Large Touristic Island on the Japanese Mediterranean Sea
Shodoshima is an island of the Seto Inland Sea located in Kagawa Prefecture, north of Shikoku Island in Japan. Japanese tourists already enjoy the island as a holiday destination, and it has also been attracting international visitors since its merging to the Setouchi Triennale project in 2010.
Nicknamed the "Japanese olive island," Shodoshima has recently appeared in Western travel guides for:
- Its olive oil production, which is unique in Japan; and,
- Artworks displayed for the Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary art fair taking place every 3 years on a dozen of islands on the Seto Inland Sea.
The 2nd largest Seto island (after Awaji-shima) with a 153km² superficies, Shodoshima can actually boast a much more comprehensive touristic appeal, that attract as much the Japanese, who have been enjoying the destination for a long time, as foreign sightseers who find in the island reminders of Mediterranean vacations.
Cultural pilgrimages as a guiding thread
For a better discovery of Shodoshima’s miscellaneous sceneries, it is recommended to shape the travel course along one of the various pilgrimages available on the island, whether one is interested in Japanese culture, spirituality or both. The center of the island is mountainous, while its rocky coastlines offer many beaches 🏖. These remarkable natural landscapes inspired several personalities throughout history.
Shodoshima’s 88 temples pilgrimage
Famous Buddhist monk Kukai (or Kobo Daishi, 774 – 835) spent a long time on the island for ascetic practice before going back to Kyoto, and is therefore at the origin of Shodoshima’s 88 temples pilgrimage. The trail is 150 kilometers long, usually walked in about 1 week, and makes a good training before trying on the more famous Shikoku pilgrimage.
For example, at temple n°2, located at the top of Mount Goishi, one should walk round the statue of Fudo Myoo 3 times for a long life before watching the unobstructed view on one of the island’s little coves. Visitors taking on the Buddhist pilgrimage can attend to goma fire 🔥 purification ceremonies.
Shooting set for Japanese movies
The island is also frequently used as a decor by Japanese movie makers, and currently 2 films are the focus of visitors:
- The adaptation of the novel Twenty-Four Eyes (Nijushi no Hitomi) by Sakae Tsuboi (1899 – 1967), a Japanese writer born in Shodoshima. The decors used in the 2 takes of the 1954 and 1987 movies can be visited in a reconstructed village, Nijushi no Hitomi Eigamura (二十四の瞳映画村), as well as the authentic classroom in its original condition since the early 1900s and where the story’s main character Hisako Oishi was teaching.
- The live adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movie Kiki's Delivery Service released in 2014 in Japan. Despite the film’s shortcomings, many Japanese still visit the Greece-inspired windmill in the Shodoshima Olive Park to snap a picture of them "flying" on a broom.
Shodoshima was included among the host islands for the Setouchi International Art Festival in 2010, and there are about 30 contemporary art installations viewable all year long such as:
- The golden olive wreath Gift of The Sun by Choi Jeong Hwa, upon arrival by boat at Tonosho port;
- The monumental bamboo artworks made by Taiwanese artist Wang Wen-Chih, staged in the heart of Nakayama’s rice fields;
- The scary statue vomiting water, Anger from the Bottom by Beat Takeshi (actor and director Takeshi Kitano) and Kenji Yanobe; and,
- The quirky giant olive, Regent in Olives by Hisakazu Shimizu, inside which fruits are placed for the pilgrims to eat.
A several days stop to enjoy nature and gastronomy
In addition to these popular itineraries, Shodoshima also has natural sites renowned for their beauty, especially:
- Angel Road, a sand embankment uncovered at low tide, couples like to walk it to wish themselves a long life together;
- Kankakei Gorges, that are part of the National Park at the center of the island, and particularly renowned for their colors during the koyo 🍁 season in autumn. The cable car offers nice and easy views upon the woody forest; and, nearby,
- The monkey 🐒 valley Choshikei Osaru no Kuni, where Shodoshima monkeys roam freely in the outdoor. When the weather is cold, they cuddle together in a "ball" so that the monkeys at the center are warmed by their fellow monkeys’ body heat.
Shodoshima Island is shaped like a cow viewed from above; it is home to 26,000 inhabitants, and its main resource is agriculture. The island’s artisanal know-how regarding Japanese gastronomy is now acknowledged as upscale and as a part of the sustainable tourism trend.
On the shore of Uchinomi Bay, near Kusakabe Port, several breweries are renowned for the traditional making of shoyu soy sauce, which is naturally and slowly aged in wooden barrels. The cooking of tsukudani condiments is also a specialty of the island, and several producers operate direct sale shops. We also recommend taking part to a somen fine noodles hand-making workshop, one of the most popular and delicious activities for local tourism.
Then, visit Nakayama Terraced Rice Fields, on the side of the hilly landscape at the center of the island. The view is particularly beautiful in spring 🌸, when the fields are flooded for the seedlings planting, then in June and July, when the green young plants start growing. Nearby, we recommend the special wooden pavilion called Kabuki Noson Nakayama. It is an open-air theater stage for rural kabuki dramas, a local art performed by the island’s inhabitants since the Edo period (1603 – 1868).
A several days stay on the island is a good opportunity to explore its many faces. We recommend renting a car 🚙 or a bicycle for an easier travel. Shodoshima is also large enough to be a comfortable base to sail to the other artistic islands of the Seto Inland Sea.