Find olive oil, KiKi's Delivery Service, and rice paddy terraces on this perfect island getaway.
Shodoshima is one of the Seto Inland Sea islands, located between Honshu and Shikoku island in Kagawa Prefecture. While Shodoshima’s famous neighbors (Naoshima and Teshima) get a lot more tourist traffic, Shodoshima has several charming attractions to offer from history to a spectrum of landscapes. Here are the top 10 things to do in Shodoshima.
Shodoshima is the first place in Japan where olives were grown successfully, an achievement celebrated at Shodoshima’s Olive Park. Olives are still grown and processed here from 2,000 olive trees in a setting reminiscent of Mediterranean Greece. The park is home to several species of olive trees, sculpture gardens, and art installations which visitors can explore for free!
The most popular view is the Greek-style windmill, which was featured in the Studio Ghibli movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. The park’s visitor center has free adult-sized and kid-sized broomsticks that you can borrow for “flying” photo ops in front of the windmill like the movie’s heroine. Visitors will often dress up like Kiki, complete with a big red bow and a black cat.
Other attractions at the park include a greenhouse and herbal garden, a restaurant, two gift shops, and a small cafe and museum. Don’t leave without trying the olive-flavored soft serve. Yum.
The perfect activity on Shodoshima for outdoorsy types is to head to Kankakei Gorge. It’s known as one of the most beautiful gorges in Japan, especially in late November when it is bursting with koyo (autumn foliage). Visitors can take a scenic ropeway ride above the gorge’s dense forests and jagged rocks to the Kankakei Observation Deck at the summit. The ropeway cars have windows on all sides, and it takes five minutes to reach the top.
From the observation deck, you can see breathtaking views of Shodoshima and the surrounding Seto Inland Sea. At the summit are also several picnic areas, a parking lot, and a large gift shop. You can purchase small clay disks to participate in a fun game called kawaranage. If you manage to throw one of the clay disks through the hoop, your wish will (supposedly) come true.
For nature lovers, two different hiking trails lead down from Kankakei Gorge. The hikes take about 30 to 90 minutes through the dense trees to the base of the gorge. Expect to see some old temples, and even friendly lizards and monkeys if you’re lucky!
Delve into the world of Japanese yokai, which are spiritual creatures or monsters rooted in Japan’s culture. The most famous yokai is a kappa—a human-like river demon with green scaly skin, the shell of a turtle, and a plate on its head (plus an affinity for eating cucumbers).
Hundreds more yokai can be discovered at the four Yokai Art Museums on Shodoshima (Map), which house over 800 depictions of modern and conventional yokai in art and sculpture form. The museums are built in old traditional Japanese buildings like a draper’s warehouse and soy sauce storeroom, each offering a different theme.
For example, Yokai Art Museum 2 (Map) houses depictions of traditional Japanese yokai, including the kappa, but also tengu and Japanese ogres. Yokai Art Museum 4 houses hundreds of sculptures from the Yokai Sculpture Competition, with incredible, creepy, and bizarre entries from around Japan and the world.
Angel Road is a must-visit for couples in Japan. Located on the southwestern tip of Shodoshima near Tonosho Port, it’s a naturally-occurring, 500-meter-long sandbar that connects mainland Shodoshima to three small islands just off the coast.
Legends say if you walk hand-in-hand with your sweetheart across Angel Road, it will strengthen your bond with one another. Once you’ve walked across the sandbar, head to a nearby viewpoint called The Hill of Promise. It’s great for photos, and there is a love bell that you can ring at the summit to further strengthen your relationship.
The exciting part is that Angel Road is a bit elusive—it can only be crossed during low tide and disappears completely sometimes. Use the Shodoshima tide charts to plan your visit to Angel Road. It lets you know around what time (twice per day) you’ll be able to walk across the sandbar.
Shoyu, or soy sauce, is a Japanese staple that has been produced on Shodoshima for more than 400 years. Marukin established their business on Shodoshima in 1904 because the three main soy sauce ingredients—salt, soybeans, and wheat—were all available on the island.
The Marukin Soy Sauce Museum is a repurposed soy sauce factory that features a massive indoor space and exposed wooden beams. Here, you can learn about the history of the production of soy sauce, see how it’s made up close, and even walk through a colossal barrel that once held 5,000 liters of the stuff!
