A trip to Kagawa – a soothing place full of temples and shrines, culture, and natural beauty

Discover Japanese beauty and life in the beautiful Ritsurin Garden and outdoor Private House Museum

Located in the Shikoku region of Western Japan, Kagawa Prefecture faces the Seto Inland Sea, on which there are green islands. This is the smallest of Japan’s 47 Prefectures, but it is overflowing with a wide range of attractions including temples and shrines, gardens, historical sites, culture and nature. Tokushima, Kouchi and Ehime Prefectures together make up Shikoku, which is one of Japan’s four main islands accessible from Honshu via various routes: by rail or road across the Seto-ohashi Bridge (which comprises six bridges), by ferry from the sea while taking in the sea breeze, or by air landing at Takamatsu Airport.

Passengers onboard traditional Japanese-style boats on the lake at Ritsurin Garden
Traditional Japanese-style boats can also be taken for around 25 minutes on the Nanko (south lake) of Ritsurin Garden

Ritsurin Garden, located in Takamatsu, the central city of Kagawa Prefecture, is a spacious garden designed for walking where one can enjoy scenery rich with changes produced by diverse terrain. This site has garnered a great reputation even overseas, earning three stars and a “must see” classification in the Michelin Green Guide Japan. The garden, which was constructed as the residence of a warrior who ruled the region (known as a daimyo), contains 6 ponds and 13 artificial hills, more than 100 types of flower bloom over the course of the four season, and scenery that can be enjoyed by boarding traditional Japanese-style boats on the Nanko (south lake), which changes with each progression. It is also possible to enjoy matcha tea at the Kikugetsutei tea room.

In Takamatsu City you will find attractions such as Takamatsu Art Museum, which was updated in the spring of 2016 and is full of the collection of modern art, and Tamamo Park, where the Takamatsu Castle site is opened as a park with seawater brought into the moat from the Seto Inland Sea, and a wealth of “Sanuki udon” restaurants that are popular nation-wide as gourmet dishes from Kagawa.

The traditional Japanese-style houses of Shikoku Mura
The traditional Japanese-style houses of Shikoku Mura: inside these buildings there are also fireplaces used for cooking and heating, with the flooring excavated about 90-180cm (approximately 3 to 6 feet) in all directions.

Shikoku Mura, which is located in Yashima (about 15 minutes from Takamatsu City by train), seasonal plants grow and there is an outdoor Private House Museum featuring 33 traditional Japanese-style houses and warehouses with thatched roofs that have been brought from sites all around Shikoku. There are also displays of traditional everyday articles, etc. and you can experience traditional Japanese living, while at the Shikoku Mura Gallery (located within the premises), which was designed by an architect Tadao Ando, there are modern paintings and sculptures as well as works of art from the Orient.

Visiting popular pilgrimage sites and inviting economic fortune at holy places

Looking at the main temple building from the large front gate of Zentsu-ji Temple
Looking at the main temple building from the large front gate of Zentsu-ji Temple

Kagawa is also famous as a prayer site, given that it has 23 of the temples listed among the “88 temples of Shikoku”, which is a pilgrimage route with a history of 1,200 years. One of these temples – Zentsu-ji Temple in Zentsu-ji City – is the birthplace of Kukai (a Buddhist high monk) who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Within the vast grounds covering approximately 45,000 square meters (about 54,000 square yards), split in two along an east-west line, with the Mieido said to have been built on the spot where Kukai was born, the main temple sanctuary, Kondo, being the building where Buddha was deified, a five-storied pagoda that it also the symbol of the temple, and other buildings including a treasury.

Main shrine of Kotohira-gu Shrine
Main shrine of Kotohira-gu Shrine

Also nationally famous as a place to visit in Kagawa Prefecture is the headquarters of the Kotohira Shrines that are dotted about the whole Japan, namely the Kotohira-gu Shrine in Kotohira, which has long been a pilgrimage site where the god of the sea is deified. On the long flight of stone steps leading up to the shrine – 785 steps to the main shrine and 1,368 steps to the rear shrine – there are many highlights where one can experience Japanese culture, including the treasury, which is a building that mixes Japanese and Western styles; Omoteshoin, which contains works such as landscape paintings and tiger drawings from noted artists; a magnificent Omon (large front gate); and Asahisha, which has been designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government.

