Enjoy spellbinding views of Shikoku from above
There's no better way to experience the majesty of Shikoku than from atop one of its numerous mountains. Regardless of your experience level, there are many ways and places to scale the slopes and take in the view. Hop on board the ropeway through the Kankakei Gorge where panoramic views await. Hike a spiritual trail in Kochi and follow in the footsteps of Shugendo pilgrims. Or take a 330-meter journey on a chairlift up nearby Mount Tsurugi for a resplendent view.
Kankakei Gorge & Ropeway
Kankakei Gorge, located centrally on Shodoshima, is an expansive valley renowned for its vibrant forests and unique, volcano-carved rock formations. Considered one of Japan's three most beautiful valleys, the area shines in all seasons with verdant greenery in spring and summer, fiery foliage in autumn, and snow-dusted tree tops in winter. Thanks to its lush environment, the gorge is an excellent hiking destination and features two popular trails—Kankakei Omote and Kankakei Ura—both roughly 2 km in length. For elevated perspectives of this mesmerizing naturescape, opt for a ride on the Kankakei Ropeway!
The Kankakei Ropeway is the only ropeway in Japan that offers views of the sky, sea, and gorge simultaneously. During the 5-minute ride, which rises from 295 to 612 meters, enjoy panoramas of the tree-blanketed hills against the Seto Inland Sea. From the upper station, which is near Shodoshima's highest peak, visit one of the area's observation decks for picturesque views of the surrounding scenery. The upper station area also has a restaurant and a shop where you can relax after your nature adventure.
Located in the nature rich village of Hidaka and south of the Kusaka River, Mt. Otaki is a 247-meter tall mountain where followers of shugendo used to train. Shugendo is a unique Japanese religion that combines elements of numerous beliefs, including Shintoism and Buddhism, and primarily focuses on mountains as places of worship. Followers of Shugendo typically go on ascetic mountain pilgrimages to find spiritual rebirth through nature. Gokokuji Temple, located about a 15-minutes walk from JR Okabana Station, still reveres the mountain as a place of spiritual importance.
Today, you can experience Mt. Otaki's spiritual history with a mountain hike led by a Gokokuji Temple monk. With an English-speaking monk as your guide, journey through the mountainside and open your senses to the lush environment.
Aside from its religious significance, Mt. Otaki also makes for a beautiful hike and features lovely views of nature near its summit.
Hiking at Mt. Tsurugi
Mt. Tsurugi, located adjacent to Iya Valley, is the second tallest mountain in western Japan—at 1,955 meters—and one of Japan's 100 Famous Mountains. Despite its high elevation, the hike to the mountain's summit is relatively easy thanks to a chairlift that brings you about half-way up.
The one-seated chairlift ascends about 330 meters and takes roughly 15 minutes. For the most direct route to the summit from the upper chairlift station, called Nishijima, follow the Ridge Trail Course, which takes about 40 minutes. For longer hikes that weave through the forested mountainside, take the Tsurugi Trail Course (60 minutes) or the Yuhodo (Promenade) Trail Course (80 minutes). You can also opt to bypass the chairlift and hike the entire way up to the summit from the Minokoshii trailhead, which takes about two hours one way. The top of the mountain is home to a shrine, bathrooms, mountain lodging huts, and wooden boardwalks that lead to scenic lookout points. In summer, enjoy expansive views of verdant mountaintops, and in autumn, admire the vibrant autumn foliage.
Unique cultural experiences found nowhere else
Despite its small size, Shikoku has developed its own unique traditions that have enticed visitors for centuries. One of the highlights is the annual Murakami Suigun Boat Race which takes place in the height of the summer. In Tokushima, an 800-year-old tradition of indigo dying lives on. And in Kochi's Iwamoto Temple, monks will guide you through the practice of meditating while sitting cross-legged in the Shimanto River.
The Murakami Suigun Boat Race
In late July, cool off with the Murakami Suigun Boat Race—an exciting waterside event. Held annually on Oshima island in Ehime prefecture, the event celebrates the Seto Inland Sea's suigun, or pirate, culture with exhilarating boat races of more than 60 teams from inside and outside the prefecture. The Murakami suigun are especially renowned as they once controlled the waters around the Seto islands. Watch as these 12-manned boats face off in a contest of speed and mastery. The event also features delicious festival food, such as yakitori (skewered chicken) and seafood, and unleashes a mesmerizing fireworks display after the races. While you are in the area, visit the nearby Murakami Suigun Museum to learn more about this intriguing side of Japan.
Aizome: Traditional Indigo Dyeing in Tokushima
Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of aizome, traditional indigo dyeing, in Tokushima. This treasured art dates back nearly 800 years ago in the prefecture and uses natural, plant-based ingredients to dye fabrics. This deep blue color is known globally as "Japan Blue." Given its long history in the indigo-dyeing industry, Tokushima became renowned for its indigo products and became home to Awa-ai—a high quality brand of indigo dye.
Today, you can still experience this rich culture throughout the prefecture and create your own indigo-dyed fabric. Join a workshop, such as one at Nagao-Orifu introduced below, and follow dyeing masters through processes that have been passed down for generations.Traditional dyeing techniques such as shading produces vivid indigo colors. Indigo dyes are entirely natural, ensuring that the craft making experience is eco friendly. Purchasing these gorgeous deep blue products is also another way to support local artisans.
