Best Things to Do in Shikoku
Exploring the Best of Shikoku Region
Hidden away from the bustling tourist hotspots of Japan, Shikoku, the smallest of the country’s four main islands, often remains overlooked by travelers. However, within its unassuming borders lies a treasure trove of unforgettable experiences waiting to be discovered.
Shikoku, which is composed of Ehime, Kochi, Tokushima, and Kagawa, offers a refreshing alternative to crowded tourist destinations, allowing visitors to delve deep into Japan’s rich cultural tapestry and untamed natural beauty. From its tranquil pilgrimage route and ancient temples to its breathtaking landscapes and mouthwatering local cuisine, Shikoku unveils a hidden side of Japan that captivates the adventurous at heart.
Join us as we uncover the best things to do in Shikoku, where hidden gems and authentic encounters await.
*Note: There are no bullet trains that go directly to Shikoku, but you can take the bullet train to a nearby area such as Hiroshima where you can change to a regular train heading to Shikoku.
Shikoku, a captivating region in Japan, offers a diverse blend of history, nature, and spirituality. Renowned for its pilgrimage route, the 88 Temple Pilgrimage, Shikoku is an enchanting destination for travelers seeking tranquility and cultural immersion.
Its rich history is evident in castles like Matsuyama in Kochi and the revered Ritsurin Garden in Kogawa. The picturesque Naruto Whirlpools in Tokushima and the stunning Seto Inland Sea captivate nature enthusiasts.
Shikoku’s culinary scene boasts delectable dishes like Sanuki udon from Kagawa and Tai meshi from Ehime. Festivals like Awa Odori showcase vibrant traditional dance. From charming rural landscapes to welcoming locals, Shikoku promises an unforgettable and authentic experience for visitors.
1. Have a spiritual journey of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage
The 88 Temple Pilgrimage (四国八十八箇所) is a revered spiritual journey in Shikoku, attracting countless visitors each year. It consists of visiting 88 temples, traditionally believed to have been founded by the renowned Buddhist monk Kukai.
Undertaking this pilgrimage allows participants to immerse themselves in Japanese religious and cultural traditions while exploring the picturesque landscapes of Shikoku. The pilgrimage offers a profound opportunity for self-reflection, personal growth, and spiritual enlightenment. From serene mountain temples to coastal sanctuaries, each temple offers a unique experience.
2. Visit the beautiful castles in Japan
If you go to Shikoku, another thing you can’t miss out on is their beautiful castles.
Matsuyama Castle (松山城), located in Ehime, Japan, is one of the twelve remaining original castles in the country, Matsuyama Castle boasts stunning architecture and exhibits showcasing the samurai era. Visitors can ascend to the castle’s main keep and explore its various levels, including a museum displaying artifacts from the castle’s history. Towering majestically atop Mount Katsuyama, this impressive castle offers not only breathtaking panoramic views of Matsuyama city but also a glimpse into Japan’s feudal past.
▶ Matsuyama Castle official website: https://www.matsuyamajo.jp/
Then there is also Kochi Castle (高知城), situated in Kochi city. Its elegant architecture and panoramic views make it a popular destination. Visitors can delve into Japan’s feudal history, explore the castle’s interiors, and enjoy the surrounding cherry blossoms during spring, creating a memorable experience in Shikoku.
▶ Kochi Castle official website: https://kochipark.jp/kochijyo/
3. Take a bath in Dogo Onsen, one of Japan’s oldest hot springs
Another recommended thing to do in Ehime is to visit Dogo Onsen (道後温泉). Dogo Onsen is a renowned hot spring that has captured the hearts of both locals and visitors alike. Believed to be one of the oldest hot springs in the country, its historical charm and therapeutic qualities make it a popular attraction.
The iconic Dogo Onsen Honkan, a majestic bathhouse, exudes a nostalgic ambiance, transporting visitors back in time. The healing waters, rich in minerals, are said to rejuvenate the body and soul. Exploring the different bathing areas, including the luxurious Yushinden, and experiencing traditional bath rituals offer a unique and immersive cultural experience.
Oh, by the way, it is also known as the model for the hot spring in the Ghibli movie “Spirited Away”.
