It’s surprising how even those having visited Japan can’t name its four main islands. Addressing the ignorance, here we take a look at the fourth largest — Shikoku island in Japan. The island is also birthplace to the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, Kōbō Daishi. While ‘Shikoku’ literally translates to ‘four countries’ because of it being divided into four prefectures, the island is home to the 88 sacred temples of Shikoku, which is Japan’s most famous pilgrimage spot. By Shubhanjana Das
Shikoku can be reached from Honshu via an impressive but daunting three-bridge systems, which have been developed only in the last three decades. Shikoku is guarded by mountains as well as the stunning Pacific coastline and promises the absolute idyllic setting for some soul-searching.
While temples alone cannot sum up the spiritual significance of a place, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Shikoku island has 88 sacred temples. These are one of the few unique circular-shaped pilgrimages in the world, which loops around the island covering a distance of 1,200 km. It’s a meditative way of self-reflection as the locals of Shikoku warm up to the pilgrims, offering them food and snacks as they pass by. Be prepared for embracing the Japanese culture as you would get to stay in the traditional huts while taking the pilgrimage, which usually requires a month to complete.
On your way, you will stumble upon historical gardens like that of Ritsurin Garden, witness the fierce rivers, come across the gorgeous Iya valley and get to try the traditional cuisines. When in Matsuyama, don’t forget to hop on the rope walk bridge to reach one of the 12 remaining ‘original castles’ of Japan. In Kagawa, you will find Japan’s oldest Kabuki house. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese theatre, which is struggling in its dying embers. Try your luck and see if you can witness a real Japanese dance drama, the routine of which has been left since the Edo Period!
For an authentic food experience of Shikoku island, hop on the ‘Udon Taxi’ in Kagawa, an experience borne out of the region’s love for Udon — thick white noodles served in steaming-hot, flavoured, thick broth. The drill is that a local taxi driver takes you to all of his favourite Udon places in the area, eats with you, and acts as your guide to teach you the culture and history of not only Udon but also the place in general. If you want to take it further, you can even visit the Nakano Udon School to watch the noodle-making process from scratch.
Between Honshu and Shikoku is a group of small islands connected by ferry, which bears the beauty of art installations — both enormous installations and structures and underground museums. You might feel like entering a post-apocalyptic scenario as crazy yet brilliant pieces of art from artists around the country surround you. The movement started when the abandoned houses of the dwindling population were turned into artworks or galleries.