43 Best Sights in Shikoku, Japan

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum

Fodor's choice

A wonderland of indoor and outdoor sculpture both playful and profound, this facility occupies the former studio and grounds of the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904–88). The modernist artist, whose large-scale sculptures grace buildings, parks, and gardens around the world, was also known for his furniture (most notably the Noguchi table), lamps, and landscape architecture. The artist's sensitivity and expressiveness are in evidence everywhere on this site that exhibits his works in stone and other media.

Officially, visitation requires reservation by fax or email at least 10 days in advance, but if you call the museum you might be able to gain entrance on shorter notice. One advantage to early booking, though, is that you'll have a better chance of having an English speaker accompany you as you tour.

Ishite-ji Temple

Fodor's choice

A 15-minute walk from Dogo Onsen, Ishite Temple is Shingon Buddhism at play. Half serene pilgrimage destination, half ancient Buddhist-themed fun park, the temple is more than worth a visit. As sprawling and elegantly unkempt as the city around it, it contains surprises that are, like the temple cats, too numerous to count.

Enter the temple by way of a stone road that's flanked by wooden stalls with vendors selling calligraphy brushes, omiyage-paper fortunes, and pilgrimage gear. Just inside the colossal temple gate you'll see a table for folding origami cranes; make one and it will be added to the heavy, colorful bunches hanging around the pillars. Past the cranes lies the main hall of worship, where you're likely to see a pilgrim or two chanting a sutra. In the surrounding area you'll also see painted panels, golden statues, a giant mandala on the stairway to the main shrine, a wooden kami (spirit) with a sword you can heft, and a huge bronze bell to ring (¥100).

It's serene and memorable, but the real fun at Ishite-ji Temple starts in a long, dark cave to the left of the main worship hall. It feels impossibly long, and when you finally emerge on the other side—past startling wooden statues and 88 stone Buddhas—you'll be confronted by a 100-foot statue of the priest Kobo Daishi striding across the mountains. The mountain behind the temple also holds a few surprises: a scrambling rock pathway leads up the mountain, where two spooky caves are yours to explore (even most locals don't know about them).

2--9--21 Ishite, Matsuyama, 790-0852, Japan
089-977–0870
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free

Japanese Wax Museum and Kamihaga Residence

Fodor's choice

The former residence of the Kamihaga family, which established the city's wax industry, is now a well-maintained museum. Exhibits here explain the rise and fall of this once-thriving industry. Comprehensive English signage and hands-on exhibits teach you more than you thought there was to know about the changing fortunes of this wax town.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Makino Botanical Garden

Fodor's choice

Planted in honor of Kochi botanist Tomitaro Makino, this Eden-like valley of flowers and trees lies hidden atop Mt. Godaisan. Different trails for each season show off the best nature has to offer. Hours can disappear as you walk through the azaleas, camellias, chrysanthemums, and thousands of other plants in this huge and lovingly tended landscape. Don't miss the giant ferns, so big you can actually sit in them. You're encouraged to leave the paths and explore on your own—as Makino wrote, "to commune with nature we need to make ourselves free and jump into her." You'll find more of his quotes, recollections, philosophy, and drawings in a fascinating museum inside the park.

Ritsurin Garden

Fodor's choice

Built by a feudal lord in the 17th century, this garden became public property after the 19th-century Meiji Restoration and is now a registered National Treasure. With 75 total acres, 16 of them landscaped, Ritsurin contains close to 1,000 sculpted pine trees, six carp-filled ponds, and two wooden teahouses where samurai used to gather to perform tea ceremonies and compose haiku. Give yourself at least two hours to stroll through the garden, and don't miss Kikugetsu-tei teahouse, which serves green tea and snacks daily from 9 to 4:30, with lunch also available in spring and autumn (reservation only). There is also a rustic kiosk serving simple udon lunches, tempura, and chestnut ice cream, as well as offering kimono rental (¥3,500 for two hours) if you fancy a stroll in traditional finery. The garden is especially peaceful in the early morning or late afternoon. English maps are provided at the entrance. Audio guides cost ¥200, but if you book at least a week in advance you might be able to engage a free volunteer guide who speaks English.

Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route

Fodor's choice

By far the most scenic way to travel between Shikoku and western Honshu is the Shimanami Kaido, a 70-km (44-mile) expressway built with bicyclists in mind. The route, a series of roads and six long bridges, connects Imabari, just north of Matsuyama, with Onomichi, just east of Hiroshima, by way of islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Most of the islands were accessible only by ferry until the expressway was completed in 1999. By the early 2000s, the Shimanami Kaido was already one of western Japan's most popular cycling routes.

A bicycle trip across this road-and-bridge network takes in fishing villages, tangerine orchards, pearl farms, seaweed pastures, and long stretches of sparkling sea. A separate cycling track runs along each bridge, so you don't have to deal with car traffic for most of the ride. Cycling paths are clearly marked on the islands, and maps are readily available. The cycling isn't strenuous, so don't get discouraged by that first big corkscrew pathway up from Imabari to the Kurushima Ohashi Bridge. After that it's clear sailing.

Biking to Onomichi takes about six to eight hours. If you decide you've had enough cycling along the way, you can leave your rental bike at any of 15 stations and complete your journey by ferry or bus. The well-informed staff members at the stations have all the schedules. Your hotel can even send your luggage ahead. The best starting point for planning a ride is the Shimanami Japan tourism website, which has a downloadable cycling guide in English.

007 Museum

In contrast to the serious contemporary art elsewhere on the island, this hole-in-the-wall museum exhibits James Bond paraphernalia collected by island residents who really really want the movie version of The Man with the Red Tattoo to be filmed on Naoshima. A mishmash of kitsch and hope whose greatest appeal will be to James Bond fans, the 007 Museum is a two-minute walk northwest of Miyanoura Port.

2294 Miyanoura, Honmura, 761-3110, Japan
087-892–2299-Naoshima tourist info
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Daily 9–5

Art House Project

The artists of the Art House Project have transformed seven structures or sites in the Honmura district that were abandoned as islanders departed to seek work in the city. Art, memory, and everyday life blend together as you wander through the seven "houses" (including a shrine and a former temple) while villagers around you go about their business. If you have time for only one site, make it Minamidera, designed by architect Tadao Ando to hold an artwork by James Turrell.

Awa Odori Kaikan

If you miss summer's Awa Odori dance festival, you can still get a dose at this museum and theater. Odori means "dance," and silk-robed professionals perform the famous local step here nightly. But shine your shoes: when the troupe leader starts talking to the audience, he's looking for volunteers. Thankfully, it's an easy dance. You might get a prize for participating, and one special award goes to the biggest fool on the floor—this honor is a staple of the festival, and it's not always the foreigners who win. The best show is at 8 pm. Arrive early and browse the gift shop or treat yourself to a ropeway ride up the mountain for a lovely city view. The third floor of the building is a small museum dedicated to the Awa Odori Festival.

2--20 Shin-machi-bashi, Tokushima, 770-0904, Japan
088-611–1611
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Museum ¥300, afternoon dance ¥800, evening dance ¥1,000, Bizan ropeway ¥1,030 (return)

Benesse House Museum

Site-specific installations can be seen from the road leading to this top-class contemporary art museum. Inside, full-length windows illuminate a rotating collection of installation pieces in natural sunlight. The latest addition, about a 10-minute walk away (opposite the Lee Ufan Museum) but covered by the Benesse House Museum ticket, is the stunning Valley Gallery, a Tadao Ando-designed venue that as of March 2022 is the permanent indoor and outdoor home of Yayoi Kusama's sprawling Narcissus Garden installation. The museum is open later than others on the island, so if you only have a day here, save this museum for the evening.

Chichu Art Museum

Chichu means "inside the earth," and this museum built into a hillside overlooking Naoshima's south coast lives up to its name. Designed by the internationally recognized architect Tadao Ando, the museum is a work of art in itself. The Chichu exhibits works by Claude Monet, Walter de Maria, James Turrell, and other major artists in natural light. The Monet gallery, which features five paintings from Monet's Water Lilies series, is breathtaking. Buy tickets at the office 50 yards down the road; during busy periods, you may have to wait to enter.

