By Kiyotaka Sato / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKURASHIKI, Okayama — Inspired to see the sea, I drove to Mt. Washu in southern Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, a scenic spot at the tip of the Kojima Peninsula from which visitors can look down on the Seto Inland Sea, one of the nation’s first designated national parks.
When viewed from the northeast, the mountain looks like an eagle spreading its wings — a shape that gave Mt. Washu its name.
After passing along a narrow and winding road, parking my car and climbing stone steps through pine trees, I found a stone observation deck.
As I inhaled a subtle salty scent, I was finally greeted by a superb view of the calm sea with more than 50 large and small islands scattered around, and the Seto Ohashi bridge stretching over them.
You can also see Shikoku on the opposite shore, with a snow-dusted mountain range. Smoke was rising from an industrial complex across the water in Sakaide, Kagawa Prefecture.
While I watched the scene from a bench, other visitors arrived, reacting with joy to the spectacle. You can enjoy the panoramic view only after you reach the observation deck, which only adds to your excitement.
You can hike to the top of Mt. Washu along a trail. Halfway up the mountain is the Washuzan Visitor Center, another superb viewing spot. The center was built by the prefectural government to mark the 50th anniversary of the Seto Island Sea being given national park status in 1985.
The center, which is currently run by a group of local residents, exhibits documents about constructing the Seto Ohashi bridge, among other items.
“Views from this place are even more special,” said Kunihiro Fukuyama, 71, director of the center. “Visitors can enjoy different scenes in each season.”
I came across an elderly couple who were resting on a bench near the center. They told me I would be able to see a beautiful setting sun as it was fine that day — Mt. Washu has been selected by a nonprofit organization as one of the nation’s “100 best spots” for enjoying beautiful sunsets.
Inspiration for animated movie
While waiting for the sunset, I went down to the foot of the mountain for a walk at Shimotsui Port, which was once prosperous as an anchorage site for cargo ships on their way to Osaka from Hokkaido, as well as as a departure site for worshippers traveling to Kotohiragu shrine in Kagawa Prefecture by boat.
In the port town, which has a nostalgic atmosphere, is a facility named Mukashi Shimotsui Kaisen Donya, a building that housed a shipping agent. The building, which shows how prosperous the port town was in the early years of the Meiji era (1868-1912), was purchased by the prefectural government to refurbish as a museum.
Items on display include furniture and everyday items from those days, while on the shelves are dried octopuses, among other local specialties.
Mt. Washu was visited by 3 million people in 1988, when the Seto Ohashi bridge opened, but the number has fallen to about 1.8 million in recent years.
The community faced stagnation, but now sees hope in an anime movie titled “Hirunehime” (Napping princess) that will be released nationwide in March. The story is set in Shimotsui.
Kenji Kamiyama, director and scriptwriter of the movie, reportedly found the old port town’s features thrilling, particularly the narrow back streets. The movie is also making headlines as actress Mitsuki Takahata, who played the heroine in an NHK morning drama series, serves as the voice actor for the lead character, a high school-age girl.
The movie may inspire more people to visit the area as a “pilgrimage” to locations connected to the work.
As the time of sunset was approaching, I returned to Mt. Washu. Many amateur photographers were directing their cameras to shoot the sun going down behind the Seto Ohashi bridge.
The sun was making the sea surface look golden, and the colors of the view were changing minute by minute. It was just as spectacular as I had expected.
To reach Mt. Washu by car, it takes about 10 minutes from Kojima Interchange of the Seto-Chuo Expressway. From nearby JR Kojima Station, it is a half-hour trip by bus or a 10-minute ride by taxi.
The Washuzan Visitor Center (086-479-8660) is open year-round. Mukashi Shimotsui Kaisen Donya (086-479-7890) is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free for both facilities.
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