Last Updated on May 4, 2020
I woke up dazed and confused in the beautiful region of Shikoku. I had traveled for 18 hours to get here, and that followed an already extensive drama of visa issues, riots, and typhoons…but finally I was in Japan!
I was overjoyed and ready to eat all the sushi and matcha treats my body could take. Apart from eating my way through Shikoku and being Insta-basic, my mission for this trip was simple – find sencha green tea and ceremonial-grade matcha to bring back to Barcelona. Let the games begin.
Day 1 – Kobe & Awaji Island
Our adventures in Shikoku started with an early morning (9:30am is early if you’re jetlagged, okay?) breakfast at the hotel, where the three other journalists (Hi Alex, Kaitlyn, and Chelsea) and I met with our guides. We had all been invited on this FAM trip by Accord, to experience for ourselves the beauty of Shikoku.
Kobe city tour
Prior to the tour I just imagined us trying a bunch of Kobe beef in different corners of the city. What can I say? I travel through my stomach. Although my foodie side was slightly disappointed this wasn’t the case, I think Karen of two years past was relieved – I was a recovering vegan, after all. We did, however, get a great cultural introduction that would serve as a strong foundation for the rest of the trip.
Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum
I’m usually not into museums much – I prefer to explore a country’s culture and history by interacting directly with its people, checking out ancient buildings, and eating everything in sight. However, this museum was a great start to our trip as it gave great insight into how ancient and modern Japanese artifacts are made. Having this knowledge injected into my jet-lagged brain actually gave me a deeper appreciation of what was in front of me for the remainder of the trip.
That 2000 year-old temple you’re eyeing? It’s made from wood. And you can learn about how that was made possible at this carpentry museum.
A puppet show! Although the show was conducted in Japanese, it was still a cool experience. Getting here is on the way to Naruto, but 2 hours away from Kobe, so I would only recommend a stop if you’re in the area. While it was a beautiful experience, it was my least favorite from the trip since I couldn’t get the full story as to what was going on. Time to learn Japanese!
AoAwo Naruto Resort
We drove to Naruto and stayed at the beautiful AoAwo Resort. Here you can choose to stay in a western room or one of the 4 Japanese-style rooms. The resort has an ocean-front pool, onsen spa with either open-air hot springs on the first floor or ocean-view hot springs on the rooftop. Keep in mind though that if you have tattoos you’ll have to refrain from going. OR, you can just be sneaky like I was and go in anyway. It’s not for the faint of heart though – I had two Japanese women guide me through the onsen experience which involved me undressing in front of them. My heart was beating so fast thinking they would kick me out after seeing my tattoos, but they either didn’t see them (unlikely as I have 7) or just didn’t care. Either way, I got to chill naked in a natural hot spring.Highly recommend!
Integrating with Japanese culture:
Someone: Do you have any questions?
Me: Is silence also considered awkward here?
Day 2 – Tokushima
Our second day started out extra early, since we needed to head out on a boat cruise to whirlwind waters. We had a great breakfast at the hotel, and then headed out on the van to begin our crazy adventure around Tokushima. This day was my favorite of them all! I had gotten a great workout at the beach trampoline the night before so I slept like a baby and was ready for a packed day of crazy boat rides, sake buzzed conversations, indigo dyeing, noodle making, and onsen chilling.
Ps. I’m adding a trampoline to my list of must-have home adds, as well as a tea room.
Whirlpool Boat Cruise
Naruto is best known for its whirlpools which can reach up to 20 meters in diameter! We went on a whirlpool cruise too see the beasts up-close and it was a really fascinating experience. So. Many. Whirlpools. Cool for photos, just don’t go too crazy on the selfies… not even your future husband will jump in and save you in these whirlwind waters.
