Explore Setouchi - Inspiring the World to Embrace Sustainability in Innovative Ways

A region blessed with a pristine sea and towering mountains cocooned in forests and clouds, untainted plateaus mantled in vast expanses of grass, and powerful hot springs so ancient that their history is in legends, Setouchi boasts a richly diverse natural scenery that has been protected through the centuries by generations of locals. Raising awareness on environmental preservation and rethinking human activities to be more sustainable, communities around Setouchi constantly strive to share their harmonious ways of life with the world. Follow me through this journey across Setouchi to learn about four regional initiatives with innovative takes on sustainability!


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

GREENable HIRUZEN in Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture: A Cultural Hub Amidst Nature Promoting Local Sustainability to the World

In the northern part of Okayama Prefecture is Maniwa City’s Hiruzen area, a place almost entirely covered in forests and grasslands, some of which are even part of the Daisen-Oki National Park. Actively protecting such natural treasures are the local people and governments. Applying sustainable approaches to life in rural Japan, such as repurposing waste materials to produce electricity or agricultural fertilizer, they were able to earn Maniwa the title of "SDGs Future City." These efforts have culminated into the “GREENable” project and the establishment of GREENable HIRUZEN. 

At GREENable HIRUZEN, I could appreciate the local, sustainable lifestyle and uncover the charms of rural Japan while touring the facility’s museum, sustainable shop, cycling center, and CLT pavilion. Made of cross-laminated timberーan innovative earthquake-resistant material produced in Maniwa that has lower CO2 emissions when made and installed and can be upcycled easilyーthe pavilion was specially designed by architect Kengo Kuma to resemble the leaves and forests of Hiruzen soaring in a spiral towards the sky. 

Spectacular architecture can also be found all around the grounds, making the experience of coming in touch with different aspects of sustainability even richer. The contemporary art museum aims to connect the local community, visitors, and nature. The shop showcases simple ways of incorporating sustainability into everyday life. Finally, the cycling center allows people to help with the environmental conservation efforts around the area or take part in cycling or hiking tours to rediscover the natural and cultural beauty of Maniwa!

Tokushima Prefecture, Nishi-Awa: One of Japan’s Most Remote Regions Sharing a Slower and Traditional Way of Life With Visitors

“Togenkyo” or Japan's hidden paradise is the moniker for Nishi-Awa, one the country’s most unexplored regions! Located in northwest Tokushima Prefecture, Nishi-Awa stretches into cloud-filled valleys, steep gorges brushed by pristine rivers, and hamlets perched on towering mountains. It is probably one of the last few spots where you can experience Japan’s untouched landscape.

As people living in this remote yet beautifully genuine region largely maintain more traditional lifestyles and local farming practices inherited from their ancestors, the area was recognized as a "Scenic Spot for Food and Agriculture" by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and its 400-year-old Steep Slope Land Agriculture System was selected as a "Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System." Nishi-Awa now promotes the uniqueness of its geography and culture to the world through resident-guided farm stays, educational tours, and seminars that lets visitors appreciate the merits of living in harmony with nature.

In Nishi-Awa, I was warmly welcomed by the Nakayamas, a local family owning Kominka Yado Koya. 100 years old and carefully renovated to maintain the traditional atmosphere as much as possible, their folk house reveals its ripe old age from the solid wooden walls shining in black and majestic thatched roof.

Woodchopping, “shiitake” mushroom picking, and “soba” buckwheat noodle making are just some of the farm works guests can try while at Kominka Yado Koya, but what I appreciated the most was the sense of connection with the locals that permeated the stay. I learned how to adjust my lifestyle so that little burden is placed on the environment, immerse myself in the family’s daily life, and chat with them around the “irori” fireplace at dinner… In Nishi-Awa, I found a place of profound peace and rejuvenation!

Ehime Prefecture, Nakajima: Japan’s Off-the-Beaten-Path Island Entwining Pristine Landscapes and Sustainable Initiatives

Amidst the tranquil marine panorama of Setonaikai National Park, offshore Ehime’s Matsuyama City, floats Nakajima, an island boasting a rich natural environment that is beloved for its pristine white beaches and water activities while preserving the splendor of past Japan. Abundant and delicious citrus fruits of thirty types grow on the island, infusing the air with the sweetest smell and dyeing the hills in orange hues when ripe. They are the pride of the locals and a prized product of Nakajima exported all over Japan. In more recent years, Nakajima also emerged as a nationally-successful model of sustainable island and regional revitalization!

When Matsuyama was selected as “2020 SDGs Future City” and "Municipal SDGs Model Project" by the Japanese government, the city decided to collaborate with some stakeholders through the “Smart Island Model Project" and tackle Nakajima’s population decline, aging, and energy vulnerability by utilizing renewable energy and sustainable mobility. In 2021, a solar power system and CO2-free green slow mobility vehicles were introduced, allowing Nakajima’s nursing homes to use them for outings and pick-ups and letting Hoshifuru Terrace Himegahama, one of the island’s accommodation facilities, rent them out to guests like me when I visited. Touring Nakajima on a green slow mobility cart was a breeze as it has a circumference of only 20 kilometers, and the open vehicle let me fully take in its charms.

The solar power system also supports Nakajima’s fragile energy supply system by increasing the amount of locally produced energy dedicated to local consumption and securing energy that can be used in the event of power outages and disaster prevention. These sustainable initiatives not only positively impacted the island’s livability, but also served as part of various educational experiences about Nakajima's natural environment, global warming, SDGs, and more!

Hyogo Prefecture, Toyooka: Preserving the Beauty of Ancient Hot Spring Towns and the Endangered Oriental White Stork

People strolling around in their “yukata” robes accompanied by the mesmerizing sound of “geta” sandals clapping against the paved roads and the scenic townscape of romantic canals lined with willow trees - these are what make Hyogo’s Prefecture Kinosaki Onsen one of the most charming hot spring towns you’ll ever see. Seven public and tattoo-friendly hot springs dot this town that is said to have been discovered over 1,300 years ago. According to a well-known legend, locals discovered the healing powers of Kinosaki Onsen when they saw an Oriental white stork that was able to fly again after soaking its injured leg in a pool of hot spring water.

The Oriental white stork was a common and majestic sight in Japan, but overhunting and the increased use of pesticides led to their decline. By 1957, the Oriental white stork could only be found in two cities in Japan, one being Toyooka, and in 1971, the last wild member of the species died. It took decades of relentless effort until the beautiful Oriental white storks were successfully reintroduced to the area, leading Toyooka to be selected as one of the “Top 100 Sustainable Tourist Destinations in the World 2021” by the international organization “Green Destinations.” Today, these storks are bred and raised at Hyogo Park of the Oriental White Stork where, after being released into the wild, they are free to fly in and out, making the park a great place to visit for those interested in sustainability and animal conservation!

Get to Know Setouchi’s Local and Sustainable Ways of Life

Entwining new sustainable approaches and ancient traditions, Setouchi is a region where visitors can experience Japan’s original landscape and genuine lifestyles while surrounded by pristine nature and unique culture!



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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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