditions allow visitors to enjoy different aspects of Zenbo Seinei’s atmosphere and surrounding wilderness!

Both a Stay Plan and Day Trip Plan are available, and guests can enjoy a series of Zen activities from Japanese tea ceremony to Japanese calligraphy and burning incense while exercising meditation and breathing techniques! Their original cuisine, “zenbo ryori” will add to the soothing experience, as it is plant-based and avoids the use of flour, sugar, oil, and dairy products, boasting dishes that are gentle on the body and easy to digest!

UDON HOUSE: 1,000 Years of Culinary History in Japan’s Land of Udon

With an udon culture dating back over 1,000 years, Kagawa Prefecture is known as Japan’s land of udon due to it producing and consuming the most udon in the country. The beloved regional dish, Sanuki udonーwhich takes its name from the old name for Kagawaーis a must-try for everyone visiting the prefecture, so why not try preparing your own bowl of delicious udon from scratch? At UDON HOUSE, guests can enjoy all things udon during a two-day program that will uncover the secrets of udon-making and immerse them in the lives of the locals while staying in a 100-year old “kominka” traditional Japanese home, as well as try udon hopping and savor delectable udon from different restaurants.

The facility opened in 2018, soon after the owner traveled to Europe and tried pasta making in Italy, which inspired her to introduce a similar experience back in Japan!

The teacher at UDON HOUSE guided me through the entire process. From kneading to cutting the udon, she made sure I was able to prepare the freshest, most delicious batch of homemade udon I’d ever had! Eaten with a hot, simple broth made from “dashi” soup stock and topped with eggplant and fish cake tempura, the noodles were chewy but not sticky and simply lovely! The gorgeous kominka housing UDON HOUSE also serves as a guest house, with three rooms on the second floor able to accommodate 1 to 4 people each and cleverly named after different types of udon. The first floor of UDON HOUSE hosts several common spaces, including the kitchen and living room where you can slowly indulge in Kagawa’s udon life!

Elevate Your Trip With Setouchi’s Artistic and Cultural Heritage

Art, Zen spirituality, and ancient traditions; Setouchi has it all, allowing you to make your trip to Japan an enriching adventure! Whether you join the local craftspeople for a hands-on experience or find profound relaxation in the region’s remote and majestic accommodations, you’re sure to bring back home some truly precious memories!



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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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Stefania Sabia
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