Spend 10 days discovering Japan's smallest major island of Shikoku, where culture, nature, and history meet. Start in Matsuyama to visit Matsuyama Castle and relax in the hot springs of Dogo Onsen. Then, you're off to Kochi to see local temples and hike at Yasui Gorge. Take a train to explore the vine bridges of the Iya Valley, and continue to Tokushima and the temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage route. End in Takamatsu's Ritsurin Garden, walking peaceful paths or cruising the ponds in a traditional boat.


  • Tour the ancient Matsuyama Castle, once home to feudal clans 
  • Hike along the blue waters of Kochi's Niyodo River 
  • Visit historic temples along Tokushima's Shikoku Pilgrimage route
  • Discover unique art installations integrated with nature on Naoshima island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Matsuyama, Tour Matsuyama Castle & Ishite-ji, Dogo Onsen  Matsuyama
Day 2 Day Trip to Historic Ozu & Uchiko Matsuyama
Day 3 Bus to Kochi, Explore Kochi Castle & Chikurin-ji Temple Kochi
Day 4 Discover the Blue Waters of the Niyodo River, Hiking at Yasui Gorge Kochi
Day 5 Train to Iya Valley, Vine Bridges Tour, Train to Tokushima Tokushima
Day 6 Shikoku Pilgrimage Temples, Awa Odori Dance Performance Tokushima
Day 7 Train to Naruto, Whirlpools & Uzunomichi Walkway Tour, Train to Takamatsu Takamatsu
Day 8 Ritsurin Garden Tour, Cultural Visit to Kotohira Takamatsu
Day 9 Day Trip to Naoshima Island: Art & Museums Takamatsu
Day 10 Depart Takamatsu  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Matsuyama, Tour Matsuyama Castle & Ishite-ji, Dogo Onsen 

Experience the grand beauty of Matsuyama Castle

Welcome to Japan! Your flight lands in Matsuyama, the island of Shikoku's capital and its largest city. Upon arrival, you'll be transferred to your hotel for check-in, and once you've had a chance to regroup, you'll meet with a local guide for a tour of some of this charming city's top sights.

Start at Matsuyama Castle, once home to the powerful Matsudaira clan during Japan's feudal era. The architecture here is a prime example of feudal times, with a main keep, secondary keep, and turrets throughout. The multiple cherry trees growing around the castle also make for beautiful cherry blossom viewing in spring. Continue to Ishite-ji, a Shingon Buddhist temple that marks Temple 51 of Shikoku's 88 Temple Pilgrimage route. Just past the main hall, you'll find a cave that takes you to the inner temple, with statues and paintings inside, as well as a hall shaped like a golden dome. 

Shikoku is renowned for its healing hot springs, and later today, you can refresh from your long journey with a visit to Dogo Onsen, one of the island's most popular resorts. Among Dogo Onsen's many bathhouses and ryokans, the one that attracts the most attention is Dogo Onsen Honkan, a three-story bathhouse that dates back to the 1800s and is said to have inspired Hayao Miyazaki's popular animated film, "Spirited Away." The area surrounding the onsen is also home to shops selling local souvenirs and snacks, making a leisurely stroll in the area fun and memorable. 

Day 2: Day Trip to Historic Ozu & Uchiko

See the historic Uchiko-za kabuki theater in Uchiko

Step back in time as you travel outside Matsuyama to Ozu and Uchiko. Meet your guide in the morning and take the one-hour road trip to your first stop in Ozu, a small city located just southwest of Matsuyama. Once a castle town that grew and developed during the Edo period, Ozo's Old Town district retains that nostalgic vibe, with merchant houses and samurai residences lining both sides of stone-paved alleys, and a reconstructed castle at the center. Walk around the city, and visit Garyu Sanso, a villa constructed in 1907 with a delicate design and gorgeous gardens. 

On your way back to Matsuyama, you'll stop in Uchiko. During the Edo and Meiji periods, the village was known as a prominent candle wax and washi paper production center. Today, its Youkaichi-Gokoku district, named a designated reservation area, still has many of the original historic buildings. Stop at the Kamihaga Residence, once the residence and workshop of the Kamihaga family and now a museum that details the history of the wax-making industry. You can also visit Uchiko-za, a kabuki theater built in 1916 and one of the country's few remaining original theaters. 

Day 3: Bus to Kochi, Explore Kochi Castle & Chikurin-ji Temple

Take in panoramic views from the heights of Kochi Castle 

Your next destination is the city of Kochi, a smallish community with a relaxed atmosphere and several popular visitor sites. In the morning, you'll check out of your Matsuyama hotel and make your way to the bus station for the 2.5-hour ride. Upon arrival, get settled at your accommodations, then head out for a tour. 