An excellent place to start your journey is Nagao-Orifu, a company established in 1897 that specializes in Awa Shijira-ori—fabric dyed with Awa indigo. Here you can dye a handkerchief, towel scarf, short-sleeve shirt, linen scarf, silk scarf, or even your own item! If you are interested, please make a reservation at least five days in advance, and note that the facility only accepts cash.
Meditate over Water at Iwamotoji Temple
Escape the busyness of modern life with a one-of-a-kind meditation experience at Iwamotoji Temple in Kochi, the 37th temple of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. Every year, from spring through fall, the temple invites guests to practice zazen, zen Buddhist meditation, on the nearby river.
After changing into a samue—Japanese monk clothing which is available to rent free of charge—a monk will guide you to the Shimanto River and direct you to sit directly in the refreshing waters as he provides meditation guidance. The coolness of the water coupled with the encircling forests, epitomizes tranquility and creates a wonderful place to practice mindfulness. After meditating, you will continue your spiritual journey at the temple with Buddhist sutra copying, which is available in both English and kanji characters. For an additional charge, you can warm your body in the temple's sauna to complete the experience.
The experience is available in both English and Japanese! Be sure to make a reservation from the home page.
Tosa Washi Craft Village QRUAD
Try your hand at traditional Japanese washi papermaking at Tosa Washi Craft Village QRAUD in Ino Town, and create your own postcard or paper using traditional techniques. Situated next to the Niyodo River, the complex also includes accommodation, a public spa and other craft activities, with canoeing and rafting available in the summer.
Uwajima taimeshi – sea bream rice
Ehime’s proximity to the sea means that fresh seafood is readily available, and the prefecture is known for a dish called taimeshi (sea bream rice). While the rice and fish are usually cooked, the city of Uwajima developed its own version, comprising raw fish placed on hot rice then topped with raw egg mixed with soy sauce, so visitors with an adventurous palate shouldn’t miss this!
Castle stays and art islands are just some of the activities on offer
Although natural sights in Shikoku are an important draw for tourists, the island's cultural activities are equally as fulfilling. In Ozu City, visitors can stay at Ozu Castle for an unforgettable night of accommodations, while Naoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, is famous for its art galleries and museums . In the Iya Valley, enjoy a leisurely overnight stay at Chiiori, a 300-year-old Japanese traditional home that will transport you to a time lost to history.
Chiiori: a 300-year-old Japanese traditional home
Nestled in Tokushima's verdant Iya Valley, Chiiori is a 300-year-old Japanese traditional home that epitomizes Japan's traditional countryside. With its masterful woodwork and thatched roof, a visit to Chiiori will make you feel as though you stepped into the past. Today, this house serves as a unique lodging experience.
Chiiori's spacious interior features sitting spaces with a traditional hearth, a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The rustic design of dark wood floors and natural toned colors, perfectly complements the area's encircling nature and creates a relaxing stay. Aside from its historic elements, the house also has modern amenities, including a microwave,and rice cooker in the kitchen, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning.
For an additional charge, Chiiori also offers a dinner service with regional cuisine catered from a local restaurant. Enjoy traditional soba rice porridge (made from soba seeds boiled in salt water), seasonal vegetables, grilled fish, and more.
Ozu City, located in western Ehime, originated as a castle town and today, still retains its historical charm with its preserved alleyways and traditional structures. One of the city's greatest lures is Ozu Castle. This castle stands beside the Hijikawa River and was recently rebuilt in the early 2000s using primarily traditional construction techniques. The commanding presence of the castle's main keep and adjacent turrets truly embody Japan's past. You can even spend the night at the castle! Since the castle only hosts private parties, you will truly feel like a castle owner as you enjoy delicious meals and captivating performances.
Located southeast of Ozu Castle is the city's old town. Here, you can wander down stone streets lined with old fashioned houses from both the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. Some highlights of the area include the Ozu Redbrick Hall, a western-styled building from the Meiji Period; Pokopen Yokocho Alley, a street lined with wooden stalls selling an assortment of products and foods; and Garyu Sanso Villa, an aesthetic villa with landscaped gardens, picturesque architecture, and lovely views of the Hijikawa River.
Thanks to its high samurai population and involvement in tea gatherings, Ozu also developed a persevering tea and confectionary culture. Today, you can still enjoy a number of traditional treats, including shigure (a blend of sweet red bean paste and rice flour) and gessomochi (round bracken starch covered with sweet toasted soybean flour and filled with sweet red bean paste).
Naoshima Art Appreciation
Naoshima is a small island located in the Seto Inland Sea between Okayama and Kagawa prefecture. Despite the island's tiny size, it is renowned for its huge art culture and is home to numerous museums. Many of the island's top museums, including the Chichu Art Museum and Lee Ufan Museum, focus on contemporary art and are situated along the island's coast, making for lovely seaside views. Art House Project is another popular spot on the island and features a collection of old buildings such as vacant houses that have been either restored for viewing or converted into art venues where contemporary artists can make the facility as their art space. The facility's grounds themselves are a work of art.
Of course, one of Naoshima's most renowned spots is the Benesse House—a contemporary art museum and hotel . The facility displays works from artists in Japan and abroad in a location that was selected by the artists themselves. Apart from the exhibition space, the museum features numerous sculptures and displays, including the renowned Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama on the facility grounds that has become synonymous with Naoshima's art culture.
Shikoku is brimming with natural beauty and rich cultural traditions. At the island's heart, vast mountains and crystal-clear streams make for an impressive scene, while encircling the entire island is an ancient Buddhist pilgrimage route complete with no less than 88 temples.