Whenever we are talking about Japan tours, usually the topic is not far from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, or at the furthest to Hokkaido.

The questions around “what attractions should be visited in Tokyo“, “how long is the distance from Tokyo to Kyoto“, “Where to go in Osaka,” “What’s good in Hokkaido“; those are some of the questions you regularly find in various traveling forums, particularly those related to Japan topics.

The question is, is it true that the attractions in Japan are only limited to those cities only?

The answer is, of course not. There are so many other areas in Japan that are also interesting to be explored. One of them is Shikoku Island.

If you are looking for anti-mainstream tourist destinations while in Japan, Shikoku Island is really worth to be included in your schedule. But before deciding to go there, it would not hurt you to listen first to some basic information about Shikoku Island.

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Basic Information

One of the bridges that connecting Shikoku Island with other islands
One of the bridges that connecting Shikoku Island with other islands, via japan-magazine.jnto.gp.jp

Shikoku Island is the fourth largest island in Japan Islands. The name “Shikoku” itself means “four kingdoms”, and the naming refers to the history that mentions about the four kingdoms on Shikoku island long time ago.

Although now the kingdoms are gone, but instead, there are now four prefectures in Shikoku Island: prefectures Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi.

View of one of the cities in Shikoku Island
View of one of the cities in Shikoku Island, via 屋嶋の仙人/wikimedia commons

The four prefectures in Shikoku have their respective capital reign, which are also become the largest cities in Shikoku. Tokushima Prefecture, which is the closest to Honshu Island, has the capital of Tokushima. Kagawa Prefecture has the capital of Takamatsu.

Ehime Prefecture has the capital of Matsuyama (which is the largest city in Shikoku), while Kochi Prefecture has a similarly named capital, Kochi. You can see the photo in the “Shikoku Island Position” section to know the position of each prefecture.

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Shikoku Island Position

Shikoku Island Position
Shikoku Island Position, via tourismshikoku

Shikoku Island lies in the southwest of Honshu Island (which is the largest island in Japan, where popular cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are located). The island can be reached within approximately 1-2 hours from Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima, depending on which transportation type you are using (see “How to Reach Shikoku Island” for more details).

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The Attraction of Shikoku Island, and The Reason to Visit It

View of Ikeda Port in Prefektur Kagawa
View of Ikeda Port in Prefektur Kagawa, via 663highland/wikimedia commons

This island can be reached in a fairly short time from Honshu island, especially if you go from Osaka and Hiroshima (for details please see “How to Reach Shikoku Island”).

That’s why this island is also interesting to be included in the list of side trips from Osaka and Hiroshima. But of course you probably will not be able to explore this island completely if you visit Shikoku as a side trip.

By the way, in this Shikoku Island you will not find major attractions such as Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea, or Universal Studio. Do not also expect you will find a big theme park like Fuji-Q Highland which has various world-class roller coasters while visiting to this island.

Ugh, then what makes this island become so interesting to visit even though it does not have a really big tourist attraction?

Let’s discuss things in general first. The Shikoku Island has four prefectures, and each prefecture certainly has its own charms. But in general, there are some things that can make this island so interesting to be visited by tourists.

Iya Valley,
Iya Valley, via awanavi

First and most importantly, when talking about Shikoku Island certainly you can not be separated from talking about its natural beauty. Yes, in general, Shikoku Island is very popular among those who like doing activities in the middle of nature, such as hiking.

This island does have a mountain area that is still so pure, with its natural beauty, and very stunning views. Some areas such as Iya Valley even have a view that is too exotic to be missed by the camera.

Shimanto Rivers
Shimanto Rivers, via 京浜にけ/wikimedia commons

This island also has several fairly large rivers, and tourists can do rafting and canoeing in some of the spots. One of the most popular is the canoeing and rafting down the Shimanto River in Shimanto, Kochi Prefecture. Whereas if you go to Niyodo River which is also in Kochi Prefecture, you can do various nature activities such as: camping, fishing, to canoeing and rafting.

