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March 2, 2016 - Shikoku Highlights
For my last post of this series, I've decided to put together my personal "Best of Shikoku List" for those who have not visited. As always, these are my own personal opinions and do not include locations I have not personally visited during this trip. Also note that Japan is very much a land of seasons, so some locations do not look good at the depths of winter but may look great during Koyo or fall.
Below is a list of the main locations/islands I visited during February:
Takamatsu - Teshima - Naoshima - Naruto - Toyo - Aki - Kochi - Otsuki - Uwajima - Seiyo - Ozu - Uchiko - Matsuyama - Marugame - Kotohira - Okayama.
As you can probably see - I did not spend much time in Tokushima with not visiting the Iya Valley probably being my biggest regret of the trip.
Best Castle: Matsuyama Castle
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have now visited the 12 castles in Japan with original Keeps apart from the one in Fukui and find Matsuyama castle the second best castle in Japan. Let's just say it is quite large and rather impressive. And thankfully, there is a lot to do in Matsuyama unlike Himeji and Matsumoto.
Special Metion: Kochi Castle - Kochi Prefecture
For me - I also really enjoyed Kochi castle which is also one of the 12 castles with original keeps in Japan. Also note that Kochi is a lot quieter than most prefectural capitals in Honshu which makes this town quite relaxed.
Best Temple - Chikurinji Temple, Kochi, Kochi Prefecture
For those who don't know, Shikoku is home to the 88 temple pilgrimage where people walk over 1000 km's to visit each of the temples. As a result, most of these temples have English signage, good facilities and car parking. However, most of the temples in Shikoku are not as large or as extravagant as those seen on Honshu.
One of the exceptions to this rule is Chikurinji Temple which can be found on the top of Mt Godaisan. This temple can be described as just being really atmospheric and is also home to a small 88 Shikoku temple patron pilgrimage. There is also a nice Zen garden which is not as common in Shikoku as what is seen in Kyoto.
Special Mention Temple: Hotsumisakiji Temple, Kochi Prefecture
Like all of the other temples I will mention here, they are all a part of the 88 temple Shikoku Pilgrimage. This temple is also one of the most rural and is located on top of a hill with a very windy road.
This may not be the prittest temple by far, but it was one of the most atmospheric as it was quite foggy when I visited which is always helpful for making temples look a bit more mysterious. There is also a light house located near this temple.
2nd Special Mention Temple: Shoryuji Temple, Kochi Prefecture
This temple is located in South West Kochi prefecture and is not the largest temple in Japan. However, it has a nice accent and pagoda. The general location where the temple is found is also quite nice and is reasonably rural.
3rd Special Mention Temple: Ishite-ji temple, Matsuyama, Ehime.
I have visited a lot of temples in Japan - but Ishite-ji has to be the most eclectic temple I have visited by far. It's not odd or strange, but seems to have a little bit of everything. My favourite part was the 500 or so meter tunnel in close to pitch black with statues which goes to a rather uneventful bell shaped temple. It's also one of the more touristy temples in Shikoku and is a must visit in Matsuyama.
4th Special Mention Temple: Zentsuji Temple, Zentsuji, Ehime Prefecture
For those who don't know much about Japanese buddhism, there is one person who is a pretty big deal. That person is known as Kobo Daishi who is the most important Japanese monk in history - period.
To give you an idea - Okunoin temple at Koyasan is home to where he is buried, which is often considered hallow ground to many Japanese buddhists. As such, the temple where Kobo (also known as Kukai) is a pretty big deal.
Zentsuji temple is probably the second largest temple grounds I have seen in Shikoku and is rather touristy due to it's prominence. My favourite part of the temple is visiting a crypt like area where you can prey for Kobo Daishi. You walk along a totally dark tunnel and are asked to chant something in Japanese - an explanation is given to you in English. Do note that you use your left hand to guide you - which is also the same as Zentsuji temple in Nagano.
Favourite Garden: Ritsurin Koen, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture
It's an odd thing to say - but I found the temples in Shikoku not that spectacular but really enjoyed the gardens even in the depths of winter. This was a difficult decision for me - but I found Ritsurin Koen as the best quality garden in Shikoku and could possibly be the best garden in Japan.
This however does not make it my favourite garden in Japan - as this falls to Sankeien Garden mainly for personal reasons (I used to live near it and could see the changes in the seasons week by week)
Special Mention Garden: Nanrakuen Garden , Uwajima, Ehime
It's an odd thing to say - but this is one of the few major garden in Japan that is not on JG but it's not that easy to get to by public transport . This garden was formed after the damming of a large area which caused the formation of 2 very large ponds or medium sized lakes.
