Naruto (鳴門) is best known for the Naruto Whirlpools (鳴門の渦潮 Naruto no uzushio), which form in the narrow Naruto Strait between Awaji Island and Shikoku. The vortexes can be seen up to four times daily, but their size and speed depends the height of the tide, which in turn depends on the alignment of the moon and the sun. In general, the new moon and full moon are the best times to see the whirlpools, which can reach a depth of 2m and a width of 20m. They can be seen from the viewpoints at either end of the Onaruto Bridge or from sightseeing boats in the strait.
Naruto's second claim to fame is as the starting point of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The first two temples on the trail, Ryōzenji (霊山寺) and Gokurakuji (極楽寺), are both located in Naruto.
Naruto claims to be home to the world's best sweet potatoes (kintoki), from which all sorts of products are derived: cakes, cookies, and liquor (Naruto Kintoki Shochu).
Trains to Naruto are sparse, even from other cities in Shikoku. Starting on the JR Kotoku Line from Tokushima, change at Ikenotani to the small JR Naruto Line. Alternately, buses leave from Osaka (3 1/2 hours, ¥3150) and Kobe (2 3/4 hours, ¥2750).
Takamatsu (高松) is the main entry point for Shikoku, and from here the entire island is your oyster. Though long known as the "Gateway to Shikoku", Takamatsu has also come to be celebrated as the "Udon Kingdom".
The Marine Liner (マリンライナー) runs directly between Okayama and Takamatsu. Trains run twice per hour in both directions (¥1470 one-way; 55 minutes). The ride is covered by a JR Pass. Because the Marine Liner is classified as a 'rapid' (快速 kaisoku) train, the Seishun 18 Ticket is also valid.
If you're skipping Chugoku entirely, the Sunrise Seto (サンライズ瀬戸) overnight sleeper train makes daily runs between Takamatsu and Tokyo Station. The train ride lasts about 9 1/2 hours. One-way prices vary, but a regular seat will cost at least ¥15,000, and a sleeper car will cost at least ¥20,000.
A number of bus companies, including JR Bus and Takamatsu Express, operate buses to and from major cities in the Kansai area. Prices may very slightly from company to company, but in general the prices and trip times are nearly identical. Some examples:
Night bus service from Tokyo is also available; the 'Dream-Takamatsu-go' runs twice nightly in both directions (10 hours, ¥10000 one-way, ¥18200 round-trip).
Seven buses make round trip runs each day day (¥3750 one-way; 3.5 hours) between Takamatsu and Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka.
To match the city's bike-friendly design, Takamatsu has one of the best rental cycle systems in Japan. You can rent a bike for just ¥100 per day...and by "day" they mean a full 24-hour period from the moment you rent the bike. So, if you arrive in the afternoon, stay one night, and then leave in the morning; that only requires one "day" of bicycle rental. That means ou can keep your bike overnight, so there are no problems biking to a hotel in the evening and then returning the bike in the morning.
There are four rental cycle stations around town. The easiest to locate is in the basement of the bicycle parking area located in front of JR Takamatsu Station. You will need a photo ID to rent a bike for the first time. Before your first rental you'll be asked to fill out a short application and submit some kind of official photo ID. A few minutes later you'll be issued a renter ID card and for future rentals you will only need this card. While it may help to know some Japanese, filling out the application should not be a challenge as the staff will understand what you want and at least one of them should be able to manage basic English.
The Kotoden (琴電) train, officially known as the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad, is also a viable means of getting around Takamatsu. In particular, the Kotoden is convenient for Ritsurin Park, Kawaramachi, and the Takamatsu Station/Castle area.
Takamatsu is famed for its udon. Though you'll find it served in cities and villages throughout Japan, Takamatsu does udon better and cheaper than anywhere else. There are hundreds of udon shops within city limits. Because local foods are a driving force in Japanese tourism, many people flock to Takamatsu on "chain-eating" tours of the more famous udon shops.
The average udon shop will have several varieties available. These are some of the standard types:
It's rare for a bowl to exceed ¥1000, and not uncommon for the simpler types to hover around ¥400. ¥100 bowls are even available at some places.
