On my recent Shikoku roadtrip, every corner of the island was fair game. From Takamatsu in the north, through the secluded central Iya Valley, to serene Shimanto river in the south.
A main attraction of Takamatsu city, and one of the most famous historical gardens in Japan, Ritsurin Koen (栗林公園) is also considered one of the most beautiful in the country. Some four centuries old, the landscaped garden cleverly uses wooded Mount Shiun as the backdrop for its ponds, bridges, tea houses, and manicured trees.
We arrived at the garden at dusk, so we rushed a little – to really do it justice, you need spend a good 2-3 hours there, and if possible visit during fall foliage season. Still, a peaceful stroll along the groomed trails is rewarding any time of year. It’s like walking through a scene from an old Japanese wood block print.
Located in Tokusima Prefecture, Iya Valley (祖谷渓谷) in the central Shikoku mountain range is known for its little villages, historic vine bridges, and dramatic valley scenery. This remote, mountainous area is visited for its deep rocky gorges, hot springs, and hiking; access is mostly via single-lane mountain roads, so the lack of tour buses means that crowds are virtually non-existent.
The Iya Kazurabashi bridge is a popular attraction, and is typical of the vine bridges that were traditionally used to cross the river valleys.
On the southwestern side of Shikoku, in Kochi Prefecture, the Shimanto-gawa river is considered to be Japan’s last pristine waterway, remote located away from any major cities. There are no dams on the river throughout its 196-km journey to the Pacific Ocean. The frequent river crossings are unique in that they do not have any guardrails. These chinkabashi (沈下橋, literally sinking bridge) allow the water to flow in times of high floods, and are today considered a cultural heritage. Single lanes makes driving across a little unnerving!
The area is popular for river cruising and fishing. Farming is still the main way of life here.