Why Shikoku should be your next Japanese getaway

Japan’s often-overlooked island is a wonderland of culture and history, home to temples dating back millennia, wild landscapes and traditional festivals.

By Shikoku Tourism
Published 22 Mar 2021, 09:04 GMT
Ritsurin Garden, in the city of Takamatsu, is one of Japan's most beloved temples.

Ritsurin Garden, in the city of Takamatsu, is one of Japan's most beloved temples. 

Photograph by Getty Images

Where is Shikoku?

Of the four main islands of Japan, Shikoku in the southwest is the smallest: snuggled in a bay between its two big brothers, Honshu and Kyushu. While it can feel quieter and more remote than much of the mainland, the cities of Osaka and Hiroshima are just two hours away.

What’s it known for?

Shikoku encapsulates Japan in miniature: it’s home to a windswept Pacific coastline and cloud-shrouded summits as well as local delicacies such as udon noodles and fragrant sake. That said, Shikoku is best known as a holy island — in the ninth century, Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi (or Kukai) undertook a pilgrimage around the island’s shores, walking 870 miles and visiting 88 temples. One millennium on, pilgrims still follow in his footsteps. But really, anyone can find their own kind of salvation on Shikoku — be it in spirited modern towns like Matsuyama and Takamatsu or in wild landscapes such as the Iya Valley, a swathe of forested gorges where samurai fled to escape their enemies.

Who should go?

Shikoku suits all sorts of visitors. Adventurous souls are well catered for: surfers make for the beaches of the southern coast, trekkers ascend the holy peak of Ishizuchi-san (6,503ft) and kayakers tackle the churning rapids of the Oboke and Koboke gorges. Comparatively few travellers head to Shikoku, which makes it a fine place for anyone wanting to immerse themselves into rural Japanese life — from the chime of temple bells to the steaming waters of a seaside onsen.

What are the island's main draws?

You’ll need a few months to visit all 88 temples — otherwise, aim for the first five on a day trip from Tokushima. Look out for white-robed pilgrims stocking up on supplies at the first temple — Ryozen-j — from where it’s about a six-mile walk to temple number five, Jizo-ji. The volcanic cape of Muroto Misaki is where Kukai sought enlightenment in a coastal cave — these days it’s equally famous for those seeking marine mammals, with whale-watching excursions running offshore. Alternatively, make for Shikoku’s biggest city, Matsuyama, home to a 19th-century bathhouse and a wonderfully ornate castle.

When should you visit?

Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Japan, the former for hanami (enjoying the cherry blossom), and the latter for momijigari (admiring the leaves). Winter heralds skiing on Ishizuchi-san, while sweltering summers see cooler breezes gusting along the coast.

Shikoku encapsulates Japan in miniature: it’s home to a windswept Pacific coastline and cloud-shrouded summits as well as local delicacies such as udon noodles and fragrant sake.

Photograph by Getty Images

Three festivals to visit in Shikoku
 

1. Awa Odori, Tokushima Prefecture
One of Japan’s biggest dance festivals, this is part of a Buddhist tradition intended to honour departed ancestors where thousands of kimono-clad people take part in choreographed dance routines through the streets of Tokushima. 12-15 August. 

2. Niihama Taiko Matsuri, Ehime Prefecture
Held to celebrate the autumn harvest, this 800-year-old festival centres on vast and lavishly decorated floats containing similarly mighty taiko drums. The festival doubles up as a show of strength, with men competing to see who can lift their drum aloft most gracefully. October. 

3. Yosakoi Festival, Kochi Prefecture
Another dance festival, Yosakoi sees 20,000 people strut their stuff in different venues and neighbourhoods in the city of Kochi. Teams from around the world compete and anyone is welcome to join an open team. August.

Plan your trip
 

Getting there: Japan Airlines, British Airways and ANA offer direct flights from the UK to Tokyo. A Japan Rail Pass serves Shikoku’s Tokushima Station.

For more information on Shikoku, visit shikoku-tourism.com/en

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