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Travel Guide Asia Japan Shikoku

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Introduction

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan's four islands. It lies to the south of Honshu. The island is thought of as a rural backwater, with few must-see attractions, but a visit there can wash away those doubts; the mountainous inner regions offer some good hiking. It is also the home of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

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Geography

Shikoku island, comprising Shikoku and its surrounding islets, covers about 18,800 square kilometres and consists of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kōchi, and Tokushima. Across the Inland Sea lie Wakayama, Osaka, Hyōgo, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi Prefectures on Honshu. To the west lie Ōita and Miyazaki Prefectures on Kyushu.

The 50th largest island by area in the world, Shikoku is smaller than Sardinia and Bananal, but larger than Halmahera and Seram. By population, it ranks 23rd, having fewer inhabitants than Sicily or Singapore, but more than Puerto Rico or Negros.

Mountains running east and west divide Shikoku into a narrow northern subregion, fronting on the Inland Sea, and a southern part facing the Pacific Ocean. Most of the 3.8 million inhabitants live in the north, and all but one of the island's few larger cites are located there. Mount Ishizuchi (石鎚山) in Ehime at 1,982 metres is the highest mountain on the island. Industry is moderately well developed and includes the processing of ores from the important Besshi copper mine. Land is used intensively. Wide alluvial areas, especially in the eastern part of the zone, are planted with rice and subsequently are double cropped with winter wheat and barley. Fruit is grown throughout the northern area in great variety, including citrus fruits, persimmons, peaches, and grapes. Because of wheat production Sanuki udon (讃岐うどん) became an important part of the diet in Kagawa Prefecture (former Sanuki Province) in the Edo period.

The larger southern area of Shikoku is mountainous and sparsely populated. The only significant lowland is a small alluvial plain at Kōchi, the prefectural capital. The area's mild winters stimulated some truck farming, specializing in growing out-of-season vegetables under plastic covering. Two crops of rice can be cultivated annually in the southern area. The pulp and paper industry took advantage of the abundant forests and hydroelectric power.

The major river in Shikoku is the Yoshino River. It runs 196 kilometres from its source close to Mount Ishizuchi, flowing basically west to east across the northern boundaries of Kōchi and Tokushima Prefectures, reaching the sea at the city of Tokushima. The Yoshino is famous for Japan's best white-water rafting, with trips going along the Oboke Koboke sections of the river.

Shikoku has four important capes. Gamōda in Anan, Tokushima is the easternmost point on the island, and Sada in Ikata, Ehime the westernmost. Muroto in Muroto, Kōchi and Ashizuri, the southern extreme of Shikoku, in Tosashimizu, Kōchi, jut into the Pacific Ocean. The island's northernmost point is in Takamatsu, Kagawa.

Unlike the other three major islands of Japan, Shikoku has no volcanoes.

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Sights and Activities

  • 88 Temple Pilgrimage - The 88 Temple Pilgrimage is a famous but grueling 1,647-kilometer hike around the entire island.
  • White-water rafting - The rafting in the Yoshinogawa River near Oboke and Koboke is said to be quite good.

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Events and Festivals

Traditional Festivals

  • Japanese New Year (January 1) - the most important holiday in Japan. Although there are lots of customs and traditions most of them are done in the private. This is mainly a family holiday and Japan can feel very empty as almost everyone goes home. Travelling in Japan in during this time is difficult because everything is shut down.
  • Seijin No Hi (2nd Monday of January) - the coming of age holiday for Japanese women which 20. Traditionally families will buy any young woman how turned 20 in the last year a kimono. On this day almost all Japanese women will ear a kimono.
  • Hin Festival (March 3) - Also known as doll festival the Hin Matsuri festival is meant for young women. In early february families with daughters put dolls in order to make the women happy and healthy later in life. On Girls Day, on March 3, the dolls are put away until next year.
  • Shichi Go San Festival (Novermber 5) - Boys who are 3 and 5, and girls 3 and 7 are taken to a shinto shrine in traditional Japanese dress. The children are brought there to pray for good luck, good health and wealth.

National Holidays

  • Golden Week - Is quite often referred to as the "Japanese Spring Break." It is a combination of many state holidays, including Showa Day, Greenery Day, Children's Day, and Constitution Memorial Day in order to give a full week off. It takes place during the first full week of May. Everyone gets this week off in Japan so it is very bad time to travel because everything is crowded, expensive and most hotels will be full.

Other Events and Festivals

  • O-Bon (Festival of the Dead) - Usually held in August, this festival is observed nationwide in Japan. Buddhist tradition dictates this is the day the dead return to earth to visit their relatives. Lanterns are hung outside homes and offerings to the spirits are made. In the evening, people float the lanterns on the river to help guide the deceased back to their resting place.
  • Hanami and Cherry Blossom Festivals - A tradition all over Japan, Hanami literally means viewing flowers. Picnic under the beautiful flowing trees in any public park during this special season. Usually lasting for only two weeks in March, the sakura (cherry blossom) schedule changes a bit every year, so it’s hard to nail down exactly when to come.

