Things to Do In Shikoku Island: Beyond Japan’s Golden Route

Last Updated on 09/06/2023 by secretmoona

Shikoku Island is Japan’s best-kept secret. Packed with all the things that people seek out when planning a trip to Japan: breathtaking scenery, culture, tradition, authenticity and hospitable people. If you want to experience something different, where nature and traditions still live, I would urge you to go to Shikoku.

Let’s explore the beauty of Shikoku Island, a destination off the beaten path.

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Practical information about Shikoku Island

Where is Shikoku Island?

Shikoku (四国) is the fourth largest island in mainland Japan, located between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is smaller than Honshu, Hokkaido, and Kyushu but still holds the distinction of being the fourth largest. Unfortunately, it is also the least visited by international tourists due to its location outside the Golden Route. The name Shikoku means “four countries”, with “shi” meaning four and “koku” meaning country or region. True to its name, the island comprises four prefectures: Ehime, Tokushima, Kochi, and Kagawa.

Shikoku is known for its beautiful coastline, mountains and rivers. It is accessible from Honshu via bridges and tunnels that connect the two islands, allowing both toad and rail travel between them.

How to get to Shikoku?

Here are the information on how to get to Shikoku Island and get around once you are there.

Plane:

the easiest way to reach Shikoku is by flying from one of the main airports. There are three main airports on the island: Matsuyama, Tokushima and Koshi. From Tokyo, you can easily and quickly fly to Shikoku with JAL, ANA and low-cost airlines. I recommend flying from and back to Haneda (HND), which is more central and convenient compared to Narita. Flights from Tokyo are generally 1h25minutes.

Train:

The small island is connected to mainland Japan via several railway bridges, but it doesn’t have the Shinkansen (high-speed train). However, if you are travelling on the Japan Rail Pass, you can access Shikoku by taking the Shinkansen to Okayama and then JR trains to either Matsuyama or Takamatsu. From there, you can connect to a local train or bus to your final destination. 

Boat:

For many years, boats were the only way to reach Shikoku. Nowadays, with planes and roads, ferries are less used. There are still several ferry services operating in several cities, including Hiroshima, Naoshima, Okayama and Beppu.  

Car:

Shikoku is separated from Honshu by the Seto Inland Sea. There are several bridges that connect both islands. So you can easily take your car but bear in mind the expressway is costly.

You can get to Shikoku with the Japan Rail Pass or the All Shikoku Rail Pass: Get your pass here.

Botchan Ressha, a replica of a small-gauge steam locomotive in the city of Matsuyama, Ehime - Shikoku Island

Getting around Shikoku Island?

Travelling around the island of Shikoku is done mainly by taking local trains, buses or private cars. 

Trains:

JR Shikoku trains cover most of the major cities and towns, whereas the Yosan Line and Dosan Line run east-west and north-south, respectively, covering again, most of the island. Note that regular trains are slow and express trains are on the expensive side. For those planning to travel within the island, there is the Shikoku Free Kippu (three consecutive days at ¥16,140/£67) which offers unlimited use of JR trains and buses. For those travelling on a budget, consider the Shikoku Saihakken Haya-Toku Kippu (an unlimited-day ticket for ¥2,000)

Buses:

Buses are perfect for destinations not accessible by trains, like the Iya Valley. Note schedules are not frequent. 

Car:

To explore the most remote areas of Shikoku or travel at your own pace, then renting a car is the easiest way to move around locations. There are rental car services at all the airports and big cities, however, I recommend renting via DiscoverCars. As noted above, a car is an easy way to get around between smaller towns. It’s important to note that there are many toll charges, and in Japan, people drive on the left side of the road. 

Bike:

This is a perfect way to explore some areas of the island, especially cycling through the fabulous Shimanami Kaido bridge. It’s a very popular cycling route for bike enthusiasts and connects Shikoku to Hiroshima prefecture. There are several rental shops making the whole experience easy.

On foot:

some of the smaller towns are very compact, so you can get around easily on foot. It is worth noting also that some pilgrims choose to carry out the 88 Temple Pilgrimage on foot. 

When to visit Shikoku Island?

Best time to visit Shikoku - Cherry blossoms

There is no single best time to visit Shikoku or Japan, as it will ultimately depend on your preferences. Japan experiences all four seasons, so can be visited anytime. To go with the trend, Japan is most beautiful during the famous cherry blossoms or Sakura season (late March-early April) or during the autumn (late November-early December) when the colours of the maple trees are stunning. If you have to visit Japan during these two seasons, escape to Shikoku as there will be fewer crowds, and accommodation will be reasonably cheaper than in Kyoto or Tokyo.

