Six Days in Shikoku: Zentsuji to Saijo

The photo shows a five-level wooden pagoda, with a bright blue sky behind it, and treen branches in the foreground on the upper-right side and center-left side of the photo.

Just one stop away from JR Kotohira is JR Zentsuji, and about a twenty minute walk away from JR Zentsuji station is Zentsuji itself. Zentsuji is the largest and most famous of the 88 Temples of Shikoku, for it is where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, was born and raised, and it is the first Shingon Buddhist temple ever established in Japan.

The map shows the location of Zentsuji and Saijo City.

The map shows the location of Zentsuji and Saijo City.

My guidebook says that, if you’re only going to visit one of the 88 Temples of Shikoku, you should try to make that one temple Zentsuji.

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It’s certainly on a bigger scale than the other of the 88 Temples of Shikoku I visited, in fact, it is the biggest temple in Shikoku (though it is on a smaller scale than Konpira-san, which I had visited earlier in the day).

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One of the sights of Zentsuji is the wooden pagoda, shown in the photo above.

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There is a little dark tunnel which visitors can pass through in exchange for a small fee. Since I had a similar experience in Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, I decided to pass the experience here.

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There is an arcade with illustrations of the life of Kobo Daishi.

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Since I don’t actually know much about the life of Kobo Daishi, I didn’t recognize the episodes of his life in the pictures.

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I wonder, is the picture above showing Kobo Daishi meditating in the cave at Muroto Cape (in Shikoku) and achieving enlightenment? Even I know about that incident in the life of Kobo Daishi.

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I admit, I am not sure what the purpose of most of these structures are.

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I know that there is a tree in the temple which supposedly was around when Kobo Daishi was a boy. Is it the tree in the photo above? I don’t remember.

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After visiting Zentsuji, I returned to JR Zentsuji station, and rode trains all the way to Saijo, thus leaving Kagawa Prefecture a second time and entering Ehime prefecture. Since I didn’t take any photos on the trains, all of the photos in this post are from Zentsuji.

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‘Iyo’, of course, is the old name for Ehime prefecture, and was one of the ‘four countries’ (‘Shikoku’ means ‘four countries’ in Japanese). The train station in Saijo city is ‘Iyo-Saijo’, following the tradition of Shikoku train stations putting the old domain names (Sanuki, Awa, Iyo, Tosa) in train station names.

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After hearing about how sparse public transportation is in Shikoku, and travelling in Hokkaido and Tohoku, I was expecting lots of inconvenience. (Note … everything you hear about Japan being so public-transit friendly, and trains always being on time, and how fast Japenese trains are, etc. … does not apply to Hokkaido and Tohoku, though to be fair Hokkaido and Tohoku have much better public transit networks than parts of the United States with similar population density). Thus, I was pleasantly surprised that the trains from Zentsuji to Saijo were 1) not late or cancelled 2) the local trains ran about once an hour 3) I only had to make two transfers, and the wait time between transfers wasn’t more than 30 minutes. You can’t appreciate how convenient this is unless you’ve travelled extensively by public transit in regions where trains/buses only run once every three hours, and they might be delayed/cancelled, and transfers can take 2+ hours.

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Of course, I should point out that I only travelled in northern Shikoku, which is where the vast majority of the population, and thus public transit services, are. I strongly suspect that public transit in southern Shikoku is no more convenient than public transit in eastern Hokkaido.

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In any case, I got to spend a bit less than three hours riding trains, which suited me just fine. I appreciated spending hours riding trains in Japan since they allowed me to rest, read, do travel planning, look out the window, etc. While I was walking from the temple back to JR Zentsuji station, I picked up some snacks as well as a cold, fruit-flavored alcoholic beverage. I discovered that the cold, cheap, fruit-flavored sugary alcoholic drinks found in convenience stores all over Japan are a great thing to drink on trains – I didn’t want to be the least bit impaired by alcohol when I was doing something active like a hike or visiting an important cultural place, but I felt that a long train ride was the perfect place to dull my senses a little and enjoy the buzz. I looked out the window, though I don’t remember what I saw. I also wrote in my diary about my one-day tour of the temples in Tokushima prefecture.

