If you Google “Japan”, your search will extract the well-publicized hues of pink, green, and orange – images of cherry blossoms ablaze under Mt. Fuji, and a golden gradient unique to the changing leaves of autumn. Equally beautiful but underappreciated is the verdant oasis of Shikoku in the final weeks of summer, covered in moss and saturated from rain. This week I travel by rail around the island of Shikoku to explore the land of udon, intricate feudal castles, and my favourite fruit – the prized yuzu.
Udon Baka-Ichidai// 1 Chome-6-7 Tagacho, Takamatsu
Kagawa prefecture is synonymous with udon (it is in fact nicknamed “udon prefecture”). Knowing this, Baka-Ichidai has that extra something to get locals queuing around the block: slippery mounds of udon with minimal broth, and coated in butter and pepper. This restaurant is self-serving so you’re free to layer on sliced scallions, grated ginger, and tempura as you please. Dozo.
Sushi Katsu// 1 Chome-2-5 Kawaramachi, Takamatsu
If you’re searching for a late-night sushi fix, look no further than Sushi Katsu. This sushi bar opens at 5pm and closes at 3am, so order a chilled tokkuri of sake to accompany your meal. Expect to be rubbing shoulders (literally) with regulars until closing time. Dinner for one is roughly JPY 3000.
Ritsurin Garden// 1 Chome-20-16 Ritsurinchō, Takamatsu
One of the most beautiful gardens in Japan sits snugly between Mt. Inariyama and the center of Takamatsu City. It took over a century to complete its construction, and the effect is magical. It takes over an hour to fully explore the entire park, only because every twist and turn will stop you in your tracks with picture-perfect wooden bridges and stone paths. JPY 410 for adult entry.
Busshozan Onsen// 114-5 Otsu, Busshozan-cho, Takamatsu city, Kagawa prefecture
In a quiet neighbourhood near Busshozan station sits an elegantly designed public onsen. If anything, it is an inspiring example of using local talent to elevate a community – the owner wanted to create a space that he himself would wish to visit regularly, with the added benefit of attracting new enterprises to area. The onsen is simple and minimalist, featuring a set of outdoor public baths of varying temperatures, all surrounded by Japanese maple trees. I went a second time just before my return to Hong Kong and felt peacefully warm for most of the flight. JPY 600 for adult entry.
Engawa Guesthouse// Check-in at Busshozan Onsen (above)
Designed by the owner of Busshozan Onsen is a private guest house called Engawa Guesthouse. Similarly to the onsen, it features a minimalist design, utilizing the textures of dark wood to create a continuous space which can be divided by sliding doors into three rooms. The space is intended for a place of quiet relaxation after wandering back from the onsen. JPY 9,800 overall use fee plus JPY 4,800 per night.
Next Stop/ Matsuyama
10 Factory// 3-2-25 Okaido, Matsuyama
10 Factory knows that when life gives you multiple citrus varieties, you open a juicery dedicated to extracting every last drop. All that flavour is channeled into fresh juice, soft serve, gelato, and anything else that preserves the natural punchy taste of seasonal citrus fruits. I tried out their juice of the day, which was packed with aroma, dialing down on sugary sweetness we typically associate with fresh OJ.
Dougonomachiya// 14-26 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama
Our environment has the power to change our perception of taste, and Dougonomachiya’s beautiful cafe certainly led to a very enjoyable cuppa joe. The cafe houses a secret traditional Japanese-style garden, which you are invited to look over as you enjoy a much-needed cold brew coffee to avoid the mid-summer heat.
Sushikazu// 3 Chome-4-1 Sanbanchō, Matsuyama
Run by a husband and wife team, this little sushi restaurant is the best place in town to make the best of Matsuyama’s close proximity to the abundant Iyo-nada sea. In spite of the language barrier, our sushi chef attempted to introduce everything from octopus to horse mackerel with the help of a translation app, also adding his two cents on what he made of the other cities in Shikoku (see the image above). They only serve omakase, and you’ll be thankful for it. Omakase is JPY 10,000 per person.
Matsuyama Castle// 1 Marunouchi, Matsuyama
An afternoon at Matsuyama Castle will blissfully transport you back to the Edo Period. It perches on the top of a steep hill, with a winding and complex interior that houses multiple reinforced gates (and one suspected “trap” gate with no door). Walk through the castle to peer at fragile garments and antique samurai swords that have been dutifully preserved over centuries. Entrance fee is JPY 510 for one adult.
Dogo Onsen// 790-0842 Ehime-ken, Matsuyama
As one of the oldest onsens in Japan, Dogo Onsen is adored by locals and travelers alike. Its influence is said to have inspired the fantastical bathhouse in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, as well as serving Natsume Soseki, author of the masterpiece “Botchan”, for moments of peace and reflection. Its baths are naturally heated at 47°C with unfiltered alkaline spring water – the perfect way to warm your limbs after hiking around the nearby shrines. Entry fee is JPY 410 for one adult.
