“So, where have you been in Japan?”
I thought. “Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hokkaido…”
The Japanese local nodded, a satisfied look on their face.
“Wait. Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku?” The satisfied expression has dropped and they’re staring at me, wide-eyed.
“Yeah. I went to Takamatsu for a long weekend.”
It astounds me how many times I’ve had this conversation, but I understand it. After all, if you ask me what there is to do in my hometown, I’ll draw a complete blank despite it being one of the bigger cities in the U.S. But even so, there are a ton of things you can do there–and I went there in winter!
Let’s go over how to get there first. I actually bought bus tickets from the main terminal at Kyoto Station, and they ran me about 8,400 yen round-trip, but you can apparently fly in there (Takamatsu has an airport?!) or take the train. If you prefer the latter, simply hop on a bullet train to Okayama, then change to the JR Marine Line to Takamatsu. The bus from Kyoto took 3.5 hours; if you opt for the train, it’ll take a little over 2 hours (assuming you make your connections) and cost you 9,650 yen one-way. I’d personally recommend the bus; it takes longer but is way cheaper, and there weren’t a ton of people on it.
Now, on to the good stuff: what to do.
The castle: Takamatsu Castle
This was an easy stop- just head toward the port and you will run into signs leading you there! Unlike a lot of castles in Japan, this one isn’t on a hill. Instead, it’s right on the water. Admission will run you a whopping 200 yen. That’s right. Two dollars. It’s a fairly small castle, and you will get through it fairly quickly, but there are some nice areas to view the sea from! If you have an hour or two to kill, this is a nice place to do it. If you have longer, though, I would recommend…
The gardens: Ritsurin Koen
The main reason I wanted to go was to check out Ritsurin Koen, famous for being one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. It’s not on the “top 3” list, but it’s definitely up there–even in the dead of winter! There’s plenty to see, and there are, of course, tea houses you can pop in to warm yourself up and get a snack at while you admire the scenery. It ran me 410 yen, but is well worth the cost of admission. It took me a few hours to wander through. I imagine it’s far more beautiful in spring or autumn, but winter was nice because I felt like I had the whole place to myself.
The Island: Onigashima
Another place I went was Megijima Island, otherwise known as Onigashima. You might recognize this as the Ogre Island from the story Momotaro.
You don’t? Oh. Well, Momotaro, or Peach Boy, is basically the tale of a boy (shock) who was found in a giant peach (gasp). He goes on a quest to defeat a number of troublesome ogres with the help of several creatures. It’s a fun tale, and worth checking out the full version–especially as there are different versions depending on the region!
Whatever the case, you can visit the island where the ogres supposedly live. There are lots of statues about that lead you through the island, highlighting all the important places to check out. You can even pop into the very cave the ogres were said to live in–if you do, grab one of the helmets you can borrow for your safety!
The Village: Shikoku Mura
As you might have noticed from my Pioneer Village and Meiji Mura posts, I’m a big fan of open-air museums. So it’s only natural I checked out Shikoku Mura! It’s near another sightseeing spot, Yashima, but more importantly it’s a huge place you can wander about at your leisure, checking out how people used to live on Shikoku Island. They have plenty of different types of buildings for you to duck in, representing people not only from Kagawa but from other prefectures as well. I spent a couple hours there, but you could probably spend about half a day if the weather’s good!
The Shrine: Kompirasan
The last big thing that I went to see was Kotohira. It’s not directly in Takamatsu City- you need to hop on the train for about an hour (or, if you want to shell out extra cash, for an hour). Why spend an hour to get out of town? Why, to visit one of the most famous shrines in Shikoku- Kompirasan.
Kompirasan fascinated me mostly due to how you get there. When you leave the train station and follow the signs toward the entrance, you’ll start to notice stairs. Climb those. Then climb some more. Aaaand some more. You’re not there yet- it’ll take you over 700 steps just to get to the entrance, never mind how many more to go to the main hall or further in!
The steps are fairly evenly spaced, fortunately, and they’re wide enough that you won’t be holding anyone up if you need a break on the way. I went there on a rainy day and opted to pop into one of the many cafes lining the steps for a bite to eat. It was a great place to people watch- you have kids taking the steps two or three at a time, people on dates daring the steps with incredibly high heels on, or, alternatively, people hiring palanquins. I didn’t do this, so I’m not certain if there are any special requirements or limitations, but if you want to have the stair experience but don’t feel up to hundreds of them, that may be a way to go. Or, if you have any accessibility concerns, there are buses that can get you at least up to the main entrance.
I found the walk enjoyable, despite it raining the day I went. It took a little less than an hour (not counting the cafe stop), and the shrine itself was lovely, with a great lookout point to admire the city from.
While I was snapping photos, I heard a child gasp, “Foreigner!” from behind me in Japanese.
I responded with, “Are you talking about me?”
The child, surprised I could answer in Japanese, said, “Yeah. You live here or something?”
“Nah, I live on Honshu. I’m visiting.”
“Oh.” Pause. “Your Japanese is… interesting.”
At this point, the mother approached. “Sorry about my child; would you like me to take a photo of you?”
I accepted, and after having them take a photo of me with the scenery behind, I thanked them and we all went about our merry ways. If you duck back down toward town, you can also check out a really neat traditional kabuki theater, and poke around all of the little nooks and crannies. If you’re not too worn out from your climb, it’s worth a visit!
There are plenty of other things to see and do in the area, as well as in other areas of Shikoku, which should be on your list of places to go if you have time in your visit in Japan. I would like to go back at some point and see how the gardens look in warmer weather, and see if any of the other places I stopped by have special events during high tourist season.
Where have you been that surprises locals? Or, where would you like to go that would surprise a local?