SHIKOKU ISLAND is the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Home to about 4.2 million people and regarded as backward and primitive by people from Tokyo and Osaka, it has a pleasant climate and slow-paced way of life. The coast of Shikoku is dotted with numerous small ports, fishing villages and salt collecting areas. Inland, you can find small mountains and farms situated on the island's gently sloping hills.
The four prefectures of Shikoku are Kagawa, Tokushima, Kochi and Ehime. Major attractions include the Circuit of 88 Temples pilgrimage route, Ritsurinkown garden in Takamatsu, the sex museum in Uwa-jima, the long-tailed roosters in Kochi, the old castles in Kochi, Marugame, Matsuyama and Uwa Jima, and the laid-back Shikoku atmosphere.
Access to Shikoku: Up until 1988, Shikoku could only be reached by ferry. Now there are three road-bridge routes that were built at great expense. Ferries are still the best way to reach many points. Some of them are quite pleasant and scenic. The main ferry ports are Matsuyama and Takamatsu.
The road-bridge routes to Shikoku are: 1) The Seto-Ohashi Bridge, a 15-mile-long series of island-stepping suspension bridges between Okayama (Honshu) and Takamatsu (Shikoku), opened in 1988. 2) The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, two suspension bridges between Kobe (Honshu), Awaji Island and Naruto (Shikoku), opened in 1998. 3) The Shimanami Route, a 40-mile-long series of island-stepping bridges, between Kojima (Okayama Prefecture) on Honshu and Sakaide (Kagawa Prefecture) on Shikoku opened in 1999.
Circuit of 88 Temples
19th century pilgrim Circuit of 88 Temples is one of Shikoku's biggest draws. It is a pilgrimage route that consists of 88 temples scattered across Shikoku that were visited by the famous monk Kobo Daishi (774-835), who was born in Shikoku and founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism after a visit to China. By some accounts 200,000 pilgrims to the circuit a year. Some are “substitute pilgrims” who do the trek for a fee on behalf of clients who contacted them through the Internet.
Some temples are only a few kilometers apart and five or six can be visited in a day. Other are more than 100 kilometers off the main route. To visit them all requires a trek of about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles). For the visit to be official pilgrims carry a special book that is stamped at each temple. Many wear the traditional pilgrims outfits (a white robe and a conical straw hat) and carry a walking stick.
Most pilgrims who do the pilgrimages visit most of the temples by tour bus on several visits over a long period of time. A few still do it on foot. They needs at least 45 to 60 days. With a car all 88 can be visited in about 10 days. The pilgrims, known as henro, and are treated with great reverence and hospitality, often given osettai, free lodging, food and in some cases cash.
modern Buddhist pilgrim There is one man who considers himself a professional henro who has done the 88-temple circuit more than 120 times by bicycle. He is not particularly religious as is the case with many of the pilgrims. At some guesthouses the pilgrims have worn out their welcome by hanging around for a couple of days, eating and drinking, and then disappearing without paying. Some pilgrims are homeless people. An increasing number are young people, some in their mid teens, in search of themselves.
There is nothing particularly extraordinary about the temples. The route is what matters. Completing the entire circuit is said to rid the soul of 88 evil desires defined by Buddhist doctrine. The route begins in Tokushima and has traditionally been made in a clockwise direction. About half the temples have accommodation for pilgrims (¥4,000 a night including two Buddhist vegetarian meals).
Much of the route of the 88 temple pilgramage is along narrow, sometimes busy road. There are several tunnels after Temple No. 222 that make some pilgrims worry they are going to get hit by a passing vehicle. On the 76 kilometers stretch between Temples No 23 and 24 volunteers give out brochures that alert pilgrims of particularly dangerous sections of the walk.