Visit Kochi Castle, one of Kochi's most notable landmarks, and one of Japan's 12 original castles to have survived the post-feudal age. Climb up the hill to where the castle is perched, visiting the donjon, or main tower, once used as a residence for ruling Yamauchi lords. Take in the castle's unusual design and intricate details, which reflect the Edo period's distinct architectural style. The castle is also a popular cherry blossom spot, with blooming cherry trees brightening up the view every spring.
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Move on to Chikurin-ji, a Shingon Buddhist temple with a history dating back to the eighth century, and Temple 31 on Shikoku's Pilgrimage route. You may encounter such pilgrims while here, dressed in white as they pay homage to the temple. Roam around the serene grounds, and be sure to take photos of the towering five-story pagoda here. For a small fee, you can also visit the traditional garden registered as a National Place of Scenic Beauty. Afterward, return to your hotel and relax, or continue exploring more of the city on your own. 

Day 4: Discover the Blue Waters of the Niyodo River, Hiking at Yasui Gorge 

Explore the pristine nature of the Niyodo River and Yasui Gorge

Spend today enjoying the outdoor activities to be found around the incredible Niyodo River, locally known as "Niyodo Blue," which stretches nearly 80 miles (124 km) from Shikoku's deep mountains and into the Pacific Ocean. The dazzling cobalt water of the river is truly something to see, and you'll have the chance to take in the picturesque views and lush green countryside. 

You can opt to take a hike through Yasui Gorge, which is considered one of the best ways to enjoy the Niyodo's scenic views. The gorge runs along the Yasui River, which is a tributary of the Niyodo, with pristine forests, beautiful waterfalls, and glimpses of the Niyodo at its most impressive. Stop at the turquoise Suisho Buchi Basin, visit the two-tiered Hiryu-no-Taki Waterfall, and relax amid the sounds of the flowing waters. 

For more great views of Niyodo Blue, you can also hike the Nakatsu Gorge. Located upstream, the gorge impresses every visitor with its large rock formations, formed through years of erosion, and the nearby Uryu-no-Taki Waterfall, which plunges more than 65 feet (20 m) onto the rocks. The gorge is a showstopper during the autumn months, with bursts of yellow, orange, and red leaves creating a vibrant contrast against the rocks and falls. Those travelers seeking more of an adrenaline rush can also take a canyoning or rafting tour of the Niyodo, and there are options for canoeing and standup paddleboarding.

Day 5: Train to Iya Valley, Vine Bridges Tour, Train to Tokushima

Cross the vine bridges of the Iya Valley

Check out of your hotel in Kochi this morning and head to the train station for the one-hour ride to Oboke Station, where you'll then transfer to the Iya Valley. Here, you'll find towering mountains, rushing rivers, and quiet onsen towns, the perfect destination for those seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience.

Meet your guides and take a trek through the valley, stopping at the historic vine bridges that traverse the valley. Of the thirteen original bridges that once served as transport around the valley, only three remain. If you're feeling courageous, you can make your way across the bridges for panoramic views from high above the valley floor, or appreciate the scenery from the ground with a walk along the forest trails.

Afterward, it's back to the train station as you continue your journey to the town of Tokushima. This normally quiet prefecture becomes a hotspot in August when they host their famed Awa Odori Festival, Japan's largest traditional dance festival. Tokushima is also known for its ancient temples, natural landscapes, and delicious food. Once you've arrived and checked in at your hotel, you're free to wander and perhaps grab a bite to eat or visit local shops for one-of-a-kind souvenirs. 

Day 6: Shikoku Pilgrimage Temples, Awa Odori Dance Festival

You may get to see the incredible dancers of the Awa Dance Festival

The day starts with a visit to two of Tokushima's most important temples, Kakurin-ji and Tairyu-ji, temples 20 and 21 of the Shikoku Pilgrimage route. Kakurin-ji, which sits high on a mountaintop, is believed to have been founded in 798 CE under Emperor Kanmu. Its remote location has protected it from war and natural disasters, leaving it remarkably well-preserved. Depending on your time and physical condition, you can approach the temple via bus/taxi or by walking the steep pilgrimage trail marked by 21 stone pillars.

Continue to Tairyu-ji, a temple nestled on a mountain ridge across the Nakagawa River. Ascend up the mountain via cable car, taking in the sweeping expanses of the river and village down below, or you can also walk the Kamomichi, a 2.73-mile (4.4 km) trail that's part of the pilgrimage route and takes you up the mountain. Alternatively, you can take a taxi to the main parking lot and walk to the main gate. Steeped in history, Tairyu-ji dates back to 792, with a design similar to Koyasan's Okunoin, earning it the nickname "Koya of the West."

