Shikoku Adventures: Uncover Wild Japan on the Nature-Rich Island of Shikoku

For those seeking adventurous, off-road Japan travel destinations, nothing beats the remote island of Shikoku. Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s main islands, and is like a time capsule of unspoilt nature and traditional culture. Shikoku has also been gaining traction as the ultimate place for an adventure holidayーoffering diving spots teeming with marine life, crystal-clear rivers for SUP, canoeing, and rafting, ample cycling along the scenic Shimanami Kaido, and even whale-watching! In this article, we’ll showcase several tours and ideas to inspire your Shikoku itinerary!

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy through them, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

The Shikoku region consists of four prefectures: Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi, along with their surrounding islands. All these islands are encompassed by sea, making them paradises for marine activities! The coast of the Seto Inland Sea in particular is dotted with islands and is a mecca for kayaking, while the Pacific side bolstered by the Kuroshio Current is home to a wide variety of sea life, making it a hot spot for diving and whale watching. There are also large rivers inland, such as the Yoshino River and Shimanto River, which are perfect spots for rafting and canoeing. Shikoku has also been attracting favor for its warm, pleasant climate, allowing one to ride a bike while being invigorated by the fresh sea breeze!

This article will introduce areas in Shikoku—a region blessed by nature—along with the many different activities and experiences able to be enjoyed at each.

Our Top Tips

JR Pass for Whole Japan

Explore Japan in the most convenient and economical way with a Japan Rail Pass! It is valid for the majority of railways and local buses operated by JR. 

Sea Kayaking on the Seto Inland Sea (Kagawa)

The Seto Inland Sea is Japan's largest inland sea and home to one of the greatest archipelagos in the world. Comprising over 3,000 islands, the region has been held in high regard by countless international travelers and experts, including the German physician and naturalist Philipp Franz Siebold. In recognition of its stunning beauty, the area was officially designated as the Setonaikai (Seto Inland Sea) National Park.

To truly make the most of this wonder, we recommend touring the islands on a sea kayak! You can easily hop from one island to another while leisurely paddling atop the calm waters of the inland sea. There are also plenty of caves, coves, and other attractions nearby, making it full of tantalizing gems just waiting to be discovered!

You can even disembark on an uninhabited island to enjoy an outdoor lunch surrounded by the vast blue sea, after which you can snorkel and explore! Later on, sunset yields an enchanting atmosphere utterly transformed from the daytime, creating a hypnotizing horizon of island silhouettes illuminated by the setting sun. If you are considering joining a tour, make sure to check what time it will be held along with the location.

Rafting at the Oboke and Koboke Gorges (Tokushima)

Flowing from west to east in Tokushima, the Yoshino River boasts the largest basin area in the Shikoku region. It is also integral to the lives of locals, as it brings fertile soil to the Tokushima Plains stretching downstream.

Amongst this beautiful scenery are the famous Oboke and Koboke gorges, which offer a thrilling sight as the river rushes through the towering valleys of rock before exploding in a dynamic splash after hitting eroded rocks. The river's currents are said to be some of Japan’s most powerful between April and May, whereby the water level rises from the melting snow in spring, earning it the nickname “abaregawa” (wild river).

The Yoshino River is also famous for rafting, with a specially designed rubber boat allowing a thrilling descent down its currents. Inside the white water, the boat will shake and turn wildly like a spinning airplane while utterly soaking everyone in giant splashes of water. This is the perfect activity to truly feel its might firsthand!

Canadian Canoeing on the Shimanto River (Kochi)

The Shimanto River, which flows through the western part of Kochi, is the longest river in Shikoku. Its appeal lies in its gentle current, setting it apart from the many narrow and rapid rivers of Japan. In addition, there is no large-scale dam on the central stream, earning a reputation as the “last clear stream in Japan.” Here, one can still see the authentic, untouched character of a Japanese river, which includes scenes like fishing for sweetfish and collecting “nori” (green laver).

If you want to truly relish this unspoilt beauty, a slow glide down the river on a Canadian canoe is perfect! Marveling at the approaching mountains, relishing the sound of the oars hitting the water, and listening to the chatter of birds and insects is the epitome of a relaxing river trip! The sensation of blending into nature is something unique to Canadian canoes, which are also loved for their low environmental impact.

In addition, Canadian canoes have a larger space to relax than ordinary canoes, allowing one to spend ample time comfortably zoning out amidst the water. Its sizable capacity can also hold family, friends, or even a pet, along with some sweets and drinks for a picnic!

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

SUP at the Niyodo River (Ehime & Kochi)

Running through Ehime and Kochi, the Niyodo River is the third member of Shikoku’s large rivers alongside Yoshino and Shimanto. Its stark clarity and unique blue color have led to its “Niyodo Blue” nickname, drawing many visitors to the area.

While often overlooked, in the midstream and downstream reaches of the river, the beautiful colorful stones carried from the upper streams of the Shikoku Mountains (Mt. Ishizuchi) can be spotted on the riverbed. While somewhat understated, they add an extra touch of elegance to the scenery.

