Don't worry, Japan's smallest main island is big on stunning autumnal viewing spots.
The smallest of Japan’s four islands, Shikoku is a true hidden gem of history and spirituality. What it lacks in size it makes up for in sweeping mountains and valleys, rugged coastlines, and secluded traditional towns straight out of anime.
In fact, Dogo Onsen in Ehime Prefecture was the inspiration behind the bathhouse in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away while Pom Poko, also from Ghibli, portrays the island as the home of its mythical tanuki (raccoon) heroes.
It’s no surprise then that Shikoku is ripe for Koyo (autumn-leaves) viewing adventures, especially of the off-the-beaten-track kind. There are four prefectures in Shikoku: Tokushima, Kochi, Kagawa, and Ehime. Below is a pick of just some of the best spots where you’ll be able to experience Japanese autumn in full technicolor.
Almost the entirety of the stunning Iya Valley is set ablaze in autumn which makes crossing the region’s famous swinging vine suspension bridges all the more fun. Don’t miss the chance to bathe in the riverside rotenburo (outdoor bath) at Hotel Iya Onsen, reachable via a rickety (but safe!) cable car hanging off of a mountainside.
Cruise down one of Japan’s “three greatest rivers,” Yoshino River in the valley of Oboke, to see the koyo from below. Or, get a birds-eye view by climbing to one of the several observation decks around the valley. Rent a car to reach the various viewpoints and to weave in and out of tunnels of golden leaves along the way.
Formed over 300 million years ago, Nakatsu Gorge is regarded as a sacred Shinto “power spot,” imbued with ancient spiritual energy. It’s a fairly easy 2.3-kilometer hiking course along the Nakatsu River to get to the famous Uryu no Taki waterfall. You’ll be surrounded by the changing leaves all along the trail.
Around 10-kilometers long, the Yasui Valley is lined with several easy hiking trails through the forested patchwork of autumn colors. Set against the bright blue backdrop of the Niyodo River, this part of Kochi is a real visual treat in fall.
Ritsurin Garden’s regular appearance on TV and film, in magazines and books, is a testament to just how visually stunning this traditional Japanese garden is. Autumn is when the scenic landscape transforms with colors so vivid the leaves look edible. Adults are ¥410 to enter the garden—a small price to pay for the photogenic rewards inside.
Ride the ropeway or hike up to this mountaintop castle for an oh-so-Japanese autumn scene. Tour the historic castle keep, courtyard, and garden shrouded in fall foliage before drinking in the panoramic views of Ehime city from the castle tower. To ramp up the Japanese-ness, you can don a samurai costume and do all of the above in a warrior’s getup.
Witness a flamboyant display of bright autumn leaves along the 10 kilometers or so of Besshi Rhein Gorge. While there’s quite a bit to see in the area, including Shoji Bridge and Shikamori Dam, you should make time for the quirky theme park Minetopia Besshi based in the ruins of an old copper mine.
If you travel to one of these spots, use #GaijinPotTravel on your Instagram photos for a chance to be featured in our Top 10 Reader’s Photos of the Month!