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I arrived at Iyo-Saijo station a little before sunset. I didn’t have any reservation for a place to sleep for the night, but that turned out to be not a problem – there are a number of inexpensive business hotels clustered around Iyo-Saijo station. I walked around, and then went inside the hotel with the lowest advertised price (I think it was about 3,000 yen per night). Nobody was inside, but there was a phone number. I called the number, and about ten minutes later, a middle-aged Japanese woman walked in to give me a room key and accept my payment. I think I was the only person, guest or staff, in the hotel building that night. There seemed to be something off about the room – as in the furniture didn’t really fit in the space or something – but since it was clean, and everything worked in the bathroom, and the bed was fine, I definitely got my money’s worth.

Why spend a night in Saijo city? Because I wanted to go to Ishizuchi-san, and to get an early start, I had to take the first bus leaving Saijo City in the morning. Ishizuchi-san will be featured in my next post.

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Six Days in Shikoku: The Great Shrines of Konpira-san

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Most people who come to the town of Kotohira come to ascend Konpira-san, which is the #1 shrine for the Shinto god of seafarers. Japan is an island nation – during my travels in Japan I rode ferries twenty times – so the god of seafarers is pretty important.

The map shows that Kotohira is in northeastern Shikoku, a bit inland, and west of Takamatsu

To get to the topmost shrine, visitors must ascend 1,368 steps.

Statue at the entrance of the shrine complex

Statue at the entrance of the shrine complex

I was expecting it to be easy. I mean, come on, I had hiked to the top of Rishiri-Fuji, as well as Mt. Yakushi, and Mt. Miyanoura in the snow. I was expecting Konpira-san to be a walk in the park, just like Haguro-san, another sacred mountain which is famous for its long staircase.

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Okay, obviously, Konpira-san is not as challenging as Rishiri-Fuji/Mt. Yakushi/Mt. Miyanoura. But that doesn’t mean that walking up the steps of Konpira-san requires zero effort. I was expecting to zip up the steps like a hummingbird, and instead, I found myself having to stop to take a breath quite often.

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Fortunately, there was a lot to look at while I was catching my breath.

I could look at this wooden horse while I was catching my breath!

I could look at this wooden horse while I was catching my breath!

Though Konpira-san is officially a Shinto sacred site, in practice its a blend of Shinto and Buddhist shrines, like Haguro-san. That means Konpira-san is a great place to check out Shinto and Buddhist structures.

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I swear that Konpira-san is tougher to hike up than Haguro-san, even though Haguro-san has 2446 steps. Of course, maybe that’s because I brought luggage up with me until I found a place to discretely stash it a few hundred steps up the mountains. The humidity also wasn’t helpful.

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Once you get about midway, views over Sanuki (Kagawa Prefecture) start to open up.

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The mountain on the left side in the photo above is Sanuki-Fuji. Being a volcano, it looks like Mt. Fuji, and it’s in what used to be called Sanuki Province (now it’s Kagawa Prefecture). Since in the old days most people in Sanuki Province couldn’t visit Mt. Fuji themselves, they worshipped their local ‘Fuji’. Japan Hike has more info about Sanuki-Fuji.

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I could also see the Seto-Ohashi bridge – the bridge I used to enter Shikoku via train – though it doesn’t really show up in any of the photos.

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Seriously, I was impressed with the sheer variety (and size) of shrines in a relatively small area.

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I almost considered *not* going to Konpira-san because I figured I had already seen enough Japanese shrines/temples for a lifetime. Sure, I’d see some of the 88 Temples of Shikoku because they are special, but Konpira-san? I’d already been to Haguro-san, another mountain famous for its long stone staircase, and I’d been to a lot of other famous temples/shrines in Japan. How different could Konpira-san be?

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I can’t say that Konpira-san it particularly different, and certainly, I would say that travellers with limited time would be better off visiting Haguro-san or Koya-san (though, for travellers who are really pressed for time and have JR passes, Konpira-san might be a good choice because it’s the only one of the three which is close to a JR station).