When pilgrims visit the temples they submit notebooks or scrolls on which they receive a written certificate verifying their visit which features the name of the Temple and its principal Buddhist image, together with a vermillion seal. Each notebook entry cost ¥300; a scroll entry ¥500. Once completed the scroll are treasured by their owners. In in the mid 2000s there was a problem with thieves stealing them. Websites: 88 Temples site Shikoku Henro Trail ; Shikoku Pilgrimage Guide Mandala.ne
Takamatsu (15 miles east of the Seto-Ohashi Bridge to Honshu) is one of the busiest tourist cities on Shikoku. Laid out around Takamatsu Castle and rebuilt after it was virtually destroyed by World War II bombing, it is home to 330,000 people and provides access to Ritsurin Park and Yashima. Handicrafts produced in Takamatsu include parasols, fans, and lacquerware.
Takamatsu spreads out over a fairly large area. The main entertainment area is around Chuo-dori. The main shopping district is around Kawaramachi Station. Located next to the sea, Takamatsu Castle was built in 1590, but all that remains of it now are a ruined keep and a couple of other towers and gates. The castle grounds have been turned into a park. The moats are filled with seawater.
Websites:Takamatsu City site Takamatsu City site Takamatsu Access to Art site Takamatsu Access to Art site Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO Hotel Websites: JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Takamatsu is accessible by air and by bus and by train from other Japanese cities. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Ritsurin-koen Garden (2 kilometers from Takamatsu Station) is regarded as one of the best examples of landscape gardening in the country. Located in the former villa of the Matsudaira family, it covers an area of about a half a square mile, and is skillfully laid out to harmonize with the nature and pine forests that surround it. There are fine views of the sea from the garden.
Ritsurin-koen Garden took was started in the mid 17th century and took more than a century to complete. A series of paths leads pasts a series of ponds, teahouses, bridges, islands and manicured bushes and trees. Mt. Shuin has been incorporated into "borrowed view" scenes. Within the garden are the Sanuki Folkcraft Museum and the Chrysanthemum Moon Pavilion. Website: Ritsurin Garden siteRitsurin Garden site
Yashima (three miles east of Takamatsu) is a 292-meter-high table land that juts out into the sea. Offering splendid views of the Inland Sea, it features relics from the famous 12th century feud between the Taira and Minamoto clans.
On the top of one hill is Yashimadera temple (No. 84 on the temple circuit), which contains some remains of buildings associated with a battle between the two clans. The Pond of Blood is where victorious warriors washed the blood form the swords until the water turned red. A funicular railway and toll road go to the top of the hill. Nearby is Megi-shima Island, known for its stone walls and traditional houses. Website: Places to Feel Places to feel
Shikoku-mura Village (at the bottom of Yashima hill) is open-air museum featuring buildings brought here from all over Shikoku and the neighboring islands. Highlights include a traditional vine bridge (reinforced with steel cables), a kabuki stage from Shodo-shima island, a bark-steaming hut and an old stone warehouse.
Noguchi Museum Murecho (near Yakuri, 30 minutes by train from Takematsu) is the home of the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, devoted to works by the great Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), who spent the last 20 years of his life here because he felt the stone from here best suited is abstract sculptures. Guided tours are given three times a day, three times a week. Reservations are required. If you don’t have a reservation you don’t get in.
Opened in 1999, the museum contains 150 works, many of them unfinished. Visitors often have difficulty discerning which ones are unfinished and which are not (those that are signed are finished).. The tour begins at a reception area with photo albums and newspaper clippings devoted to Noguchi. Visitors then head outdoors to the Stone Circle, a display of 90 stone sculptures surrounded by a wall of piled stones.
Form here they are taken to a 19th century sake house, which contains several pieces, including Energy Void, an impressive 3.6-meter-high, 17-ton granite sculpture that dominates the buildings and seems to sucks everything in. Visitors also get to peek through the windows inside of the 19th century samurai house where Noguchi lived. It contains a number of a smaller pieces and objects that he liked to have around him. Website: Isamu Noguchi site Isamu Noguchi site
Noguchi Museum Shodoshima Island (1½ hours from Takamatsu) is know for its weird rock formations, olive groves and over-population of monkeys. Strait of Dofuchi between Shodoshima Island and Mae Island is the world's narrowest navigable strait. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is 32 feet and 7 inches wide at the point the two islands are connected by a bridge. Website: Photos by Richard Farmer Photos by Richard Farmer Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
West of Takamatsu you can find Marugame famed for its castle (with a rare wooden donjon) and beautiful Nakazu ansho-en Garden; Zentsu-jim Temple (no. 75 on the circuit), with a hall on Kobo Daishi's birthplace, splendid 5-story pagoda, towering camphor trees and a 100-meter-long pitch-dark tunnel of enlightenment; and Zenigata, which contains a 350-meter-in-diameter outlines of 17th century square-holed coin.