For those who have visited Korakuen Garden in Okayama, I feel as though this garden is slightly larger and similar feel (without the refinement). However, it does not have Okayama castle for borrow scenery to give it the extra wow factor.
2nd Special Mention Garden: Garyu Sanso Villa, Ozu, Ehime Prefecture
Garyu Sanso was not by a long shot my favourite garden in Shikoku, but it's really hard to describe this any other way than pretty. Also note the location has what some people see as a strange photography policy which I see as being close to normal. That is - no photos inside but photos from the garden is ok. Do note that this is the main reason to visit Ozu
3rd Special Mention Garden: Nakazubansho Garden, Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture
It's an odd thing to say, but this was not the best garden in Shikoku but was the most enjoyable. That was mainly due to it being a good quality garden and having the place almost entirely to yourself. To put it simply - you felt like a lord as you strolled around your own private garden which is quite rare in Japan.
Favourite Shrine: Kompirasan, Kotohira, Kagawa Prefecture
For people who like their shrines and temples - Kotohira Shrine is easily the most impressive and largest religious structure in Shikoku. It also happens to have a rather nice accent which is quite enjoyable - but those who climb in summer may not agree. One of the shrines main claims to fame is it as having the hardest shrine accent in Japan. This may be true for major shrines - but it pails into insignificance compared to the accent of Kosuge shrine near Iiyama in Nagano prefecture (/community/mfedley/report-2229)
Special Mention Shrine: Warei Shrine, Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture
There is not a great deal to say about this shrine - apart from it's rather pretty and it's the major shrine for Uwajima. I would not visit the town just for this shrine - but I would visit this shrine if I was visiting Uwajima again.
Favourite Attraction: Ryugado Cave, Kochi, Kochi Prefecture
Being a geologist - visiting caves should be a highlight for me but normally I just find them muggy and cramped. This was also true for this cave, but I also highly enjoyed walking for 15-20 minutes by candle light through the cave. The cave itself does not have any absolutely huge caverns, but it's pretty in it's own way and I found it immensely enjoyable.
Special Mention Attraction: Kaimei School, Seiyo, Ehime Prefecture
One surprisingly enjoyable attraction which I came across was this little hodge podge of a museum. It's part meiji era school, part brick a brack museum along with it also being part traditional wares museum. Let's just say that I enjoy seeing eclectic things...
2nd Special Mention Attraction: Dogo Onsen Honkan, Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture
The onsen water is not that special, it's also busy and I had to wait to get in. As such - your probably asking why I chose this as one of my favourite places to visit in Shikoku. Well - this is for 2 reasons. First I really love onsens but most importantly the building is spectacular with having your own room to change and have tea being quite special. As such - I do recommend getting a private room if your budget allows.
Best Museum: Museum of Ehime History and Culture, Seiyo, Ehime
I'm not normally a person that enjoys museums, but I really enjoyed this museum. In each prefecture, there tends to be a science and history museum. For this museum, it tells the story of Ehime with the highlight being the meiji and onwards section, along with the matsuri section as well. If your in the Seiyo area, it's worth a visit.
Special Mention Museum: Les Archives du Coeur, Teshima, Kawaga Prefecture
On a beach on sleepy Teshima Island is the museum Les Archives du Coeur, which records peoples heart beats for posterity. Yes it's expensive for what it is - but my favourite part was when you get to listen and to some degree watch your heart beat in a piece of art which is quite spectacular.
2nd Special Mention Museum, Shikoku Mura, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture
On the outskirts of Takamatsu city is the sprawling Shikoku Mura which consists of a rather large collection of different buildings from around Shikoku. The English signage is top notch with way too much info - and they have even brought in some different fencing for it's historical value. It may not be as large as Meiji Mura near Iiyama, but it's in the same ballpark for quality and spread of different buildings.
3rd Special Mention Museum: Wax Museum, Uchiko, Ehime Prefecture
For me, Uchiko was really enjoyable due to the different museums and things to view. However - the best of the lot is the Wax Museum which involves both the house of the most famous people who used to make wax, but also some museums showing how the wax was made along with the downfall of wax once other sources were found internationally. It may not be everyone's cup of tea - but I enjoyed it.
Favorite Art Location: Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art (Special Exhibition Only), Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture
I'm not really an art person - but I really highly enjoyed the Special Exhibition at the above mentioned museum. The special exhibition runs until late March (from memory) but it was quite thought provoking along with being interesting. I guess I like my art to make you think than just being pretty or difficult to produce.
