LITTLE LITTLE WONDER
Shikoku, the most diminutive of Japan’s four major islands, offers an oasis of calm that affirms the country’s contemplative nature and natural beauty
The site of Japan’s most celebrated pilgrimage, the 88 Temples of Shikoku, is an apt place to find tranquillity amid the nation’s often frenetic backdrop. Though the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still more than a year away, Japan is currently the twelfth-most visited nation in the world, and overtourism already afflicts parts of the Land of the Rising Sun. Happily, Shikoku represents one of your best chances to find peace in the archipelago, tucked between Kyushu to the west and the mainland ports of Kobe and Osaka on Honshu in the north. On the island, you’ll find acres of untamed wilderness, pristine waterways, villages and organic farmlands, all ideal for hiking, as well as sampling centuries-old handicrafts and an array of local cuisines.
Where to start
Access Shikoku via Tokushima, the well-connected capital city of its namesake prefecture. It’s a short flight from Tokyo, or a ferry ride from Wakayama, and comfortable highway buses leave regularly from Kobe and Osaka. Bisected by the Yoshino, one of Japan’s three great rampaging rivers, and also furrowed by the remote and majestic Iya Valley, Tokushima’s inland region of Nishi-Awa is easy to navigate and holds many of the island’s riches.
Where to stay
Spend your first evening in Mima City at the near-100-yearold Zeniya Inn. Run by the founder’s cheerful greatgrandson Tatsuya Zenitani, the inn is a treasure trove of native woodwork and pottery, featuring the original structure’s exposed cedar ceiling beams and aoishi (blue stone) stoneware, as well as a wall-sized indigo-dyed artwork on washi, traditional handmade Japanese paper.
What to see
The next day, you can truly relish your first taste of the region’s natural and spiritual wonders, beginning with a scenic hike. Start along the Dogama – a bowl-shaped basin of stone carved by the cascading waters of the Sadamitsu river. Along the trail, you’ll encounter a small Shinto shrine nestled into the trunk of a large maple tree, its gods well tended to with two mugs of saké. This invigorating path culminates in the 85-metre, triple waterfall of Narutaki.
What to eat
The uniquely thick and springy handa somen noodles are made at a local factory with water from the Yoshino river system. Sprinkled with yuzu citrus juice, they make the perfect lunch at a roadside station.
Try your hand at some of the local speciality crafts, including making your own colour paper lampshades, indigo dyeing, washi paper and soba noodles. You’ll also find several hot springs, or onsen, along the Yoshino, often surrounded by picturesque mountainous landscapes.