Feel free to ask around, as people in Takamatsu will almost certainly have a favorite restaurant to recommend. The de-facto "most famous" one is Tsurumaru (鶴丸), located on a road that runs right along the Kotoden Line — almost exactly halfway between Kataharamachi and Kawaramachi Stations.
There are cheap business hotels around JR Takamatsu Station and Ritsurin-koen.
Kōchi (高知), known in ancient times as Tosa (土佐), is the eponymous capital of Kochi prefecture. The JR Dosan Line runs down from Okayama via Takamatsu and the Oboke gorge, passing through Kochi on its way to the terminus at Kubokawa.
The fastest way to get to Kochi from Okayama is to take the Nanpu Limited Express train, which departs every hour. It costs ¥5990 (no cost with the Japan Rail Pass) and takes 2 1/2 hours.
Trams run south from JR Kochi Station and east-west along Route 32. Within the downtown area, the fare is ¥190 per trip. The My-Yu bus (MY遊バス) service runs from the north side of JR Kochi Station. Day passes are ¥900. The bus stops at 3 locations on Mt. Godaisan and continues on to Katsurahama.
Eat & Drink
Every Sunday, rain or shine, Kochi's farmers and fisherman flock to the capital to present their goods at Nichi O Ichi (Sunday Market). You'll find friendly vendors offering everything from antiques to zucchini. Look for katsuo bushi (bonito flakes). It's used as a topping for many Japanese dishes, and some Kochi katsuo bushi makes a great omiyage (gift) for a Japanese friend.
Katsuo no tataki is Kochi's specialty dish. Katsuo is a type of tuna fish, and tataki is the style in which it is prepared. The tataki style means that the fish is held over a fire and cooked only on the outside layer (about 3mm to 1cm deep), leaving the inside of the fish red and raw. After the firing it is cut into thick juicy slices that look like oversized sashimi, and served with sliced garlic and onions, shiso (a Japanese leaf with a distinct and delicious taste), and of course some fresh wasabi. Once it is at your table, clutch a slice with your chopsticks along with a generous portion of the garlic, onions, and/or wasabi. Take it all in in one bite.
Denizens of Kochi are famously prolific drinkers. Nevertheless, gokkun-umajimura is a popular non-alcoholic drink with residents of all ages. It's made of yuzu, which is a kind of citrus fruit, and tastes sweet-and-sour. It's fantastic when mixed with shochu on the rocks.
Kubokawa (窪川) is a small town on the southern coast of Shikoku. It's the terminus of the JR Dosan Line from Kochi, Takamatsu, and Okayama. It's also the starting point of the Tosa Kuroshio private railway, which crosses overland past Cape Ashizuri to Sukumo.
Most of Kubokawa's few visitors are here to see the nearby Shimanto River (四万十川 Shimantogawa), the longest in Shikoku and Japan's last un-dammed river of any size. If just looking at a river seems a little dull, do what the Japanese do and go fishing. With no dams in the way, there are 94 species in the river, the most of any Japanese river.
Cape Ashizuri (足摺岬 Ashizuri-misaki) is the southernmost point of Shikoku. The cape is part of the Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park (足摺宇和海国立公園 Ashizuri-Uwakai -kokuritsukōen), and the cliffs here, featuring a sparkling white lighthouse, are a popular sightseeing point. The small town of Ashizuri lies just north of the cape, at the intersection of two highways. The cape itself has been turned into a pleasant park of sorts, with wooded paths winding from point to point. It's only a few kilometers away and easily reached on foot along a seaside walking path. Entry is free.
From the east, there are occasional direct buses from Kochi (4h40m; ¥4000) and the nearest train station Nakamura (1h30m). If heading north towards Sukumo, Uwajima, and Matsuyama, you will have to take a bus to Tosa-Shimizu and transfer there. Hitchhiking is also a viable option.
You can find the usual assemblage of souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes right outside the entrance to the park.
The town of Ashizuri has a number of hotels, ryokan, and minshuku. Kongofukuji also offers lodging for pilgrims, but beds are limited and bona fide pilgrims have priority over scruffy backpackers.