This is probably one of the least visited places in Japan – statistics have shown that only one in a hundred visitors to Japan would pay a visit here.
Shikoku is the smallest of the four main islands in Japan and is located about two and a half hours drive from Osaka. The two primary accessibility to this island is via rail and road.
Image credit: Google Maps
Shikoku is generally well known for their nature, culture, hot springs and traditional Japanese food, which is some of the best in entire Japan. Tourist looking for a modern and fast city Japanese lifestyle should reconsider this place and focus on the large cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
However, if you want to experience a very natural Japan, Shikoku is the place to explore and do prepare to spend at least three days here. I would personally recommend spending at least five days for Shikoku Island.
Four Main Prefectures of Shikoku
Although Shikoku is smaller than the other three main islands of Japan, there are four main prefectures here which are Ehime, Kagawa, Tokushima and Kochi Prefecture. Each of them provides a different and unique Japanese experience for travellers.
Depending on where you stay or what you want to do, you should know that the island is quite huge hence there is much overland travelling to do. The best is to plan an itinerary and then chart your travel according to your plan.
The popular Hirome Market in Kochi.
Image credit: RachelH_ on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
What to do in Shikoku?
#1 Visit Markets
One of the best things that you can do in Shikoku is to explore the many unique Japanese markets which are very localized in many ways. The highlight of these markets are the unique and uncommon snacks and Japanese food that are not to be missed.
Kochi Prefecture would be the ultimate place to start as there are three main markets to explore in this prefecture.
1. Hirome Market
Address: 2-3-1 Obiyamachi Kochi-city, Kochi
Opening Hours: 8 AM – 11 PM (Weekdays, Sat. and Holidays), 7 AM – 11 PM (Sun.)
Note: store hours vary
2. Kure Taisho-machi Market
Address: Kure, Nakatosa-cho, Takaoka-gun 789-1301, Kochi
Opening Hours: Late morning to evening
Closed: January 1 – 3, stormy days (some stalls closed on the fourth Tuesday)
3. Sunday Market
Address: Center of Kochi City, Kochi
Opening Hours: 5 AM – 6 PM (April to September); 5:30 AM – 5 PM (October to March)
Closed: January 1 – 2; Sunday during the Yosakoi Festival
#2 Festivals in Shikoku
There are two main summer festivals that should not be missed when you visit Shikoku and they are the Awa Odori Festival and the Yosakoi Festival in Kochi. Each of this festival attracts over a million visitors.
Just in case you didn’t know, the Awa Odori is the largest dance festival in Japan. Performers will parade through the streets singing and dancing in their costumes and some would even bring along musical instruments. The Yosakoi Festival also comes with dancing and singing but is held slightly earlier than Awa Odori Festival.
Awa Odori Festival Period: 12 – 15 August
Yosakoi Festival Period: 9 – 12 August
#3 Visit Castles of Shikoku
Shikoku is home to four Japanese castles that are well worth visiting. Besides castles, there are many popular temple and shrines to visit around here. Some locations require travelling a distance, but if you rent a car it would be quite easy to move around.
For a first-timer visiting Shikoku, I would strongly recommend visiting the following castles.
1. Matsuyama Castle
Address: 1 Marunouchi Matsuyama-city, Ehime
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (Feb. – Jul., Sep. – Nov.), 9 AM – 5:30 PM (Aug.), 9 AM – 4:30 PM (Dec. – Jan.)
Admission fee: ¥ 510
2. Kochi Castle
Address: 1-2-1 Marunouchi Kochi-city, Kochi
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (last entry 4:30 PM)
Closed: Dec. 26 – Jan. 1
Admission fees: ¥420
3. Ozu Castle
Address: 903 Ozu, Ozu-city, Ehime
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (last admission 4:30 PM)
Admission Fees: ¥500 (Adult), ¥200 yen (Child under 15 years old)
4. Imabari Castle
Address: 3-1-3 Toricho, Imabari, Ehime Prefecture 794-0036
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (last admission 4:30 PM)
Admission Fees: ¥500 (Adult), ¥250 (Student)
#4 Whale Watching in Shikoku
If you are travelling here between the months of May to October, you can visit the Tosa Bay to see large whales who come here for the mating season. These whales are a whopping 12-meter long and belong to the Bryde’s Whale species. On occasion, hundreds of dolphins are also spotted alongside the whales.
Local fishermen in Tosa Bay turn their boats into whale sighting boats and price per person is ¥6000 for adults, ¥4500 for children and ¥3000 for toddlers. The location of Tosa Bay is far south of Shikoku and near Kamikawaguchi. From Kochi, you can board a two-hour scenic train journey and do take note that the journey takes almost one full day.
#5 Ride the Iyonada Monogatari Sightseeing Train
For train fanatics, this is one train journey that is well worth experiencing as this retro-modern style train travels from city to city in the north-west of Shikoku Island. This train journey allows you to view the beautiful landscape of Shikoku with comfort.
Train tickets must be bought in advance and meals have to be paid separately. It may be a little confusing and you can opt to purchase through a travel agent in Shikoku to avoid complications. This train journey is recommended because the train is one of a kind and it even has its own private train track that runs along the coastline. Now you can imagine how beautiful your train journey would be.
#6 Visit the Naruto Whirlpool
One of three amazing whirlpools in the world, the Naruto Whirlpool is probably the best of them. Located in the Strait of Naruto, there is a special man-made glass floor bridge for viewing purposes. This is for thrill seekers and if you have never seen a sea whirlpool, you could do it here.
The Naruto Whirlpool forms due to the massive amount of water from the Pacific Ocean meeting the Harima-nada Inland Sea at this location. The phenomena create a whirlpool vortex which is 20 meters’ wide and it is best observed from the glass bridge. Visitors can opt to go on a thrilling boat cruise (¥2260) to see the whirlpool or view it from a safe distance at the promenade of the Naruto Bridge (¥510).
Muslim Travel in Shikoku
Unfortunately, there are little to no Muslim-friendly facilities in Shikoku. However, you can explore the different towns and look for Middle Eastern or Indian cafes and restaurants for halal food.
Muslim-friendly facilities are found mostly on the main island in the cities of Hiroshima and Okayama. Muslims can choose to stay in these cities and travel over to Shikoku to explore this beautiful place.
Overall, there are many other things that can be done in Shikoku, and it all depends on what you want to experience. From nature treks, beautiful onsen, mountain hiking to sampling traditional Japanese cuisines, it can all be done here.
For more information on Shikoku, please visit the official tourism website of the region as they have up to date general information.