Road trip on the island of Shikoku, Japan

Article updated on May 25, 2020
Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

 

While the Japanese train system is excellent and allows to explore most of the country, driving is essential to explore Shikoku, the remote and off-the-beaten path island of Japan, where public transportation is less developed.

The road from Yawatahama, where the ferry from Kyushu lands, to Matsuyama is squeezed between the turquoise waters of the Seto Inland Sea dotted by fisherman’s small boats and lush mountains, offering breath-taking views on Kyushu, Honchu and many smaller islands. It is a perfect introduction to both faces of Shikoku: the coastal one and the inland one.

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Several images depicting Japanese pilgrims with white clotes, stone buddhas, a vine bridge and a mountain road with traditional houses in Japan.

The mountain side

As soon as we leave the national coastal road to explore the mountains, it turns into a single lane with a mirror in each curve to check on an occasional car that might come from the opposite direction. Driving through the mountains of Shikoku is not for the faint of heart: reversing the car in a bend to let another pass or to be able to take an extremely sharp curve along a never-ending ravine becomes the norm. Gaining confidence on these daunting roads, we wandered on even smaller and steeper ones, merely 40 centimetres (14 inches) wider than the car to discover one of the many shrines and temples, an 800-year-old cedar tree and a former Samurai house in the very scenic Iya Valley along roaring rivers.

Like on traditional Japanese prints, the inland side is composed of layers of steep mountains covered in ever-green forests often playing hide and seek with the clouds. Steep and winding mountain roads unravel an uncountable number of waterfalls being continuously fed by the summer rains.

The abundant flow rate of rivers and gorges are a visible trace of the passage of the most recent typhoon, Nangka, as are the streams of water and branches that cut off the road at times.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage

Renown in Japan, the pilgrimage on Shikoku Island visits 88 temples. Most pilgrims (henro) only walk a part of this 40-day 1,200-kilometre (750 miles) hike. Associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai (774–835), pilgrims of all ages wearing white and the sedge hat with traditional walking sticks are easy to spot in the forests of Shikoku. This trail has been walked for over 1,200 years…

Ishizuchi-San

One of Japan’s 7 sacred summits, Ishizuchi-San takes a demanding day hike to be summitted:

Rocky summit of the sacred Ishizuchi san in Shikoku in the clouds. A hiker climbs the chains.

The coast

Coming down from the mountains with its poor villages consisting of a few houses and occasionally planted with rice as soon as allowed by the terrain, to arrive on the coast feels like a travel through time: multiple lane roads, traffic lights, large rice fields, prosperous towns with modern buildings, industrial harbours, shops, restaurants, trattorias and French bakeries.

Takamatsu – Ritsurin Garden

The Ritsurin Garden of Takamatsu is one of Japan’s most beautiful Japanese gardens and is well worth a visit.

Kompira-san

The Kompira-san complex houses both Buddhist and Shintoist temples.

Matsuyama

The castle of Matsuyama, Matsuyama-jo is one of the most interesting one to visit in Japan.

Ozu

Ozu is a small village where a rare and ancient fishing tradition still takes place:

Ukai cormorant fishing in Japan. Japanese man in a wooden boat with cormorants on both sides.

Driving back to the ferry along the Inland Sea about a week later, we are overlooking the suspension bridges connecting Shikoku to the Hiroshima prefecture on Honchu. These impressive pieces of civil engineering present such a big contrast with the inland vine bridges that we feel we have discovered two worlds and times on the very same island, both equally interesting.

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Several images depicting Japanese pilgrims with white clotes, stone buddhas, a vine bridge and a mountain road with traditional houses in Japan.

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Or click on the images below for a selection in Shikoku:

Japan food series soba noodles displayed with their dippings. Rocky summit of the sacred Ishizuchi san in Shikoku in the clouds. A hiker climbs the chains. Old vine bridge over a roaring river and green forest around in Japan.Ukai cormorant fishing in Japan. Japanese man in a wooden boat with cormorants on both sides. Japanese floats and people dressed up for their summer festivals. People playing the drums.

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A roadtrip through Japan's rempote northern island written on a photo of two bears a fox and a salmon. Green hills with a road going through and a yellow signal with a cow. Smiling lady filling out a JRpass form for the train in Japan on a wooden desk in a station.Wild salmon jumping up against a waterfall during its migration, Japan. Text about the differences between temples & shrines. The back of a pilgrim, a candle blowing. Japanese man in a kimono walking on wet asphalt along traditional Japanese houses in Kurokawa, Japanese women in beautiful kimonos parading amongst pink lotus flowers in Usuki, Japan. Mountains with clouds and smoke from volcanic activity in Hokkaido, Japan. Gorge with emerald water, a waterfall and green trees in Japan.

5 thoughts on “Road trip on the island of Shikoku, Japan

  1. Pingback: Japan food series – Soba noodles | Best regards from far,

  2. Pingback: Road trip in the wild Northern island of Japan: Hokkaido | Best regards from far,

  3. Pingback: Japan food series: bento, the convenient and tasteful Japanese boxed-meal | Best regards from far,

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