Exploring Shikoku

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Day 1 in Shokoku: An early morning ferry takes us across the inland sea to Takamatsu, a major city on the large island of Shikoku.  Attached to the mainland by three bridges, Shikoku has a proud history of great military strength, rebels that helped unite the country under the emperor, early industrialization (Mitsubishi industries were founded here) and, although not in the tourist brochures, undoubtedly production preparations for Japan’s entry into WWII.  Our guide and driver Fuji-San meets us in a new brightly painted 9 passenger van in which we will travel together for the next week.   We are all sleep deprived but looking forward to our next adventure.  I have never been to Shikoku before so it will also be a first step into this old and new world for me as well.

Our group with our Shikoku Driver and Van

First stop: Ritsurin Gardens, one of the top 3 traditional gardens in Japan.  And it deserves that acclaim because its grounds encompass all the iconoclastic images of Japanese aesthetic scenery:  ancient pines, pruned to ideal dimensions and shapes, ponds filled with bright Koi/ carp swimming under arched bridges, stepping stone paths and perfectly posed natural flower arrangements, steps up small hills leading to magnificent views of the planted landscape.  And we just did the Southern half of the garden!  We were, I think, the only non-Japanese in sight as we strolled In beautiful sunshine through the recommended route which went past a large tea house and past a pond with visitors in small boats in straw hats rowed by men in traditional garb.  It was serene and beautiful.

South Ritsurin From Hilltoop
In a corner of the garden
The Koi on one of the ponds

On to Konpira, a famous shrine in a small town that required walking up 785 stone steps, without railings, in many stages,which 4 of us did.  And I was the first up!   I paid 100 yen (about $0.75) by dropping the coin in a box to let me honestly borrow a bamboo walking stick which was quite helpful for balance.  The path went first past many small store fronts selling food and souvenirs for the pilgrims making this trek up the mountain.  Then it turned into a walkway surrounded by old stone lanterns and memorial stones and then through a number of smaller shrine buildings (oh, we thought we were there when we came to a large beautiful building – but no, there were more steps to go!)

And finally up steep steps which did have a strong metal railing to finally come to the large shinto shrine, with a beautiful view over the city.

Only in Japan: Up a hillside, in a heavily forested area, off he main path to the Konpira Shrine,
is an immaculately clean fully functional clean plumbed toilet facility for the visitors

Our very comfortable van makes rest stops for us as we wind our way into the heavily forested center of Shikoku into the area of Iya where we stop for the night at the Iya Onsen.  This was one of the most beautiful Onsen (hot springs baths) hotels I have been to.  Many hotels in Japan, including in major cities, have indoor and sometime outdoor private pools filled with local mineral water from springs.  Separate facilities, next to each other, are provided for men and women, with yukata cotton robes and slippers given for guests to wear to visit the baths and to wear for dinner, if desired.   This hotel had an indoor Onsen, beautifully appointed with low washing stools and faucets for washing with soap before entering the baths, as well as a spectacular outdoor Onsen at the bottom of a long funicular that runs about 450 feet down from the hotel to the bathing facilities by the fast running water.  The funicular car, which holds about 17 people, takes 5 minutes to travel down to the bottom and 6 minutes up.  The bath itself was surrounded by carefully chosen rocks with a centerpiece pouring water out of a spout into the pool below.  When Geri and I went, there were only a few women present and it was quiet.  Rich said it was quiet on his side as well, with only one other man.  

The funicular railway going down to Onsen by river
View from Onsen

Our dinner was just as special, many small dishes, most of which we could not identify, with separate meals for the vegans, which in Japan includes fish.  We were very full and very ready for sleep after our full meal and hot baths.  A good first day in Shikoku.