Chiiori House

Higashi-Iya

Alex Kerr, an American artist and writer, stumbled across this dilapidated traditional farmhouse in the 1970s while traveling in Iya. He bought it and began the painstaking work of restoring its thatched roof and heavy wooden beams. Named Chiiori House, it is now the cornerstone of the activities of the Chiiori Trust, a nonprofit foundation working to preserve the region's traditional beauty while revitalizing its rural communities. You can visit the restored (thatch roof and all) Chiiori House for the day or spend the night. Reserve ahead to do either.

209 Tsurui, Miyoshi City, 778-0602, Japan
0883-88–5290
Sight Details
Rate Includes: ¥500 to visit, accommodation fee varies by number of guests, but is ¥19,250 per person for groups of 2 to 3.

Chikurin-ji Temple

Buddhist pilgrims had been communing with nature in the garden of this austere mountaintop temple long before the giant ferns moved in next door at the Makino Botanical Garden. The garden, a registered National Treasure, dates from the 13th century. Its simple arrangement of ponds, rocks, and pine trees provides a soothing contrast to the vibrant foliage next door. The setting is particularly peaceful in the late afternoon. Linger at the temple a while, and you're likely to encounter white-clad Shingon Buddhist pilgrims visiting on their way around the island.

3577 Godaisan, Kochi, 781-8125, Japan
088-882–3085
Sight Details
Rate Includes: ¥400 for garden

Dogo Onsen Bathhouse

Tell people you're heading to Matsuyama, and Dogo Onsen will be the first place they recommend. These hot springs have been the city's top attraction for the last millennium. Japan's oldest written text mentions it as a favorite of gods, emperors, and peasants alike, and it's still in daily use by locals and visitors. The main wooden building at present-day Dogo dates from 1894 and looks like a fairy tale castle; albeit one with scaffolding until exterior and interior renovations are completed (expected some time in 2022).

At this writing, you can access only the Kami-no-Yu baths, but once renovation work is complete, you'll once again (for additional fees) be able to try all the other baths there and enjoy tea and sweets after a good soak. As an alternative, there's always the swanky Asuka-no-Yu annex that opened nearby in 2017. Built in a traditional style, it offers an experience similar to Dogo Onsen, with several baths, tatami chill-out areas, the chance to don a lightweight yukata robe, and refreshments. All baths at both facilities are separated by gender. Remember proper onsen etiquette: wash and rinse yourself (and your towel) before getting into the bath (without your towel).

Buy Tickets Now
5--6 Yuno-machi, Matsuyama, 790-0842, Japan
089-921–5141
Sight Details
Rate Includes: From ¥420 for Kami-no-Yu baths, from ¥610 for Asuka-no-Yu annex

Ehime Museum of Art

The permanent collection of this museum occupying a modern city-center building isn't that big, but the selection of recent Japanese art is terrific, and the temporary exhibits are extensive. The galleries often host exhibits of works by local artists.

Horinouchi, Matsuyama, 790-0007, Japan
089-932–0010
Sight Details
Rate Includes: ¥330, Closed Mon.

Hakata Salt Company Omishima Factory

For centuries Hakata Island has been famous for its high-quality salt, and the Hakata Salt Company offers daily, free, self-guided tours of its factory on Omishima Island that take about 30 minutes to complete, though they were suspended during the pandemic and expected to resume sometime in 2022. As you stroll along a marked visitor’s path through the factory, you’ll see workers turn seawater into table salt, package it, and ship it all over Japan. There’s also plenty of information, though most only in Japanese, about the history of salt. If the factory touring has you craving something salty, try the salt ice cream sold on-site. If that’s not enough, you can also take a dip in the salt baths at the Mare Grassia bath complex next door.

Hall of Awa Japanese Handmade Paper

Trek out to this paper museum, also known as Awa Washi Kaikan, to make your own postcards and browse the phenomenal gift shop, which stocks everything from sheets of softer-than-silk wrapping paper to peerless parasols. The trip here by train takes 55 minutes to Awa-Yamakawa Station (or 33 minutes by the infrequent limited express), then you walk 15 minutes to the hall. It's easier to rent a car and make the one-hour drive, especially if you are continuing on to the Iya Valley.

