Shikoku, one of the four islands that comprise Japan, may be the least populous, but it is far from the least interesting. Cut off and isolated for many years, it has remained unspoiled and is home to a host of picturesque temples and villages which are protected by Japan's highest mountains.
The northern part of the island, hemmed by waters that bear a striking likeness to the Mediterranean, is the site of some of Japan's most exquisite gardens (Ritsurin-koen is a masterpiece of the Edo period) and bath houses at Dogo Onsen (east of Matsuyama) and of Takamatsu, the genuine gateway into Shikoku and the Japanese capital of bonsais. Its mild climate is particularly suited to citrus fruits, peaches and even olives. The warm, fish-filled waters of the Pacific Ocean, perfect for swimming, lap the coast of the southern half of the island, blissfully preserved from tourism. A mountain range, which climbs to a height of 1,982 m, cuts across the centre and is ideal for outdoor sports such as hiking and climbing.
This authentic, unjustly ignored island is the ideal place to get acquainted with Japan: lush green paddy fields, remote fishing villages, strings of secluded islets (many of which don't have a name) and a local cuisine in which fresh fish, served in sashimi, takes pride of place. All in all, it is a landscape that would be quite at home in a cartoon by Hayao Miyazaki, the best-selling creator of Princess Mononoke.
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