Shikoku is a captivating island located in the southwestern part of Japan. It is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, but it is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Shikoku is often overlooked by tourists who flock to the more popular destinations like Tokyo and Kyoto, but those who venture to this enchanting island are rewarded with a unique and authentic Japanese experience.

Shikoku is known for its stunning landscapes, ancient temples, and warm hospitality. The island is divided into four prefectures – Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima – each offering its own distinct charm. From lush mountains and pristine beaches to quaint villages and bustling cities, Shikoku has something for everyone.

The Historical and Cultural Richness of Shikoku

Shikoku has played a significant role in Japanese history. It was once the center of political power during the Heian period (794-1185) and served as a gateway for trade with China and Korea. Many historical sites can still be found on the island, including castles, shrines, and temples.

Buddhism has had a profound influence on Shikoku’s culture. The island is home to the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage, a 1,200-kilometer route that takes pilgrims to 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai. This pilgrimage has been a spiritual journey for centuries and continues to attract thousands of visitors each year.

In addition to its religious heritage, Shikoku is also known for its traditional arts and crafts. The island is famous for its pottery, textiles, and papermaking. Visitors can witness these traditional crafts being made by skilled artisans and even try their hand at creating their own unique pieces.

Natural Wonders: Discovering the Island’s Breathtaking Scenery

Shikoku is blessed with diverse landscapes that offer breathtaking scenery. From rugged mountains and deep valleys to picturesque coastlines and crystal-clear rivers, the island is a paradise for nature lovers.

One of the most famous natural attractions in Shikoku is the Naruto Whirlpools. Located in the Naruto Strait, these whirlpools are created by the tidal currents and can reach up to 20 meters in diameter. Visitors can take a boat tour to witness this natural phenomenon up close.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Shikoku offers a wide range of activities such as hiking, cycling, and kayaking. The island is home to several national parks, including the stunning Shikoku Karst, where visitors can explore vast grasslands and limestone formations.

The Pilgrimage Trail: A Spiritual Journey Across Shikoku

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in Japan. It was established by the Buddhist monk Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, in the 9th century. The pilgrimage takes visitors on a journey to 88 temples associated with Kukai, who is believed to have achieved enlightenment on Shikoku.

The route covers a distance of approximately 1,200 kilometers and can be completed on foot, by bicycle, or by car. Each temple has its own unique history and significance, and pilgrims often stop at each temple to pray and receive a stamp in their pilgrimage book.

Completing the Shikoku Pilgrimage is not only a physical challenge but also a spiritual one. It offers pilgrims an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. Along the way, pilgrims can experience the beauty of Shikoku’s landscapes and immerse themselves in its rich cultural heritage.

Hidden Temples and Shrines: Uncovering Shikoku’s Sacred Sites

While the 88 temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage are well-known, there are also many hidden temples and shrines scattered throughout the island. These lesser-known sites offer a more intimate and peaceful experience for visitors.

One such hidden gem is the Tairyuji Temple in Kochi Prefecture. Located deep in the mountains, this temple is known for its stunning autumn foliage and tranquil atmosphere. Another hidden temple is the Iwaya-ji Temple in Tokushima Prefecture, which is carved into a cliff and offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Shikoku’s religious sites are known for their unique features. For example, the Konpira Shrine in Kagawa Prefecture is famous for its long stone staircase with over 1,300 steps. The Zentsuji Temple in Kagawa Prefecture is believed to be the birthplace of Kukai and is considered one of the most important temples on the pilgrimage route.

Finding and visiting these hidden temples and shrines can be a rewarding experience. They offer a glimpse into Shikoku’s spiritual heritage and provide a peaceful retreat from the bustling tourist attractions.

Culinary Delights: Savoring Shikoku’s Unique Cuisine

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Shikoku is renowned for its delicious regional cuisine. Each prefecture on the island has its own specialties, making it a paradise for food lovers.

In Ehime Prefecture, one must try the famous Matsuyama ramen. This local specialty features thick noodles in a rich pork-based broth topped with tender slices of pork and green onions. Another must-try dish is jakoten, a deep-fried fish cake made from small fish caught in the Seto Inland Sea.

Kagawa Prefecture is known for its udon noodles, which are thick and chewy. Sanuki udon is the most famous type of udon in Kagawa and can be enjoyed in various ways, such as in a hot soup or cold with a dipping sauce. Another popular dish in Kagawa is the local specialty called “udon sushi,” which is made by wrapping udon noodles in seaweed.

In Kochi Prefecture, visitors can savor the fresh seafood caught in the Pacific Ocean. Katsuo no tataki, or seared bonito, is a local delicacy that is lightly seared and served with soy sauce and ginger. Another must-try dish is yuzu kosho, a spicy condiment made from yuzu citrus and chili peppers.

Festivals and Celebrations: Experiencing Shikoku’s Vibrant Culture

Shikoku is known for its vibrant festivals and celebrations, which offer a glimpse into the island’s rich cultural heritage. These festivals are often held at shrines and temples and feature traditional music, dance, and performances.

One of the most famous festivals in Shikoku is the Awa Odori in Tokushima Prefecture. Held in August, this lively dance festival attracts over a million visitors each year. Participants dressed in traditional costumes dance through the streets to the beat of taiko drums and shamisen music.

