Shikoku is the smallest of Japan's four main islands and perhaps
its least visited. But it does have something to offer, such as
the Awa Odori festival, Matsuyama Castle, a beautiful coastline
and the best noodles in Japan. It is famous for the 100,000 or
so O-henro-san (pilgrims), dressed in white, who visit 88 temples on the island
in a set order each year. The pilgrimage was originated by the
Buddhist priest Kukai, considered the father of Japanese culture.
The island is made up of four prefectures, Ehime, Kochi, Kagawa
and Tokushima. The region was not very developed until the construction of
several bridges to connect Shikoku with the mainland of Honshu.
From Tokyo by air, it takes about 1 hour 10 minutes to Takamatsu or Tokushima,
or an extra 20 minutes to Matsuyama. There are also many ferry routes between Shikoku and Honshu
Kochi's most famous son, Sakamoto Ryoma (1836~67). Born into a
samurai family, he was a pro-Imperial activist in the period up
to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Polls of the Japanese public
consistently show Sakamoto as the person most people would like
to see as leader of Japan.
If you arrive across the bridge from Awaji Island, you'll cross
the Naruto Strait, famous for its huge whirlpools caused by tidal flows in and
out of the Inland Sea. 10km south is the city of Tokushima which is famous for the
annual Awa Odori festival. This dance festival takes place over three evenings
in mid-August and attracts millions of visitors who watch the
participants in what is also known as the Aho Odori (Fool's Dance).
Dancers sing a comic song called Yoshikono-bushi whose lyrics
go 'You're a fool if you dance and you're a fool if you don't
- so you might as well dance.' About 50km to the northwest is
the city of Takamatsu. At the foot of Shiunzan hill, Ritsurin Park is one of
the finest gardens in Japan. It was landscaped in the
mid-17th century and is made up of a series of interconnected
ponds, hills and a natural forest. The area, once known as Sanuki, is famous
for lacquerware of the same name and Sanuki-udon noodles - the city has more
than 2,000 udon restaurants! The
Yashima peninsula north of the city was the site of a major battle between
the Minamoto and Taira families in the late 12th century. 1 hour
west by train is Kotohira Shrine, popularly known as Kompira-san, which was
founded in the early 11th century. Traditionally a
shrine for fishermen and seamen, it is now dedicated to the God
of Prosperity and is extremely popular. The main hall is at the
top of 785 steps and has a huge lantern to light the way. Further
inland are the Oboke and Koboke gorges on the Yoshino River, whose steep cliffs and dramatic
rock formations attract many visitors.
Sailing on Oboke gorge
The Shinrokaku bathhouse, Dogo Onsen
The western part of Shikoku is dominated by the city of Matsuyama
in the north of Ehime Prefecture. The city is the setting of Natsume Soseki's famous 1906 novel Botchan. The city's castle was built in 1603 and remains one of the best preserved in Japan.
The nearby Dogo Onsen (hot spring) is the oldest and one of the most popular in Japan.
The Shinrokaku bathhouse, part of which is reserved for the Imperial
family, dates from 1894. The Edo Period (1600~1868) castle town
of Uwajima on the west coast is known for its togyu (bull-fighting), which pits two bulls against each other, and
the Warei Shrine festival held in July. Kochi, on the south coast, is another castle city and the birthplace
of Sakamoto Ryoma, hero of the Meiji Revolution and one of Japan's most respected historical figures. A statue
can be found in the Katsurahama coastal area, a popular white-sand beach resort in the south
of the city. In the southwest corner of Shikoku is Ashizuri-Uwakai
National Park, the main attraction of which is Ashizurimisaki (Cape Ashizuri). The focal point amidst the beautiful scenery
is a lighthouse which stands on 80m-high cliffs and commands a
magnificent view over the Pacific Ocean. The coastline around
Tatsukushi is famous for its coral reefs, which can be seen from glass-bottomed