An Exploration Of Shikoku: Japan’s Fourth-Largest Island

One fascinating fact about Japan is that it’s actually made up of thousands of islands. One such island that warrants a visit is Shikoku. Shikoku, which means “four countries” in Japanese, actually consists of four separate prefectures. It is also known as being the fourth largest island in Japan. 

Each prefecture on the island of Shikoku offers something different to tourists, with destinations that vary from best-kept secrets within small towns to popular landmarks that are sought out by many visitors every year.

Shikoku has also managed to keep a lot of traditions well-preserved, giving you a unique glimpse of Japan throughout time that you won’t find anywhere else. 

Shodoshima Angel road sea landscape in Shikoku

The Shinto Belief About The History Of Shikoku 

The Shinto faith regards Shikoku as the second island that Izanagi and Izanami created. These two Shinto gods are believed to have been the parents of Japan.

The gods were also responsible for the division of Shikoku into four prefectures, though their names were different than they are now.

There’s an expansive and breathtaking mountain range that runs through the middle of the island, which has been known as a tranquil and peaceful region of Japan for a very long time.

Onaruto suspension Bridge of tokushima

There are several bridges that help connect Shikoku to other islands of Japan, though this wasn’t the case for a long time. 

The Four Prefectures 

The four prefectures within Shikoku are Tokushima, Ehime, Kochi, and Kagawa. Each prefecture is known for having its own landmarks and places of significance, with many places for lodging, dining, and so much more. 

Thus, you could space out a large portion of your trip exploring what each of these prefectures has in store.

There is so much to do and see within each of these prefectures, as well as various events and festivals throughout the prefectures each year, you’ll never get bored here. 

Tokushima Prefecture 

Tokushima is located in eastern Shikoku and has an abundance of mountains and natural beauty, as well as a bounty of gorgeous blue water sources.

Apart from being a beautiful place to explore, there are a few destinations that draw tourists to Tokushima. 

Tokushima City, the capital of the prefecture, is known for holding the Awa Adori dance festival each year.

Awa-Odori dance

This festival is held in August, and attending this festival full of traditional dance and music will hands-down be one of your most memorable experiences in Japan.

There is also lots of food to sample and games to play during the festival. 

Naruto is another gorgeous destination within Tokushima, known for the Strait of Naruto which is full of whirlpools.

There’s a bridge that spans over this strait so you can watch the whirlpools from above. Additionally, Iya Valley is a stunning area to hike through when you’re looking for a day of exercise and breathtaking nature. 

Ehime Prefecture 

Ehime Prefecture is the picturesque western prefecture of Shikoku, dotted with mountains and beautiful green areas.

Dogo Onsen is one highlight of Ehime, being that it’s one of the oldest hot springs onsen still operating in Japan. 

Dogo Onsen

This onsen can be found in Matsuyama, the capital city of Ehime. There are also many ryokan inns around the onsen if you want to extend your stay after enjoying an amazing hot bath.

Matsuyama is also home to a stunning castle, made even more beautiful if you’re there during cherry blossom season. 

Within Matsuyama, you can also find Ishiteji Temple, a highly regarded temple that features an enclosed path full of little stalls of souvenirs and trinkets that leads to the temple.

Ishiteji temple number 51 of the Shikoku pilgrimage

Several parts of the temple are considered historically significant artifacts, including the Niomon Gate and the pagoda

Ozu is another charming little city to explore in Ehime, with many areas still staying true to Japan throughout the centuries.

Many buildings and homes have been preserved or restored, including Ozu Castle. There are also many rivers flowing throughout the prefecture, adding to its exquisite beauty. 

Ozu Castle

Kochi Prefecture 

Kochi is the perfect prefecture to visit if you are a nature lover, with streams and rivers and green mountains everywhere.

Kochi sits at the southern edge of the island of Shikoku, and its capital city also goes by Kochi. Kochi is also one of the best places to eat seafood, given that it sources some of the freshest fish you can find in all of Shikoku. 

Kochi City

Kochi City is sprinkled with many castles, including a castle that sits at the top of a hill, as well as various temples.

Mount Gosaidan brings many people to the city, as it houses the Chikurinji Temple and the remarkable Makino Botanical Garden.

The garden was named after famous Kochi botanist Dr. Makino Tomitaro and has a greenhouse, park, and various walking paths. 

Kagawa Prefecture

This northern prefecture of Shikoku is smaller than the rest of the prefectures, but still offers a lot of fun things to do. The capital city is Takamatsu, and the city is famous for its udon noodles.

If you want to try some of these hearty, tasty noodles, head to Sanuki Udon when you’re in the city.  

If you enjoy art, two destinations you’ll want to explore when in Kagawa are Teshima Island and Naoshima.

Benesse Art Museum on Naoshima island

Teshima Island hosts an art festival every three years, but if you aren’t there when it’s held, you can go to the Teshima Art Museum to see a host of contemporary creations.

In Naoshima, there are museums you can visit, as well as several installations and sculptures found throughout the island. 

Marugame is another city in Kagawa that is home to a castle of the same name, and you can see its glory on top of a hill surrounded by a rocky base.

This castle was one of the very few castles to have been built in the Edo period of Japan and managed to survive all this time. 

Marugame Castle

The Shikoku Pilgrimage 

One of the most compelling experiences you can participate in when visiting Shikoku is the Shikoku pilgrimage.

This is a vast path and there’s no way you’ll be able to embark on the entire route, though some people will, it takes over two months to walk the entire pilgrimage.

Buddhist pilgrims entering Shosanji, temple number 12 of the Shikoku pilgrimage

However, you can walk small parts of the path. You can also take a bus or train along parts of the path. 

This pilgrimage is monumental to the Buddhist faith and is known as the pilgrimage walked by Kobo Daishi, a saint in the Buddhist religion.

There are 88 stops on the pilgrimage which amalgamate to represent each of the evils that could interrupt a peaceful life. 

Getting To Shikoku 

One of the easiest ways to get to Shikoku from another part of Japan is by traveling over the Great Seto Ohashi Bridge.

This bridge has two separate levels that are dedicated to either car or train, giving you the option to use either method of transportation. The bridge spans from Okayama on Honshu island to Kagawa in Shikoku. 

Great Seto Ohashi Bridge

The Sanyo Shinkansen train can be caught from major cities in Japan, such as Kyoto or Tokyo, and can take you to Okayama where you can catch the train over the bridge.

The Shiokaze train at Okayama Station can also take you into Matsuyama in Ehome.

A Visit To Shikoku

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.