Skipped over by most visitors racing between Tokyo and Kyoto, Shikoku sports a few hidden gems, making it a great leisurely getaway just a short step away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.
Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, and is rarely given a second glance by most overseas visitors travelling to Japan. To those who know about it, however, the island’s rural appeal lies in its historic hot springs, vine bridges swinging across valleys, and a pilgrimage route which takes you on a journey of 1,400km and 88 majestic temples.
What to do in Shikoku
The best approach for a visit to Shikoku is via the Shimanami Kaido, a 60km cycle route crossing six islands spread out like a string of pearls in the Seto Inland Sea. Bike rental from Onomichi – the city on the mainland side – is simple and cheap, at just £3 per day per bicycle. A lack of steep inclines make it accessible for even the slowest and steadiest of cyclists, whilst the views will impress one and all. Fill up on Onomichi’s famous ramen before you set off!
Once you’ve reached Shikoku, visit Matsuyama – where you’ll find one of Japan’s finest 12 surviving original castles, as well as Dogo Hot Spring, reportedly the inspiration for the Oscar winning anime Spirited Away. Here, the private baths once used by the Imperial family are open for public tours.
In summer, head to Tokushima, when the lively Awa Odori dance festival participants take to the streets in attractive costume – or get lost in the Iya Valley, where deep gorges and verdant forests hide tucked-away onsen, some only reachable by cable car. The vine bridges which link the mountaintops in this area once served a more martial purpose, and were cut down spontaneously as a means of keeping enemies at bay. Several still remain intact today, however, and offer fantastic photo opportunities for those who brave the walk.
In the sea between the land masses of Honshu and Shikoku islands sit over three thousand smaller islands. Whilst some provide a relaxing beach getaway, several of the islands have become emblematic of Japan’s creative side – housing world class museums and open air art installations. The Setouchi Art Triennale – where hundreds of installations are displayed for the public - is held here every three years.