Things to Do on Shikoku: Japan’s Least Traveled to Main Island
With the whole of Japan so easy to get around, be it by bullet train, plane or bus, nowadays even the far northern island of Hokkaido and far south of Fukuoka are both a well-traveled path for tourists from abroad. However most of Shikoku still remains a lesser trodden route, despite it being easy to get to. Japan's fourth largest of the main islands, there's plenty to do here for even the most adamant of travelers.
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There's no mentioning Shikoku without a nod to one of the most famous onsens in Japan. One of the most impressive bathhouses in the nation, Matsuyama City's Dogo Onsen has a long history dating back to other a thousand years ago. Along with being a popular getaway for one of Japan's most famous authors Natsume Soseki, the beautiful main building inspired the design of the similarly-looking bathhouse in Ghibli's hugely popular animated movie 'Spirited Away'.
If you have a love for cute fury animals then you're in for a surprise. Aoshima is a crazy cat lady's paradise, the whole island being full of felines. Although there a few different 'cat islands' around Japan, Aoshima is one of the most prominent, with about ten times as many cats as people calling the island home. The cats were introduced to the island to get rid of rats that would plague the local fishing boats, and have just increased in numbers since. Boats leave twice a day for the island from Nagahama Port which can be easily reached by train.
The iconic peak of Shikoku, Mount Ishizuchi's jagged point stretches up over 6,500 feet above the surrounding mountainous region. Although the scenery as you hike up the mountain (or use the convenient rope-way, we won't judge) is stunning in itself, most people visit here for the famous shrine on the mountain, known as one of Japan's seven holy mountains.
One of Japan's twelve 'original castles' which have survived the post-feudal era intact, Matsuyama Castle is a beautiful representation of the country's iconic and imposing structures. The castle sits on a hill at the center of the city, allowing for stunning views across the metropolitan area from its grounds. The castle was built in the 17th century and has a total of 21 buildings across the area.
One of the most beautiful escapes of nature in the country, Iya Valley is an incredible hidden stretch of greenery within the mountains of central Shikoku. While it's most stunning in the autumn when the colors start changing to red, orange and yellows, Iya's beauty is present all year round with each season having its own unique charm. The area is also famous for its beautifully maintained vine bridges that cross some of the dramatic sloping valleys.
Often claimed to be one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan, Ritsurin has a number of sites of incredible beauty, perfect for that Instagram snap. Although you can visit all year round, it's true beauty shines when the autumn colors are present there. The gardens themselves took over 100 years to finish, and when you see them for yourself you'll understand why, with so much detail and care going into them. The garden is particularly popular for its bonsai trees and the local area is well known for being the producer for most of the country's bonsai.
For those who make the extra effort to head off the beaten track and into Shikoku, they'll be well rewarded by a rustic beauty and charm that's unique to the area. Make sure to try out the local udon noodles known as Sanuki-udon if you're visiting Kagawa. It's made with a light dashi broth with square shaped noodles that are known as some of the most famous udon in the country.