If you want to fully enjoy the unique charm of the Niyodo River, try cruising on an SUP (stand-up paddle board) while standing or sitting. For the best view of the Niyodo Blue, we recommend standing. For those who want to get up close and gaze into the riverbed, sitting is the way to go! Once you get used to it, you can even lie down and chill out on the board.

Surrounded by idyllic mountains, one can’t help but feel calm and nostalgic as the blissful countryside scenery envelopes you in harmony.

Diving at Kashiwa Island (Kochi)

While Okinawa may be the typical diving spot in Japan, Kashiwa Island, located at the tip of the Otsuki Peninsula in Kochi about 30 km southwest of the mouth of the Shimanto River, is a diving paradise known only to a select few.

The intersection of the temperate and nutrient-rich Kuroshio Current with the Bungo Channel brings together a staggering variety of sea life. There are more than 1,000 species in these waters, making it a super popular diving spot lovingly referred to as the “sea with everything.” The rich underwater landscape includes an abundance of white sand, coral colonies, and rocky reefs, ensuring divers never get bored. The water is also extraordinarily clear, allowing one to see up to 40 m deep during the right conditions. With beauty like this, Kashiwa Island could give even the islands of Okinawa a run for their money!

Aquaculture also thrives around Kashiwa Island, as there are numerous places for fish to migrate while the water temperature remains moderate. From the boat heading to the diving point, you can spot the farming sites of seabream, amberjack, and more.

If you adore the sea, you should definitely visit the ocean paradise of Kashiwa Island!

Whale Watching in Tosa Bay and Off Cape Muroto (Kochi)

While there are numerous opportunities for whale watching in Japan, Tosa Bay and Cape Muroto in Kochi are the only places in Japan to encounter Bryde's whales. Whales are often seen as good-natured and elegant, but the Bryde’s whales living in Tosa Bay and other areas inhabit the same location throughout the year and do not become alarmed when boats come close, allowing safe observation at short distances. From the boat, these whales can be spotted opening their mouths to feed on sardines and other foods while they explosively “blow” seawater from the tops of their heads to breathe. Time and time again, spectators are left deeply moved at the power and majesty of our planet’s life!

The best whale watching period is October - the season of love for Bryde's whales. Here you’ll witness a “heat run,” whereby a massive group of 12-meter-long whales gather, with several males chasing after one female and competing for superiority. You’ll surely be mesmerized by their powerful and fast swimming.

In addition, while searching for whales, you may encounter a pod of common and bottlenose dolphins! For those wanting to get even more personal with Shikoku sea life, try boarding a fishing ship!

Cycling Through Setouchi Shimanami Kaido (Ehime)

Connecting Onomichi City in Hiroshima and Imabari City in Ehime, the approximately 60 km Setouchi Shimanami Kaido expressway links key points with bridges to allow full enjoyment of the Seto Inland Sea. It is also famous as the first bicycle track in Japan built over a strait. In 2014, it was selected as one of the "7 Biggest Cycling Roads in the World" by CNN and has continued to attract attention from overseas as a holy land of cycling.

The cycling road, which stretches about 70 km, connects six islands via seven bridges. Along the journey, you’ll be treated to a series of gorgeous views, pedalling in anticipation of the next discovery! Cycling while gazing over the glistening blue sea and feeling the ocean breeze brush your cheeks is an extraordinary feeling! Around every turn is a beautiful beach offering glorious views, along with cottages selling local specialties and more, making it worthwhile getting off your bike to take a breather now and then. With such boundless wonder, it’s no surprise many travelers visit again and again!

Slow down and take your time with this one.

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

The 88 Sacred Sites of the Shikoku Pilgrimage (All Shikoku Prefectures)

Shikoku is also famous for its association with Kukai, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, one of the denominations of Japanese Buddhism. The pilgrimage of the 88 Buddhist temples connected to Kukai is called the “Shikoku Pilgrimage,” and it is said that those who visit all sites will have their worldly desires disappear and wishes granted. Regardless of religion, travelers seeking a blessing or spiritual experience embark on this pilgrimage to reexamine their lives and receive teachings to light their path.

The pilgrimage road has a total length of 1,400 km and goes around the four prefectures of Shikoku. As there are steep roads, it is not an easy experience. However, the deeply embedded atmosphere and culture here warmly welcomes all pilgrims, allowing a sense of calm despite the difficulties one may meet.

If you want to participate in the pilgrimage, you’ll need to secure an itinerary for at least several weeks. Embarking on such a wonderful journey of the soul in a foreign land will undoubtedly become a life-changing experience!

Our Top Tips

Japan Shinkansen, Narita Express (N'EX) & Express Train Tickets

Plan ahead by booking your shinkansen, airport train, and express train tickets online in English. Have the tickets sent to you by mail or collect them at the station once you're in Japan.

If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!

Shikoku Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

tsunagu Japan Newsletter

Subscribe to our free newsletter and we'll show you the best Japan has to offer!

Subscribe Now!
Get your Japan discounts here!

About the author

  • Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

Restaurant Search

Sign up to our free newsletter to discover the best Japan has to offer.