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I didn’t mind that I had seen buildings like this before because it was still neat. Okay, I guess one thing which makes it different is that there aren’t a zillion foreign tourists (unlike anywhere famous in Kyoto), and most of the people at Konpira-san feel some religious/cultural connection to the place, even if they have mostly-secular lives. On the other hand, since Konpira-san is more accessible than Haguro-san/Koya-san, the visitors here tend to be more casual. Yet they weren’t mostly tour bus groups, unlike Ise Jingu. And there were tons of people there, unlike many temples/shrines I’ve visited where hardly anybody was around.

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There’s the lower area (about the first 800 steps) where most of the buildings are, as well as most of the people. Past the main shrine, the steps pass through a forested area, with only occasional shrines along the way.

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Though most people don’t go to the upper area, there are so many visitors that there was almost always at least one other human within my line of sight.

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The forest itself is nice. It’s not a pristine virgin forest, but it’s not a zombie cedar forest either.

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There are little signs telling them how many steps are left before they reach the top of the stairs. There’s also a little shelter at one point, which I made use of.

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Eventually, I reached the uppermost shrine of Konpira-san. Though there were quite a few people there, it wasn’t nearly as bustling as the main shrine below. This is part of what makes Konpira-san neat – you can get the large busy cosmopolitan Shinto shrine, and the somewhat secluded and quiet Shinto shrine in the forest, all in one place.

This is the uppermost shrine

This is the uppermost shrine

Since this a set of shrines dedicated to the god of seafarers, there is of course an area dedicated to depictions of seafaring.

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There is something really quirky about seeing a building which looks like it belongs in medieval Japan … and then see all kinds of photos of modern seaships and an actually modern boat inside it.

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It was only on the way down the stairs that I realized just how big some of these buildings are.

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According to my diary, I thought the building with the really spacious ground floor was ‘neat’.

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I remember, during my first few months in Taiwan, I thought temples were really cool, and when I moved to Taoyuan city, I thought it was cool that there were so many temples in my neighborhood. But eventually, Taiwanese temples all started looking the same, except for the most unusual/extraordinary temples.

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The very day my uncle arrived in Taiwan, I took him to the Tianhou temple in Ximending and Longshan temple. He had never been in Asia before, and he thought the temples were really, really interesting. He also noticed that I wasn’t enthusiastic, and said something like ‘So, this isn’t interesting to you at all’. I replied ‘I’ve been in Taiwan for over a year, and I’ve seen all this before’.

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Of course, Japanese temples and Shinto shrines are different from Taiwanese temples, so at first they were new and fresh to me, but there were several points in my travels in Japan when I felt “ENOUGH WITH THE TEMPLES/SHRINES!!!!!”

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Yet strangely, I didn’t feel temple/shrine fatigue at all in Konpira-san. Perhaps it was because I visited a lot less temples/shrines in my second trip to Japan than in my first. But it also may be because I knew Konpira san was the last place I’d see a Shinto shrine like this.

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Japanese temples and shrines are beautiful. When in your quest to experience new things you instead see similar things over and over again, frustration can interfere with appreciation of the beauty. But when you’ve spent almost six months in a place where beautiful temples and shrines are all over the place, and then you realize you are about to leave that place, and possibly never return ever again, that frustration disappears, and the beauty is particularly apparent.

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I knew that visiting Konpira-san, and by extension my entire Shikoku excursion, was a farewell to a world I had lived in for months, and might never return to.

But I had one more Buddhist temple to visit that day. That will be the subject of my next post … “Six Days in Shikoku: Zentsuji to Saijo”.

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Six Days in Shikoku: Kanamaru-za in Kotohira

Above there are many cylindrical lanterns shining brightly.  Far in the distance is a wall covered with white and red cloth.  On the right side we see a raised wooden platform, called the 'hanamichi', extending into the vast area where the audience would sit on tatami mats.

