It’s been more than a decade since I first came to live in Japan. In that time, I’ve seen a huge variety of different places, met a wide range of different people and had a plethora of experiences I will never forget.
With such a huge range of encounters and experiences already in my memory bank, one could be forgiven for getting a little jaded and perhaps disinterested at yet another day trip to an, as of yet unexplored, seldom seen corner of Japan.
However, such negative sentiments never even entered my mind. If there is one thing I have learned about Japan down the years, it is that you should never underestimate the potential of this place to amaze and enthral you.
So too was this the case when I recently visited Tokushima Prefecture for the first time.
Tokushima isn’t exactly at the top of every tourist’s “must see” list when planning a trip to Japan, but this diminutive little prefecture actually has quite a lot going for it.
First off, it’s not that hard to get to. With a combination of bus and ferry, it can be reached from Osaka, Kyoto or Kobe in just a couple of hours.
Taking up much of the eastern side of the island of Shikoku, Tokushima is also a rather diverse prefecture. Whether it’s a relaxing dip in an onsen, a romantic cruise on a traditional steamer, or even just some good local food and a few traditional drinks at one of the many local eateries, Tokushima has something to appeal to both the ardent traveler and the casual tourist.
Here are a few of my personal highlights.
1) Whirlpool Viewing
I used to think that whirlpools weren’t really a thing. As a kid, I’d seen them in various disaster movies and animated shows, where they were often portrayed as this terrifying vortex into oblivion. Such hyperbolae is of course a gross exaggeration, but as I learned upon visiting Tokushima, whirlpools are real, and thanks to some excellent facilities, in Tokushima we can actually get quite close to them.
One of the best ways to survey these natural marvels from a safe distance is from the overhead observatory of the Naruto Bridge. Directly under the bridge itself is the observatory, where, thanks to the transparent floor panels, you can enjoy perfect views of the pools from a height of 45 metres.
If that’s a bit too high up for you, or if you just fancy getting a little more “up close and personal” with the whirlpools, then you also have the option of taking a boat trip on one of the local steamships, to within just a few metres of the whirlpools.
Probably the view from the observatory gives a clearer overall picture of the pools, but there is definitely something to be said for feeling the seaspray hit your face as you watch the waves gyrate from sea level.
If you’re sea legs are especially strong, you may also want to consider taking a ride on the “Aqua Eddy”, an underwater tourism ship. At ¥2,200 per person its certainly good value for the amazing insight it offers into the biodiversity of sea life in and around the Shikoku coasts.
2) Awa Sand Pillars
Being part of a small island, one would expect that Tokushima has seen more than its fair share of volcanic and tectonic activity over the course of history.
The region has a geological history going back several hundred million years.
Of course, even today the after effects of this activity can still be seen and felt by modern humans.
This brings us to the Awa Sand Pillars, a magnificent piece of art 200 million years in the making.
Likened by many to the American Rockies or Italy’s Dolomites, the Awa Sand Pillars are naturally occurring formations of pure sandstone, formed from eons of erosion.
They are especially striking at night, when they can be seen lit up in their full glory.
3) Vine Bridges of the Iya Valley
Heading over to the western side of Tokushima prefecture, we can see the terrain become far greener. Coastal fishing villages and inland rivers give way to mountains and dense forests. As we head deeper into this green land, we come across this magnificent spectacle of local folklore.
Before Japan even had an established government, settlers were building villages and towns in the many enclaves to be found along the Iya Valley.
However, getting around, with this massive, deep valley at the centre of town posed a problem for the early settlers. To overcome this, they constructed massive bridges from the abundant sources of vines to be found in the surrounding forest.
Whilst the idea of crossing a bridge held together only by vines may sound scary, these incredible feats of engineering are remarkably sturdy. The sheer drop to be found beneath them however certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. With very few of these vine bridges still in use in modern Japan, the Iya Valley is a place not only of stunning natural beauty but also of great historic and cultural significance.
4) Senba Cliffs
Last but certainly not least, we had to the southern side of Tokushima, and back to the coast, to take in one of Japan’s most beautiful and yet most frequently overlooked areas of natural beauty.
The English may sing proudly about their “White Cliffs of Dover”, and whilst Dover is an absolutely beautiful little town, I think the Senba Cliffs just about eclipse those famous white cliffs.
The Senba Cliffs are a bit out of the way, and being several hundred metres high, walking around them is dangerous, and definitely not recommended. Instead, the local city government provides a sightseeing taxi service from Hiwasa Station, where for around ¥4600 you can enjoy a driven tour of some of the most beautiful coastal scenery you are ever likely to see. I should add that this is the price of the taxi, which can seat up to 4 passengers, not the per person price. It is, I am sure you will agree, worth every penny.