Special Mention Art Site: Benesse House, Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture
For those who want to visit the Setouchi Art Fest, Naoshima Island has the highest concentration of different sites which are worth visiting. However - my favourite due to accessibility to those who don't fully understand art is the Benesse House. The outside art at this site is also quite enjoyable. Also note that this location is what actually started the main art on these islands.
2nd Special Mention Art Site: Minamedera, Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture
On Naoshima is the Art House project which has transformed some of the traditional houses into works on art. For me - Minamedera was the best piece of art out of this and it was quite amazing. Do note that only a few people can enter this at the same time so there can be quite a wait.
3rd Special Mention Art Site: Eikangura, Kochi, Kochi Prefecture
Eikan is a relatively famous painter who paints quite graphic pictures of traditional scenes. Specifically - the amount of blood in his paintings is quite interesting. As such - it's worth visiting if you are in the Kochi city area.
Unexpected Highlights: Kite Museum, Uchiko, Ehime Prefecture
For a person who does not particually like museums and kites, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this museum. The museum itself shows the history of all of the different types of kites found in Japan along with some other countries. Do note that I may have been the only person who visited the museum on this day - but it was a cold and wet weekday in February so that's not that unexpected.
Favourite View: Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture
The above picture is taken close to the strangest accommodation I've stay at in Japan. That being - a Yurt on the beach during winter in Japan. I've also got a few other really nice photos at sunset for this location as well - but look at my first Naoshima post.
2nd Favorite View: Naruto, Tokushima
Located near the Naruto Whirlpools are some great views - specifically around sunset. My hint is to try and get as high as possible as early as possible.
3rd Favorite View, Otsuki, Kochi Prefecture
The above picture was taken from 3,500 yen a night hotel which came with it's own bathroom and seating area. To put it simply - Kochi is the land of beautiful views. Kagawa is the land of art and Ehime is the land of museums and culture
Favorite Maccha: Old house of Hanpei Tsuzuki, Kochi Prefecture
For people who regularly read my articles (I know this is almost no-one) you'll probably notice a common theme. That is - gardens, temples, gardens, museums, gardens, onsens and Maccha!
This was my favourite maccha and sweet for something that I now classify as a slight addiction that I only ever get in Japan.
Strangest Attraction/Thing: Taga Shrine, Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture
The second strangest thing I saw on this trip (the other being the last photo) was the Taga Shrine which celebrates fertility. To put it simply, the shrine consists of a mixture of phallic statues and a large museum which could probably be accurately called a historical porn collection and other sexual artifacts.
Hint - if you visit the shrine and are offended by the statues - don't pay to enter the museum. Do note that the museum was interesting and took a lot longer to view than what you expect. However - I won't be visiting it again any time soon.
The Scary Diver, Teshima, Kagawa Prefecture
Apart from looking quite strange - this photo ironically got the most comments on my facebook page. Note that it was in the parking area of a coffee house located near Teshima Art Museum
Favorite Okayama Attraction: Oriental Museum Okayama
For me - this museum was one of my highlights of my trip - even though it's not located in Shikoku. When I think of the Orient, I think of Japan, Korea, Singapore and China. However - central asia is seen as the orient here which has an even more complex history that Japan and China if that was even possible.
Why Am I Here Award: Hadaka Matsuri, Okayama, Okayama Prefecture
If you told me that I would go and watch 7000 men or a few hundred boys fight over a stick wearing along nothing while wet in the middle of winter - I'd look at you in disbelief. However - I still feel this way thinking back to watching the festivities at this matsuri. It's kind of like a train wreck. You know you should not be interested or want to watch it - but you do for the What The? factor.
One or two of the people on the forum highly recommended I visit this festival and I did. I'm very happy that I visited but I doubt that I'll fly back to Japan to only watch this festival again - even though viewing the main fight would have been amazing. But anyway - I digress.
In general, I really enjoyed my time on Shikoku with ironically the biggest shock being the lack of color in the photos compared to summer. But I should be able to remedy that soon with some upcoming travels.
Apart from my fortnightly weekends away in China, I'll also be visiting Xi'an in April. This will be followed by Greece, Spain and Portugal in June/July and Northern Kyushu in July/August.
For many - they may be envious of so much travel but I do often mark work every night and put together assessments on the train to where I am travelling. As such - I work about as many hours a year as a normal person but have the flexibility to travel and work at the same time.
I'm also often asked if I have a blog of some sort - but is something I do not have out of laziness. For those who are interested - my photos from all of my travels can be viewed at the link below. This includes my China, North Korea and Kazakhstan photos as well....