Looking down the hanamichi of Kanamaru-za, the oldest intact kabuki theatre in the world

I kept on changing my mind about whether or not I actually wanted to go to Kotohira. I eventually realized that I would have to pass through Kotohira anyway to get from JR Oboke station to my next destination. Once I was in town, I went straight to what was of greatest interest to me: Kanamaru-za, the world’s oldest kabuki theatre.

The map shows that Kotohira is in northeastern Shikoku, a bit inland, and west of Takamatsu

It takes about ten minutes to walk from JR Kotohira station to cross the river into the old part of town.

This is a Shinto shrine, with a tori gate, a very tall lantern in the distance, and a towering green tree

I passed this shrine on the way to the old part of town

There is a historic street which is all geared up to separate tourists from their yen. Apparently, it had once been a flourishing merchants’ area.

Ye Olde Japanese Architecture

Ye Olde Japanese Architecture

Removed from the noise and bustle of the historic/touristy street, the Kanamaru-za is in a surprisingly quiet area.

It's the KANAMARU-ZA!!!

It’s the KANAMARU-ZA!!!

An old man gave me a tour of the theatre. Since I had spent almost 6 months in Japan sharpening my Japanese language skills, I was actually able to understand a lot of what he was saying, at least with the assistance of lots of gestures and my prior knowledge of traditional Japanese theatre (i.e. I already knew what a hanamichi is).

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Above is the room where audience members remove their sandals, since sandals/shoes are not permitted inside the theatre.

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And those are the lanterns which light up the theatre, though I suspect they are now lit with electricity and not fire (theatres were the very first places to install electric lighting – within a year of the electric light bulb being invented, theatres in Europe were installing electric lights, because there are Serious Problems with using fire/gas to illuminate a theatre). There is also a contraption up there which allows kabuki actors to fly, though I can’t really see it in any of my photos.

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And of course, any theatre with built-in flying machines is also going to have some trap doors.

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Apparently, there had been several temporary theatres built here before the construction of this permanent theatre in 1835. When it was first built, most of the audience was people visiting Kotohira for religious reasons (if you want to know why people came to Kotohira for religious reasons, you should read my next post!)

This is one of the 'backstage' rooms for the actors

This is one of the ‘backstage’ rooms for the actors

The theatre had fallen into disrepair until top kabuki actors rediscovered it in the 1980s. Since then, it’s hosted a kabuki festival every year featuring Japan’s finest kabuki stars.

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But this … this is the REVOLVER! It revolves the stage! I think it’s supposed to take 6 people working together to revolve the stage.

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That is the hanamichi – as seen from below. It’s designed so that people can *ahem* appear and disappear from the hanamichi rather quickly.

And this is what the theatre looks like from above

And this is what the theatre looks like from above

I notice that they have a screen showing a pine tree on the stage. Noh and kyogen theatre always have a pine tree in the background because, historically, those plays were performed at temples literally in front of pine trees, and when they started performing noh and kyogen indoors they brought (painted) pine trees with them. However, the kabuki play I saw at the Minami-za (the kabuki theatre in Kyoto which was established in 1610 BUT the current building was built in the 1920s, therefore it’s not as old as Kanamaru-za) didn’t feature any painted pine trees in the background.

Good-bye, Kanamaru-za!

Good-bye, Kanamaru-za!

The theatre definitely got my visit to Kotohira off to a good start.

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I went back to the historic street, and saw a little dance-and-song show put on for tourists. I don’t remember much about it though.

The steps leading up to Kompira-san

The steps leading up to Kompira-san

So now I went to the big, big, big tourist draw in Kotohira, which is Konpira-san. Yup, Konpira-san is where those steps lined with merchants trying to separate tourists from their yen is going up to. That’s the subject of the next post.

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Six Days in Shikoku: The Teahouses of Ritsurin Garden

In the background of the photo is a forested hill on the left, and white sky on the right.  At the base of the hill is a teahouse, and before it is a pond.  In the lower right of the photo is a bonsai pine tree

One of the highlights of Ritsurin Garden (described in the previous post) is the teahouse.

