Japan, Travel • August 6, 2019August 7, 2019 Shikoku – The Cultural And Hidden Gem That Is Japan’s Best Kept Secret. I’m about to show you a side of Japan you’ve probably never seen. When most of us think about Japan, major cities like Osaka, Tokyo, and Hokkaido come to mind, but Japan has so much more to offer. We paid a visit to Shikoku, the smallest of 4 islands in Japan, but don’t let its small size fool you, it’s packed with its unique culture and breathtaking nature spots. Cultural gems, exciting activities, and beautiful accommodations await as we explore Shikoku. Read on to check out what you can explore over in the scenic destination island. Shikoku is known for its strong cultural heritage and beautiful scenery. From the breathtaking views at Iya Valley to getting some hands-on experience with traditional candy making classes, Shikoku has numerous unique experiences to check out. 1.Experience exciting activities with a unique view We bet you’ve never heard of Grass Skiing You don’t have to wait for winter to come to try your hand at skiing because this 200m long grassy slope is made for just that. You will be given specially made skis to rush down the slope along with safety gear of course. Every 2 hour session comes with a free basic course on how to operate and maneuver in the grass skis and it’s not as easy as it looks! If you have never attempted ski or rollerblading this may be slightly challenging for you. However the patient and friendly instructors are there to make sure you at least know how to fall down safely. Once you’ve had the mini crash course you are free to roam the hill or in my case roll down most of the time. While the first 30 minutes of the experience is definitely a trying one, you will be able to get the hang of it. Take the time to enjoy the view from the top before jumping in and skiing down the slopes. Address: 2953-1 Konancho Yusa, Takamatsu, Kagawa 761-1402 Opening hours: Daily, 9am – 5pm Number: +81 87 879 8510 Price: 2 hours ¥1,540 for adults, ¥1,020 children – includes rental gear Website and More information here Zipline through the Iya Valley If you are looking for some excitement to get the blood pumping, check out the Forest Adventure, it’s the only Forest adventure that’s located in a valley! You can opt for a breathtaking zipline ride where you’ll get to cross the valley twice, each ride crossing over 300m. During the ride you’ll get a 360 degree view of the entire river and the surrounding mountains. You can bring your phone along with you for the zipline, but we highly recommend having a strap attached. If you wish for a view amongst the towering trees, the Forest adventure also have high element courses where you will find yourself all the way up in the canopy. Address: Tokushima, Miyoshi, Nishiiyayamamura Oinouchi 778-0101 Opening Hours: You’ll have to book your slots online via their website Price: ¥2,200 (Zipline only) Number: +81 80 6284 2105 Website 2.Get cultured with some first hand experiences. Shikoku’s traditional workshops may not be your usual fare when you are checking out activities in the area, but these do not disappoint. Learn from the masters and craft your own products that you will be able to bring back and enjoy. Design and create your own sheet of washi paper from scratch With over 37 years of papermaking under his belt, Rogier runs the Kamikoya guest house and Washi Studio where you can learn the art of traditional paper making. His studio offers two types of classes, a full in-depth workshop where you can train to be a true paper craftsmen master, or the more tourist-friendly 2-hour course where you’ll get to make your own piece of washi paper which you can take home! You’ll start off with a tour to give a brief overview on how washi paper is made and you get to make your own washi paper. The final product will be entirely handmade by you! Rogier teaches the classes himself too so you’ll get to learn from the master directly! To decorate your artwork you are encouraged to go out into the nearby grounds to pick your own decorations. Let your imagination run free as you gather up the nearby flora. Make the paper your own! It was easy to get absorbed in the paper-making process, you can choose to randomly scatter your decorations around or arrange them nicely, let your imagination run free. No single piece of paper created by anyone is ever the same. After decorating your paper, it will be left to dry. This will take about 1-2 weeks, but worry not! Washi Studios will be able to mail you the finished washi paper to you. Course costs will depend on your group size! Larger groups will be cheaper. A group of 5 is priced at ¥2,500/person, while a couple will have to fork out ¥4000/person. Address: 1678 Otado, Yusuhara, Takaoka District, Kochi 785-0603 Opening hours: Bookings for classes need to be made in advance Price: Minimum group of 2 people, ¥4000/person Number: +81 889 68 0355 Make your very own Japanese sugar candies This workshop is one for the sweet-tooths and my personal favorite. Mamehana specializes in wasanbon-making. Wasanbon is a type of sugar that’s even more fine than icing sugar. Produced in the eastern part of Shikoku it’s mainly found in the Tokushima and Kagawa prefecture. Beyond the sugar used, the Wasanbon is made using handmade wooden molds that helps to shape