In the southwestern part of Japan’s Honshū Island lies the San’in region. There, twelve spots stretching across more than 430 miles make up the Route Romantique, an area particularly rich in culture. The rolling green mountainsbetween Tottori and Hagi, the start and end points, are speckled with towns brimming with shrines, palatial samurai residences, and castles built by feudal lords for their ladies.
The journey’s romantic reputation lies not just in the breathtaking architecture and nature but in the matchmaking deities and folk tales that shape its appeal. Car rental and driving here are easy, though a Japan Rail Pass is very useful for traveling longer stretches. Here, three must-see places along the route, the myths behind them, according to San’In tour guides and locals, and the activities you can’t miss.
hough not technically part of the route, this is a great starting point for the intrepid traveler. Fly into Kansai Osaka airport.
The myth: Inspired by a Buddhist proverb about mistaking a rope for a snake, the myth of The Two Frogs is set here. The story reminds you to explore the unknown instead of playing it safe.
The highlights: See Kabuki Theater in Dotonbori, eat okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes served with shredded cabbage and two sauces), and wander through the neon lights of this smaller Tokyo.
At the Imperial Hotel Osaka, look out over the cherry blossom trees and city skyline, one of the most romantic views in Japan. Its riverfront path is a popular running track and the hotel hands out jogging maps on neck strings. If you cross the pedestrian- and cyclist-only Kawasakibashi Bridge, it will lead you straight to Osaka Castle.
The myth: As the story goes, a central tower fell repeatedly during construction. People believed only human sacrifice would keep it upright, so a dancer was snatched and sealed into its walls. Now, every time a woman dances in the streets of Matsue, locals say the castle walls shake violently.
The highlights: This region is the birthplace of kabuki odori, an extraordinary dance that can be seen throughout Japan. In the spring, you can watch performances on the Matsue Castle grounds. The black six-story fortress, built in the early 17th century as a feudal lord’s watchtower, sits among trees that are just as ancient. Its gardens boast a large shrine where visitors write love notes on red, heart-shaped cardboard before hanging them at a nearby fountain.
Take your rental car or hop on the Express Super Oki and San’in Lines from Matsue to Nagato-Shi City to get within 15 minutes in a cab to the Shrine.
The myth: The folklore here is centered around a lone fisherman being visited by a white fox in a dream. The spirit animal instructed the man to enshrine the experience in the Nagato area. From then on, those who passed through would be blessed with relationship success and safety at sea. The highlights:
One of the main attractions here is the breathtaking tunnel made of 123 red gates winding its way along the coast. Red is the color for prosperity and love, and the structure is considered a sign of sexuality and fertility. Just offshore you can spot the geyser Ryugu no Shiofuki, which translates to “dragon palace.” The reason: When waves hit it, the water shoots out of it, straight into the air, as if a mythical water serpent were emerging from the ocean.