Kobo Oriza textiles, Imabari

Located in the north-western tip of Shikoku in Ehime Prefecture, Imabari has been manufacturing towels for over 120 years, and textiles for even longer. The city is the largest producer of towels in Japan, and today ‘Imabari Towel’ is one of the world’s favourite brands, recognized by its truly inspired logo. The sun in a red sky, setting over the Inland Sea, represents the ‘i’ of Imabari.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is growing in popularity, and many visitors from overseas are setting their sights on completing it. Typically it takes 40 days or more to walk it, requiring considerable preparation and outlays, not to mention physical fitness. But for those who want to visit all of the temples in a shorter time-frame, Shikoku Tours offers a safe and efficient 12-day taxi tour of the pilgrimage.

Kurushima Straits Bridge Imabari Photo School

The annual Imabari Tourism Photo Contest has been generating high-quality photos of Imabari and the Shimanami Kaidō for many years, drawing talented photographers with its generous prize money. Now the Imabari Tourist Association aims to make the contest more accessible to foreign residents by establishing the ‘Setouchi Photography School’. The first class was held in July as a collaboration with Shikoku Tours. We visited some of the dramatic sights of the Shimanami Kaidō and Imabari, honing our photographic skills in a range of challenging situations.

Uchiko is a rural area in Ehime, about an hour's journey from Matsuyama. The town of Uchiko is known for its streets of well-preserved historic buildings which now house museums and stylish eateries. In mid-September, Uchiko holds its Lantern Festival. Shikoku Tours offered a tour from Matsuyama to see the beauties of Uchiko in the late summer, coinciding with the festival.

Dōgo Onsen Station is faithful replica of the Meiji period building. On the second floor of the building, up a steep flight of stairs is KiruKiru, a little salon that will dress you in an antique kimono of your choice, complete with the necessary footwear and all the accessories. In the summer, they'll dress you in a cool yukata. Wearing your traditional Japanese finery, you can tour Dōgo and Matsuyama, drawing admiring looks wherever you go. Traditional cosplay is a great way to enhance your experience of this historic city!

Uchiko bamboo festival decorations

Uchiko is a rural area in Ehime, about an hour's journey from Matsuyama. The town of Uchiko is known for its streets of well-preserved historic buildings which now house museums and stylish eateries. In early August, Uchiko holds its Bamboo Festival – sasa matsuri in Japanese – when the main street is decorated with bamboo poles hung with elaborate decorations. There's a yukata contest and a children's lantern procession on the first day, and on the second day, the main attraction where teams perform the local dance down the street. Events on the third day include taiko-drum performances by local groups in the Uchiko theater. 

The little village of Nagoro, deep in the valleys of Tokushima on Shikoku, is known around the world today as the Village of the Dolls. These dolls are called kakashi or scarecrows in Japanese, but their purpose is to combat loneliness rather than bird pests. As the population of Nagoro declined precipitately, an elderly resident, Tsukimi Ayano, started to replace the people who left or died with life-sized replicas made of straw and old clothes. These dolls are placed naturalistically around the hamlet, in realistic poses.

Geisha in Kochi

In the days before internet, television and radio, when night fell, the only light entertainment available to gentlemen of means was geisha. Geisha studied the arts of song, dance, conversation and diversion, plying their elegant trade in all regions of Japan for hundreds of years. Most people know that they still exist Kyōto. There are many geisha in Tōkyō too. But what isn't generally known is that geisha have also survived on the island of Shikoku. And today, gentlemen and ladies equally can enjoy their company, for a very memorable experience.

Kochi Castle

Among those with an interest in samurai, castles, and military history, it's well-known that only twelve of Japan's castles survive from the Edo period. What this means in fact is that only twelve Japanese castles still have an original wooden tenshu (keep) built before 1860. Four of these are in Shikoku – Marugame, Matsuyama, Uwajima and Kōchi. As a result of its relative isolation and slow pace of development, Shikoku has retained many buildings from past ages, and this is equally true of its castles. Shikoku also has many castle ruins, as well as castles that have been restored in more or less authentic fashion. Let's have a look at some of Shikoku's castles.

Dōgo is a part of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture, known for Dōgo Onsen, which is said to be the hot spring with the longest history of use by humans in Japan. Dōgo was until relatively recently an entirely separate area from Matsuyama, but development has filled in the space between them. The centrepiece of Dōgo 'town' is Dōgo Onsen Honkan, an elegant Meiji period bathhouse. This charming little self-contained area has the air of a traditional Japanese resort.

Haiku Masters NHK in Matsuyama

Adapted into an English format, haiku, Japan's short, 17-syllable poetic form, is growing in popularity around the world. Matsuyama in Ehime, Shikoku, brands itself as "The world capital of haiku culture". Matsuyama has long been a city of poetry. The feudal lord of Matsuyama was a devotee and patron of poetry, and from the Edo period onward, the city has been particularly associated with haiku. Matsuyama encompasses mountains, valleys, rivers and coastlines where the seasons are reflected in everything around you. Each haiku requires a seasonal reference, and in this regard, the natural environment of Matsuyama offers an embarrassment of riches. 

Kuma Kogen temple and rocks

Kuma Kōgen Highland is an expansive inhabited area at a high elevation in central Ehime bordering Kōchi Prefecture. Kuma is nominally a town, although it’s basically a wilderness with some inhabited valleys and a central village. It has an interesting foundation myth. Kuma is the name of a woman who lived all alone in this once poor area. When the celebrated priest Kōbō Daishi and founder of the Shikoku pilgrimage passed through, she begged him to provide her with company, so he miraculously produced a river. This enabled crops to be grown, and soon farmers arrived. Kuma had company. The town that they established is named after her. The river still flows, crops still grow, and the people of Kuma remain very welcoming to strangers.

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