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

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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.

What else?

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.

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