Reoma World (Ayautacho, 40 minutes from Takamatsu) is Shikoku's largest theme park. Opened in 1992, it contains a paddle steam and replica of Cambodia's Angkor Wat constructed by 20 Cambodian stone masons.
Kotoshira (an hour from Takamatsu) is the home of Kompira-san Shrine, one of Shikoku's most famous sights. Near the shrine are a marine museum, sake museum, a wooden covers bridge, a lantern tower, a festival village and Japan's oldest kabuki theater. Website: Japan Guide Japan-Guide Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Kompira-san Shrine (Kotoshira) is a hilltop Shinto shrine dedicated to a sea kami, who acts as guardian for seafarers. Located on a hill with superb views of the surrounding countryside, it contains a large hall dedicated to the sun goddess (with interesting woodcarvings), the main hall (filled with maritime offerings), and a statue of a Shinto priest flanked by a mannequin on a diving suit.
The shrine is reached by climbing a famous 785-step stone stair that has been climbed by millions of pilgrims. Those that don't want to make the climb can be carried up in a palanquin for ¥4,000. At the train station there is an 88-foot-high lantern.
Tokushima and Naruto Strait
Tokushima (15 miles south of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge to Kobe on Honshu) is the starting point of the 88 Temple Circuit and the staging area for the famous Awa Odori Festival. Among the attractions are Bizan park, Tokushima-Chuo-koen Park, the Awa Puppet Theater, a puppet museum and a dancing clock with figures that pop up five times day near a city bus stop.
Websites:Tokushima City site Tokushima City site ; Prefecture government site Tokushima Prefecture site Map: Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO Tokushima City Map Tokushima University Hotel Websites: JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Tokushima is accessible by air and by bus and by train from other Japanese cities. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Naruto Strait (near Tokushima) is famous for the giant whirlpools. The strait, only 1,340 meters wide, lies between large bodies of waters. When the tides run strong, especially in the spring and fall, the difference in water levels can be 1.5 meters and water can rush through the straight as fast as 20kph, making it the world’s third fastest tidal current. At the interface of these fast currents and adjacent still water produces large whirlpools and eddies as much as 30 meters across but usually no more than 10 meters across and generally enduring no more than 20 seconds.
Occasionally there are vortexes with centers more than a meter below the surrounding water. They are most likely to be seen 90 minutes after the listed twice-a-day peak whirlpool activity times. Tourist gather to watch the whirlpools from Narato Park or from boats that leave from both sides of the straight: on Naruto Kanko Harbor and Kameura on Awaji. There is an observation point on the Shikoku side of the Onaruto Bridge. Trips on a catamaran called Aqua Eddy offers close up views of the whirlpools. There are some nice baths in Maruto. Websites: Tidal Whirlpools site Tidal Whirlpools ; Wikipedia wikipedia
Other Sights Near Tokushima include the Dochu Sand Pillars, eroded sandstone formation that reach 50 feet in height; 1955-meter-high Mt. Tsurugi-san; the Anan coast, with impressive ocean scenery; and Ohama-koen park, where sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in July and August.
Iya-kei Gorge is a remote and unspoiled part of Japan, with steep misty slopes, old farm houses ad precariously-situated villages. . It is the home of the Kazura-bashi Bridge, one of the last remaining working vine suspension bridges in Japan. It is rebuilt very three years and costs ¥500 to cross. The nearby Yoshino River gorge is traversed by a scenic road and railway. Chiiri in a traditional villages, with thatch roof houses, preserved through the efforts of Alex Kerr, author of Lost Japan and Mason Florence, a contributor to the Lonely Planet guides. Website: Japan Reference Jref.com
Kamikatsucho is small town in the middle of Tokushima Prefectures. It is famous for its mountains and maple leaf products, most of which are shipped out of town and used to decorate certain dishes and packaged foods.
