Awa-odori in Shikoku, Japan

Shikoku Travel Guide

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Shikoku might just be my favorite Japanese island. And while the wide variety of high-quality Shikoku tourist spots definitely influences this statement, there’s something else about the island—the fact that so many people overlook it altogether, perhaps—that makes it irresistible to me.

Whether you’re want to know more about why I feel this way, or are simply looking for the best places to visit in Shikoku, I have a feeling you’re going to find what you’re looking for below.

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Why Should You Visit Shikoku?

There are two ways to answer this question. Practically speaking, many come for the 88-temple Shikoku pilgrimage, though that’s only the beginning of Shikoku’s many sights, from natural wonders like Naruto Whirlpools and the Yoshino River, to cities like Matsuyama and Takamatsu, to culinary delights like Kochi’s seared bonito and Marugame’s beef udon.

But there’s a more esoteric perspective to take, as well. Shikoku is both Japan’s smallest main island and its least-visited one, which means you can have more of its magic all to yourself. And trust me: Shikoku is magical.

Where to Go in Shikoku

Tokushima

 

Within Tokushima itself, the most popular attraction is the Awa Odori Festival, named for the popular local style of dance, which takes place every August. Outside the city limits, however, is where things really get wild. Whether you take a topsy-turvy boat ride through the Naruto Whirlpools or visit one of the traditional indigo farms in Tokushima’s western suburbs, which are some of the last of their kind in the world, this city makes a great introduction to Shikoku.

Kochi

 

Of course, you could just as well start in Kochi, hub of Shikoku’s south, famous among other reasons for Kochi Castle. Architecture-wise, you can also Chikurin-ji pagoda, while Hirome Market is a great spot to taste local flavors (like smokey bonito cooked tataki style) in a casual setting. Outside the city, Kochi prefecture offers ecotourism options like sea kayaking and traditional boat rides down the crystalline Shimanto River.

Matsuyama

 

Like Kochi, Matsuyama is a castle town: Matsuyama Castle is built in a very different style from its cousin on Shikoku’s south shore, but offers an incredible sunset vantage point, to say nothing of how gorgeous it looks during sakura season. From here, ride one of the city’s charming street cars to Dogo Onsen, which is one of the oldest public bath houses in Japan. The architecture is truly stunning, particularly at night!

Takamatsu

 

Ritsurin is Shikoku’s most beautiful public garden, and possibly one of the best in all of Japan. Don’t spend too long here, however, as adventures await on the outskirts of Takamatsu city. On one side you have Kotohira-gu, a dramatic hillside temple that sits near the famous Konpira Onsen. On the other you have the city of Marugame, which in addition to having yet another incredible Shikoku castle is home to the best beef udon in Japan.

Iya Valley

 

Most travelers come to this part of Shikoku to stay at Iya Onsen, and while bathing here is a scenic and delightful experience, I urge you to explore deeper. In the immediate vicinity you’ll find the iconic Hi-no-yi river bend (and cheeky “Pissing Boy” statue) and the iconic Kazurabashi rope bridge. Traveling further into Shikoku’s mountains brings you to the crystalline Yoshino River, dramatic Oboke Gorgeand picturesque towns like Awa-Ideka and Tsukuda.

Getting Around Shikoku

While hiring a car (if you have an international driving permit) is by far easier, the best way to travel Shikoku in terms of cost (not to mention a low stress level) is getting a Shikoku Rail Pass. This isn’t as convenient as a full JR pass—it doesn’t cover the Shinkansen, for example, since there are none in Shikoku—but you also don’t have to buy it in advance of your trip, which makes it a lot more convenient.

Where to Stay in Shikoku

Shikoku is a magical place to visit, but you aren’t always guaranteed a magical place to stay. This is particularly the case in Shikoku cities, where boring (but clean and perfectly acceptable) business hotels are the rule. Many of the properties in the Iya Valley are nice, particularly Iya Onsen itself, but with the exception perhaps of Dogo Onsen hotels in Matsuyama and Konpira Onsen ones near Takamatsu, you shouldn’t expect a lot from Shikoku hotels.

The Bottom Line

Shikoku sights are magical, but the feeling of traveling in this underrated island is something you can only understand once you set foot here—even if you aren’t doing the sprawling pilgrimage trail, your journey will feel truly blessed. While Shikoku speaks loudest to somewhat experienced Japan travelers, who are able to put its charms into the context of other places in the country, I’d recommend going here even if you’re on your first trip.