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Introducing Shikoku

The birthplace of revered Buddhist ascetic Kōbō Daishi (774–835), Shikoku (四国) is synonymous with natural beauty and the pursuit of spiritual perfection. It's home to the 88 Temple route, Japan's most famous pilgrimage, even if some henro (pilgrims) today make the trek in air-conditioned comfort.

Yet this is not merely a place for passive soul-searching. The stunning Iya Valley, a rugged and ancient Pacific Ocean coastline, gorgeous free-flowing rivers and mountain ranges all beckon to be explored firsthand. If the inner demons are restless, there's also Takamatsu, Kōchi and Matsuyama, attractive and youthful cities with excellent regional cuisine and all the trappings of 'mainland' modernity.

Travellers are quietly heralding the virtues of the island where 12th-century Heike warriors disappeared into the mountains to escape their Genji pursuers. Easy to access from Honshu via two glorious feats of engineering, Shikoku offers an adventurous retreat from the outside world. Just like Kōbō Daishi would have wanted.