Japan - Shikoku: Island Guide
Shikoku lies to the south of Hiroshima and Osaka, its northern shoreline lapped by the tranquil tides of Japan’s Inland Sea, while the south coast is perfect for surfers, thanks to the warmer, tempestuous waters of the Kuroshio current, which rides onshore with the full force of the Pacific.
This lesser known island is full of secluded and secret spots, nature undisturbed by the bullet train or concrete urban sprawl. Unspoilt emerald green rivers sweep along steep-sided valleys in Shikoku’s mountainous centre, where - centuries ago - the defeated samurai of the Heike clan hid and nursed their wounds.
In the island’s northern Kagawa prefecture, prove your piety by climbing the 1,000 plus steps to Kotohira shrine, a dwelling for the deities that protect sailors. Appropriately, the lofty shrine overlooks the Inland Sea, and also the Sanuki plain, where wheat for the famous udon noodles is grown. The historic Awa Odori dance can be seen in Shikoku’s eastern port of Tokushima, with an annual festival in August drawing crowds from across Japan to watch the choreographed troupes dance their way through the city streets.
To the south lie the rocky capes of Kochi prefecture, famed for its bonito catch; the fish travels in on warm Kuroshio currents, blissfully unaware that its juicy flavour is treasured all over the country. Cutting through Kochi’s hilly forested landscape, the wide sweep of Shimanto River is great for canoeing - for more of an adrenalin rush, the rapids of the Yoshino river, in neighbouring Tokushima prefecture, provide the best whitewater rafting in Japan.
Further inland, hiking options include a climb (or a chairlift, if you’re feeling too full up with delicious ocean fish) to the 1955m peak of Mount Tsurugi. For a more gentle trek, try exploring the terraced rice fields at west-coast Uwajima, whilst for utter relaxation in a traditional setting, head to the historic Dogo Onsen hot spring resort, its grand wooden bathing house a cultural treasure in its own right.
Between Shikoku and Honshu, clusters of smaller Aegean-style islands are a boat ride away; Naoshima is known as ‘art island’ due to its many art museums and exhibits, including a series of Monet paintings and works by architect Tadao Ando. We also like ‘olive island’ - Shodoshima - where even the cattle are fed with olives, and Aoshima (we’re thinking of nicknaming it ‘Mi-aoshima’), where more cats live than people.
Quiet roads make the islands suitable for cycling, or put on the white pilgrim's coat and join the centuries-old hike around 88 Buddhist temples, Japan's most famous pilgrimage route and over 1,200km long.
Shikoku can be visited from the main island by ferry, train, bus, or you can even cycle across the bridges. The region benefits from milder winters, and in the heat of summer you are never too far from a cooling sea breeze.
select another destination