No rest for the wicked
For pilgrims on the Shikoku 88 this is the end of the road. But that doesn’t mean you should stop exploring - Kagawa's array of attractions won’t let you anyway.
Kagawa might be the smallest of Shikoku’s four prefectures but it packs one diverse sightseeing punch. It’s home to the final 22 temples on the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage, including Zentsu-ji, the largest of all of the temples, as well as the Shinto sea shrine, Kompira-san, reachable via a calf-shredding 1,368 stone steps. Takamatsu is the northern gateway to Shikoku and also where you can catch the ferry to the island of modern art, Naoshima, or the olive-producing paradise of Shodoshima. Udon is Kagawa’s pride and soy; hop on an udon bus or hire an udon taxi to take you to one of the 800 specialty restaurants across the prefecture.
Kagawa’s main sights are clustered close together in the north and northwest, connected by the Takamatsu expressway which runs through the entire prefecture. The port city of Marugame lies just next to the Seto Ohashi bridge linking Shikoku to Okayama in Honshu and encompasses some of the Shiwaku islands which make for an interesting day trip. Shop for a traditional paper fan as this is where 90 percent of them are produced.
Nearby is No. 75 of the Shikoku 88; Zentsu-ji. An impressive five-story pagoda soars over the large temple complex, said to be the birthplace of famed monk Kobo Daishi. Head to Mie-do Hall to see the actual spot where he was born and to experience the incredible kaidan-meguri; walking to the end of the path in pitch-black darkness running your left palm along the left-hand wall puts you closer to Buddha.
Zentsu-ji is also the birthplace of the square watermelon, sadly inedible but always good for a ridiculously expensive novelty gift. South of Zentsu-ji is the mountain village of Kotohira and Kompira-san, one of Shikoku’s most famous sights. A sweaty number of stairs lead to the shrine, dedicated to the God of Seafarers, and some breathtaking views of the ocean.
Takamatsu is the prefectural capital. Pay a visit to Ritsurin-koen, a beautiful Edo-period walking garden. Across from Takamatsu lies Naoshima, an island that has slowly transformed into a live modern art exhibition with a number of interesting museums – you can even stay in one overnight. The spectacular Kankakei Gorge in the center of Shodoshima is nature’s own masterpiece.