Visitors who happen to be in Tokushima in August are in for the added treat of the Awa Odori Dance Festival. Held during the Obon season, you'll find groups of dancers and musicians, or rens, dressed in colorful outfits and dancing through the streets. The history of the dance dates back more than 400 years, and you'll have an opportunity to watch a live show performed by Awa Odori Kaikan's own troupe, alongside other well-known troupes. There are both day and evening shows available, all of which showcase the talent of the dancers and the history of this yearly event.

Day 7: Train to Naruto, Whirlpools & Uzunomichi Walkway Tour, Train to Takamatsu

See the powerful Naruto Whirlpools along the Uzunomichi Walkway

This morning, depart Tokushima and board the train to Naruto, a coastal city that's home to the Naruto Strait. The strait, which connects the Pacific Ocean and the Seto Island Sea, has swift currents that, as the tides rise and fall, create powerful whirlpools. The whirlpools can reach upward of 100 feet (30 m) at their widest and are considered some of the most spectacular of their kind. You'll meet your guide and take a sightseeing cruise for closer views, enjoying the raging currents that congregate directly under the Onaruto Bridge.

Afterward, take a stroll along the Uzunomichi Walkway, built along the bridge and connecting Honshu and Shikoku. Spanning more than 1,400 feet (450 m), it offers clear views of the whirlpools from a height of nearly 150 feet (45 m), with glass panels embedded in the floor that provide a truly incredible experience. Later this afternoon, you'll board the train for a 1.5-hour ride that takes you to the final part of your tour, the city of Takamatsu, a port town known for its restful gardens and panoramic views. Check in at your hotel, then head out for dinner at one of the city's local restaurants. 

Day 8: Ritsurin Garden Tour, Cultural Visit to Kotohira

Ride a traditional wasen boat through the peaceful ponds of Ritsurin Garden

After breakfast, meet your guide and take a tour of Ritsurin Garden, a nearly 200-acre (75 ha) expanse of meticulously manicured greenery that's considered the highlight of the city. Walk along quiet paths past beautifully landscaped hills and vegetation, lovely ponds, and elegant pavilions. The garden is divided into a Japanese-style garden in the south, and a Western-style planting in the north. Take a break at one of the rest houses and appreciate the tranquility, or board a traditional wasen boat to admire the garden from another angle. 

Later today, take a trip to Kotohira, a small town just an hour's train ride from Takamatsu. Here, you'll tour the Kotohiragu Shrine—otherwise known as Kompira-san—the head shrine of the "Kotohira" or "Konpira" shrines in the country. Dedicated to the deity Konpira, as well as the gods of agriculture, livestock, and medicine, the shrine features a main hall that sits halfway up a mountain. Make the 45-minute hike to it's observatory area for expansive views of the Sanuki Plain, or hike even farther up to the inner shrine if you have the energy! 

Next up is Kanamaruza, built in 1835 and the oldest kabuki theater in Japan. A National Important Cultural Property, the theater features a human-powered rating stage, trapdoors, and other structures used during performances. In the spring, an event called Shikoku Konpira Kabuki Oshibai is held here, offering locals and visitors alike the chance to watch live shows with first-rate kabuki performers. After your tour, hop back on the train and return to Takamatsu for the evening. 

Day 9: Day Trip to Naoshima Island: Art & Museums

Contemplate art and nature on Naoshima island

Discover the art of Naoshima today, making a day trip out to the Benesse Art Site Naoshima, an art project on three small islands in the Seto Inland Sea: Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima. In 1992, Benesse House, an integrated museum and hotel facility designed by Tadao Ando, opened its doors, marking the beginning of what is now a stunning collection of museums, galleries, and art installations. 

Meet your guides in the morning and head out to the island, where you'll start with a visit to the Art House Project, a collection of abandoned houses, a temple, and a shrine converted into venues for contemporary art. Then, continue to the Chichu Art Museum, which showcases the works of artists such as Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria. The museum, built mostly underground to integrate with nature, is a piece of art on its own, with natural light that moves through the structure, perfectly highlighting the individual artwork. 

Move on to the Lee Ufan Museum, dedicated to the Korean minimalist painter and sculptor. This building is also partially underground, surrounded by rolling hills and ocean views. End at the Benesse House Museum, a splendid collection of Japanese and international artists. There are installations along the shoreline, as well as in the nearby forest, creating a blend of art and nature that you won't find elsewhere. Upon your return to Takamatsu, you're free to see more of the city sights on your own or rest up at your hotel for tomorrow's departure. 

Day 10: Depart Takamatsu

Say farewell to Japan's beautiful Shikoku island

Your Shikoku Island adventure ends today. After breakfast, check out of your hotel and transfer to the airport for your journey home or to your next destination. Safe travels! 

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Map of Highlights of Japan's Shikoku Island: Culture, Nature & Art - 10 Days
Map of Highlights of Japan's Shikoku Island: Culture, Nature & Art - 10 Days