A bridge between islands in Shikoku
A bridge between islands in Shikoku, via pianoshushibar

Not only popular as a destination for hiking, Shikoku Island is also famous for its natural beauty. Tourists usually love to explore various spots in the island of Shikoku on foot or by bicycle, while breathing the much fresher air than any other major cities in the island of Honshu.

Especially if you deliberately go cycling to the mountain area and to the small towns, as well as across the various bridges that connect this island with other islands.

Iya Onsen, one of the onsen in Iya Valley
Iya Onsen, one of the onsen in Iya Valley, via iyaonsen

And, after a tiring day of sightseeing, you can stop by at the various onsens in Shikoku Island. Yes, this island also has amazing onsens. Some of them are even located in a fairly hidden area, offering a different atmosphere than other popular onsens in Japan.

Awa Odori
Awa Odori, via rosino/wikimedia commons

That’s just a description in terms of natural beauty. Furthermore, Shikoku Island also has another attraction from the festival’s side. The island hosts several major festivals such as Yosakoi and Awa Odori, which take place in April and October.

Other than the festival events, various cities on the island are also rich in short cultural classes that tourists can learn, such as martial arts classes, cloth dyeing, dancing, and many others.

Kochi Castle
Kochi Castle, via reggaeman/wikimedia commons

The island also has many attractions in terms of history. Firstly, if we’re talking from the castle building, there are hundreds of castles (or even thousands of castles) that once established in Japan, do you know that currently only a few of them are still preserved their originality (read: Do You Know, There are Only 12 Original Castles in All of Japan!).

Well, out of the 12 castles, 4 of them are in Shikoku Island, namely Marugame Castle (Marugame), Kochi Castle (Kochi), Matsuyama Castle (Matsuyama), and Uwajima Castle (Uwajima). So most castles are often found in a region, considering the other 8 castles are located in separate areas.

Gokurakuji, one of the temples which had to be visited in 88 Temple Pilgrimage activity
Gokurakuji, one of the temples which had to be visited in 88 Temple Pilgrimage activity, viaウランボルグ/wikimedia commons

Not only the castle, in the island of Shikoku there are also scattered various temples which are over thousands of years old. Many temples are still original and have been acknowledged as National Important Cultural Properties, while the gardens are included in the list of parks with the best views.

By the way, in this Shikoku Island there is a series of historian activities named 88 Temple Pilgrimage or Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage. The details can be read in the next section.

Meanwhile, when discussed about the attractiveness of each prefecture in the Shikoku Island, then the discussion can be a lot more than this. Every prefecture in Shikoku has its own charm.

Likewise with the cities, many of which have different tourist attractions from each other. Let’s take a peek at the discussion of each prefecture, starting from Kagawa Prefecture.

Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima
Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, via benesse-artsite

Kagawa Prefecture may be the smallest prefecture in Japan. But this prefecture is one of the most intriguing for tourists while visiting the island of Shikoku, especially for art and architecture lovers.

That is because the two islands in this prefecture, namely Naoshima and Teshima, are covered by various museums whose buildings were designed by renowned architects such as Tadao Ando.

Those islands also have many amazing street art. The details of Naoshima and Teshima may be discussed separately, because there are too many activities can be done in the island.

One part of Takamatsu Castle
One part of Takamatsu Castle, via 663highland/wikimedia commons

Besides Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture still has many other tourist attractions. The city of Takamatsu, the capital of Kagawa prefecture, also has many amazing attractions.

From shopping arcades, temples, to castles (one of them is Takamatsu Castle), they all can be found here. Takamatsu is also famous for its udon, and the udon from this city is often used as a typical souvenir of Shikoku.

