Shikoku, Japan is the smallest of Japan's Big Four Islands located south of Honshu. It is extremely rural and knowing at least some basic Japanese will be a necessity for this area. While the region is often overlooked, this hidden gem is full of scenic mountain hiking and home to the Shingon Buddhist sect's 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
The climate in Shikoku gets hot in the summers, staying around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and tend to be fairly humid. Winters see temperatures in the low 40's and a lot of bitter, cold, wind. Spring and fall are good times to visit, especially if you plan to be outdoors, as temperatures tend to be in the 60's and the climate is much more comfortable.
Shikoku is home to some very well preserved historical landmarks, such as the Kochi Castle which is one of the few original white castles left in Japan. In Kochi, you can also visit the former Yamauchi samurai residences from the Edo period and the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden which spans across six acres.
Matsuyama is home to a beautiful collection of Meiji-era buildings, most of which you can tour inside. Both Matsuyama and Tokushima have temples that are part of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage; all of the temples can be toured either for free or for a nominal fee.
Although Shikoku is a small island, there are quite a few major cities. The first is Kochi, a popular destination that has one of the few original white castles in Japan as well as a very well preserved samurai district. Matsuyama is a small, quaint town, known for its strong literary connections with author Soseki and poet Shiki. Takamatsu is a major port city, often considered the "Gateway to Shikoku" and is famous for the stunning Ritsurin Park.
Tokushima is known for their Awa Odori festival and as the hub of transportation for Shikoku. Uwajima is an intriguing small town famous for their ancient fertility shrine and sumo matches between bulls. Yes, bulls. Naruto is famous for the Naruto Whirlpools and for being the starting point of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Finally, there is Mima, a larger city with multiple different districts, each one home to unique historical landmarks and beautifully preserved temples.
The most popular activity on the island is the 88 Temple Pilgrimage which started with a monk from the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It makes one large loop around Shikoku and goes through many of the major cities. It is popular to either walk it or travel by car.
For picturesque views of the Shikoku region, take a hike up Mount Tsurugi or take the cable lift that will get you just a 40-minute climb from the summit. You can go to one of the most famous bath houses in Japan at the Dogo Onsen Honkan in Matsuyama which is shrouded in legends of having healing powers. Then there is the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima, a 400-year-old tradition where people dance in the ornately decorated streets.
Food and Dining
Shikoku is very agricultural and produces a lot of citrus fruit which varies in type throughout the island. Tokushima is known for their strawberries and sudachi, a green citrus fruit that tastes like a lime. A popular spirit called Suachi Chu is made from the sudachi fruit and provides a distinct lime flavor. In Naruto, they claim to have the world's best sweet potatoes which they use to create all sorts of cookies, sweets, and even liquor. You'll find even more citrus in Matsuyama which they call mikan. Mikan comes in wide varieties and flavors ranging from more grapefruit-like iyokan to orange tasting dekopon.
There are a variety of bars in the region, ranging from pubs to hostess bars and even sports bars. Matsuyama has a large offering of night life, as does Takamatsu and Mima.
As Shikoku is quite rural, trains are your best option to get around and get into the major cities. Japan Rail (JR) offers a few different levels of train passes depending on your travel plans, the most popular is the Shikoku Free Kippu which allows unlimited usage of JR trains and buses for three consecutive days.
If you are a confident driver, it is worth having a car in order to explore the full extent of the island that is not accessible by public transport. Although, if you plan to visit only the large cities, you can use the JR and simply walk around the cities.
Looking for a hostel in Japan
? In search of a party in Tokyo
? Traveling alone to Osaka