We went to Shikoku because in Tadotsu there is the Shorinji Kempo main Dojo, martial art that my friend and travelbuddy in this trip Manuel Martín practiced. Since we were going to go, he insisted that we stay one or two more days; literally his words were: “I do not know what is there, but I think it has to be cool.” Since I knew absolutely nothing about Shikoku I could not refute his argument, and from this anecdote I learned that sometimes it is not bad to let go by instinct, because the overall experience was very positive.
Its name means “the 4 countries”, division that is currently maintained but in prefectures. The fourth largest island in the rising sun country makes up almost all of its homonymous region. Located to the south of Hiroshima and Okayama Prefectures in Honshu, and in spite of its relative proximity to them and the excellent transport infrastructures, this region is the least visited by foreign tourists, and yet it is the location of a world-famous attraction:
- The Shikoku Henro, better known as the Route of the 88 Buddhist Temples, one of the most popular religious pilgrimages in the world and the most important in Japan. The pilgrimage from one temple to the next has been performed for more than 1,200 years, it’s 1,200 km long and usually takes between 30 and 60 days on foot. Pilgrims are dressed in white and spend the night in lodgings specially designed for them or in the temples, crossing villages, valleys and forests in one of the quietest regions in the country, an authentic cure for the soul even for those who decide to do it for tourism and non-religious reasons. Regardless of the motivations, it is an unforgettable life experience and everyone is welcome.
The Shikoku Henro is in a way a reflection of the character of this region: quiet, pleasant and beautiful without being ostentatious, and so are the rest of its main attractions. Here we can find, besides of multiple Buddhist temples:
- The Shimanami Kaido, a spectacular bicycle route between Onomichi in Honshu and Imabari in Shikoku, crossing the Seto Sea through islands and huge suspension bridges.
- Sanctuaries such as Konpira-San in Kotohira, which would probably be famous if it had been built in Kyoto or Nara.
- The Iya Valley, with its mountains and deciduous forests.
- Rice terraces on Nakayama Island.
- The curious Naruto whirlpools (yes, like the manga and its protagonist) of up to 20 meters in diameter, formed by the clash of currents between the Pacific Ocean and the Inland Sea and the shape of the seabed, although it is true that we passed through there and we did not see them, but it is also true that we try to see them from the bridge, not from the boats.
- The castles of Matsuyama and Kochi.
- And traditional villages, mostly in Tokushima prefecture.
But even being interesting, reality is that its attractions are not better than those of Honshu, so I would not recommend going to those who are in a short of time. Shikoku is a region for those who can take it easy.
WHAT TO SEE
- SHIMANAMI KAIDO: THE ROUTE OF THE BRIDGES BETWEEN ONOMICHI AND SHIKOKU
- ZENTSUJI AND TADOTSU
- WHEN TO GO
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