Candeo Hotels Matsuyama Okaido//
The Candeo Hotels branch in Matsuyama has one of the best locations in town, boasting a mountain view on one side, and the perpetual motion of the city on the other. Take advantage of the abundant range of options in the Japanese breakfast buffet, as well as the semi-private “sky” onsen and sauna which overlook Matsuyama Castle.
Next Stop/ Kotohira
Udon// Nearby Kotohira-gu
There are many udon stalls which serve varying types of udon, although the most popular style is Sanuki: characteristically thick and angular in shape. Although most of the udon served up in this region will be excellent, Tanikawabeikokuten (1490 Kawahigashi Manno Nakatado-gun Kagawa) resonates with people from all over Japan, topping the udon charts on Japan’s most famous restaurant review site. Lunch for one is roughly JPY 999.
Kotohira-gu// 766-8501 Kagawa Prefecture
Every day, hundreds of travelers venture up and down the 1368 steps of this expansive shinto shrine. It is said to have housed a seafaring spirit since the 1st century, now represented by the monument of a giant golden propeller. Despite the hike, Kotohira-gu is quietly engaging every step of the way: I spotted two of “God’s horses” in a stable halfway through my ascent, as well as rows upon rows of stone tablets engraved with the names of donators.
Konpira Old Theatre// 1241 Otsu, Nakatado-gun, Kotohira
This active kabuki theatre is still frequented by travelling productions, much like the Japanese equivalent of the Globe Theatre in London. If you’re lucky enough, be sure to catch a show and squeeze in on the tatami mats with other onlookers – it makes for a much more authentic kabuki experience compared to the oversized theatres in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Kotohira Kadan// 1241-5, Kotohira
This 400-year-old Ryokan houses both private and semi-private onsens overlooking the nearby bubbling river. The cherry (or grated katsuobushi) on top takes the form of one of the most extravagant breakfasts I have ever eaten, complete with self-roasted river fish, pickled vegetables, and miso soup with a hint of sweetness.
Last Stop/ Kochi Prefecture
*Note that many of these recommendations will require a rental car.
Kochi-Ice// 807-1 Yananosekamibun, Agawa-gun, Ino-cho
Kochi-Ice is by far the most wondrous ice-cream stall I have ever experienced. The stall sits on the bank of the Niyodo River, containing high bar seats and a large window pane showcasing the river’s pristine quality and clarity. Stop by on your road trip around Ino and try their freshly churned soft serve of the day, flavours range from tomato to soda to yuzu. One serving is roughly JPY 350.
Japan’s oldest outdoor market// Otemon Gate, Kochi City
Kochi City’s Sunday market started in 1690, now hosting around 500 stalls to showcase the fat of the land in Kochi Prefecture. Skip breakfast and nab a handful of plump blueberries, or even freshly stuffed daifuku. Zig-zagging up and down was bittersweet, as I found myself wishing I had such a rich plethora of flavours back in the city.
Nakatsu Valley// Ino, Kochi
Swimming in Nakatsu Valley’s naturally turquoise waterfall is the closest you can probably get to living in Princess Mononoke’s unbridled kingdom. The slippery hike is worth the effort, with every twist and turn, leading you to gushing waterfalls that seem to appear from a hidden forest’s floor, and crystal hued rock pools lined with carvings of deities. As we swam in the main rock pool, a regular at the nearby pub yelled out, asking if the water was too cold. After a short and poorly-translated exchange he insisted on treating us to some piping hot coffee at a nearby cafe to warm our bones.
Local Farms// Ino, Kochi
Kochi prefecture’s warmer climate makes it the ideal place to grow a wide range of fruits. If you can manage the steep drive through the mountains to Morimoto Kajuen (781-2135, Kochi Prefecture), you’ll be met with a fragrant selection of grapes as your prize. These Japanese grapes vary from the Muscat variety in the west – their flesh is like caramelized jelly and the skins are usually peeled to eliminate bitterness from tannins. Another 20 minutes by car will bring you to Buntan OK (750 Asoo, Ochi-chō, Takaoka-gun), a citrus farm and factory which specializes in yuzu and pomelo. Although the owner of the farm was surprised to have visitors, he graciously brought us around his yuzu orchard, which was only just beginning to reach fruition.
Airbnb with the Kameyamas// Tosayama, Kochi Prefecture
The Kameyamas live in a beautiful traditional house, recently opening their doors to global travelers from all walks of life. Staying with their family was endlessly fascinating, swapping travel experiences and learning about life outside the city. During the day, a nearby river flows with baby Ayu fish, which nibble at your feet if you decide to wade through for an afternoon swim. At night, the breeze that sweeps through the house is refreshingly cool and sweet, a gentle exhalation from the surrounding mountains.
/ Words and Photographs by Anne Berry /