If you’ve so far come up empty-handed in your search for things to do in Tokushima, I’m not surprised. It’s a small city on an island rarely visited, even less often by non-Japanese speakers.
Indeed, as is the case with Shikoku attractions more broadly, I think the lack of expectations you surely have will make your trip to Tokushima all the more enjoyable.
Whether you’re looking to plan specific activities, or have a more sweeping question (“is Tokushima worth visiting?”) in mind, you’ve arrived at the right place: Your trip to Tokushima starts here.
Where to Stay in Tokushima
Before I get into the weeds of things to do in Tokushima, let’s talk about where in the city you can make your home. (Before I do that, I’ll give you a disclaimer: Most of the hotels in this city aren’t anything special, although there are some newer and newly-renovated properties that are at least comfortable.) In general, since most of the activities you enjoy in Tokushima begin and end at the station, I recommend staying as close to there as possible.
My first experience with Tokushima hotels was at the convenient and 80s-fabulous JR Hotel Clement, which is literally right across from JR Tokushima Station. Other hotels that aren’t quite as convenient but slightly newer (and with more modern ambiance, certainly) include Hotel Sunroute and Daiwa Roynet Hotel Tokushima Ekimae, which is part of one of my favorite Japanese hotel chains.
What to Do in Tokushima
Take in an Awa-Odori Performance
It saddens me that Awa-Odori, the iconic Tokushima dance tradition, isn’t more famous outside of Japan (and indeed, outside of Shikoku). On the other hand, you can let other people’s loss be your gain. If you happen to come in August, you can attend the annual Awa-Odori Matsuri festival. Otherwise, simply head to Tokushima Awa-Odori Kaikan, the public hall where performances take place most every day.
Discover Tokushima’s Indigo Tradition
Another one of my favorite things to do in Tokushima (which, like Awa-Odori, is somewhat obscure for people unfamiliar to Shikoku) is to discover one of Japan’s last surviving indigo craft traditions. In particular, you will want to head to Buaisou, a small shop in the city’s Itano district near the banks of the Yoshino River. Here, you can make your own indigo-dyed textile, and you may or may not be able to visit one of the prefecture’s last five surviving indigo farms.
Get a Preview of the Shikoku Pilgrimage
If you’re like most of my readers, I doubt you’re visiting my blog in preparation for a trek of Shikoku’s 88-temple pilgrimage trail (though if you are, I’ve written a post just for you). With this being said, one of the most famous Shikoku pilgrimage temples (Ryozen-ji, the very first one if you’re doing the sequence) is located within Tokushima prefecture. It isn’t far from Buaiso, either, which makes it easy to combine the two into a trip.
Marvel at the Naruto Whirlpools
Another one of my favorite things to do in Tokushima is actually a bit outside the city, but it very much worth the trek. Accessible via direct bus from Tokushima Station, the Naruto Whirlpools swirl underneath the Naruto Straits Bridge on the very eastern edge of Shikoku. In order to experience these, you’ll need to take a sightseeing boat upon getting off the bus. Don’t worry, though—you won’t be sucked down to the sea floor!
Make an Iya Valley Excursion
Traveling from Tokushima to Iya Valley is very easy, and simply requires you to take a direct, local train from Tokushima Station to Awa-Ikeda. On the other hand, whether your exploration of the Iya Valley takes you to landmarks like the rickety Iya-no-Kazura Bridge or into the picturesque Oboke Valley (which, like the Naruto Whirlpools, is accessible via boat trip), I’d recommend you rent a car if you don’t plan on hiring a taxi for the day.
How to Get to Tokushima
The good news? You can ride a bus directly from Osaka to Tokushima, although—be warned—there are a few stops between JR Osaka Station and JR Tokushima Station. The better news? Since this bus is operated by JR, you can ride it for free if you hold a Japan Rail Pass. (Although the JR Pass is of limited utility in Shikoku, given the lack of Shinkansen bullet trains and the generally low cost of riding the island’s rails.)
On the other hand, you don’t have to begin your trip to Shikoku by ticking off things to do in Tokushima. Although I prefer to start my Shikoku adventures in Tokushima and work my way clockwise, you could instead enter from the north (Takamatsu, via Okayama) and travel the other way around the island. In either case, Tokushima is as easy to reach from Honshu as it is from destinations within Shikoku.
Where to Go After Tokushima
Whether you follow the path of most visitors to Shikoku and travel from Tokushima to Kochi, here are some other destinations you’ll want to make sure to visit while on Japan’s most underrated island:
The Bottom Line
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, both by the array of things to do in Tokushima, and with how well it pairs with other destinations in Japan. Some travelers will pop over from Osaka, Kobe or Awaji Island for a day or two, while others (irrespective of how they reach the city) will enjoy Tokushima as part of a larger Shikoku trip. Certainly, whether you spend the day at Naruto Whirlpools and the night at Awa Odori Kaikan, or sleep multiple nights in Shikoku to enjoy the city’s treasures more fully, Tokushima will exceed your expectations, especially given how low they probably are.