The smallest of Japan's four main islands, Shikoku has been a travel destination for Japanese people since the 8th century, when the Shingon Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi established an 88-temple, 870-mile pilgrimage circuit still traveled to this day. Shikoku is mountainous and mostly rural, but three of its four main cities—Matsuyama, Tokushima, and Takamatsu—have good transportation links to Honshu. They and the fourth, Kochi, are gateways to the island's smaller towns and natural getaways.
"Shikoku" means "four kingdoms" and refers to the ancient regions of Awa, Sanuki, Iyo, and Tosa, now the prefectures Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi. In the Edo era, nonsamurai 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 no longer involves convincing the shogun of your piety, but because Shikoku's rewards lie off the beaten path, exploring it involves the challenges of a road less traveled. Public transportation is infrequent and many residents speak little or no English. What the island lacks in infrastructure and urban sophistication, though, it more than makes up for in natural wonders and cultural attractions that include ancient hot springs, mountain temples, farm villages, and summer dance festivals. Despite the language barrier, most locals are genuinely excited to socialize with visitors from abroad: you won't find a match for Shikoku hospitality elsewhere in Japan.