Coming to Japan, for a lot of people, is like a dream. The food is so different, the people are so different, the air and water and trees are different. Everything is different. And Japan is safe. It is one of the safest places in the world where you can travel, let your guard down a little, and just enjoy being someplace new and exciting.
That is one of the big reasons why Japan is so great to be.
So, once you have come to Japan and you have been to Tokyo to cruise through the concrete entrails of that city, and you’ve been to Kyoto to see the big sites, and also get jostled a little more than you would have liked by busloads of tourists, you figure you want to see the “DEEP JAPAN” part of the country, and have that experience.
But you don’t have a ton of time. You’ve spent two days in Tokyo, and then there wast he three days in Kyoto, and now you got a little space in your itinerary to get off the beaten tracks and see what SHIKOKU is all about.
You have chosen wisely.
Shikoku, has been referred to through past ages in Japan as “The Pure Land”. And this can not be much of an exaggeration. There are some awesome things to see, places to go, and experiences to discover. In this series of blogs I want to give you some 3-day trips that you can use as a start point to discover more of this pure land, this deep Japan, this place where you can have space for your journey and reflection.
First, let’s get you here.
From Tokyo I recommend the overnight train of the Seto Sunrise. I can’t recommend this enough. Riding the night train from Tokyo does two very important things. First, it removes the cost of one night in a hotel. You have to sleep, so you may as well sleep while in motion. There is no time-loss! Yay! The night train will leave Tokyo station between 9 and 10 pm. Check the schedule and book your berth. You’ve just spent a busy day in Tokyo, so now let’s get you on the rails.
There is a variety of different beds on the train, so check what is available and what makes sense to your budget and travel. This in itself is a GREAT Japan adventure. So, get some food from a convenience store, get some water, or grown-up beverages, and enjoy the swaying of the train as you ride your way to the pure land of Shikoku!
Arriving on DAY ONE: Ok, you made it. Whew. It is 7:00 in Takamatsu but the Starbucks in the station is not yet open. What? That is okay, head straight out the front doors and go to the coffee shop on the way called Pronto. They are open. Have a coffee or tea, put down your bags and let’s gather our wits about us for the first day.
After you are refreshed you can leave your bags at your hotel. You probably cannot check in just yet, but hotels allow you to leave your luggage. If you come through an agency, let them know about this so there is no trouble in the morning. Now it is about 8:00am and you are ready to get out there.
First stop is Ritsurin Garden. Just a quick taxi ride down the street you will be there in about 10 minutes. the garden is open from early morning so you will have some time to stroll around the mostly empty garden and take it all in at your leisure. This is the best time to come. People will start coming through around 10:00 so the first hours of the day can be sublime. Have tea in the teahouse, ride the short boat in the lake, take in the bonsai trees, the sakura if they are in season, and feed the carp.
Following your time in the garden I recommend heading back towards Takamatsu Station, or even towards your hotel to freshen up. There are a lot of great restaurants around the station area to explore and try. Many of them have English menus and there is great variety. A quick check on Trip Advisor or a chat with the front desk at your accommodations will yield good results. From this point we can consider a visit out to NAOSHIMA: Art Island of Japan
The ferry dock is very close to the station so that is tremendously convenient. Tickets are very inexpensive and a gentle ride on the ferry out to Naoshima will do your heart good. If you leave in the early afternoon you will have enough time to potter around the island and see a good number of works, and maybe get in a few of the houses in the Art House Experience. Rental bicycles are available to make getting around a breeze, and maps are available in English too.
After a remarkable day of gardens and art a relaxing evening in the Shotengai (shopping arcade) will find you walking among all sorts of different restaurants and pubs. It is great to take in some of the local color and food. Enjoy.
It’s been a long day of motion so far, so check in the hotel at a timely hour and get a good night’s rest.
DAY TWO: Konpira Shrine!
This is a great adventure in and of itself. The most relaxing, and very fun cultural experience to get to Konpira is to ride the local train, on the KOTODEN line. This local train is also near the port and Takamatsu Station and easy to find. Get on the yellow line and ride the train to the final station, called Kotohira. You will rumble through the city and the countryside, by hills and rice fields. It’s a very nice easy way to take in the country and enjoy the hues and shapes of rural Japan as you journey by.
Once at the station you will see where people are walking towards, some shopping area streets and a path that leads up to the staircase for the mountain. There are a good number of steps to climb, so take your time, stop on the way a couple times to rest or have tea or lunch, and make it to the summit. Konpira has great cultural and religious meaning for the Japanese, so climbing the mountain of the gods, and walking the path of the warrior-monks of old (yamabushi) will be a great experience. Say a prayer at the top, take in the incredible view, get a talisman for good luck, and come on back down.
If time permits there are places to either eat udon, or even make udon (and then eat it). The atmosphere of Kotohira is great, and you can get lost a little in the area enjoying the various shops and eateries that are there. The train ride home is a nice calm way to return to Takamatsu, and in the evening I might suggest either a place that sells “chicken on the bone” or a place where grilled eel can be had. Both are delicious.
DAY THREE: On this day, your final day in glorious Kagawa-ken, I recommend a number of possible activities. You could travel to the local art museums which are tremendously underrated, and interesting. You could go to Yashima, a famous location for an ancient samurai battle as found in the Heike Story. You could choose another ferry ride out to Shodoshima, the Island of Olives and Wagyu Steak. You could ferry out to Megijima and Ogijima, two smaller islands with art and unique inland sea culture. You could walk out to Takamatsu Castle which is small and easy to visit for about an hour. You could visit the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum which is beautiful.
The third day of most trips, in my experience, is best with a lower pace. Enjoy the small venues, have a luxurious lunch and a relaxing coffee, find a good dessert you enjoy. Take a walk around by shops and homes and enjoy the atmosphere. On the third day I would probably stay closer to the “home base” of Takamatsu station, just so that I wouldn’t miss the overnight train back to Tokyo. The Seto Sunrise awaits, and after a final day of relaxing, eating, drinking, and taking in local sights and sounds, you’ll be ready to cruise off into the night on the overnight sleeper back to Tokyo.