Despite the fact that Shikoku features some of Japan’s most beautiful natural scenery, fun cities filled with interesting museums, great restaurants and well-preserved medieval castles as well as a multitude of important historic temples, it doesn’t find its way on many foreign travelers’ itineraries.
This also means that during a trip to Shikoku, you will have some of the coolest attractions Japan has to offer completely to yourself, which makes them all the more alluring in my opinion.
If you’re a first-time visitor to the country, I recommend combining a week or two in Southern Honshu, where you can visit the more famous sights in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima with a short trip to Shikoku, where you’ll be able to get off the tourist trail and experience a completely different side of Japan.
To get a taste of what the island has to offer, I recommend spending at least a week on Shikoku. That should give you enough time to explore some natural and cultural attractions in the area without rushing too much. Here’s my suggested one-week itinerary for a well-rounded introduction to Shikoku.
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How to get around on Shikoku
By far the best way to get around Japan is by using the country’s impeccable train system, which is fast, comfortable and efficient.
A regional JR-Railway pass allows for unlimited use of Shikoku’s JR railways for 3 (9,000¥/68$), 4 (10,000¥/75$), 5 (11,000¥/82$) or 7 days (13,000¥/96$), which is altogether a fantastic deal. You can order your regional JR-Pass or general JR-Pass online on this site.
Public transport in the more remote areas of the island like the Iya Valley is a bit infrequent, so if you’re short on time but still want to explore these, renting a car for a couple of days would be a good idea. You can do that in any of the bigger cities on the Shikoku (like Takamatsu, Matsuyama, Kochi or Tokushima). Have a look here:
Organized Shikoku Tours
If you prefer to explore Shikoku with an experienced guide and without having to sort out your own transport and accommodation, taking an organized tour might be the way to got for you. There are several companies offering such tours. Have a look here to find the right one.
The perfect One Week Shikoku Itinerary
Day 1: Takamatsu
Start your tour of Shikoku in Takamatsu, a pleasant city in the northeastern part of the island. Without a doubt, the main attraction here is the amazing Ritsurin Kōen, designated a Special Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese Government and one of the prettiest gardens we’ve ever visited in Japan – and that means some tough competition!
Even more beautiful gardens can be found on the grounds of Takamatsu Castle, while art buffs will like the expositions of the city’s Modern Art Museum. Apart from that, Takamatsu has a pleasant pedestrianized city centre and is a good place to taste the famous regional Sanuki Udon Noodles.
Day 2: Kotohira
Next, make your way to Kotohira – a charming small town sporting Shikoku’s largest Shinto Shrine. A visit to Konpira-San requires climbing 1368 steps, but once you’ve reached the shrine and are enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains, you’ll see that the climb was worth it.
Apart from the shrine, I can recommend a visit to the town’s old sake factory, which has been turned into an interesting museum, as well as to the pretty Kanamaruza Playhouse, Japan’s oldest Kabuki Theatre.
In case you’re looking for something a little more unusual to do: Stefanie and I had a lot of fun taking a cooking class, where we learned to make the region’s famous Sanuki Udon Noodles.
Day 3-4: Iya Valley
To get even farther off the tourist trail, make your way to the secluded Iya Valley. It seems to be most famous for its historic vine bridges, but honestly, there is so much more to discover, if you are willing to spend a couple of days here.
With amazing views and cute little villages around every corner, we found the Valley to be one of the most beautiful areas we’ve come across in Japan.
Apart from that, the area also is wacky Japan at its best, featuring a village populated by life-sized dolls, a bug-shaped monorail whizzing you through the mountains and a museum dedicated to the Yōkai, demon-creatures of Japanese Mythology.
The best thing about all of this, is that the Iya Valley is still one of Japan’s best kept secrets, so once you’ve ventured beyond the popular Iya-No Kazura-bashi Vine Bridge, you likely won’t meet any other tourists – we certainly didn’t. Talk about an authentic experience!
Day 5: Kōchi
Of the cities we visited on Shikoku, Kōchi was our absolute favourite, as it has a relaxed vibe and a nice location close to the sea. There are also plenty of historical and natural sights, giving you enough reasons to stick around for a while.
There’s a well-preserved castle, a couple of interesting museums where you can get acquainted with Japanese History (or learn how to make paper), and a wonderful Botanical Garden, just to name a few attractions. If you’re here on a Sunday, make sure to check out the famous week-market that’s been going strong for 300 years.
We also found Kōchi to be a great place for foodies. A cool spot to sample local specialities is the Hirome Ichiba food court (try the Katsuo no-tataki bonito) or try your hand at making your own Okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) at Hakobe Restaurant.
- Budget Accommodation Tip: Katsuo Guesthouse or Kōchi Youth Hostel (Tel. +81 88-823-0858)
- Midrange Accommodation Tip: Dormy Inn Kochi
- Luxury Accommodation Tip: まちの別邸 緝 Shu or Jyoseikan Ryokan
Day 6: Uchiko
Uchiko is rural Japan at its prettiest – the historic centre of this charming traditional village is filled with attractive wooden houses and another beautiful Kabuki Theatre (in case you missed the one in Kotohira, or – like us – just can’t get enough of traditional Japanese architecture!).
Visiting the village is possible as a stopover between Kōchi and Matsuyama, but spending a night here would give you a chance to soak up some of the peaceful atmosphere that Uchiko exudes in spades.
- Budget Accommodation Tip: Hostel & Tatami Bar Uchikobare
- Midrange Accommodation Tip: One of the Inns of Uchiko
Day 7: Matsuyama
Matsuyama is Shikoku’s biggest city, but somehow it still has a pleasant small-town feel when compared to Japan’s larger metropolises. That said, there’s no shortage of fascinating things to see.
Top things to do in Matsuyama include zipping up to the city’s well-preserved castle by rope-way, soaking in Japan’s oldest public bath-house (which incidentally inspired the one from the Studio Ghibli Film Spirited Away) or enjoying the views of the city from a Ferris wheel located atop a skyscraper.
We thought the contrasts between old and new, between tradition and modernity that distinguish Japan, were much more pronounced in Shikoku than the rest of the country. Matsuyama perfectly exemplified these intriguing contradictions, making it a perfect place to end one’s explorations of this unique island.
- Budget Accommodation Tip: Cinnamon Guest House
- Midrange Accommodation Tip: Hotel Patio Dogo
- Luxury Accommodation Tip: Chaharu Ryokan
If You Have More Time
If you have more time to spend, there are plenty of other cities to see on the island, like Tokushima and Naruto. You could also spend some time in the seldom-visited southwestern part of the island and check out the two southern capes.
Otherwise, you could stay longer in Takamatsu, which is also a good base for day-trips to some islands of the Sento Inland Sea, the most famous being the unique Naoshima, rightfully referred to as the “Art Island”.
In general, more time allows for a slower approach, letting you familiarize yourself better with the destinations. Especially Kōchi is a pleasant place to spend a couple of days, while the Iya Valley rewards slow travel as it’s chock-full of sights and opportunities for great hikes.
If You Have Less Time
If you have less than a week on Shikoku, I recommend that you concentrate on a part of the island rather than its entirety, as you won’t want to spend most of your precious time traveling between cities.
In case you have only three days, you could for instance check out either Takamatsu and Kotohira; the Iya Valley or Matsuyama and Uchiko. Thus, you could get a first taste of what Shikoku has to offer and ideally return for a longer trip in the future.
Accommodation on Shikoku
You can browse for more than the suggested hotels and guest houses in the map below:
You can find more information about traveling in Shikoku, including the various ways to get there as well as info on daily budgeting, in my Shikoku Travel Guide.