The island of Shikoku is Japan’s fourth-largest and separate from Honshu, the island where Tokyo is located, by the Seto Inland Sea. It’s a place that’s often wrongly left unvisited by tourists to Japan.
Even though it doesn’t feature famous cities like Osaka, Kyoto, or Kamakura, Shikoku is home to 4.5 million people, covers 18,000km2, and features plenty of wonderful landscapes, places, and people.
In this article, we’re going to look at why you should visit Shikoku during a trip to Japan. It was even featured in the New York Times' 52 places to go in 2015!
Shikoku’s Buddhist Temples and Beautiful Nature
The wild landscapes of Shikoku are second to none and it’s a great way to enjoy the rural side of Japan. Shikoku is a peaceful haven far from the hustle and bustle of Shibuya and Akihabara in Tokyo.
Nature here goes from the pink of cherry blossoms in Spring to the vivid green of the national park in the some. The autumnal oranges and reds are replaced by white snowcapped mountains in the winter.
Shikoku has plenty of peaceful places to go on the Japanese archipelago. Gion has its Geishas and Okinawa its beaches, but Shikoku has a vibe that reflects the peaceful nature of Japanese traditions.
There are forests and rivers like the Shimanto with its clear water where you can go canoeing or rafting. The Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park is home to some wonderful cliffs and coastal paths.
There’s even the “Monet’s Garden” in Kitagawa. This is a recreation of the garden that the French artist painted. While you wouldn’t think this is traditionally Japanese, Monet was actually inspired by ukiyo-e woodblock prints produced in the Edo period.
Shikoku is home to 88 temples for you to visit. If you want to embrace Japanese culture and tradition, a Buddhist temple is a good place to start.
Why go to Miyajima, Hiroshima, or Fukuoka when you can enjoy Japan’s most radiant island?
Visiting the Main Cities
Shikoku may the smallest of the big four Japanese islands but that doesn’t mean you should skip it. Shikoku means “four provinces” and you’ll find four prefectures here, each with its own capital:
- Ehime and the capital Matsuyama
- Kagawa and the capital Takamatsu
For those looking to visit Shikoku, Matsuyama is a must in terms of culture.
Why head to Tokyo when you can head off the beaten track by going to Matsuyama?
There are several important tourist destinations and it’s home to the cherry blossoms, hot springs, and the typical Japanese architecture.
The 19th-century castle is still standing even after everything that Japan has gone through. You can access it by cable car and you’ll find yourself among cherry blossom with a spectacular view of the Seto Inland Sea.
In the medieval city centre, Japanese visitors often go to the Dogo Onsen district where they can find hot springs so popular that the royal family visits them from time to time. The building itself was the inspiration for the bathhouse in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away.
There’s also the Ishite-Ji Buddhist temple and when in Matsuyama, you have to visit it.
When in Shikoku, you should also visit the cities of Takamatsu and Kochi. The first is a calm and charming port city and a nice place for a walk or a bike ride.
Kochi, on the other hand, is quite touristy. It’s home to a 17th-century castle overlooking the historic city centre, the Chikurin-Ji Buddhist temple, and the Katsurahama beach. If you can only go to one, though, we’d recommend Kochi over Takamatsu.
After visiting the towns in Shikoku, you might want to plan some trips or activities.
Don’t forget to try the food, either!
Enjoy the Local Customs in Shikoku
Shikoku is famous across Japan for its local customs and traditions and the best thing about the island is that you can also take part in a lot of them.
The most popular tradition is the pilgrimage to visit the island’s 88 temples. This covers 1,170km and the pilgrims, known as henro, spend 1 or 2 months each year doing it. The pilgrimage has existed for over 1,200 years and anyone can do it. You’re not obliged to visit all 88 if you don’t have the time or money or aren’t able to, either. Generally, the pilgrimage takes you to the temples in a certain order as the temples are numbered and there are 4 stages across the 4 provinces.
- 1-23: Awakening (Tokushima)
- 24-39: Discipline (Kochi)
- 45-65: Enlightenment (Ehime)
- 66-88: Nirvana.
At the end of the pilgrimage, the pilgrim will reach and climb Mount Koya. You can also complete the pilgrimage by car or bus but it’s much better to do it on foot if you can. If you’d like to complete the pilgrimage, we recommend that you wear a white shirt and a conical Asian hat. Don’t forget to respect the customs and rules in each temple you visit.
Another typically Japanese activity you can do in Shikoku is to visit the onsens, the Japanese hot springs. You can find several in almost every town. Onsens are a great way to relax and are fantastic for your skin.
Finally, you might want to take part in some of the traditional festivals such as the Awa Dance Festival that takes part in mid-August in Tokushima. It’s a great way to discover traditional Japanese dance.
From Interesting Trips to Incredible Cuisine
While Shikoku is home to some marvellous sights, it’s also an incredible place to try new food. There are so many nice places to eat that it would be a shame to miss them during your trip.
One place worth mentioning is the town of Naruto. With 64,000 inhabitants, Naruto is a small town on the coast that’s famous for its tidal whirlpools that tourists can take boats out to visit.
Did you know that Narutomaki, the slice of cured fish with a pink or red spiral in it, is from the town of Naturo and the swirl represents the whirlpools?
You can also visit the Iya Valley, a mountainous area in the heart of Shikoku, or take a boat cruise down the Oboke Gorge. We also recommend visiting the traditional village of Uchiko (Ehime), which takes us back to Japan’s Meiji period. You can also enjoy Kabuki theatre.
The Kotohira-gū Shinto shrine is also worth visiting for its incredible views.
Of all the food you should try, we recommend tataki, a dish in which sliced meat or fish is served with the outside seared and the insides raw with a delicious sauce. It’s the dish to try when you’re in Shikoku.
You can also try sanuki udon, the local speciality in Kagawa, of tuna udon noodles with a seaweed broth. When it comes to cuisine, the food in Shikoku is predominantly seafood and fish but there’s also sushi, ramen, yakitori, and udon like elsewhere in Japan.
Now you should know a bit more about what to see and do on a trip to Shikoku. To learn more about Japan and the other main islands, check out our other articles on the subject.
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