Tosa fighting dog Kochi Prefecture (southern Shikoku) is largest of Shikoku's prefectures. Known to pilgrims as the Realm of Spiritual Practice, Kochi features rushing streams, picturesque mountains, stunning coastline, crashing surf, temples, pilgrims, farms and fishing villages famous and roosters with exceptionally long tails up to 30 feet long and mastiff-like Tosa fighting dogs that are sometimes dressed like sumo wrestlers. The roosters can be seen at the Chobikei Center on Nankoku City. Demonstration fights with the dogs are held at Katsura-hama Beach.
Along the spectacular Pacific Coast, outdoor enthusiast enjoy diving, whale watching, and surfing. Inland there are hiking, rafting and camping opportunities. Etsuko in Kochi Shikoku. caves is where it is believed that Kobo Daishi attained enlightenment.
Kochi (on the Pacific Coast in southern Shikoku) is a city of 320,000. Worth checking out are Kocho-jo Castle (an original castle not a concrete reconstruction), Godaisan-koen Park, with a famous temple and botanical garden; Katsura-hama Beach, which features an aquarium, demonstration dog fights, and a museum honoring Sakamoto Ryoma. Tosa Dog Center in Kochi City hosts dog fights.
Websites: Kochi government site Kochi government Welcome to Kochi Welcome to Kochi Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO Hotel Websites: JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Kochi is accessible by air and by bus and by train from other Japanese cities. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park on the southern part of Shikoku features beautiful coastal scenery, an undersea park and Skyline Road. Cape Ashizuri-miskai is a rugged promontory with a lighthouse. Boat trips are done on the Shimanto-gawa River. There is also spectacular scenery around Tatsukushi, where there is a coral museum and boat trips. In September 2011, the Murato area of Shikoku was named a UNESCO-sponsored global geopark Website: Government National Park Site National Parks of Japan
Kaiyodo Hobby Museum Shimanto in Shimantocho, Kochi Prefecture opened in July 2011 and feautures realistic-looking toy figures and models of anime, manga and other characters and creatures, including the martial arts master Kenshiro, protagonist of the manga Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star), a massive sailing ship like the one in the manga One Piece and dinosaur and yokai. Set deep in the mountains, the museum is accessible by car along a mountain road, about 30 minutes from JR Kubokawa Station in Shimantocho. The museum, formerly a primary school gymnasium, was established by Kaiyodo Co., an Osaka toy figure maker and welcomes up to more than 1,600 visitors a day. In the area are clear mountain streams with eel and ayu. The town holds an annual Kappa Figure Contest. It takes about 25 minutes to get from Kochi Ryoma Airport by car to JR Gomen Station. From there, it takes about 90 minutes to Kubokawa Station on the JR Dosan Line express train. For more information, call Shimantocho Tourism Association (Japanese only) at (0880) 29-6004. [Source: Satoshi Tanaka, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 18, 2011]
Matsuyama (20 miles from the Shimanami Route to Honshu and 3 hours from Takamatsu) is the largest city and port on Shikoku. Home to 443,000 people, it lies at the center of Ehime Prefecture, which is famous for its oranges and cultured pearls.
Matsuyama Castle is one of the best preserved castles in Japan. The three-level donjon, which was remodeled in 1642, has been designated as an Important Cultural Property. Much of the castle is occupied by a museum with samurai armor and swords. There is a fine view of the surrounding area from the top of the donjon. Matsuyama is linked by ferry to Osaka, Beppu and other ports on Honshu and Kyushu.