▶ Dogo Onsen Honkan official website: https://dogo.jp/onsen/honkan
4. Discover the captivating Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu
Ritsurin Garden (栗林公園), nestled in Kagawa, Japan, is a captivating destination that draws countless visitors to Shikoku. Renowned as one of the most exquisite Japanese gardens, Ritsurin Garden offers a serene oasis filled with meticulously manicured landscapes, picturesque ponds, and stunning pavilions.
Its origins date back to the 17th century, and its design reflects the principles of Japanese aesthetics and harmony with nature. Visitors can stroll along winding paths, cross elegant bridges, and admire the breathtaking views at every turn. Ritsurin Garden’s popularity stems from its ability to transport guests into a tranquil world of beauty, allowing them to immerse themselves in Japan’s refined gardening traditions while experiencing a moment of serenity amidst the bustling modern world.
▶ Kagawa Prefecture tourist information website: https://www.my-kagawa.jp/ritsuringarden
5. Visit Naruto Whirlpools to witness the dramatic tidal currents
Next on our list, we have the Naruto Whirlpools (鳴門の渦潮), located in Tokushima prefecture. These whirlpools are a captivating natural phenomenon that attracts visitors from all over the world to Shikoku. Formed by the powerful tidal currents in the Naruto Strait, these swirling whirlpools offer a mesmerizing spectacle of nature’s raw energy.
Visitors can witness this extraordinary phenomenon by taking a boat ride or observing from the Uzu-no-Michi Bridge. It’s a unique and awe-inspiring experience that showcases the breathtaking natural wonders that Shikoku has to offer.
▶ Naruto City tourist information website: https://naruto-tourism.jp/en/sightseeing/1917
6. Explore the artistic wonders at the Setonaikai National Park
Setonaikai National Park (瀬戸内海国立公園), encompassing the scenic Seto Inland Sea, is another must-visit destination for travelers exploring the shikoku area. With its picturesque islands, azure waters, and stunning coastlines, the park offers an idyllic retreat.
Visitors can enjoy activities like island hopping, kayaking, and cycling along the Shimanami Kaido, a famous cycling route connecting islands. Setonaikai National Park’s popularity lies in its natural beauty, tranquil ambiance, and opportunities for outdoor adventures. It allows visitors to immerse themselves in the peaceful serenity of Shikoku’s coastal landscapes, bask in the charm of quaint fishing villages, and witness breathtaking sunsets that paint the sky with vibrant hues.
▶ Ministry of Environment official website: https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/setonaikai/guide/view.html
7. Attend the Awa Odori Festival or/and Yosakoi Festival
Awa Odori (阿波おどり) and Yosakoi (よさこい) are two vibrant traditional dance festivals in Shikoku, that showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage.
Awa Odori, held in Tokushima, is renowned for its energetic and mesmerizing dance performances, where participants, clad in colorful attire, parade through the streets accompanied by lively music. On the other hand, Yosakoi, celebrated in Kochi, combines traditional dance with modern elements like upbeat music and choreography.
Both festivals attract locals and visitors alike, offering a joyful atmosphere, lively performances, and a chance to immerse oneself in Shikoku’s spirited culture. Participating in or witnessing these festivals is a popular activity, allowing visitors to experience the dynamic and celebratory side of Shikoku.
▶ Awaodori Kaikan official website: https://awaodori-kaikan.jp/en/
▶ Yosakoi Festival Association official website: http://www.cciweb.or.jp/kochi/yosakoiweb/
8. Enjoy a boat ride through Oboke Gorge and Koboke Gorge
Oboke Gorge (大歩危) and Koboke Gorge (小歩危), located in Tokushima prefecture, are natural wonders that captivate visitors from around the world. These picturesque gorges boast dramatic rock formations, emerald-green waters, and lush greenery, creating a breathtaking landscape.
Popular activities include taking a thrilling boat ride through the gorges, marveling at the rugged cliffs and cascading waterfalls, and hiking along scenic trails. Oboke and Koboke Gorges’ popularity stems from their pristine beauty and the opportunity to immerse oneself in Shikoku’s unspoiled nature. It’s a chance to witness the raw power of the river, appreciate the awe-inspiring landscapes, and create unforgettable memories in the heart of Shikoku.
