Takamatsu: Shikoku's Hidden Gem
For those like me who have lived in Japan for many years, but have been based exclusively on the main Honshu Island, the idea of a break on one of the smaller islands that makes up Japan has always held a certain appeal.
Most of the time, we consider either the gentle, warm but not too hot summer of the northern region that is Hokkaido, or in winter we may contemplate an escape to the significantly warmer climate of Okinawa in the south. Often overlooked is the island of Shikoku. Sandwiched between the Kansai Region to the northeast and Hyogo and Okayama Prefectures to the west, Shikoku isn’t as big as Hokkaido, nor is it as popular with tourists as Okinawa. However, as someone who–when it comes to travel–loves to go off the beaten track, Shikoku has always held a certain charm and intrigue for me.
As the largest city on the island and location of the main transport hubs for commuting between Shikoku and the mainland, Takamatsu, in Kagawa Prefecture, is the most commonly visited city on the island. However, it doesn’t usually figure on most people’s list of must-see places when they come to Japan.
So, what does Takamatsu have to offer the average tourist, looking to get the most out of their tour of Japan? Let’s take a look at some ideas.
1. Takamatsu Castle
Most castles in Japan, you will notice when you visit, are either situated on higher ground, or they form the centerpiece of an entire city that has seemingly been built out from around the castle’s walls over the centuries. Takamatsu Castle however, is a little different. It is one of the few seaside castles in Japan. Sitting just a short walk away from the main Takamatsu Port, the castle is easily reached from both rail and ferry terminals. Unfortunately, much of the original castle was destroyed during the numerous battles fought throughout Japan’s feudal era.
However, restoration work has been underway for a number of years and continues to this day. Within the castle walls, you can relax as you enjoy a gentle stroll around the castle park’s immaculately well-maintained gardens. At the centre of the park you will find the Hiunkaku Building. The building itself is a relatively modern creation, being constructed in 1917. Despite being more modern, it retains the overall style, aesthetic and atmosphere of the original castle. Although originally intended to serve as offices for the city and prefectural government, today it serves as an exhibition hall and gathering point for local community and cultural events. Regular Japanese cultural classes are held here, such as tea ceremony. Visitors are welcome to join, however it is worth checking availability ahead of time if you can.
Ever heard of the story of Momotaro?
This Japanese fairy tale has enthralled children for generations as the hero, a boy born of a peach, who tackles a group of evil ogres threatening his friends. Well, these ogres have a home, and here is where you will find it. Megijima is a short ferry ride from Takamatsu Port. The legendary Ogre Cave is in the forest which covers much of the 4km wide island, near the highest peak on the island. Despite being so small, the island is home to around 200 people, living in two villages near the coasts. Within the Ogre Cave you will find paintings and statues depicting the Momotaro story.
Megijima is also something of a pilgrimage spot for some of Japan’s many followers of Buddhism. Near the cave you will find an observation deck overlooking the Seto Inland Sea, at its centre, this area has a large statue in honour of Nichiren, historical founder of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism.
3. Isamu Noguchi Museum
Although born in America, the late great Isamu Noguchi was a famous artist and sculptor across Japan and was as proud of his Japanese heritage as he was his American roots. Until very late in his life he retained a residence and workshop in Japan. Today this same location, near central Takamatsu is a museum honouring the life and work of this great artist. Among other things, Noguchi was responsible for some of the bridges in and near the Hiroshima Peace Park. Additionally, he also designed the gardens at the UNESCO World Headquarters in Paris. Even today, some 30 years after his passing, Noguchi remains an influence on many modern furniture and interior designs too.
The museum itself has number of completed Noguchi sculptures, and designs, housed in what was formerly a Meiji Era warehouse, before Noguchi took it over and remade the building in his own image.
Just across the water from Megijima is its smaller sibling island, Ogijima. A mere 2 kilometers in diameter, Ogijima is a great place to go to really get away from the burdens of modern life. The island is home to a small village made almost entirely of wooden houses, and a solitary lighthouse that oversees the Takamatsu Bay area.
The island is also home to Toyotamahima Shrine. This shrine is a popular pilgrimage spot for expectant couples. The Shrine’s Kami (deity) is said to help ensure a safe birth and early life for a child.
5. Takamatsu Shoutengai
Almost every town and city in Japan has a Shoutengai (shopping arcade). Takamatsu has one too. That, in itself, may seem unremarkable. However, what elevates Takamatsu’s Shoutengai is the fact that it is, apparently, the longest shopping arcade in Japan. It runs 2.7 kilometers in total, going all the way from the aforementioned Takamatsu Castle to Ritsurin Koen.
As you can see Takamatsu has plenty to offer the eager traveler. In addition to the above mentioned landmarks, Takamatsu also has a host of luxurious hotels and ryokans dotted across the city to accommodate all levels of budget. The city is within easy reach of Japan’s Honshu Island, by rapid train from Okayama Station, which also links to the main Shinkansen lines that run the full length of the country.
How to Get There
From Tokyo to Takamatsu, low cost carrier airlines are available. At Takamatsu Airport, take a limousine bus to Takamatsu station.
From Tokyo to Takamatsu, bullet trains are available. From Tokyo Station, take the Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Okayama. At Okayama Station, take a train bound for Takamatsu Station. The trip lasts about 4.5 hours.