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 and Kyushu.
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 boats.
- See our page on the official websites for each prefecture and major city: Guide to Japan's Regions and Cities