▶ Miyoshi City tourist information website: https://miyoshi-tourism.jp/en/
9. Taste some of the great local dishes ok Shikoku
The Shikoku region is renowned for its delectable local dishes that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.
In Ehime, don’t miss out on Taimeshi (鯛めし), a flavorful dish featuring fragrant rice topped with grilled seabream. Kochi offers Katsuo no tataki (鰹のタタキ), seared bonito fish that is lightly seared and served with aromatic spices. Tokushima is famous for its Tokushima Ramen (徳島ラーメン), featuring curly noodles in a soy-based broth topped with succulent pork and green onions. And in Kagawa, make sure to savor Sanuki Udon (讃岐うどん), known for its thick and chewy noodles served in a savory broth, often accompanied by various toppings.
Exploring the local cuisine of Shikoku promises a delightful and satisfying culinary adventure.
10. Visit and experience Contemporary Art at Naoshima Island
And lastly, on our list, we have Naoshima (直島). Located between Kagawa and Okayama, It is a captivating destination that attracts art enthusiasts from around the world. Renowned for its unique blend of contemporary art and stunning natural landscapes, Naoshima has become a haven for art lovers.
The island is dotted with fascinating art installations and museums, including the famous Benesse House Museum and the Chichu Art Museum designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando. Visitors can immerse themselves in the thought-provoking artworks, which seamlessly blend with the island’s serene surroundings.
▶ Naoshima Tourism Association official website: https://naoshima.net/en/
Best Things to Do in Ehime
Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県) offers a captivating blend of history, natural beauty, and cultural treasures.
With a rich history dating back centuries, visitors can explore the majestic Matsuyama Castle, soak in the healing waters of Dogo Onsen, and wander through the enchanting streets of the old town. The Uchiko and Ozu districts boast well-preserved historic buildings and offer a glimpse into Japan’s past. Ehime’s coastal beauty shines at spots like the scenic Shimanami Kaido cycling route and the stunning Ozu Castle. Food enthusiasts can savor local delights like Taimeshi and mikan (mandarin orange) products, which Ehime is famous for.
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Best Things to Do in Kochi
Kochi Prefecture (高知県), known as the “Land of the Sun,” boasts a rich samurai heritage reflected in the impressive Kochi Castle and the preserved streets of the old town. Explore the lush landscapes of the stunning Shimanto River and the rugged beauty of Cape Ashizuri. Immerse yourself in local festivals like the Yosakoi Dance Festival and taste the region’s specialties like katsuo no tataki (seared bonito) and Tosa-style sushi. With its historical charm, picturesque scenery, lively traditions, and delicious culinary offerings, Kochi promises an unforgettable experience for visitors to Japan.
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Best Things to Do in Tokushima
Tokushima Prefecture (徳島県), known for its deep-rooted traditions, showcases the energetic Awa Odori Festival, a dazzling celebration of dance and music. History enthusiasts can explore the ruins of Tokushima Castle and visit the serene Ryozenji Temple, the starting point of the renowned 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Nature lovers can witness the mesmerizing Naruto Whirlpools and explore the breathtaking beauty of Oboke Gorge. Indulge in local delicacies like Tokushima ramen and sudachi citrus-based dishes, which are sure to tantalize the taste buds.
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Best Things to Do in Kagawa
Kagawa Prefecture (香川県) is known as the “Udon Prefecture” and boasts a rich culinary heritage, with its signature Sanuki udon noodles drawing food enthusiasts from around the world.
Explore the charming streets of Takamatsu and visit the stunning Ritsurin Garden, a masterpiece of Japanese landscape design. History buffs can discover the ancient remnants of Marugame Castle and the peaceful Zentsuji Temple, the birthplace of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
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How to Get to Shikoku
There are several ways to reach the captivating region of Shikoku. If you prefer air travel, you can fly to major airports such as Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Narita International Airport, then take a domestic flight to one of Shikoku’s airports like Matsuyama Airport or Tokushima Airport.
Alternatively, you can take advantage of the extensive train network. The Shinkansen (bullet train) connects major cities like Tokyo and Osaka to Okayama, where you can transfer to the efficient express trains that cross the Seto Ohashi Bridge, providing access to Shikoku.
Additionally, ferries operate between Shikoku and major ports like Kobe and Hiroshima, offering a scenic and leisurely option for travel.
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