Whirlpool in Naruto Strait
Whirlpool in Naruto Strait, via release

Tokushima prefecture also has many tourist attractions. The prefecture which located in the eastern side of Shikoku island hosts the Awa Odori festival. In this prefecture there is a whirlpool named Naruto (read: Apparently, Naruto is a City Name in Japan!), and tourists who are interested to take a closer look can get a special boat tour that passes near the vortex.

The atmosphere in Kamikatsu City
The atmosphere in Kamikatsu City, via betterworldinternational

Furthermore, in Tokushima prefecture there is also a city that applies the concept of “zero waste” town, that is Kamikatsu city. You guys who like the environmental themes can see directly the waste processing in Kamikatsu, which classifies the waste into 34 categories!

Suihakogen in Ehime
Suihakogen in Ehime, via dokugami/wikimedia commons

In Ehime Prefecture, there is Matsuyama city which became the largest city in Shikoku. This city has many ancient buildings, streets that pass through breathtaking scenery, popular temples, gardens, onsens with spectacular view, to the original castle (Matsuyama Castle).

Kochi City’s Landscape
Kochi City’s Landscape, via kounosu/wikimedia commons

Meanwhile, Kochi Prefecture is famous for its natural atmosphere. On the contrary, as the largest Prefecture in Shikoku, Kochi only has a small population.

The cities in this prefecture (including the capital) have a quieter atmosphere and offer a friendly atmosphere. So suitable for those who like the calm atmosphere and love to mingle with nature. Ahh, in this prefecture there is also an original castle (Kochi Castle) and a beautiful beach.

What to do in Shikoku Island

Among the many tourist attractions to visit and exciting activities to do in Shikoku Island, here are few things that really need to be done while in Shikoku:

  • 88 Temple Pilgrimage
Shikoku Henroku
Shikoku Henroku, via lefigaro

This activity is an activity of Kukai or Kobo Daishi historian trip (a great figure of Buddhist evangelist in Japan) to go around the route that circles the Shikoku island (passing through 88 temples), with a total length of 1200 kilometers.

Usually the pilgrims do it on foot, while enjoying the view of Shikoku Island. But there are also tourists who pilgrimage while riding a bicycle. Of course you are not obliged to do this, especially if you have limited travel time.

  • Culinary Tour
Sanuki udon in Kamagawa
Sanuki udon in Kamagawa, via sekido/wikimedia commons

Each prefecture in Shikoku Island has its own distinctive cuisine. Ehime Prefecture is famous for its sweet mandarin oranges. Kagawa Prefecture is famous for its sanuki udon. Even fresh udon in this prefecture is often wrapped and given as souvenirs.

Kochi Prefecture is popular with bonito dishes (katsuo), a small tuna that is burned and eaten while still hot. Whereas Tokushima prefecture has sudachi (citrus fruit such as lime green) as its typical fruit.

  • Visiting Naoshima and Teshima Island
View from Benesse Art House in Naoshima
View from Benesse Art House in Naoshima, via 663highland/wikimedia commons

Exploring a small island which is full of artwork? Why not! Especially because these islands are quite close from Osaka.

  • Attending Various Festivals at Shikoku
Kochi Yosakoi Matsuri in Kochi
Kochi Yosakoi Matsuri in Kochi, via 工房 やまもも/wikimedia commons

As the host of some national-scale festivals, the festivals in Shikoku are really worth visiting.

  • Doing Nature-Themed Activities
Cycling, via 700bike

Hiking, rafting, canoeing, cycling while enjoying nature, camping; All you can (and even obligatory) to do in the island of Shikoku, heading to any prefecture in the island.

  • Feel the Real Japan Atmosphere
The atmosphere in Tosa City, Koch
The atmosphere in Tosa City, Kochi, via Mark Mrwizard/wikimedia commons

Shikoku Island has many small towns offering a cozy atmosphere, with typical Japanese hospitality. In these small towns there are still many traditional buildings, which are very interesting to look at. If you crave to see the real Japan, the tour to Shikoku Island is mandatory for you to consider.

