By Ian Dawson
A Japan less visited, the island Shikoku provides the traveller with wonderful insights into the heart of ‘lost’ Japan. Beyond the obvious attractions of food, culture and people, taking to the great outdoors gives a deeper understanding of the nation and how it has shaped its inhabitants.
There are many ways of immersing yourself in Shikoku, head Southwest from Kochi City to the Shimanto River. Forested hillsides shepherd one of the regions most unspoilt rivers towards the Pacific. There is no better way to soak in its atmosphere than by kayak, from the Shimanto River Pavilion, as you paddle down the broad flow spot herons picking for fish, and listen for the chatter of monkeys in the surrounding trees. Two or three natural weirs add a little excitement with short bouts of white water – these are nothing a novice can’t handle supported by the centre’s professional instructors.
The abundance of water around Shikoku provides a wide range of sporting activities in a remarkably unspoilt setting, south of Shimanto City, en-route to the Tatsukushi National Park, you pass Tosashimizu Bay. An arc, one and a half miles long, of golden sand, the haunt of local and adventurous global surfers looking for that next new destination.
Tatsukushi itself is a small village sat right on the bright blue Pacific coast. Watch life beneath the waves at the James Bond’esque sub sea attraction of Ashizuri Kaiteikan, or make use of the excellent instruction at the PADI dive centre here to snorkel, or scuba dive, amongst the luminous fish, coral and black spiny urchins on the seabed. Protecting the bay here from the swell of the open ocean are fantastical rocks sculpted by the sea.
Leaving the National Park the road North takes you towards the mountains and out of Kochi Prefecture into Ehime Prefecture. The Shimanto River origins begin in the Nametoko Gorge. A place bursting with Japanese maple on fire in their full autumn glory hanging over cascading falls. From here many trails provide fantastic walking and head to the higher peaks but tread lightly, and keep a close eye on the ground, as scuttling amongst the fallen leaves are miniature, bright scarlet crabs far from any sea.
Imabari City, in northern Ehime, is dominated by the elegant span of the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge. Cycle hire at the beginning of the bridge you allows you to hop over a series of stepping-stone islands high above the Seto Inland Sea that eventually reaches the Honshu mainland. It is a stunning and unique viewpoint and well worth the ride before dropping down onto Oshima Island and catching the return ferry, or better still, the cruise around the Straits to see the azure blue whirlpools foaming white as the strong tides surge through the narrows.
Shikoku is bursting with opportunities for those looking to get involved, to participate. It is an island where the harder you look the greater you are rewarded and the more you will take away from your visit. Take the opportunity and head to ‘lost’ Japan - it is sure to leave a lasting impression.