Find yourself on Japan's zen island
Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four islands, is a hidden gem of history and spirituality.
Shikoku, the smallest and least populated of Japan’s four islands, is probably it’s most zen destination. The pre Honshu-Shikoku bridge years of isolation can be felt throughout the island; from the hidden Iya valley to the sacred peak of Ishizuchi mountain, to the whirlpools of Naruto and the bustling castle town of Matsuyama with its historic Dogo onsen (hot spring bath).
Shikoku is most famous for its ‘88 Temple’ pilgrimage – an ancient 1400 kilometer route that circles through sweeping valleys, past tranquil streams and secret rural communities, up to misty mountaintop shrines and self-realisation. Although modern pilgrims have the option to follow the route by bus, it’s worth making at least some of the 40 day route on foot to really experience what Shikoku has to offer.
There are four prefectures on Shikoku: Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime and Kochi. The Awa Odori festival held in Tokushima city is one of Japan’s most famous dance festivals while sunny Naoshima island in Kagawa prefecture is a curious collection of modern art museums and funky architecture. You can cycle the Shimanami Kaido, also known as the Nishiseto Expressway, a 60 kilometer bridge that connects Honshu to Ehime, passing over six small islands in the Seto Inland Sea. There’s whale watching at wild Cape Muroto at the southern tip of Kochi and a chance to see ancient fishing techniques at the pristine Shimanto-gawa river around Nakamura.
Like the rest of Japan, each of Shikoku’s prefectures has their own local cuisine. There’s Sanuki udon, Tokushima ramen, topped with a raw egg, and flavorful raw bonito from Kochi to try. Shikoku is also a top producer of citrus, so pop a premium mandarin orange, sudachi or yuzu into your hiking picnic before you head out in search of yourself.