Harimaya Bridge

This arched red bridge is at the center of Kochi's best-known story, a tragic tale about a Buddhist priest caught buying a hairpin for a lover on this very spot. Several shops nearby sell hairpins these days, and you can go shopping for bargains in the area's twisting, tunneled arcades, and side streets. Locals come out to dine, drink, and chat in parks and at outdoor cafés around here until the wee hours. When the stores and bars finally close, there's always a ramen cart or two doing business on the sidewalk, so pull up a stool and dig in. Kochi people won't pay you much mind until you start talking to them, but many are affable and easy to engage.

Harimaya-bashi, Kochi, Japan

Hiroshi Sugimoto Gallery: Time Corridors

Opened as an extension to the Benesse House complex in 2022, to coincide with Benesse's 30th anniversary on Nasohima, Time Corridors was designed by Tadao Ando (in typically stark concrete style) to house the largely black and white, abstract photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto. Also here, however, is Sugimoto's striking "Mondrian" glass teahouse installation, set in the middle of a water feature outside the lowly lit museum. You can slowly view the latter from the comfort of the museum's tea room, where tea and a sweet are served as part of the admission fee. As the gallery is only open from 11 am to 3 pm daily and allows a limited number of visitors at a time, it's best to reserve a visiting time in advance.

Itami Juzo Memorial Museum

The late Juzo Itami (1933–97) is regarded as one of Japan's most innovative and captivating film directors, known for his affectionate and absurdist portraits of Japanese life. Each film starred his wife Nobuko Miyamoto and an off-the-wall supporting character, sometimes played by Itami himself. The director's best-known films include Tampopo (1985), centering on a bedraggled ramen-shop owner trying to make the perfect soup, and Ososhiki (The Funeral, 1984), the story of an idiosyncratic family coming together for a funeral. If you haven't seen these films, they're musts for any visitor to Japan; if you have, then you'll love the museum, curated by Miyamoto herself, showcasing video clips and objects from Itami's life.

Kagawa Prefectural Museum

Just east of the castle park, this museum contains exhibits about Kagawa's history and art. A third-floor exhibit chronicles regional history from ancient to modern times; the second floor displays art from the museum's permanent collection and presents special exhibitions; and the ground floor has an art-books library and a hands-on area where kids can play with traditional Japanese toys. Free English audio guides are available, but you needn't know a lick of Japanese to enjoy walking inside a Neolithic hut, sitting in a 19th-century schoolroom, or crawling with a magnifying glass on the giant photo map of Kagawa.

Katsurahama Beach

The prefecture may be known for its great surfing and swimming beaches, but rocky Katsurahama Beach has other attractions. It's best known for its giant statue of the 19th-century political reformer Sakamoto Ryoma, Kochi's local-born hero, staring grimly out to sea from his big black pedestal. The view from a cliff-top shrine is great (moon-watching from this spot is depicted in many prints), and for history buffs there is a museum to Sakamoto Ryoma nearby. Get here by Kochi Kenkotsu bus (40 minutes) or My Yu bus (50 minutes) from Kochi Station.

778 Urado, Kochi, Japan

Kinryo Sake Museum and Brewery

After climbing up to the Konpira Shrine, you may want some refreshment, or at least a diversion. When you get back to the bottom of all those steps, congratulate yourself with a stop and free tasting at this sake museum and brewery marked by an enormous sake bottle hanging to the left of the temple stairs. You can't miss it.

Kochi Castle

West of downtown's markets and arcades you'll find barrel-chested Kochi Castle, whose feel is more rough-hewn and lived-in than that of other Japanese castles; maybe not surprising, as much of it remains intact from the 1600s. The view from the topmost watchtower is splendid, and walking up the enormous steps or through the receiving chambers, which today are filled with historical exhibits, is like being transported to the Edo period.

Konpira Shrine

According to legend, this shrine, which is also known as Kotohira-gu, was founded in the 1st century. It's stood on top of Mt. Zozu ever since, protecting sailors and seafarers. Visiting requires some effort; you'll have to climb 785 steps to the impressive main shrine and 583 more to the final lookout. It's also possible to travel by taxi to the upper gate, or even hire two sturdy locals to carry you up in a straw basket (look for them at the base of the mountain). The first half of the climb is crowded with souvenir shops, but after that the setting is more peaceful. You'll glimpse the ocean as you climb, and the noise of the town gives way to the sounds of rustling trees and birdsong. The Treasure House, on your right after you pass through the stone gate, displays masks used in Noh and Kabuki theater. The Shoin, sometimes closed for maintenance, is an Edo-period hall with artifacts and screens painted by Okyo Maruyama (1733–95), celebrated in his day and now for his realistic style.

