Setouchi is renowned for the beauty of its waters, islands, and beaches, but we shouldn’t forget to look up: it’s also home to the only place in Asia certified as a Dark Sky Community. The name is something of a misnomer: the night sky in Bisei Town (part of Ibara City in Okayama Prefecture) isn’t dark; it’s positively teeming with light – from celestial bodies countless millions of light-years away.
Bisei Town is located on the Kibi Plateau in Okayama Prefecture. Its name, meaning beautiful stars, was derived from the names of two local rivers but has proven incredibly apt: it is an excellent spot in Japan—and indeed Asia—for stargazing. In November 2021, Bisei Town became the first place in Asia to be awarded the Dark Sky Community certification by the International Dark-sky Association (IDA).
This certification is only awarded to communities that have shown exceptional dedication to preserving the night sky through such measures as outdoor lighting restrictions, responsible lighting, dark sky education, and dark sky stewardship.
Bisei Town has long had a connection with the stars: legend has it that at the town’s Hoshino (Star Trail) Shrine, townspeople worshipped Polaris, the North Star, as well as shooting stars. Today, the town works together with the local authority and a leading national manufacturer to stop light pollution from spoiling this legacy: upward light leakage is prohibited, and LEDs must be warm, not white.
The result is the perfection that is the unspoilt starry sky: an endless wonder that has captivated and confounded humankind since the beginning of time. What’s more, Bisei Town’s innovative efforts to preserve and protect its night sky can now be modelled by other communities in Japan, Asia, and beyond.
While the night sky is the biggest draw, daytime Bisei Town and the surrounding areas still have much to offer. The Bisei Astronomical Observatory is open to the public and gives a glimpse into the important astronomical research that has been carried out there since 1993.
The Bisei Space-Guard Exhibit Centre is next to a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency facility tasked with keeping an eye on asteroids getting a little too close to Earth for comfort. Space aside, Bisei Town is also home to Chusei Yumegahara, a theme park that will transport you back to Japan’s middle ages, the Bisei Kagura Hall, where you can watch this traditional form of dance-theatre, and Hoshizora (Night Sky) Park, the town’s premier spot for stargazing. You can also visit the other areas that make up Ibara City: Central Ibara and Yoshii Town.
Bisei Town is a 40-minute drive from Fukuyama Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line. The closest major station is Hiroshima, just 23 minutes by Shinkansen from Fukuyama Station.
The Setouchi Training Platform is an agent training tool that will allow you to learn about the seven prefectures that make up the Setouchi region and the 3,000 islands that rise from the tranquil waters of the Seto Inland Sea. In this training programme, we will teach you about each prefecture’s distinctive character and alluring attractions and this relatively unexplored region’s unique geography. Just as Setouchi’s visitors do, you will discover breath-taking landscapes, fascinating history, rich culture, both ancient and new, cosmopolitan cities and unique adventures – all with a warm, revitalising welcome.