How to explore this lesser-known part of Japan
THERE are a handful of ways to explore the magical East Asian country of Japan, from jumping on a domestic flight in charming Osaka headed towards the mountainous land of Sapporo to speeding from the shiny Tokyo metropolis in a Shinkansen (bullet train) to discover the old Japanese capital of Kyoto.
These travel options, especially the Shinkansen, have made it easier for travelers to experience all that Japan has to offer.
And Japan has been putting the effort into keeping its super-efficient Shinkansen travels interesting by dressing up its trains in joyful characters such as the Evangelion anime series, the iconic Sanrio feline Hello Kitty, and more recently, entertainment powerhouse Disney’s trademark, Mickey Mouse.
But while these are exciting, coupled with the fact that the well-established Shinkansen network consists of lines which will connect you with most of the country’s major cities, some destinations fly completely under the radar because they are not connected to the Shinkansen lines. Such as Shikoku, the smallest part of Japan’s four islands.
Located southwest of Japan’s main island Honshu, Shikoku is the smallest and the least populous of the four islands. Known for its mountainous interior, it is encircled by a 1,200-kilometer, 88-temple Buddhist pilgrimage route (henro) honoring the 9th-century monk Kukai.
History-hungry travelers and adventure seekers will love its feudal Matsuyama Castle and Dogo Onsen, one of Japan’s earliest known hot spring spas, and the many hiking trails and rivers with whitewater rapids.
For those who want to just kick back and enjoy Shikoku’s stunning nature, the destination also boasts breathtaking beaches and atmospheric restaurants which scream zen.
While you will not be able to simply hop onto the next Shinkansen to get to Shikoku, the island has an extremely cool train of its own on the way thanks to Japan Railways (JR), the country’s leading railway company.
The Toki no Yoake Monogatari (which means “Tale of the Dawn of an Era”), JR’s newest luxury sightseeing train, will run between Kochi Station and Kubokawa Station in southern Shikoku.
The luxurious two-car, 47-passenger train is decorated with imagery that includes the sun and moon and the interior of the second car has a ceiling painted with stars. What makes it more unique is that the interior layout consists entirely of personal seats along counters or tables so you can sit back and enjoy the view along the Kochi-Kurokawa route.
As you cruise along the southern coastline, you will also be able to savor an exquisite, traditional Kochi menu made from the finest, locally sourced ingredients.
The Toki no Yoake Monogatari will get its maiden run in spring of next year. To get to Shikoku, hop on an express train or bus.