Another popular festival is the Yosakoi Festival in Kochi Prefecture. This energetic dance festival features teams of dancers performing to modern music while wearing colorful costumes. The festival takes place in August and attracts participants from all over Japan.

Other notable festivals in Shikoku include the Uwajima Ushi-oni Festival in Ehime Prefecture, where participants dress up as mythical creatures and parade through the streets, and the Kanonji Lantern Festival in Kagawa Prefecture, where thousands of lanterns are lit to celebrate the birth of Kukai.

The Art of Craftsmanship: Appreciating Shikoku’s Traditional Handicrafts

Shikoku is known for its traditional crafts, which have been passed down through generations. These crafts reflect the island’s rich cultural heritage and showcase the skill and creativity of its artisans.

One of the most famous traditional crafts in Shikoku is pottery. Ehime Prefecture is known for its Imari-yaki and Seto-yaki ceramics, which are characterized by their vibrant colors and intricate designs. Visitors can visit pottery studios and kilns to witness the process of creating these beautiful pieces.

Another traditional craft in Shikoku is textile weaving. Kagawa Prefecture is famous for its indigo dyeing, known as “Ai-zome,” which produces deep blue fabrics. Tokushima Prefecture is known for its “Awa-ai” indigo dyeing, which has a lighter shade of blue. Visitors can learn about the dyeing process and even try their hand at creating their own indigo-dyed fabric.

Shikoku is also known for its papermaking. Kochi Prefecture is home to the Tosa Washi paper, which is made from the bark of the kozo tree. This handmade paper is known for its strength and durability and is used for various purposes, including calligraphy and traditional crafts.

Rural Life: Immersing Yourself in Shikoku’s Countryside

One of the charms of Shikoku is its rural areas, where visitors can experience the slower pace of life and immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty. Rural areas offer a glimpse into traditional Japanese life and provide an opportunity to interact with locals.

Farm stays are a popular way to experience rural life in Shikoku. Visitors can stay on a farm and participate in various activities such as harvesting vegetables, feeding animals, and learning traditional farming techniques. This allows visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the agricultural traditions that have shaped Shikoku’s countryside.

Other rural experiences include hiking through scenic trails, visiting local markets, and staying in traditional Japanese guesthouses called “minshuku.” These experiences offer a chance to connect with nature and appreciate the simple pleasures of rural living.

Beyond the Beaten Path: Uncovering Shikoku’s Lesser-Known Treasures

While Shikoku has its fair share of popular tourist attractions, there are also many hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path destinations waiting to be discovered. These lesser-known treasures offer a more authentic and intimate experience for visitors.

One such hidden gem is the Oboke Gorge in Tokushima Prefecture. This stunning gorge is known for its emerald-green waters and towering cliffs. Visitors can take a boat tour or hike along the trails to admire the natural beauty of the area.

Another hidden treasure is the Iya Valley in Tokushima Prefecture. This remote valley is known for its lush forests, ancient vine bridges, and traditional thatched-roof houses. Visitors can explore the valley on foot or by bicycle and experience the tranquility of rural Japan.

Other off-the-beaten-path destinations in Shikoku include the secluded beaches of Ashizuri-Misaki in Kochi Prefecture, the historic town of Uchiko in Ehime Prefecture, and the picturesque island of Naoshima in Kagawa Prefecture, which is known for its contemporary art installations.

Exploring beyond the tourist hotspots allows visitors to discover the hidden beauty and charm of Shikoku. It offers a chance to escape the crowds and experience a more authentic side of Japan.

Why Shikoku Should Be on Your Travel Bucket List

Shikoku is a truly enchanting island that offers a unique and authentic Japanese experience. From its rich history and culture to its breathtaking scenery and delicious cuisine, Shikoku has something for everyone.

Whether you’re seeking spiritual enlightenment on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, immersing yourself in rural life, or uncovering hidden temples and shrines, Shikoku will captivate you with its beauty and charm.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Japan, be sure to include Shikoku on your travel bucket list. This enchanting island will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.


What is Shikoku?

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, located in the southwestern part of the country.

What is the population of Shikoku?

As of 2021, the population of Shikoku is approximately 3.8 million people.

What are the major cities in Shikoku?

The major cities in Shikoku are Matsuyama, Tokushima, Kochi, and Takamatsu.

What is the climate like in Shikoku?

Shikoku has a humid subtropical climate, with hot and humid summers and mild winters.

What are the main industries in Shikoku?

The main industries in Shikoku are agriculture, fishing, and manufacturing.

What are some popular tourist attractions in Shikoku?

Some popular tourist attractions in Shikoku include the Shikoku Pilgrimage, Matsuyama Castle, Ritsurin Garden, and the Naruto Whirlpools.

What is the Shikoku Pilgrimage?

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a 1,200-kilometer route that connects 88 Buddhist temples on the island of Shikoku. It is a popular pilgrimage route for both Japanese and international visitors.

What is Matsuyama Castle?

Matsuyama Castle is a castle located in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture. It was built in 1603 and is one of the few remaining original castles in Japan.

What is Ritsurin Garden?

Ritsurin Garden is a traditional Japanese garden located in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture. It was built in the 17th century and is considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan.

What are the Naruto Whirlpools?

The Naruto Whirlpools are tidal whirlpools that occur in the Naruto Strait, which separates Shikoku from Awaji Island. They are caused by the large volumes of water that flow through the strait during high tide.