Honke Matsuura Sake Brewery
The oldest Sake brewery in the region – a Sake-making region. Honke Matsuura is over 250 years old (it was founded in 1804). Sake, for those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of trying it, is a traditional Japanese spirit made from rice (around 14-18% alcohol). Apart from being the oldest brewery, Honke Matsuura is special as one of their sakes won top 10 Sake in the world for pure rice sake. That’s a lot of sakes in one sentence, but its worth the anxiety of writing and reading it for the taste alone. Want to make your own sake? Well I hope you’re not afraid of commitment – it takes 1 1/2 month to brew just one bottle of sake. I’d recommend you fly over to Shikoku instead and try it at the source. Also, our sake guide was hilarious.
Indigo Dye Factory
The region of Tokushima is a big grower of indigo plants, which is why the color is so meaningful. At this indigo dyeing factory we got to dye our own scarfs, which I will be using as a ponytail accessory.
Ochiai Village / Udatsu Old Street
This cool street is full of traditional Japanese homes dating back hundreds of years. We entered one that is open to the public, and it is what inspired me to create a tea room in my future home. So zen.
Takeda Milling Noodle factory
All types of noods are made here – ramen, udon, thin and thick noods. One for every taste. They’re giggly, fun, and extremely relaxing to make. #sendnoods
Hotel Iya Onsen
This hotel was the coolest place I’ve stayed in all my travels (and I’ve stayed in some pretty awesome places). At Iya Onsen you get to stay in a traditional Japanese room (!!!). The dress code is robes, so… comfy goals. When we arrived immediately got into our robes and headed down the cable car to the natural hot springs. The cable car was slightly frightening at first, but well worth the ride for the amazing spa awaiting us. Our group ultra bonded as we all skinny dipped (it’s just how you do at an onsen) and chatted about love & life while simmering in a sulfur bath. My skin felt like a baby’s behind afterwards, but my silver rings were pink for a few days (tip: take your jewelry off before entering the hot springs).
For dinner we headed to one of the hotel’s restaurants where we enjoyed a 7-course Japanese meal that included everything from soup to wagyu beef (it’s like butter) to matcha mousse for dessert. It was an experiential meal where you got to interact with your food, which made it extra memorable. I love when food is fun to eat!
Day 3 – Iya Valley & Kochi
Iya Kazurabashi Bridge
Crossed an ancient vine bridge in slippers, no biggie. Only saw my life flash before my eyes and was visually shaking the entire time. At least it woke me up – take that, jetlag! Adding this to the list of most terrifying things I’ve done in my life, next to ant climbing down a cliff to the ocean in Mallorca, and that time I was around 5 years old and a horse I was riding started running full-speed up a mountain in the Andes of Peru. Please, if you cross this bridge take proper shoes! I was wearing slip-ons and honestly thought I was going to slip and die. Sneakers are your best friends here.
A cruise through the Yoshino River. It features beautiful gorges and unusual rock formations which will impress your eyes! This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We were welcomed and treated like royalty by the staff, with everyone standing outside to greet us with flags from our countries! The most adorable thing ever!! Come here for the overall great vibes. This place will make you fall in-love with Japan (& Japanese people).
The city of Kochi impressed me all around, and the castle is just one of the many highlights. A short walk from our hotel, Kochi Castle is a must visit. I’m in love with Japanese architecture. Be sure to check out the Kochi Castle Museum of History afterwards for some insight.
Shopping! After many days in nature, I was ready to find my green tea, chopsticks, and ceremonial matcha mugs to bring back home. At the Hirome Market I was able to buy a great big bag of green tea – famous in this region, making it an even better buy. I suggest you come hungry and try a bit of everything – start with the gyosas, end with the green tea ice cream!
We tried the Sawachi Ryori – a traditional seafood platter only found in Kochi with Bonito seared fish. The overall experience of this dinner was amazing, although I could have done without consuming a bunch of embryonic fish… will try everything once, I suppose?
Day 4 – Kochi
Kochi is a really cool, underrated city in Shikoku. After being in nature for the past few days, I was happy to wander around the city, shop a bit, and check out the street style (plus some markets and temples).