Where to stay on Shikoku Island?

Like anywhere in the country, Shikoku Island has many accommodations to choose from, whether you like staying in hotels, onsen ryokans or guest houses.

Book your stay via Booking.com.

Stay connected with a Pocket Wi-Fi

Empty street in village of Uchiko, Shikoku
A quiet street in Uchiko, Ehime Prefecture.

Why travel to Shikoku? Is Shikoku worth visiting?

Shikoku Island may be small, but it has plenty to offer for active travellers and those interested in Japanese culture. A road trip through the island’s four prefectures will take you to charming small towns, picturesque fishing villages, beautiful beaches, and majestic mountains. After all, Shikoku is renowned for its natural beauty, rich cultural and historical heritage, and delicious cuisine. Whether you explore the mountains, hike in the Iya Valley, enjoy the scenic coastline along the Seto Inland Sea, or engage in other outdoor activities, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to sample the island’s impressive local delicacies while experiencing the warm hospitality of its friendly locals. The fact that the island is not touristy is also appealing as you can experience all these without the crowd.  

Things to do in Shikoku

Shikoku offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors. Here are some of the top things to do in Shikoku:

Take part in the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage

Shikoku is famous for its pilgrimage, a 1200 km route that connects 88 temples dedicated to Kobo Daichi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. The route takes pilgrims through towns, coasts, and mountains, with many temples located in remote areas. While pilgrims mainly follow the path on foot, they can also use cars. Pilgrims are easily recognizable by their white clothing and straw hats. The locals welcome them with open arms, often clearing the paths, leaving warm messages, and providing directions. More and more Westerners are also embarking on this Buddhist religious journey. Even non-religious visitors can appreciate the historical and cultural significance of the temples along the route.

Try some local treats

Like most of Japan, you will find plenty of delicious dishes in Shikoku. Water surrounds the island, so obviously, seafood will take an important part in the local cuisine. That being said, each prefecture has its own specialities. One dish that can be found in Ehime is tai-meshi. It’s basically rice cooked with whole seabream on top. In Kochi, you will have the Katsuo-no-Tataki, a lightly seared bonito. Both are simple dishes but delicious! Ehime is also home to the delightful citrus fruit called mikan. They are refreshing and sweet! Tokushima also has a citrus fruit, sudachi, which is more like a lime. 

If you like noodles and ramen, be sure to sample the island’s specialities. In Kawaga, you’ll get to taste a delicious chewy Sanuki udon. It’s usually served with a light broth (kake udon) or meat (niku udon). While Tokushima has yummy ramen made of short and straight noodles.

Bring some ceramics home

When visiting Shikoku, consider buying ceramics as souvenirs. Japanese ceramics are globally popular and beautiful, making them a great option to take home. You can find Tobe ceramics in Ehime or Otani ware in Tokushima Prefecture. Purchasing them locally will cost less than buying them in Tokyo or your home country.

Take Kobo bamboo workshop Uchiko - Ehime - Shikoku Island
Takeuchi Hisao-san, master bamboo craftsman in UchikoT- Ehime

Do something out of the ordinary

Immerse yourself in the traditions of life in the countryside during your trip to Shikoku Island by getting your hands on craft-making. Japan is a country where craftsmanship is essential. The country has many crafts, some of them dating back to centuries. In Shikoku, you can learn about and experience various traditional crafts like creating your own washi paper, lanterns, bamboo works, pottery, festival dolls etc… If you are into culinary activities, you can try making your own udon noodles or make mochi. Noodles are popular in Japan, and Kagawa Prefecture is a famous region for “udon”. There are several udon-preparing facilities on Shikoku Island, like the Nakano Udon School. Traditional “mochi” (Japanese rice cakes) making is a labour-intensive task but fun activity. While in Shikoku, you can visit a local farmer to learn the techniques of preparing delicious mochi. You see this method being practised at New Year’s and festivals.

Go village hopping 

If you rent a car, why not explore some of the villages in Shikoku? There are many villages spread across the island, each with its own unique charm. Uchiko is a well-preserved small town featuring structures from both the Edo and Showa periods. Its neighbouring town, Ozu, is owned by Ozu Castle as well as Garyu Sanso, a beautiful and serene tea house overlooking the Hijikawa River. 

Ochiai Village in the mountains of Tokushima is filled with charming thatched houses built on a steep slope. The entire village has been designated as a Nationally Important Preservation District. 

