Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, isn’t somewhere many tourists manage to visit. The island is mountainous and mostly rural, but what Shikoku lacks in urban adventure it makes up for in an abundance of natural beauty, unique traditions, and enthusiastic hospitality.
"Shikoku" means "four kingdoms," and refers to the ancient regions of Awa, Sanuki, Iyo, and Tosa, which
are now Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi prefectures. It’s been a travel destination for Japanese people since the 8th century, when Shingon Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi established an 88-temple pilgrimage circuit. In the Edo era, non-samurai Japanese didn’t have the right to travel freely, so going on a shogunate-approved pilgrimage to Shikoku was one of the few ways to explore the country.
Visiting Shikoku now doesn’t involve convincing the shogun of your piety, though it does require a bit of planning. There are fewer English speakers here than on Honshu, and transport connections are less frequent. Coming here is well worth the effort, though. Locals are proud of their island and extend endless hospitality to the few foreigners who make the trip. You won’t find a match for Shikoku hospitality elsewhere in Japan, nor for its ancient hot springs, mountain temples, farm villages, or summer dance festivals.