Kochi Sunday Market
This Sunday market is the largest in all of Japan! Although it’s supposed to be a tourist attraction, its a very local market, where people living in the city go to regularly. Here you can find lots of (huge!) local fruits and veggies, green tea, and some vintage shopping. I bought a ceremonial matcha mug, some sake glasses, travel chopsticks, and some grapes (they were HUGE, I had to try them). I’m all about markets, so this was one of the most exciting parts of the trip for me. If you’re looking to do some local shopping, you can’t miss this!
We visited the most gorgeous temple I’ve ever seen. Chikurinji temple is located just a few minutes up a mountain in Kochi. When here you feel in a deep state of zen – it’s a great place to come reflect, get clarity, and slow your mind. You can also make a wish to Zido, a Bosatsu (Buddha helper). If your wish comes true, you need to come back to the temple to say thank you to Zido. Just another excuse to come back to Japan over and over again!
This cave is 175 million years old (!!!). The whole experience was pretty surreal, and it felt a bit like Disneyland. Japanese people are so detail-oriented that even an ancient cave feels safe and orderly. Before you exit, you can watch a light show presentation about how the cave got created. It’s the most psychedelic and surreal thing I’ve experienced. Wouldn’t it be cool if they had movie screenings here?
This is a boat tour in a traditional Japanese boat (Yakata boat) around the Niyodo River, which is the clearest in all of Japan! The experience was so relaxing, and we even saw some hawks! Totally recommend you do this tour to clear your mind a bit, and even try meditating. It’s a magical place.
Qraud Paper Making Village
This was probably the most special experience on this trip. We got to make our own postcards and decorate them with real flowers. And when I say make your own postcards, I mean the whole process – actually transforming a watery blob into paper. I decorated mine in a minimal design to align with my lifestyle and also the Japanese style. When the paper dried, I got one of our amazing guides, Miyo, to hand-letter my name in Japaneseon one of the postcards. She had given me a list of Japanese meanings for my name the day before, and I asked her to choose the one she felt was most aligned with me. She chose (in her own words) “a wish to become a person who wraps people in a wide heart, like a lotus flower” then explained, “a lotus flower has a special meaning in Buddhism. It’s symbolic. It’s the light of hope that shines in a chaotic world.”
Conclusion: I’m a lotus flower.
I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING.
Also, I’m framing this card and hanging it in the office I’m manifesting to remind me to never forget to keep traveling and talking with people of other cultures. The most beautiful moments come from these interactions.
Dinner at Hirome Market
To wrap up our amazing trip to Shikoku, we all enjoyed one last dinner together at our favorite market. We each went around and bought an array of street foods, then sat amongst locals while they enjoyed watching an important match of Rugby. Sitting here, chatting with my new journalist and Japanese friends, made me feel so grateful of the life I’ve created for myself. It returned my drive to keep exploring different cultures. Japan is an amazing country that I hope to come back to over and over again.
Shikoku Travel Tips
Getting to Shikoku
- Fly into Osaka (KIX airport)
- Take bus to Kobe directly from the airport
- The island of Shikoku is known for its temples – many people visit here to do the 88 temple walk that takes about 8 weeks to complete
- The Iya Valley is said to be haunted! We only found this out after we left (which I was thankful for)
- Mochis are traditionally eaten for New Years (this has nothing to do with this region, but it’s v important information)
- Kochi’s Sunday Market is the largest in all of Japan!
Special thanks to Miyo and Saeko for making this trip so memorable, and for constantly going above and beyond to fulfill our every little desire. From finding me the perfect place to buy green tea, to answering all of our crazy questions about Japanese culture, to finding stamps on a Sunday for Alex to send postcards to her family back home, and to simply sharing laughs with us, you truly made this trip magic. If you’re traveling to Japan and want some amazing locals to complete your experience, please contact these two beautiful souls. I’m sure they’ll make your experience magical, too.