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Getting There

By Plane

Matsuyama Airport (MYJ) has regular flights to/from Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya, Seoul, Shanghai, Fukuoka and Kagoshima.

By Train

Shikoku is not connected to the Shinkansen network, but there are frequent connections from Okayama on Honshu to Takamatsu and from there on throughout the island. The limited express Shiokaze (特急 しおかぜ) runs back and forth betweeen Okayama and Matsuyama roughly every hour during the day, skipping some stations on the way, if you feel like a more direct connection to that side of the island. The pace on Shikoku being what it is, don't come there expecting any of the trains to be super fast. It would also be wise to remember that train information will be in Japanese only, unlike what you may be used to from the Shinkansen. So either be sure to brush up on your knowledge of terms such as "unreserved seats" and the names of the places you're planning to visit, in kanji, or plan to ask a lot of people (which may be more fun, but may also take more time).

By Car

While there are highways linking Shikoku with Honshu, they are expensive - around ¥5,000.

By Bus

Many bus companies operate buses to main cities and towns on Shikoku and onwards to the mainland. Willer Express goes to Kobe, Osaka and Tokyo, while Iyo Tetsu Bus goes to Fukuoka (10 hours).

By Boat

There is regular ferry service to Hiroshima from Matsuyama including a speedy hydrofoil service taking less than 1.5 hours. There are also slower and longer ferries, including to Kobe and to Kyushu island. Setonaikai is one of the operators and Ishizaki is another one. The slower ferries take about 2.5 hours but are twice as cheap (about 3,500 yen instead of 7,000 one-way!). Sunflower ferries goes to Kokura in Kitakyushu and travel at night. It also runs the ferry between Osaka and Beppu which stops in Matsuyama on its way to Osaka, but not the other way around!

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Getting Around

Shikoku can be difficult to get around without your own vehicle, especially to out-of-the-way natural sites sought by many visitors. Trains are infrequent in many parts, as are buses, so travelers who wish to move about the island or explore remote areas should know the timetables of whatever transport you need beforehand. Be aware that some buses only run during specific periods or on weekends and holidays only. Some travelers report feeling that it's more expensive however, this may be due to their perception of Shikoku as the "small island". In actuality, the price per distance is generally the same as more frequented routes. The time required however, is much greater. For example, the price from Okayama to Hiroshima just north on the mainland versus Takamatsu to Matsuyama is almost the same however, the Takamatsu-Matsuyama route takes more than twice as long.

During specified periods, the Yoso Line operates Cycle Trains which allow you to bring your bicycles on the train for easy and convenient cycling along the route.

Serious pilgrims may choose to complete the 88 Temple Circuit on foot.

By Train

The JR train network connects the larger towns together fairly well, but regular trains are slow and expresses are expensive. The main lines are:

  • JR Yosan Line (予讃線) on the west coast, from Takamatsu to Uwajima via Matsuyama. It also includes the Uchiko Line which connects Iyo to Ozu via Uchiko.
  • JR Dosan Line (土讃線) across the center of the island, from Tadotsu to Shimanto (Kubokawa Station) via the Oboke gorge (near Iya Valley) and Kochi
  • JR Kōtoku Line (高徳線) on the east coast, from Takamatsu to Tokushima

For heavy travel, JR offers the Shikoku Free Kippu (四国フリーきっぷ), which allows unlimited usage of JR trains and buses, including limited expresses, on three consecutive days (¥16,140). If you manage to time it so that you can start on your birthday, ask for the Birthday Kippu instead, and you'll get the same deal for just ¥10,000!

For the frugal traveler, the Shikoku Saihakken Haya-Toku Kippu (四国再発見早トクきっぷ ) may be a better deal, as it offers one day of unlimited travel for just ¥2,000. There are three big catches though: it's only valid on weekends and public holidays, it's limited to local trains, and you have to buy it at least one day in advance.

Tosa Kuroshio Railway is the largest private railway on the island and connects the JR Lines to the far ends of Kochi Prefecture. Some parts of the JR network, notably the southern segment from Kubokawa to Sukumo, have split off and are now owned by Tosa Kuroshio Railway company.

Each of the capitals with the exception of Tokushima have trams that make travel around the city centers convenient.

By Bus

Buses fill in the gaps in the train network and are the only means of transport in areas like Cape Ashizuri and the Iya Valley. Schedules are sparse and prices are high.

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Language

Shikoku is far enough off the beaten track that some Japanese ability, while not absolutely necessary, will come in handy. Some of Shikoku's dialects, notably Tosa-ben spoken in Kochi, are famously incomprehensible even to other Japanese.

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Eat

There aren't any "Shikokuan" foods per se, but each prefecture has something that they're famous for:

  • Ehime - Sweet mikan mandarin oranges
  • Kagawa - Sanuki udon noodles
  • Kochi - Bonito (Katsuo), a type of small tuna fish
  • Tokushima - Sudachi a little smooth green citrus fruit, like a lime

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Accommodation in Shikoku

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Shikoku searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Shikoku and areas nearby.

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This is version 8. Last edited at 13:19 on Aug 17, 17 by Utrecht. 12 articles link to this page.

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