It has beautiful scenery, a laidback atmosphere, friendly people and several notable sights, yet SHIKOKU, Japan's fourth main island, is usually at the bottom of most visitors' itineraries - if it appears at all. This is a shame, since this tranquil island, nestling in the crook between Honshu and Kyushu, offers elements of traditional Japan that are often hard to find elsewhere. An ancient Buddhist pilgrimage, original castles and distinctive arts and crafts are some of Shikoku's attractions - but equally appealing are the island's rural pace of life and little-visited villages and smaller surrounding islands. The island is located between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean. There are four prefectures located there: Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi.
The Inland Sea, or Seto-Naikai, is bounded by the three main islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Crossing from Honshu to Shikoku islands has now become extremely easy and enjoyable thanks to the series of seven bridges, including the Seto Ohashi, Akashi-kaikyo Ohashi and Shimanami-kaido bridges. Boats and ferries also travel to Shikoku island from the cities of Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Onomichi, and Wakayama.
The Inland Sea, blessed with superb seascapes and a mild climate, is remarkably calm, peaceful and beautiful. Over 600 islands are scattered over an area of 8,200 sq. km. Walking or cycling along the "Shimanami-kaido" route (60 km. in total length) is highly recommended if you wish to fully enjoy the scenic splendors of the Inland Sea. The "Shimanamikaido" provides an ideal sightseeing route as the seven bridges link the six smaller islands lying between Honshu and Shikoku. The richly diversified coastal scenery is an interesting kaleidoscope of the many small ports, fishing villages, salt fields, and farms found among the gentle island slopes.
The Naoshima Cultural Village on Naoshima Island in the Inland Sea can be reached in about 1 hr. 30 min. from Okayama by train, ferry and car. The "village" features a fine contemporary art museum and its architecture is a harmonious blend with the island's serene natural environment.
Takamatsu, 1 hr. by train from Okayama, is the main gateway to Shikoku from Honshu, and a convenient starting point for traveling around the island. Takamatsu has many attractions worth seeing. Ritsurin Park is one of the finest traditional gardens in this area. It was laid out about 350 years ago on the site of a villa owned by the Matsudaira clan.
Matsuyama, the largest city in Shikoku, is a 2hr. 40min. limited express train ride from Takamatsu or a one-hour boat trip from Hiroshima or Kure. Matsuyama Castle is one of the nation's best preserved. Also Dogo Spa, 20 min. by rail from Matsuyama, is one of the oldest in Japan.
Kochi, 2hr. 20min. by limited express train from Takamatsu, is the prefectural seat of the rich farming land and fisheries along Shikoku's central southern coast. Its southwestern coast is designated a national park and offers a variety of outdoor attractions from scuba diving to whale watching.
Tokushima Prefecture can be reached from the Kansai region in approximately 2 hrs. 30 min. by express bus. Its capital, the city of Tokushima is famous for its Awa-Odori dance festival held every summer. Naruto, 40 min. by train from Tokushima City, is noted for its giant whirlpools in the narrow Naruto Straits. For an exciting, closer look at these whirlpools, book a ride on a pleasure boat.
See the grandeur of Shikoku's nature, encounter buildings steeped in history and tradition, explore streets and festivals, taste the blessings of the land, experience local cuisine, and get to know Shikoku in depth on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Surely a trip like this will leave you feeling fulfilled and happy, with a sense of being healed and renewed. Come experience the wonders of Shikoku that the local people have nurtured and valued for thousands of years.