I managed to organize a few days on Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, during my latest trip in Japan. I wanted to check Takamatsu, capital of Kagawa Prefecture, by myself. With its 400,000 inhabitants, the largest city in Shikoku struggles to attract foreign tourists, apart from the few pilgrims embarking for Henro tour (88 temples pilgrimage).
Takamatsu is a quiet port town, north of Shikoku, facing the Seto Inland Sea. Very quiet, because the average age is quite high. There is not much activity on the island and although Takamatsu seeks to boost tourism (the whole region is famous for its modern art, particularly in Naoshima), I have a feeling that young people tend to escape as soon as they can.
For example, the shops close VERY early: a Saturday afternoon in the city center is far from crowded and most stores close at 5 or 6PM tops. The final session for a movie is 9:45 on a Saturday night, and for that you have to go to Aeon, the only major mall in the area, accessible mainly by car (it took us over 20 minutes by bike from the center, via a not so glamorous road).
As for shopping arcades, if they are quite attractive at the beginning with recent and nice shops, they degrade rapidly as one moves away from the station, with lots of ghoststores and locals who you look at you as if they've never seen foreigners. Also, why not build beaches in Takamatsu? The climate, sunshine and temperatures are favorable and the scenery is beautiful...
Another disappointment: Takamatsu Castle (Tamamo) which offered almost nothing to do. Built during late 16th century and destroyed during the Meiji era, it's currently under reconstruction. Certainly, you can walk through the (small) park and see two towers, but I would have found it more honest not to pay the entrance to a park where the cranes are in the background of many photos... And I'm not talking about origami!
I may seem a bit critic, but yet I had a great time on Shikoku. We had just spent the first 15 days of our trip a hundred miles an hour, with lots of parties in Tokyo and Kyoto, and our jet lag exacerbated by the climbing of Mount Fuji, business and going out with friends, etc. So we could relax and enjoy a bit of peacefulness during our days in Takamatsu. Sure, this timing was good for us, but I prefer to warn those who expect to live in Shikoku as if they were in Osaka.
On the plus side, Takamatsu is unbeatable on the bikes topic. We get to see bikes perhaps more than anywhere else in Japan, but its rental system definitely impressed me: open from 7:30AM to 10PM through several points in the city, the town asks for ¥100 for a 24-hours rental (that's like $1!) and ¥2,000 only for the whole month! From memory, I've never seen as cheap in Japan and perhaps in any other developed country.
Getting out of the city center, you can visit two sights: Ritsurin japanese garden, and Yashima mountain, which I will develop in later blog posts. Finally, don't forget to try the area's food specialty: Sanuki Udon, a bowl of tasty local noodles.