Japan's oldest existing playhouse: Kanamaru-za
Japan’s oldest existing playhouse: Kanamaru-za

After visiting Kotohira-gu Shrine, you can also enjoy looking for Japanese-style souvenirs in the old town around the shrine, such as traditional hand towels, fans and folding fans. You may also want to visit the Kanamaru-za, which is a historical playhouse that was constructed in 1835 and is a renowned piece of architecture. Also, the “Shikoku Konpira Grand Kabuki Play”; dramas performed by Kabuki actors take place in grand style in April every year. You can enjoy the traditional Japanese entertainment in this elegant theatre. Since one of the kanji characters used in the name “Kotohira Shrines” means “gold”, the Kagawa Konpira Tourist Office provides golden canes to borrow when visiting the shrine. What’s more, if you stay at the nearby Konpira-onsen Hot Spring Village, you will be able to enjoy soothing baths when you are tired from traveling.

Zenigata Sunae: a symbol of Japan's old money
Zenigata Sunae: a symbol of Japan’s old money

Also, Zenigata Sunae in Kotohiki Park in Kanonji City is a popular spot where it is said that a visit will increase one’s prospects of good health and wealth. The enormous sand sculpture of a coin set against the backdrop of the blue sea and green trees is an amazing sight that is lit up at night.

Artistic and nature-filled Shodo-shima area

Do not miss the beautiful islands dotted around the Seto Inland Sea when visiting Kagawa Prefecture. Among the more than 100 islands in the prefecture, Shodo-shima Island, the largest island, surrounded by the sea and mountains, is a place where you can enjoy a variety of natural sights such as large valleys, beaches, and typically Japanese rural landscapes.

Kankakei valley is lined with impressively gigantic rock precipices
Kankakei valley is lined with impressively gigantic rock precipices

Kankakei is one of the most impressive valleys in Japan, with scenery rich in changes produced by gigantic rocks. Kankakei valley is known for its changing appearance in each season, from the new growth in spring to the autumn leaves of fall, as well as the sight of the Seto Inland Sea from the summit. Take the cable car that ascends between the gigantic rocks to reach the viewing platform in about five minutes while enjoying the scenery.

Angel Road - popular with couples
Angel Road – popular with couples

On the western shore of the island, the Angel Road sand path that connects the nearby islands appears twice a day during low tide for about two hours only. It is said that your wishes will come true if you walk along the sand path hand-in-hand with someone you love.

Nakayama Senmaida - where paddy fields of various sizes gradually stretch out
Nakayama Senmaida – where paddy fields of various sizes gradually stretch out

Also, in the center of the island, you can experience the unspoilt Japanese landscape of the Nakayama senmaida where there are 750 paddy fields.

Windmills at the Shodoshima Olive Park roadside station
Windmills at the Shodoshima Olive Park roadside station

Olive cultivation has prospered in the warm and low rainfall climate of this island, and olive plantations around the island such as Shodoshima Olive Park roadside station and Shodo-shima Olive Garden are popular tourist locations where foods and cosmetics using olives can be purchased. The cows and amberjack that are raised eating Shodo-shima olives are famous due to the olive beef and olive amberjack brands. You can also taste gourmet foods all over the island including “Hishiodon”, which is fresh local seafood and vegetables seasoned with a special soy sauce.

Naoshima, where you will find museums such as the Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, and ANDO MUSEUM
Naoshima, where you will find museums such as the Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, and ANDO MUSEUM

The islands of Kagawa Prefecture, which are the setting for the Setouchi Triennale held every three years, are known as Japan’s leading modern art area. Naoshima is particularly famous in this regard where you will find the Chichu Art Museum designed by Tadao Ando that houses Claude Monet’s Water Lily series. There are also art galleries and permanent installations on Teshima, Inujima and many other islands.

Temple tour and nature-rich islands that soothes you well and also delicious udon noodles. No doubt you will want to rediscover the beauty of Japanese culture and nature by visiting Kagawa. In particular, make sure you check out the introduction to “Sanuki udon” here, which is a must-try when visiting Kagawa Prefecture.

Shodo-shima Island

40 minutes by bus from JR Okayama Station, and 70 minutes from New Okayama Port to Tonosho Port by ferry

Or 25 minutes by bus from JR Himeji Station, and 100 minutes by ferry from Himeji Port. To Fukuda Port