Discover the beauty of Shikoku’s mountains

The island of Shikoku is a paradise for hikers. Not only you can take part in the Shikoku Island 88 Temples Pilgrimage, one of Japan’s best hikes, but you can also experience Shikoku no Michi (1300 km) and Shikoku Nature Trail (1637 km). Both trails follow the pilgrimage routes, Shikoku no Michi focuses on nature and history with stops by temples and shrines, while Shikoku Nature Trail emphasizes mountains. In addition, there are several other trails you can achieve within a day or less. With so many mountains in Shikoku, you are spoiled for choice! 

Explore Ehime Prefecture (Iyo)

Matsuyama is both Shikoku’s largest town and the capital of Ehime Prefecture. The prefecture, located between the sea and mountains, is famous for its sweet tangerines (called mikans), a pilgrimage of the 88 temples, Dogo Onsen and is home to the country’s original castles as well as the oldest onsen: Dogo Onsen Honkan.

Soak in Dogo Onsen Honkan, Japan’s oldest onsen

Dogo Onsen Honkan in Matsuyama, Shikoku
The magnificent Dogo Onsen Honkan

A trip to Shikoku wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the most famous onsens in Japan. Regarded as the oldest onsen (with more than 1,000 years of history), Dogo Onsen Honkan is a magical building. With its crafted rooftop, the building is said to have inspired Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away”. Pay a visit to the famous bathhouse and have a one-of-a-kind spa experience.

Visit Matsuyama Castle 

Matsuyama castle in Ehime, Shikoku

One of the best things to do in Shikoku is to visit Matsuyama Castle, which stands tall on Mount Katsuyama. It offers visitors a breathtaking view of the city and its surroundings. The castle has several gates and towers and is one of Japan’s original 12 castles, built between 1602 and 1628. Although the current structure dates back to the 19th century, it remains an impressive sight. A must-see in Shikoku, especially during spring when the cherry trees surrounding the castle are in full bloom. Access to the castle is available via a ropeway or lift.

Cycle the Shimanami Kaido bridge  

Shimanami Kaido is the name of the Nishiseto Expressway, which connects Hiroshima Prefecture with Ehime Prefecture. The bridge has paths for pedestrians as well as cyclists. Therefore, it’s popular with people who want to witness the beauty of the Seto Inland Sea and feel the ocean breeze! 

EXPLORE SHIKOKU ISLAND

Discover Kochi (Tosa)

Kochi Prefecture, not to be confused with the city of Kochi in India, is located on the southern coast of the island. It’s home to another stunning hilltop preserved castle, the Shimanto River ( the longest river in Shikoku) and some of the finest beaches like Katsurahama Beach.  

Stop by the Shimanto River

During the summer months, people flock to the Shimanto River. With a length of 196 km, it’s the longest river in Shikoku. As such, it offers various outdoor activities, including canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and paddle boarding). For a tranquil activity, you can board one of the “yakatabune”, a traditional roofed boat. People also like to cycle on the “Chinkabashi”, bridges with no railings designed to be submerged during flooding. 

Eat Katsuo no Tataki

Slices of seared and cut Katsuo no Tataki

If you love sashimi then you will appreciate Kochi’s, especially: Katsuo no Tataki. The bonito (also known as skipjack tuna) is briefly reared over a straw fire and then cut into thick slices. It’s delicious with a woody taste to it. You will easily find this dish in restaurants and izakayas across the region. 

Explore Kagawa (Sanuki)

The smallest prefecture in Shikoku is known as the “country of Sanuki” and is also the birthplace of Kobo Daichi (Buddhist monk). Travelling to Kagawa offers the opportunity to explore quiet islands like Naoshima, fishing villages and eat delicious udon noodles.

Relax at Ritsurin Garden   

Ritsurin Koen, located in Takamatsu, must be on the list of the most beautiful gardens in Japan! The incredible garden is a paradise for nature lovers, especially in autumn. I’m always impressed by the serenity and beauty of Japanese gardens. The level of detail dedicated to this former daimyo’s (feudal lord) residence is no joke. It took 100 years to finish the garden which showed the previous owners each had an eye for beauty and understood the importance of designing a relaxing yet stunning garden. Imagine walking along the cobbled paths and admiring the idyllic ponds and wooden bridges…

Take a day trip to the “art Island” of Naoshima

The little island situated in the Seto Inland Sea is a short boat ride from Takamatsu. The island is best known for the red and yellow pumpkins sculptures by Yayoi Kusama. On top of experiencing beautiful sandy beaches, people can visit various arts, sculptures and art museums. 

