Raiders of the lost park
Bordered by rugged mountain cliffs on one side and ocean whirlpools on the other, travelling through Tokushima feels like an Indiana Jones adventure.
In a secluded eastern corner of Shikoku, Tokushima been a prefecture of refuge since the 9th century, it’s high valleys and depthless gorges offering a safe haven to anyone who could make it there from the mainland. Cross twisting vine suspension bridges or ride a gondola into a hot spring. There’s rafting, ropeways and surfing too, plus the largest and most famous traditional dance festival in Japan.
Tokushima is also the starting point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, home to 23 temples beginning at Ryozen-ji.
Tokushima city is the prefectural capital, spread in and among the mountains down to the coast. Mount Bizan sticks up right in the center of the city; you can take a ropeway to the summit from the 5th floor of the Awa Odori Kaikan – a museum dedicated to Tokushima’s famous Awa Odori dance festival held over four days in August.
From Tokushima city take a bus or train to see the Naruto whirlpools, huge swirling currents moving at up to 20 kilometers per hour. Get close via a heart-pounding sightseeing boat cruise or see them at a safer distance from the Uzu no Michi glass panel walkway directly above the water. The whirlpools are temperamental though, so check the tourist information for the best time to go.
Tokushikma’s hidden highlight is the secret Iya Valley in the heart of Shikoku, sometimes called the ‘Tibet of Japan’ and part of the Mount Tsuguri Quasi-National Park. Here you can explore the kazura-bashi or vine suspension bridges; Iya no Kazurabashi is the easiest to access but you should also venture further upstream to see the Oku Iya Kazurabashi, a double vine bridge supposed to represent a husband and wife. Next to the Wife bridge is the Wild Monkey bridge where you can ride a suspended wooden cart attached to the vines, pulling yourself along to cross the river.
Sitting atop a steep slope, the Iya Onsen Hotel has glorious views overlooking the valley from traditional tatami rooms. To get to their hot spring baths, you’ll need to take a vertiginous cable car down into the riverside baths. Just next to the hotel is the famous peeing boy statue, where you can test your bladder bravery.
The Anan coast in southern Shikoku is known for sea turtles and some of Japan’s best waves around Kainan, Kaifu and Shishikui. It’s a surfer’s mecca, with quiet beaches and quaint villages providing just the right balance of privacy and community.