Mitarai - Hiroshima's Best Kept Secret

The historic island town of Mitarai in Kure

Connected by a set of scenic bridges to the mainland, the historic island town of Mitarai sits on the eastern outcrop of Osaki Shimojima Island in the Seto Inland Sea.

The island is home to the much-coveted Ocho Mikan - a popular brand of orange only produced on this island. The island's loudspeakers still chime at 6am for the aging farmers to struggle up to their orchards. Bags of sweet satsumas that would fetch a handsome price in most grocery stores sit on unattended tables dotted around Mitarai and go for a song.

It feels like space and time separate Mitarai from the frantic pace of modern Japan. You would be forgiven for thinking this slow life had existed here for centuries. In fact, during its heyday, Mitarai was the regional hub for entertainment and trade.

The town developed with domestic trade routes in the Edo Period. At the time, ships needed to sale with the tide and the wind. Conveniently located on the sea route to and from Osaka, Mitarai became a favorable spot to drop anchor.

The ships in Mitarai were re-stocked with water and provisions, while the town provided everything from theaters, shops, sento baths, and teahouses to cater to the needs of their temporary guests. At one time, Mitarai's main teahouse Wakaebisuya housed 100 resident geisha.

As time passed, Mitarai gradually became more of a quiet backwater than a bustling port town. This quiet existence continued until government inspectors came to review the damage after a typhoon in 1991, only to discover Mitarai's abundance of well-preserved Edo period buildings and streets. The town was quickly designated a historical preservation site - one of only three in Hiroshima Prefecture.

This charming Edo period town is definitely worth a visit. A very worth detour from Hiroshima's other well-known sights. Head to the island in autumn, winter, and spring to sample the delicious citrus.

This is a quick video I made to introduce Mitarai. Please feel free to share it on facebook!

Tom Miyagawa Coulton


by Tom Miyagawa

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