892--1 Kotohira-cho, Kotohira, 766-8501, Japan
0877-75–2121
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Shrine free, ¥800 for Treasure House, ¥800 for Shoin

Lee Ufan Museum

Yet another Tadao Ando creation, this museum devoted to Lee Ufan, a much-honored painter and sculptor who was born in Korea but then spent much of his career based in Japan, aims to encourage a "slightly out-of-the-ordinary encounter with art, architecture, and nature." Opinions vary about how atypical the experience is, but it's definitely not a passive one. Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to remove; you'll be standing a lot and removing your shoes in parts of the museum.

Mare Grassia Omishima Baths

This public bath complex is like your average friendly Japanese town bathhouse, except for one thing: the extremely salty water. One or two of the baths in the multi-bath bathing area are salted with Hakata salt from the factory next door. Islanders believe salt baths help draw out impurities and beautify your skin, but if self-pickling is not your thing you can always take a dip in the non-saltwater indoor or outdoor baths.

5902 Miyaura, Omishima, 794-1304, Japan
0897-82--0100
Sight Details
Rate Includes: ¥510, Closed Wed.

Matsuyama Castle

Mighty Matsuyama Castle stands on a 433-feet mountain in the middle of town, and the views of the city from here are stunning. Dating from 1603, it's one of the cooler castles in Japan. Inside you can watch footage of the post–World War II reconstruction; the shaping and joining of wood and the stamping out of straw wattle for the walls is astonishing. There is no concrete, no rebar, and only enough nails to hold down the floorboards. Dark-wood passageways carry the smell of old smoke from the numerous fires the castle has endured.

To get to the castle, walk uphill about 30 or 40 minutes or ride the ropeway partway up and continue on foot about 15 minutes to the castle. The station is on Ropeway Street, just north of the Okaido shopping arcade. If you have time, also visit the Ninomaru garden just west of the castle.

1 Marunouchi, Matsuyama, 790-0008, Japan
089-921–4873
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Castle ¥520, ropeway ¥520, garden ¥200

Megijima and Ogijima Islands

While Naoshima is the most popular of the Seto Inland Sea islands to visit from Takamatsu (thanks to its collection of galleries and outdoor art), there are smaller islands well worth a look. In recent years, art installations and the Setouchi Trienniale contemporary art festival have expanded to both Megijima and Ogijima, just without the polish (or price) of Naoshima’s major venues. Beyond the low-key art, walking around Megijima gives the opportunity to slowly take in the laidback island life enjoyed by the 170 or so islanders, as well as to explore old smuggling caves once said to be home to ogres or just chill on Megijima's scenic beach. Over on Ogijima, population 160, you can stroll through the island’s old village and on to its photogenic lighthouse, before checking out even more art installations. It all makes for a very mellow day out.

Megijima and Ogijima can easily be visited together in a day, and will leave a much smaller dent in your budget than gallery hopping on Naoshima. A Shiyujima Kaiun ferry service runs at least six times daily from Takamatsu to Megijima (20 minutes) and then on to Ogijima (another 20 minutes).

Muroto Cape

A surreal coastline awaits you at far-off Muroto. The road east from Kochi follows a rugged shoreline cut by inlets and indentations along a landscape out of Dr. Seuss, where the Pacific "Black Current" (kuroshio) has shaped enormous terraces going down to the sea. A concrete promenade lets you walk the farthest tip of sea-sculpted land, where detailed signs in English explain local geography and history.

Muroto Cape is a 2½-hour drive along the coast road. To get here by public transportation, take a 1¼-hour train ride to Nahari Station on the private Tosa-Kuroshio Gomen-Nahari Line (¥1,340), and a one-hour bus ride from there (¥1,200). The Muroto UNESCO Global Geopark website lists model courses for exploring the area.