© Tokushima Tourism
Shikoku may be the smallest of Japan’s four main islands but it’s packed with natural beauty and cultural treasures. This month Shikoku was awarded 6th place in the Top 10 Regions in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2022! The good news came after Japan's great award haul at The Readers' Choice Awards 2021 announced by Condé Nast Traveller. Take a look at what this accessible yet remote area has to offer!
The name ‘Shikoku’ means four countries because historically the island was divided into four provinces ruled by different daimyo lords. This has remained to these days and Shikoku consists of four fascinating prefectures: Kagawa, Tokushima, Ehime, and Kochi. Its northern coastline boasts stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea which separates it from Japan’s main island - Honshu. Its art islands, hot spring resorts, and Japan’s most well-known pilgrimage trail attract visitors from around the world. You can reach Shikoku by various modes of transport: cycle here along the famous Shimanami Kaido from Hiroshima, hop on a ferry, take a train or pass through the world’s longest suspension bridge! Shikoku is easily accessible from places like Kyoto and Osaka in the Kansai area but is also perfect for road trip escapades.
Kagawa prefecture is best known for its delicious sanuki udon with some of the best udon shops located in its capital, Takamatsu. Sanuki udon is characterised by a thicker, more square shape and is served with a variety of toppings. Once you've made your gourmet dreams come true, it's time to discover the local art scene! You might have heard of Naoshima and the surrounding islands which are renowned for their art installations and displays. That’s where you will find the pumpkin artwork created by Yayoi Kusama and every three years you can admire new contemporary artwork at the Setouchi Art Triennale, an art festival which will be held next year.
© Kagawa Prefecture Tourism Association
A visit to Kagawa won’t be complete without an afternoon spent wandering around the Ritsurin Garden. The park was designed to create different views and landscapes with every step you take. Another must-try esperience is Shikoku Henro or the 88 Temple Pilgrimage which encircles the island and is roughly 1,400 km long. 23 of those temples are located in Kagawa prefecture where you can take a breather and contemplate before continuing your journey.
Every August visitors flock to Tokushima to watch the Awa Odori Dance Festival. During the festival which dates back 400 years, groups of dancers from across the country perform the Awa Odori folk dance on the streets of Tokushima city. Just north of Tokushima lies Naruto with its massive whirlpools of up to 20 metres in diameter! You can observe the swirling whirlpools from the Onaruto bridge or even take a sightseeing boat to see them up close.
© Tokushima Tourism
The prefecture’s natural landscapes make for the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of larger cities. Head to the secluded Iya Valley located deep in the mountains, and admire the unique vine bridges or the iconic Peeing Boy statue. More adventurous visitors can try their hands at sports like water rafting or surfing with beautiful natural backdrops. Tokushima has something in stock for everyone with a sweet tooth and love for traditional Japanese wagashi sweets. The local specialty wagashi sweets called ‘wasanbon’ are a feast for the eyes and stomach. Made from sugar and created with the use of intricate wooden forms, they’re a must-try with your afternoon matcha tea.
© Tokushima Tourism
All cycling enthusiasts know of the impressive Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route which leads from Onomichi in Hiroshima prefecture, through an array of quaint islands, to Imabari in Ehime prefecture. Cycling this 77 km long trail is a real treat and can take anything from a day to a few if you decide to really get under the skin of rural Japan. Imabari, which can be either the starting or ending point of the journey, is famous for crafts and towels in particular. Once you’ve tired yourself out, visit Matsuyama and Japan’s oldest known hot spring, Dogo Onsen!
Its main building is currently undergoing a renovation project but you can visit its newer amenities and take a stroll through the historic shopping arcade. Fun fact for all literature whizzes: Dogo Onsen was the setting of Natsume Soseki’s famous novel ‘Botchan’! Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan’s 12 original castles, is another must-visit spot in the city. Take the ropeway up the hill and enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the town and the glimmering Seto Inland Sea. The castle is especially picturesque during the cherry blossom season when the 200 cherry trees located on the grounds bloom in pink.
Shikoku’s last but not least prefecture is Kochi where the natural beauty of Muroto’s geological formations earned it the title of a UNESCO Global Geopark! You can take in the mesmerising views of the Pacific Ocean and rock formations which were created as a result of this area’s high seismic activity. The pristine waters of the Shimanto River attract watersports and camping fans from across Japan.
Spanning across 198 km it’s Shikoku’s longest river but remains tranquil and untouched. Kochi’s Hirome Market is a paradise for foodies with around 65 stalls offering local specialties. One must-try dish is ‘katsuo no tataki’ which is mouth-watering seared bonito prepared by chefs over piles of burning straw! It’s just a short walk away from Kochi Castle, yet another incredible location for viewing cherry blossoms in spring. One of the oldest castles in Japan, its architectural features are a combination of 17th and 18th century fashions.
Each of those four prefectures offers its rural charm and centuries of history. Make sure to add them to your bucket list for future visits to Japan!