In this series of articles, we look at the top ten places in the four main cities of Shikoku – Matsuyama, Kochi, Tokushima and Takamatsu. Here we look at Tokushima, the capital of the Tokushima Prefecture.
Awa Odori Kaikan
The Awa Odori Kaikan is a museum and performing arts theatre that presents the history and current state of the Awa Odori dance. The in-house group performs four times a day, and you can join them on stage for the finale. If you want to experience this uplifting dance outside the period of the festival, this is the place to go. The building also doubles as the station for the cable car to Mt. Bizan.
Bizan is the mountain with antennas on top that dominates the skyline of Tokushima. A cable car leaves from the Awa Odori Kaikan, and you can also drive or hike up it, visiting various shrines and temples on the way. The mountaintop affords a panoramic view of the entire Tokushima Plain, including the city. On clear days, you can see Awaji Island, Hyogo and Wakayama Prefecture. The night view is also spectacular. On top there’s a Burmese pagoda as a memorial to the dead of WWII.
River cruise from Hyotanjima
This casual and low-cost cruise of Tokushima’s rivers operates until the early evening, so you can enjoy the city at night too. The open-top boat seats 14 people. The trip takes around 30 minutes to cover a 6 km course passing some of the best tourist spots such as Tokushima Central Park and the remains of Tokushima Castle. When the tide is high, passing under the bridges can be an exciting experience. The driver may vary the route on occasion.
Traditional puppet drama at Awa Jurobe Yashiki
Puppet theatre has been popular in Western Japan for hundreds of years, and at this theatre you can enjoy performances every day and exhibits about the vivacious puppets. The theatre itself is the former residence of Bando Jurobe, a samurai who allowed himself to be executed for a crime he didn't commit to preserve the good name of his master. His story inspired a puppet drama that was first performed in 1768. The puppet theatre calls for exquisite coordination between three puppeteers per character, and the vocal and shamisen accompaniment.
Tokushima Castle Garden
Tokushima Castle was dismantled in the Meiji period, but the Omotegoten Garden remains in the grounds. There’s a dry landscape garden which represents rivers and mountains without using water, and another garden with a hillock and pond. There are many of the blue stones for which Tokushima is known, including a bridge made of a huge monolith. The Tokushima Castle Museum within the grounds has interesting exhibits. You can climb up the castle hill by three routes of varying steepness, and watch the tide rise and fall in the moat.
Shikoku Pilgrimage Temples 13 to 17
The pilgrimage of 88 Buddhist temples on Shikoku starts in Tokushima, and temples 13 to 17 are within easy walking distance of each other. This is a good opportunity to get a taste of the pilgrim’s experience. The Okunoin (inner sanctuary) of No. 13 is located at a height of 310 m. Hiking up to this temple gives you a feeling for the challenges of tackling the entire pilgrimage, as well as its rewards. The view over Tokushima is spectacular, and the Ryumon grotto has an atmosphere you won’t soon forget.
Sakaneko sake bar and restaurant
This quirky cat-themed sake restaurant is sure to delight anybody who enjoys nihonshu. The spacious interior is decorated with ceramic cats in various styles, and the sake is served in the owner’s collection of eccentric tokkuri servers. There’s an excellent range of sake on offer, including several varieties aged on the premises. The food is good too, and the staff are happy to talk about sake.
Culture and nature at Bunka no Mori
Bunka no Mori is a park with culture and arts facilities including the Prefectural Museum, Modern Art Museum, and Literature and Calligraphy Museum. These museums offer insights into the life and culture of Tokushima.
Indigo dyeing at the Aizome Kogeikan
Indigo blue was the colour of casual samurai clothing, known for its subdued elegance and its hygienic properties. Indigo dyeing is a traditional industry of Tokushima, and even today about 90% of indigo products in Japan are produced right here. The trade contributed much to the wealth and culture of the region. The dye is produced by fermenting the indigo plant, producing a distinctive aroma and the dark blue colour. At Ai no Yakata you can try your hand at dyeing various items such as handkerchiefs and scarves that make attractive and usable souvenirs.
This market is held on the last Sunday of every month beside the river, about five minutes’ walk south of Tokushima station. The stalls offer high-quality produce, from fresh vegetables at bargain prices to exquisitely processed goods of all types. You can eat very well here, or shop for later.
Omiko Beach is located 20 minutes by car from central Tokushima. The wide expanse of beach between headlands, with its sand and pebble beach backed by green parkland, is a great place to enjoy the atmosphere of the Seto Inland Sea. The park where the beach is located has a camp site, a youth hostel, and BBQ facilities.
There are many more things to see and do in Tokushima, but visiting some of these ten places will give you a good overview of the city of Tokushima.