A Journey Across Shikoku, to Discover a Unique Taste of Japan

Japan, Oboke Gorges

A Journey Across Shikoku, to Discover a Unique Taste of Japan

Having decided to spend a month in Japan, I wanted to see more than the must-see Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and I wished to experience a different taste of Japan. I like spontaneous travel and never plan much, but I usually do some research before leaving to get an idea of the places that are ‘not-your-usual-itinerary’.  

Japan, Sakura at Dogo Park

Shikoku island was definitely on my radar, although when I arrived from the beautiful Naoshima I had no precise itinerary. I went straight south to Kochi, to get a first taste of the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. I would decide what to visit later.

Unspoiled nature, beautiful temples, and hot springs: Shikoku has it all. 

Kochi itself is not particularly remarkable but the atmosphere looked quite different from the one I had experienced before: it seemed more relaxed and laid-back, somehow less formal and conservative, although this was just my impression and I might be wrong. Japanese culture is so different, often difficult to understand for Westerners and for that reason extremely fascinating.

Japan, Oboke Gorges

Kochi was conveniently located for a day trip to the Oboke gorges, one of the spots I knew I wanted to go to. I took advantage of my All Shikoku Rail Pass (traveling by train in Japan is a great way to go around but can be tricky) and went on the scenic train journey that led me to Oboke. From that sleepy village, I took a bus to the Kazurabashi Bridge, the suspension bridge built with mountain vines and stretching across the emerald-green Iya river.

It was as beautiful as I had imagined it and well worth the journey.

Japan, Shikoku, Kazurabashi Bridge

Back to Kochi, I decided on the following leg of my trip in Shikoku. I would go to Dogo Onsen, the neighborhood of Matsuyama famous for its hot springs, the oldest spa in Japan and likely the most famous. The idea was to spend there a couple of days and then head to Hiroshima by ferry, but I ended up spending one week in this charming area of Shikoku.

Japan, Picnic in Dogo Onsen

When I arrived, late March, the sakura were in full bloom, making the gardens at the foothill of Matsuyama Castle and the walking paths inside Dogo Park wonderful places for a stroll and to watch the locals enjoying Hanami, a deep-rooted traditional Japanese custom.

Picnic parties are not only for families or groups of friends but also for outdoor business gatherings between colleagues, often including speeches by some of the participants, followed by generous applauses.

Shikoku, Uchiko Old Theatre

Matsuyama is perfectly located for day trips to interesting places nearby, easy to reach by train or other public transport.

Ozu looked like a sleepy village, where only a few tourists set foot. From the station, I walked to the old town stopping by the river, dotted with colorful boats lying along the shore.

Uchiko is a quaint little town with beautiful old houses , and as I strolled around I felt as if I was stepping back into how Japan must have looked like 100 years ago.

Shikoku, Boats in Ozu

Shikoku and the 88 temples walking pilgrimage

My favorite place, however, was the Ishiteji Temple.

I reached it walking from Dogo Onsen, going through a cave disseminated with Buddhist statues and from which I emerged on the temple grounds. There, I felt awe-struck in front of the finely carved and tastefully decorated wooden buildings. It was the kind of place I was longing for, the scenes I had imagined and which were now before my eyes.

Ishiteji Temple in Shikoku, Japan

Shikoku is famous in Japan for its 88 temples walking pilgrimage and  I was fascinated by the sight of the pilgrims in their white shirts, wearing a bamboo conical hat and holding a wooden walking stick, praying in front of the temples.

Japan, Pilgrim in Shikoku

I looked at the Omamori, the charms sold at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines as a way to get luck or protection. For a while, the Ishiteji Temple reminded me of Nepal, and the temples in Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, and Patan.

Japan, Shikoku, Ishiteji TempleA Lantern at Ishiteji Temple, Shikoku copy
Statue at the Ishiteji Temple in Shikoku
Japan, Temples in Dogo OnsenPilgrims in Shikoku

In Shikoku I had a different taste of Japan, the one I had been looking for, the one I won’t forget.

Practical Information

How to get to Shikoku: You can reach Shikoku island by air (there are 4 airports – Tokushima, Kochi, Takamatsu and Matsuyama) from several cities, by train from Okayama (riding across the Seto Ohashi Bridge) and by ferry from Osaka and Hiroshima. I arrived by train and left by ferry, and if you have enough time, I highly recommend mixing transport for a richer experience.

Getting around: Unless you plan to hire a car, the best way to visit the island is the All Shikoku Rail Pass for 2, 3, 4 or 5 days.


Shikoku Map and Itinerary

A Journey Across Shikoku, to Discover a Different Taste of Japan
  • Mahee Ferlini
    Posted at 22:12h, 25 November Reply

    You pictures are amazingly beautiful!!

    • Simon
      Posted at 10:51h, 04 January Reply

      Thank you, Mahee. I’m glad you like the photos. Have you visited Japan?

  • Rossi @ The Digital Nomad
    Posted at 16:01h, 30 July Reply

    Gorgeous. I love the use of HDR photography.

  • Fabiana
    Posted at 01:24h, 19 May Reply

    It looks like such a gorgeous place! I can’t wait for my trip to Japan 🙂 It is only a couple of months away!

  • Norman
    Posted at 14:43h, 12 April Reply

    I know it sounds rote, still i gotta compliment you on those wonderful pictures! Really kinda makes me jealous. Wish I could do that as well 😉

    Apart from that and more on topic. I too loved Shikoku – actually everything around the Inlandsea is lovely: the climate, the people and a little less stress 🙂

  • Weronika Anna
    Posted at 15:39h, 22 January Reply

    Many thanks for sharing your findings about Shikoku and for the inspiration. I am planning a trip to Japan and I was looking to add some very unusual destinations.

  • Pingback:Hiroshima: Life after the Atomic Bomb « Daily Nerdy
    Posted at 01:05h, 10 January Reply

    […] not have a precise itinerary. I know I wanted to see Tokyo, Kyoto,  Nara and explore a few more places off the beaten track. Hiroshima was a question mark. A part of me felt like I had to go, if only for its historical […]

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    Posted at 01:09h, 01 January Reply

    […] Read more – Shikoku, a different taste of Japan […]

  • abdul
    Posted at 12:02h, 27 November Reply

    Your pictures are amazing- so many vibrant colors 🙂

  • Muza-chan
    Posted at 14:38h, 23 November Reply

    Great photos…

  • Sand In My Suitcase
    Posted at 19:02h, 12 October Reply

    Wow! Look at that suspension bridge over that gorge! You visit some amazing places and take some beautiful shots. Thanks for educating us about Shikoku…

  • Matthew Karsten
    Posted at 08:19h, 10 October Reply

    Love the vine-bridge! I almost moved to Japan to teach English after college, but it never happened. Really need to visit one day.

  • Traveling Ted
    Posted at 17:54h, 08 October Reply

    Beautiful shots. I was fortunate to visit Kyoto during the cherry blossom season about 10 years ago and enjoyed the Hanami festivals. Brings back great memories.

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