Websites: Matsuyama City Matsuyama City Ehime Prefecture site Ehime Prefecture Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO Matsuyam City Guide (PDF) Matsuyama City Guide Hotel Websites: JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Matsuyama is accessible by air and by bus and by train from Tokyo (six hours) and Osaka (12 hours) and other Japanese cities. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Dogo Onsen (near Matsuyama) is the oldest health resort in Japan. Located on the slope of hill northwest of Matsuyama, the main public bath house at Dogo Onsen Honkan features was built in 1894 and features a unique three-story Japanese-style wooden building with a bathing suite built for a visit by the Emperor in 1899 and "Bath of the Gods" changing room.
Sights Near Matsuyama include Yugeshima Island, which features heated seawater baths with lovely views of the sea and the mountains; 1,982-meter-high Mt. Ishizuchi-san, the highest mountain on Shikoku and sacred peak climbed by pilgrims;
Ozu (35 minutes by train from Matsuyama) is a laid-back small city of 40,000 with cormorant fishing on the Hiji River from June 1 to September 20. To get close to action you need to take a viewing excursion on a boat. These cost ¥3,000 per adult. For information call ☎ (0893)-24-2664. Other attractions include old houses.
Ehime Prefectural Science Museum (Niihama) is the world's largest planetarium. Inside the 98½-foot-diameter dome one can see 25,000 stars.
Uwajima (about 60 miles south of Matsuyama) is quiet town with 68,000 residents. It contains small original castle and Shinto Shrine with an attached sex museum. The Date museum near the castle boast 10 beautifully-preserved suits of armor and folk museum with two giant-tatami-mate-size papier mache masks of a moon-faced woman and a tengu goblin. Bull-versus-bull fights are occasionally staged in the city's bullfighting ring. Local specialties include boiled shark flesh served with its skin still attached, harambo (small cakes made from mashed small fish) and bream sashimu served with raw egg in a bowl with sake and soy sauce
Websites: Ehime Prefecture government site Ehime Prefecture Castle and Sex Museum Photos Nicolas Delerue Hotel Websites: JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Uwajima is accessible by air and by bus and by train from and other Japanese cities. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Sex Museum (in Uwajima) is a carefully-researched, three- story museum with all sorts of unmentionable stuff gathered from all over the world by a Japanese anthropologist. Among the more interesting exhibits are an amusing collection of shunga woodprints cartoons with a guy whose penis is much too large for his own good.
Most of the museum is filled with artistic pornographic drawings, painting and statues from Japan and different cultures around the globe. The collection includes chastity belts from Indonesia and Europe, a huge array of ticklers and women-pleasing devises, Greek vases and Peruvian pottery with erect penises, Kama Sutra illustrations, Tibetan Tantric sculptures. leather S&M equipments, and anatomically-correct images of Pacific fertility gods.
There is also a statue of a king who is surrounded by a dozen women who are all being satisfied at the same time by different parts of the kings of body, and a collection of pubic hair, with over 1000 different samples, each identified with a name and nationality, assembled by a Japanese gynecologist.
The museum isn't too hard to find. Just look for sculpture garden with large wooden and stone phalluses from the South Seas. The atmosphere inside is a little stuffy, and some the animal pictures are pretty disgusting. The museum is linked with a Shinto Shrine across the street.
Uchiko is a pleasant town known for merchant houses and its hand-rolled wax and washi paper candles.
Sada Misaki (western Shikoku) is a finger-like peninsula that reaches out towards Kyushu and can be reached by ferry from Bepphu. Consisting of a spine of mountains toped by the main road, it is a lovely area with green countryside, pleasant fishing villages and views of the ocean from both sides of the road.
Seto (on Sada Misaki) is a lovely coastal town reached by a twisting descent from the main road. Often shaded by overcast skies and rarely visited by foreigners, it contains orange groves, fishing boats and around 5,000 people, most of whom are both farmers and fishermen and women. Other towns on Sada Misaki are similar.
Image Sources: 1) map Japanese Guest Houses 2) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 3) Ray Kinnane 4) Takamatsu city site 5) 6) isamunoguchi.or 7) 8) 9) Nocolas Delerue 10) 11) Matsuyama city site 12) 13) Uwa Jima site
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays