It’s 2021 and, perhaps now more than ever, Covid-19 has us longing to travel once more.
One such destination is Japan, which is a favourite spot for Singaporeans.
Venturing beyond the big metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka
That’s not to say I intend to head to cities like Tokyo or Osaka once the pandemic has ended however.
Having been stuck in Singapore since March 2020, a destination that offers a break from a highly-urbanised environment is now very alluring.
Take Shikoku for instance, located about over three hours southwest of Osaka by either train or bus, and fifty minutes by plane.
It is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, with its own rustic atmosphere and spiritual charm.
From delicious food to a chance to immerse yourself in the Japanese rural lifestyle, a trip there can be quite therapeutic.
A five-day trip with cosy accommodations to choose from
If you do intend to go there, an itinerary of about five days is ideal given the island’s comparatively small size.
What’s more, there are no lack of cosy accommodation choices around Shikoku.
One such location you can consider is Anabuki-Tei, which allows you to book the entire hotel for a few days.
Originally a traditional Japanese home constructed in 1970, the house is now a hotel which includes fully customisable tours around the city of Takamatsu and the nearby island of Shodoshima, which is a short 30-minute high-speed boat ride away.Alternatively, you can choose to stay at Hotel Iya Onsen, located on a gorge overlooking the Iya valley, which is considered as one of Japan’s three most secluded regions.
With a variety of open-air baths located at the bottom of the valley, along the Iya river, you can take a five-minute cable car ride down from the hotel to immerse yourself in the warm, soothing waters.In addition, depending on your choice of accommodation at the hotel, some rooms also come equipped with their own open-air baths.
Soaking in the deep spirituality of Shikoku
If there’s one thing Shikoku is famous for, it’s their pilgrimage circuit that runs through 88 temples on the island and its vicinity.
Running a total length of 1,200km, the route honours the founder of Japanese Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi, with many of the temples having their own distinct beauty.
While it is highly unlikely that you might be able to complete all 88 temples within a period of five days, here are some of the more notable temples that you can check out.
Fujiizan Gochiin Iwamotoji temple (No. 37)
Located in Shimanto-cho, Shikoku’s Kochi prefecture, Iwamotoji temple is 37th on the route and stands out for its unique ceiling decoration.
Here, you can join a series of Zen experiences, from taking part in Zazen to participating in the Fire Ritual and Shakyo to walking the Henro Pilgrimage route if you are inclined, or take part in one of the temple’s yoga classes to soothe your emotions.
Located on Shodoshima island, this temple offers a spectacular view of the Seto Inland Sea, and a chance to freely participate in the Buddhist Goma fire prayer ritual on the 28th of every month for good fortune.
The ritual involves the temple’s priest creating a large fire within the halls at a special altar and a chant to invoke Buddha’s power to remove spiritual problems, anxiety and stress.
Plenty of nature spots to enjoy too
If temples are not really your style, don’t fret -- there are a variety of nature spots for you to ease your mind as well.
One such area is the Sea of Clouds Outlook route near Miyoshi City in Tokushima Prefecture.
Should you travel to Shikoku in the periods of March to April or October to December, you have a chance to witness a literal sea of clouds at the route’s vantage point, a wooden deck at an altitude of 599 metres, below you.
If you are feeling even more adventurous, you can hike the Kunimi Mountain Trailhead Route which reaches the top of the Kunimiyama mountain, at an altitude of 1,409 metres, for an even more spectacular view.
Another spot is the Iya-no-Kazura bridge, also located in the Iya valley.
Made entirely from a vine unique to the region, the 45-metre long bridge is suspended 14 metres above the stream below and has since been designated as a Important Tangible Folk Cultural property, given that it was pretty much the only means of access for people in earlier days.
There is also the nearby Biwa Waterfall, with a height of 50 metres, as well as a trail that takes you down to the riverside where you can play.
Perhaps most importantly, what’s there to eat?
All of that being said, you definitely do not have to worry about a lack of food options on Shikoku, amidst the hiking and temple visits.Hanazonotei for breakfast, a restaurant and teahouse with a view of Ritsurin garden, and extremely healthy choices of food to boot.
You can take a virtual preview of what the tour might look like on Feb. 21
If you are still unsure by this point as to how a potential trip around the island might look like, fret not. On Feb. 21, the Shikoku Wellness Virtual Tour will be held on the Facebook page of Visit Kagawa
The event will livestream from Kagawa, Tokushima, and Kochi prefectures, and introduce a model course for a Shikoku wellness trip.
Highlights of the virtual tour will include the aforementioned Hotel Iya Onsen, as well as the Yamaroku Shoyu, among other unique spots.
All in all, not bad.
This sponsored article is brought to you by Shikoku District Transport Bureau. The writer of this article is all set to go Japan once the pandemic is over.
Top image collage via Hotel Iyaonsen Facebook and Anabukitei Facebook