  • See Whales and Dolphins With Your Own Eyes
Whale watching
Whale watching, via visitkochijapan

If you travel to Shikoku in late April until the end of October, you can take a boat and take a closer look at the whale and dolphin crowds in the ocean of Shikoku Island. Such attractions obviously you can not get when traveling to a big city like Tokyo, right?

  • Explore the Sea

The underwater beauty of Shikoku Island may not be as famous as Gili Terawangan and Raja Ampat in Indonesia. But in this island you can do some fun activities to explore the sea, such as seawalker (walk under the sea by wearing a special helmet).


How to Reach Shikoku Island

There are several ways to reach Shikoku Island: by planes, trains, sea lanes, and cars. Let’s discuss from the air first.

  • By Airplane
Tokushima airport is seen from above
Tokushima airport is seen from above, via asacyan/wikimedia commons

Shikoku Island has 4 prefectures, and each prefecture has its own airport. Airports in Matsuyama and Takamatsu serve direct flights from Seoul, Hongkong and Shanghai, while other airports serve local flights from Tokyo (Haneda and Narita), Osaka (Itami Airport and Kansai International Airport), and Fukuoka.

The duration of local flights varies between 1-1.5 hours, depending on where you depart from which airport and get off at the airport of which city.

  • By Train
A Train in Tokushima
A Train in Tokushima, via pref.tokushima

As a preliminary information, this Shikoku island has not been connected by shinkansen. So, if you are using shinkansen, you must transit first in Okayama city. After that you can continue using JR Limited Express to Takamatsu. If departing from Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka, the total time required is approximately 1 hour 45 minutes, and the route is covered by JR Pass.

From Takamatsu, then you can explore other cities in Shikoku Island by train, because the train network is good enough in the island. However, the majority of available information may be in Japanese language only. But if you consider language barrier as a challenge, then there is no problem, isn’t it?

By the way, the majority of the train network on Shikoku Island is owned by JR and the route is covered by JR Pass. It’s just that if you decide to explore the Shikoku, most of the train network is owned by non-JR companies. It’s better if you can also consider on buying a special free pass that valid on the island (details will be attached).

  • By Bus
JR Shikoku Bus
JR Shikoku Bus, via Cassiopeia sweet/wikimedia commons

Meanwhile, if you depart from Kyoto and Osaka, you can access Shikoku Island by using the highway bus, and get off at Tokushima. The duration of the trip varies, between 2 hours 20 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes. From Tokushima, you can take other buses to access other cities in Shikoku Island.

The cost of these buses varies greatly, depending on which company bus you are taking. As an illustration, if you are using JR Shikoku Bus from Osaka (departing from JR Namba Station, JR Osaka Station, and Universal Studios Japan), you should prepare a minimum of JPY3700 for one way (or JPY6700 for round-trip tickets) and get off at Tokushima Station.

Meanwhile, if departing from Kyoto (JR Kyoto Station) to Tokushima (get off at Tokushima Station), you need to prepare JPY4200 (one way) or JPY7600 (round-trip). That’s just a rough idea. The price can be cheaper (or more expensive) if you use other bus operators, or if you get off at other cities in Shikoku island.

  • By Car
Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway
Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway, via 663highland/wikimedia commons

Do you plan to rent a car while on tour to Japan? You can access Shikoku island via the highway. However, the cost for passing the highway to Shikoku Island is expensive, because you have to prepare at least JPY5000 for one way.

  • By Ferry
Miyanoura port in Naoshima
Miyanoura port in Naoshima, via 663highland/wikimedia commons

If departing from Kobe, Hiroshima, and Beppu; You can try another way to access Shikoku Island, ie by ferry. Travel duration is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes (get off at Matsuyama or Yawatahama). For a cost estimation, ferry from Hiroshima to Matsuyama cost approximately JPY2700.

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Photos taken from creative commons and google (source attached). There are no additional edits other than resizing process.


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