each candy piece. Each mold contains intricate details, and the finished candy contains extremely fine patterns and that’s a wonder to behold. Classes last about 1 hour, and you’ll be able to hand press and craft your own Wasanbon candies which you can enjoy the spot with a cup of green tea or take home as a gift in a beautiful box. Unlike commercial candies, the fine sugar used in the Wasanbon confectionary makes it melt instant in your mouth, just like a ball of snow. Each class can accommodate up to a group of 8-10 people and the pace is rather fast, making the 1 hour session fly by. Address: 1 Chome-9-13 Hanazonocho, Takamatsu, Kagawa 760-0072 Price: ¥1,000 yen per person Number: +81 90 7575 1212 Take a stroll through time in Wakimachi Udatsu Take a step back in time as you walk around the traditional lanes of Udatsu Old Street. This incredibly well preserved town is over 300 years old, an incredible feat made even more fascinating as it’s built with organic materials such as clay and bamboo. You can easily imagine shooting a period drama along these streets. This quiet town used to be a bustling center and origin for the indigo dyeing trade. Here, you’ll be able to get a taste of the long standing tradition of indigo dyeing at the Mimashi Kankokoryu Center. For first-time visitors, you can start by dyeing your own handkerchief for just ¥1,000 . Classes will last for 30 minutes and what starts out as a dark brown chocolate colour will slowly transform into a beautiful denim hue and you’ll get to decide how light or dark a shade you prefer. You’ll be guided by the experts there, and if you look closely, you’ll notice their indigo stained hands, a sign of the amount of effort placed in pursuing true craftsmanship. Bear in mind that the 30 minute lesson time does not include the time needed for drying, so we suggest heading out to explore the town while you wait for your goods to dry! Address: 45-1 Oaza, Wakimachi, Mima, Tokushima 779-3610 Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM, but you’ll have to make reservations before 3pm Price: Starting from ¥1,000 yen Number: +81 883 53 0960 3.Here’s all the best views in Shikoku Shikoku is surrounded by tonnes of lush greenery and mountains lending it some of the most beautiful nature spots. Relatively unknown and slightly remote, the spots are hardly visited by tourists, which means you may just be the first. Iya-no-Kazurabashi The Iya-no-Kazurabashi (mountain vine bridge) was once used to cross valleys and transport goods. The bridge was named such as it was constructed with mountain vines, anchored on each end to massive cedar trees. Today, the ancient bridge presents a unique view for visitors as you cross the breathtaking valley. 13 different bridges used to span the valley, but time has not been kind to them, leaving only 3 left today for visitors to cross. Of them all, the Iya-no-Kazurabashi is the most popular, stretching 45 meters across and 14 meters above the Iya River. One thing to note is that this bridge is not for the faint of heart, there are gaps in between the planks laid across the framework. Don a comfortable pair of shoes and secure all loose items secured before attempting the crossing. Taking the shots was a harrowing experience as we feared we will drop our cameras right through the gaps and into the river flowing right below us. This is definitely one of the more popular tourist destinations in the area so we suggest coming early in the morning if you are looking to have the spot to yourself. Address: 162-2 Nishiiyayamamura Zentoku, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0102 Opening hours: Daily, 7 am – 6.30 pm Price: Entrance fee is ¥500 Oboke Sightseeing Pleasure Cruise The Oboke river is considered to be the 3rd most beautiful river in Japan, praised for its stunning teal color. There’s no better way to get a view of the river than by boat. For ¥1080 you can get a quick 30-minute tour by the Oboke Sightseeing Pleasure Cruise. The 30-minute cruise will sail on down the water, giving you an unparalleled look of the scenery around. Just grab a seat, enjoy the gentle rocking motion and bask in the peaceful atmosphere here. While the river is incredibly pretty all year round, for that extra oomph we suggest coming in Autumn when the maple leaves start to turn red and orange. Take the time to soak in the view of the river but for the best photo spot it’s actually before you board. Address: 1643-7, Nishiu, Yamashiro-Cho, Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima 789-0241 Opening Hours: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm Price: Entrance fee is ¥500 Contact number: +81 88 384 1211 Yusuhara Community Library The incredible wooden architecture of the town public library really reflects the town’s eco-friendly stance. Warm colours set an inviting ambiance that invites you to grab a book, lean back into the comfortable chairs and dive into the novel. If you plan on visiting the library to cozy up with a book, do note that most of the books they have on hand are all in Japanese, with a limited selection of English texts. Do bring your own book if you wish to read in this peaceful atmosphere. Address: 1212-2 Yusuhara, Takaoka District, Kochi 785-0610, Japan Opening hours: 10 am – 9 pm Closed on Tuesdays Price: Admission is free Number: +81 889-65-1900 Niyodo Blue river If you did a quick google search on the Niyodo Blue River, every single image will show you a stunning blue river. And the pictures did not lie, as we had our breath taken away as we first saw it. The entrance to this natural beauty and pure waters is hidden along the side of the highway, but it is so worth exploring. Come on a bright sunny day to see the river in all its glory. Or come in the fall to see nature transform into hues of red, orange and yellow. In the warmer months, you can bring along your swimwear and take a dip in the river too. The water is so clean that you can drink directly from it! Address: 258-1 Nanokawa, Niyodogawa, Agawa District, Kochi 781-1741 Price: Admission is free The dishes found in Shikoku certainly impressed me. We’re not sure if it’s the water or the mountain air, but every dish we had was a gastronomical delight. Even simple ingredients like the humble Tofu were bursting with flavour. What’s more, we checked out some affordable locations like $3 SGD udons and $19 SGD Omakase meals Here are some of our recommended places that you MUST visit when it comes to food: Grab an omakase meal for just $19 SGD You need not worry about blowing your budget as you check out the Omakase set here. The cozy restaurant, Sairai serves up a 5-course Omakase set for just ¥1,500. Their omakase set features all the local specialities and they are best known for the mountain vegetables, grains, and Awadori, their specially raised chicken. All the ingredients used in the meal were locally grown or harvested from the mountains in the surrounding regions, ensuring their quality and freshness. The mountain vegetables served had a fresh, crispy and light taste. The meats served up in the meal came from the nearby farms. We were told that the chickens were specially raised and fed with local grains to ensure a sweeter taste to it as well as possessing a juicier and tender feel. After a few bites, I’m glad to say that the care taken paid off, as the chicken was especially succulent, with little effort needed to bite through each piece. In the evening this place transforms into a bar and they also offer event party plans complete with unlimited drinks with alcohol and course meals. Depending on your plan, the price ranges from ¥3,000 to ¥6,000 Address: Nishibun-140-2 Wakimachi Oaza Inoshiri, Mima, Tokushima 779-3602 Opening Hours: Daily, 11 am – 2.30 pm & 6.30 pm – last order. Number: +81 50 5592 8942 Sip tea on the edge of a valley Native to the area of Kochi is the Sawatari Tea and one the best-kept secrets of the area is the Tea Café Asunaro. Located on the edge of a valley, the cafe offers up both scenic views and a series of tea-infused dishes. You can find a range of offerings, from waffles, Daifuku tea sets, to Tamago sandwiches. Our favorite has to be the Hand-made Sawatari-cha Waffle, served with whipped cream, red bean paste, and creamy vanilla ice cream. We found it to be incredibly light and flavourful, with just a hint of sweetness. Address: 224-6 Washinosu, Niyodogawa, Agawa District, Kochi 781-1757 Opening hours: 10am – 3.30pm Contact number: +81 889 36 0188 Try the most amazing Japanese-Italian fusion dishes. Enclosed in a cozy and quaint space is Nagara, a Japanese-Italian diner which serves up mouthwatering fusion dishes. In line with the restaurants here, this diner makes full use of the local ingredients, preparing them in a manner of fashion with their well-kept secret recipes. This place was also one of our guide’s personal favourite food destinations. Left to right: Strawberry and Mozzarella in marinade (¥800) , Roasted Ibaraki pork and baby corns (¥1,500), Asparagus Sauté with parmesan cheese (¥700) A must-order, the Strawberry and Mozzarella in marinade (¥800), had Strawberries so juicy, there were literal fruit explosions in the mouth. The Mozarella balanced out the sweetness of the Strawberry, and each bite was just as good as the first. The Roasted Ibaraki pork and baby corn (¥1,500) allowed me to experience what it means to have meat so soft it melts in your mouth. The crunchy baby corn that was still presented in the cob gave the dish texture, balancing out the tender pork. Address: 1 Chome-7-7 Jotocho, Takamatsu, Kagawa 760-0036 Opening hours: Saturday – Wednesday: 11.30am – 12pm & 6pm – 12am , Thursday – Friday: 6pm – 12am Number: +81 80 9832 143 Grab lunch in the Hirome Market The Hirome Market is stocked full of pleasant delights, combining a market, souvenir shops as well as drink and food stalls. You will be able to find over 70 different stalls featuring dishes ranging from popular Japanese franchises to Indian food, all under one roof. Fans of Japanese beer will be pleased to note that drinks here are half the price compared to Singapore. This place is a hit with the locals and you can’t reserve tables so it’s best to come early and avoid the lunch crowd! Left to right: Seared bonito (¥1,200) , Kujira no Tatsuta (fried whale meat) (¥440 yen), Yatai Gyoza (¥460 yen) While the choices may be daunting, there are some dishes that stood out. We tried the Kujira no Tatsuta (fried whale meat) and was surprised at how it turned out. Extremely chewy with a subtle flavour, it was hardly gamey which put it at odds with what I’ve expected how the enormous animal would be like. Not wanting to sound cliche, but the taste had a subtle taste similar to that of chicken. Going with something lighter next, we ordered a serving of Seared Bonito. The searing process eliminates any hint of fishiness, and gave it a pleasing aroma and a rich flavour. Easy on the palate, this appetising dish was cetainly a dish we look forward to re-visiting. Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Obiyamachi, Kochi, 780-0841 Opening hours: Â Monday to Saturday, 8am – 11 pm. Sunday, 7am – 11 pm. Number: +81 88 822 5287 Eat a bowl of Udon starting from just $3 The Kagawa prefecture is famous for its Sanuki- Udon but we literally found a local joint so popular it’s regularly sold out before their closing time of 3.30pm Don’t fret if you see a queue starting to form around meal times, because most people that come here only take about 10-15 minutes to finish up their meal before heading back to work. Uehara-Ya Honten is one of the most popular local udon shops in Takamatsu city. A basic Udon dish (Kake Udon) will only cost you ¥240, and you can add on various side dishes from ¥120. You will find customers eating with nary a care, fixated on enjoying the dish as evident with the loud slurping noises. You can opt to have a cold or hot bowl of ramen. I decided to go for the cold udon and no regrets there! The udon had just the right amount of chewiness and paired with the light broth, it could easily be eaten without any side dishes. Address: 1 Chome-18-8 Ritsurincho, Takamatsu, Kagawa 760-0073 Opening hours: 9.30am – 3.30pm or even earlier Number: +81 87 831 6779 Have breakfast and tea in a 3-Michelin star garden. Breakfast at Kagawa’s Ritsurin Garden is the perfect way to start the day. Considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the nation, it was awarded 3 Michelin stars from the Michelin Green Guide Japan. You’ll get to enjoy world-class meals in a world-class environment. For a chance to sample their breakfast meal, you can book a teahouse and order up the Asagayu set, which is the Morning porridge set. The set will cost you ¥1620 per person and they also provide other traditional Japanese sweets and tea ¥120 to ¥750. This humble breakfast may look simple but it’s very filling. The porridge alone is not the watery kind we are used to. Instead, it has a thick consistency, with generous amounts of chunks of soft sweet potato inside. Paired along with the other small sides like radishes, cooked fish and juicy tomatoes, this whole dish had a home-cook feel to it. You’ll be surrounded by a huge garden landscape and the best time to come would be in the spring to catch the sakura blossoms. Address: 1 Chome-20-16 Ritsurincho, Takamatsu, Kagawa 760-0073 Opening hours: Daily, 7am – 5pm Price: Entrance Fee – ¥410, Breakfast set – ¥1,620 Contact number: +81 87 833 7411 With traditional inns featuring modern conveniences, be assured that your stay in Shikoku will be peaceful, leaving you recharged for the next day of exploration. We’ve picked a few unique residences for you, a Ryokan and a renovated townhouse, each with their unique charm. Yu-No-Mori Ryokan Located right next to the Nakatsu Gorge is the Yu-No-Mori hotel. Our favourite room here is the Special Cottage, often used as the honeymoon suite. A wooden bathtub is something I’ve hardly seen in most hotels. A long soakbalong with the complimentary bath salts provided really eased all my worries, leaving me refreshed for the next day activities. Breakfast and dinner are provided with the stay. Pick from a Japanese or French styled meal and indulge! They are comparable to an omakase meal, and you’ll truly feast like a king. And being up in the valley the meals specialise in seafood dishes, so you’ll be sure their catch of the day is the best. Address: 258-1 Nanokawa, Niyodogawa, Agawa District, Kochi 781-1741 Price: ¥29,000 yen per night- includes breakfast and dinner Number: +81 889 36 0680 Kitahama Sumiyoshi If you are coming by in a bigger group we have just the place for you. This apartment is a renovated 100-year-old townhouse. There are no meals offered for the stay, but it does have a fully functioning kitchen with a refrigerator available, so you can cook up your own meals if you do not wish to eat out. With the ability to accommodate up to 6 people, the apartment comes with 2-bed rooms, a dining area and the toilet even houses a small bathtub if you wish to take a soak or two. Address: 4-14 Kitahamacho, Takamatsu, Kagawa 760-0031 Price: Up to 4 people 24,000 yen, 3,000 yen (tax included) per additional person Number: +81 87 821 1810 Website Getting Around Now hold your horses, before you run off to plan your Shikoku adventure, here’s some friendly advice! Shikoku is so elusive, tucked away amongst the mountains and valleys so getting around might not be as easy as it seems. We suggest renting a car with a driver and he’ll double up as your friendly neighbourhood guide to give you true insider tips on the area. But to make sure your trip is completely fuss-free we’d recommend leaving everything up to Anabuki travel! They’ll plan everything down to the last detail so you don’t even have to lift a finger. Find out more here and here or check out these tour packages here and here. This post was brought to you by Anabuki Travel Natasha ConceicaoSHOUT's resident expert bubble tea consumer.