Shikoku Karst – Nature at Its Peak

If I were to mention a visit to a ‘karst’, most people would be extremely confused. What exactly is a karst? Using its Japanese name カルスト doesn't necessarily help either. When my friend first suggested to me to visit Shikoku Karst as we planned our trip to Shikoku, the very first thing I did was to Google search what ‘karst’ meant. To be exact, a karst is a geographical formation formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone. This results in sinkholes and rocks on a plateau matched with the absence of streams or lakes. That definitely was a geography lesson for me just by reading the description!

And right in Shikoku, you have one of Japan’s largest karst landforms (with the other two famous karsts being in Yamaguchi and Fukuoka). Shikoku Karst is listed on many tourism websites as one of the things to do when you’re in the Shikoku area. Attracted by the panoramic views that Shikoku Karst has to offer, I decided that this was definitely one of my must-sees in Kochi, and off we went to Shikoku Karst on an early weekend morning in the middle of September.

Departing from the town of Yusuhara at 8:30am by car (the Karst is only accessible by driving), we were concerned that it was a slightly foggy morning. We wondered if it was just the morning cold, and if it would affect the views as we went towards Shikoku Karst.

If you hadn’t figured out by now, the drive up to Shikoku Karst, which stands at an altitude of more than 1,400m, would involve a steep drive up a mountain with plenty of curves and narrow lanes. This was something we hadn’t been entirely prepared for, and the drive up was slightly nerve-racking for the uninitiated, so I would urge you to be mentally-prepared if you decide to visit Shikoku Karst!

But the views that Shikoku Karst had to offer once we reached were absolutely stunning. You would know you’ve reached the Karst when you see this sign together with a small ryokan that functions as a rest stop.

Stretching in front of us were silhouettes of mountains, expanses of green grass, wind turbines, limestones dotting the scenery, cows grazing peacefully, and families enjoying their overnight camp. 

The landscape looked almost biblical!

At such a high altitude, the air was definitely much colder and slightly thinner than normal. With it being in the middle of September on an average sunny day, I felt it was just nice to be wearing a cardigan over a short sleeved shirt, though families who had spent the night were seen wearing thicker down jackets. If you spend your time walking around to explore the Karst on foot instead of driving throughout – which I would recommend you do to breathe the fresh air – you’ll definitely be kept warm by going up and down small slopes. 

To fully explore the expanse of the Karst though, you would definitely have to drive through it. But we found ourselves stopping every so often to take photos of the Karst from different vantage points. 

If you’re up for a drive and interested to see something scenic where few tourists have been, Shikoku Karst is definitely for you! Shikoku Karst stretches between the Ehime and Kochi Prefectures, and the address to be used is: 〒791-1802 Ehime-ken, Kamiukena-gun, Kumakōgen-chō, 久万高原町西谷.

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