Discover Tokushima (Awa)

Tokushima is known for the spectacular whirlpools of Naruto, the beautiful Iya Valley and the yearly Awa Odori dance festival. 

Discover the natural beauty of Iya Valley 

Things to do in Shikoku Island -Kazura Bridge surrounded by lush green at Iya Valley

The Iya Valley is a wonderful place located in the city of Miyoshi in Tokushima. Surrounded by mountains, it’s a popular hiking spot. The area is stunning all year round, but even more so in autumn when the colours of the leaves start changing to a mix of red, orange and yellow. The stunning valley is full of vine bridges, all exceptionally maintained. Crossing some of these bridges will definitely be the top attraction for the adventurous at heart! (Kazura Bridge) In the days, samurai used to hide from their enemies within the valley, so they built vine bridges, so they could cut them easily if they were being followed. 

Get your dancing shoes on during the Awa Odori Festival 

The Awa Odori dance is one of the highlights of summer in Tokushima. The festival, which takes its name from the ancient name for the prefecture (Awa), has more than 400 years of history. IIt’sthe largest dance festival in the country and a fun festival where visitors can watch and join in some performances. Check the Awa Odori website for info.

See the Naruto Whirlpool 

Naruto whirlpools seen from above a bridge
Whirlpools seen from the bridge – Credit Uzunomichi

Connecting Tokushima to Awaji Island is the Naruto Bridge. At 876 m, it’s one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. While on the bridge, you can experience the breathtaking Naruto Whirlpools. The harsh tidal currents caused by the tidal variation between the Seto Inland Sea and Kii Canal create whirlpools. These giant whirlpools (up to 20 m in diameter) can be viewed via a glass-floored bridge section. The viewing facility called Uzu no Michi is 450 m long. For added sensations, you can join the whirlpool sightseeing boats to see them up close. More information on the guided tour can be found here

Interested in visiting and exploring Shikoku? Then these articles might be of interest.

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Here you have it! The top things to do on Shikoku Island. I found this destination to have a relaxed atmosphere, tranquil countryside way of life, and calming scenery. Highlights of the island include the stunning Iya Valley, quaint rural towns, and mouthwatering food. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, be sure to add Shikoku Island to your itinerary for a memorable experience.

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

32 thoughts on “Things to Do In Shikoku Island: Beyond Japan’s Golden Route

  1. ok..wow!! Temple Pilgrimage, noodle making (hell yes) , village hopping, mountains and temples… My dream to visit Japan is so vivid and im so keen to explore Shikoku too!

  2. Shimanami Kaido was on my bucket list while I was living in Nagoya but I just ran out of time! It was lovely seeing a bit of Shikoku through this guide though 🙂

  3. That food looks heavenly! I want to visit Japan so freaking badly! I would for sure splurge on way too many ceramics and eat my body weight in ramen.

  4. Oooh your post made me miss Japan, I haven’t been to Shikoku yet but I am definitely adding it to my Japan bucket list for my next trip!

    1. Yes, staying in a Japanese traditional house is called “kominka”. There are lots of villages in Shikoku you can stay over and experience Japanese life. One of them is Uchiko in Ehime Prefecture. You can also stay in a thatched farmhouse in Ochiai Village, Tokushima Prefecture.

  5. I’ve never been to Japan, but it’s at the top of my Asia travel bucket list. I bet it’s absolutely gorgeous when the cherry blossoms are in bloom! If it’s even half as pretty as Washington DC is then, wow!

    1. Thanks Sage. I’ve nit been to Washington DC but can say that cherry blossoms in Japan are more beautiful! I believe it all started after Japan gifted some trees to the city.

  6. I want to go to Japan during Cherry Blossom season. I think the photos would be stunning then. Where you do you think would be the best place in Japan to see them?

    1. There are numbers of spots in Japan where you can enjoy beautiful cherry blossom viewing. Tokyo alone has lots of beautiful parks like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Kyoto and Kanazawa are great locations too but might be overcrowded.

  7. I am now sorry that we missed Shikoku Island when we visited Japan. We had a tight schedule and had to cherry pick our stops. The train or maybe even a ferry sound like an option to me to get there. But it looks like we need a few days to really enjoy the charm of the island once there. And maybe even learn to make noodles!

  8. I love that one of the modes of transportation around Shikoku Island is a train! This looks like such a beautiful place to explore nature, history, and try new foods. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I have never been to Japan! I would love to visit it during the sakura season. I bet it’s amazing. Also, thank you for sharing this island. I love visiting off the beaten track places.

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