If the olive-flavored soft serve at the Olive Park wasn’t enough for you, try the soy-sauce flavor here! This island sure does love ice cream.
Shodoshima’s Choshikei Monkey Park is a large monkey zoo in the center of the island. It’s home to 500 Japanese macaques that all roam in large pens. Visitors can purchase bags of food for ¥100 at the visitor’s center to feed the monkeys, but beware—the brazen deer in Nara Park, the aggressive monkeys will surround you if you have food. They may even try and steal your cameras, phones, and sunglasses too!
A short walk from the park will lead you to an observation deck with 360-degree views over Shodoshima and the surrounding islands.
Shodoshima is the setting for the novel Twenty-Four Eyes or 二十四の瞳 (Nijū-shi no Hitomi) in Japanese. Published in 1952 by Tsuboi Sakae, the novel is about a schoolteacher and her twelve first-grade students (hence the 24 eyes) during the rise and fall of Japanese ultra-nationalism and World War II. In 1954, a movie by the same name was directed by Keisuke Kinoshita and shot in Shodoshima.
The Twenty-Four Eyes Movie Village was born when Twenty-Four Eyes was re-made in 1987. Because Shodoshima and all of Japan had experienced unprecedented development by this time, the only way to evoke the same historic Shodoshima feel was to recreate a whole traditional Japanese village for the movie set.
The movie village is still used today for TV commercials, films, and TV dramas, but can be explored by visitors too. Village highlights are a wooden schoolhouse and the house where the schoolteacher in the movie lived, but there is also a cinema and cafe where visitors can watch the movie and enjoy a traditional Japanese school meal.
Nakayama is a nostalgic village located in the hilly center of Shodoshima. It’s famous for its 800 rice paddy fields located on the slopes of Yufune Mountain. Senmaida means “thousand rice terraces” in Japanese. An apt name as it’ll feel like you’re wandering through thousands of paddies while gazing down at terraced fields as far as the eye can see.
These photogenic rice fields are reminiscent of Bali or Vietnam and can be freely explored by visitors. The best times to visit are during rice planting season in summer when you can see farmers working the green fields, and in October when the rice is being harvested.
Other popular sights in Nakayama town are two Kabuki theater stages and the Yufunesan Temple, where holy spring water feeds the rice terraces.
South of Tonosho Port on the west side of Shodoshima is nicknamed “Maze Town” (Meiro no Machi) for its labyrinth-like layout. The town was designed this way to confuse and ward off pirates and protect the residents from strong winds blowing in from the sea.
Today, Maze Town is mostly a quiet, residential neighborhood lined with wooden houses reminiscent of old Japan, and home to the occasional cafe and shop, as well as the Yokai Art Museums.
A great place to visit in Maze Town is Saiko Temple (Map), which has a large gate and three-story pagoda, both an unmissable shade of vermillion red. Further along, a local store called Shimamonoya is stocked with goods locally made on the island. Then there’s the quirky Mononoke-do, a traditional candy shop with a collection of vintage toys and a shooting gallery that’ll entertain kids and adults alike.
Shodoshima has some impressive neighboring islands in the Seto Inland Sea, including Teshima and Naoshima. These smaller islands were suffering from depopulation when they brought in contemporary artists from around the world to build sculptures and create museums and art spaces in their abandoned buildings. Today, Naoshima, Teshima, Inujima, and several others are known as the “Art Islands” of the Seto Inland Sea and are the home of the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival.
The most iconic sculpture is on Naoshima, where Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s bright yellow polka-dot pumpkin can be seen with against an ocean backdrop. Famous museums include the Teshima Art Museum on Teshima, the Seirensho Art Museum on Inujima, and the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima. Naoshima also has an “Art House Project,” where buildings like an abandoned dental office, residential homes, and temples were turned into art projects.
Shodoshima can only be reached by boat, but there are many ports on the island you can reach from all over Japan’s main island of Honshu. Many ferries are large enough to carry pedestrians and cars, but some high-speed ferries from Takamatsu and Teshima are pedestrian-only. See the list of ports and timetables on Shodoshima’s official tourism website.