Shikoku (四国) is an oft-forgotten island in Japan. The smallest of Japan's Big Four, it lies to the south of Honshu. The island is thought of as a rural backwater, with few must-see attractions, but a visit there can wash away those doubts; the mountainous inner regions offer some good hiking. It is also the home of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.


Shikoku literally means "four countries", and it indeed consists of four ancient countries (now prefectures) on Shikoku island, conveniently arranged around the compass points. Each prefecture also has an old provincial name, still often found in place names and listed in parenthesis below.

Map of Shikoku
(Iyo) to the west
(Sanuki) to the north
(Tosa) to the south
(Awa) to the east


Other destinations


Chinkabashi Bridge over the Shimanto River

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan's four main islands. It's known for its abundant nature and pristine rivers, including the Shimanto River in Shimanto nicknamed the "last clearwater river in Japan" and the Yoshino River whose turbulent rapids make for great rafting. The island is also rich in cultural heritage. Like the rest of the country, Shikoku was also targeted by air raids in WWII and although some cultural sites, such as the home of Sakamoto Ryoma were destroyed, most of the island's heritage sites were spared. It is now home to more original castles (four) than any other region in the country and arguably the most famous pilgrimage route in the nation.


Shikoku is far enough off the beaten track that some Japanese ability, while not absolutely necessary, will come in handy. Some of Shikoku's dialects, notably Tosa-ben spoken in Kochi, are famously incomprehensible even to other Japanese.

Get in

By car

While there are highways linking Shikoku with Honshu, they are expensive -- around ¥5,000.

By plane

Prefectural capitals Takamatsu, Matsuyama, Kochi and Tokushima all have small regional airports. Matsuyama has flights to Seoul and Shanghai, while Takamatsu fields a few flights a week to Seoul. For any other international destinations, you will likely have to connect via Tokyo or Kansai.

By train

Shikoku is not connected to the Shinkansen network, but there are frequent connections from Okayama on Honshu to Takamatsu and from there on throughout the island. The limited express Shiokaze (特急 しおかぜ) runs back and forth betweeen Okayama and Matsuyama roughly every hour during the day, skipping some stations on the way, if you feel like a more direct connection to that side of the island. The pace on Shikoku being what it is, don't come there expecting any of the trains to be super fast. It would also be wise to remember that train information will be in Japanese only, unlike what you may be used to from the Shinkansen. So either be sure to brush up on your knowledge of terms such as "unreserved seats" and the names of the places you're planning to visit, in kanji, or plan to ask a lot of people (which may be more fun, but may also take more time).

By bus

If you are coming from Kansai or eastern parts of Japan, buses through Awaji Island are the fastest way of getting to Shikoku.

By boat

There are numerous ferries that run to Shikoku that can be taken from major cities like Kobe and Hiroshima. From Hiroshima to Matsuyama expect to spend 2700 yen. The ferry takes around 2 and a half hours.

Get around

Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railway

Shikoku can be difficult to get around without your own vehicle, especially to out-of-the-way natural sites sought by many visitors. Trains are infrequent in many parts, as are buses, so travelers who wish to move about the island or explore remote areas should know the timetables of whatever transport you need beforehand. Be aware that some buses only run during specific periods or on weekends and holidays only. Some travelers report feeling that it's more expensive however, this may be due to their perception of Shikoku as the "small island". In actuality, the price per distance is generally the same as more frequented routes. The time required however, is much greater. For example, the price from Okayama to Hiroshima just north on the mainland versus Takamatsu to Matsuyama is almost the same however, the Takamatsu-Matsuyama route takes more than twice as long.

During specified periods, the Yoso Line operates Cycle Trains which allow you to bring your bicycles on the train for easy and convenient cycling along the route.

By train

The JR train network connects the larger towns together fairly well, but regular trains are slow and expresses are expensive. The main lines are:

For heavy travel, JR offers the Shikoku Free Kippu (四国フリーきっぷ) , which allows unlimited usage of JR trains and buses, including limited expresses, on three consecutive days (¥16,140). If you manage to time it so that you can start on your birthday, ask for the Birthday Kippu instead, and you'll get the same deal for just ¥10,000!

For the frugal traveler, the Shikoku Saihakken Haya-Toku Kippu (四国再発見早トクきっぷ ) may be a better deal, as it offers one day of unlimited travel for just ¥2,000. There are three big catches though: it's only valid on weekends and public holidays, it's limited to local trains, and you have to buy it at least one day in advance.

A new rail pass offered by JR , the San'yo-Shikoku-Kyushu Pass, includes unlimited travel on all JR trains in Shikoku as well as the bullet train lines and main lines west of Osaka in Chugoku and all or part of Kyushu. 5-day consecutive passes range from ¥22-25,000.

Tosa Kuroshio Railway is the largest private railway on the island and connects the JR Lines to the far ends of Kochi Prefecture. Some parts of the JR network, notably the southern segment from Kubokawa to Sukumo, have split off and are now owned by Tosa Kuroshio Railway company.

Each of the capitals with the exception of Tokushima have trams that make travel around the city centers convenient.

By bus

Buses fill in the gaps in the train network and are the only means of transport in areas like Cape Ashizuri and the Iya Valley. Schedules are sparse and prices are high.

On foot

Serious pilgrims may choose to complete the 88 Temple Circuit (see Do) on foot.



Kochi Castle

Original Castles
There are twelve original castles left in Japan and Shikoku is home to four of them, more than any other region:





Braving the rapids, Oboke and Koboke



There aren't any "Shikokuan" foods per se, but each prefecture has something that they're famous for:

Go next

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