This map shows that Takamatsu is on the northern tip on the eastern side of Shikoku island

Ritsurin Garden is in Takamatsu

There are actually a few teahouses in the garden, such as the small one shown in the photo below:

In the background, nestled among the green pine trees, we can see a small traditional Japanese building with a thatched roof.  Leading to the building is a path of large stones set into an area of sand.  It's clear that this photo was taken under another structure with a thatched roof, and we see the shadow of the thatching at the top of the photo.

At the time I visited, the only teahouse open to the public was the largest one, Kikugetsu-tei (Moon Scooping Pavilion).

We see a rectangular Japanese-style building jutting into a pond, with bonsai pine trees on the left side.

What do you do in the teahouse? Why, you drink tea!

The interior of the teahouse, with the open airy room, the tatami mats on the floor, and the traidtional wooden panelling on the walls.

While you are waiting for your tea and local variety of sweet mochi, you can enjoy the views.

Looking out of the teahouse, there is a bonsai pine tree, with a little stone basin full of water below it, and various green plants surrounding it

Looking out of the wooden platform, we see a group of elegantly prune bonsai pine trees in a field of carefully raked gravel

On the left side, a full-sized pine tree towers above, and a bonsai pine tree stands before it, with a group of large rocks lining the bottom of the picture.  In the upper right there is white sky, and below the white sky is a vast pond.

And once you have been served matcha tea and mochi, you can enjoy the tea, mochi, and the views all at the same time.

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I ending up drinking quite a few traditionally-prepared cups of matcha tea in historic teahouses in Japan, and I enjoyed every single cup and accompanying dessert. The tea and mochi were, as usual, very good. However, I don’t think I visited any other teahouse in Japan which had views as beautiful as this one.

There is a large pine tree supported by wooden beans filling most of the picture, and behind it is the pond, which looks small by comparison.

One of the things which makes Kikugetsu-tei so special is that it can be viewed from so many different angles, from both the inside and outside, and look fresh from every direction. Indeed, allowing a landscape to look new and fresh from multiple angles was a basic principle of traditional Japanese leisure gardens, and I think the designers of Ritsurin garden succeeded in this.

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From the outside, the teahouse enhances the overall aesthetic beauty of the garden in better than other teahouse I saw in Japan does.

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I walked around and looked at the teahouse from the outside after I had drunk the tea, so looking upon it brought back a memory of satisfying tea. However, I suppose I could have done it the other way around, and scope out the teahouse longingly, building up anticipation until I finally entered the teahouse and ordered tea.

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After enjoying myself in Ritsurin Garden, I took the local tram back to downtown Takamatsu, checked out of the hotel, and hopped on a bus to my next destination, Tokushima City. The next post will present one of the iconic features of Tokushima. But for now, a final photo of Ritsurin Garden.

At the bottom of the picture is the pond.  On the left is a grey egret.  Above there is a bunch of bonsai pine trees, with the teahouse barely visible behind the bonsai.

Six Days in Shikoku: Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu

This picture shows a white sky above, a set of green trees, and a wooden bridge over green pond water where the planks are set up to go forward, to the right, forward, right, forward, right, until it reaches the green bank on the far side

I took a train from Okayama (Honshu) to Takamatsu (Shikoku), which is the largest city in Kagawa Prefecture (Sanuki). The Okayama / Takamatsu line, which is officially called the ‘Seto-┼îhashi Line’ (Great Seto Bridge Line) is the only rail connection between Shikoku and the rest of Japan.

This map shows that Takamatsu is on the northern tip on the eastern side of Shikoku island

To quote the travel diary I wrote while I was in Japan…

It was an experience to go across the Seto Inland sea by train, with the long bridges and the green/granite islands in the water. It gave me a taste of what biking the what-you-call-it-kaido would be like.

The ‘what-you-call-it-kaido’ is the Shimanami Kaido bicycle road which connects Onomichi (Honshu, Hiroshima Prefecture) to Imabari (Shikoku, Ehime Prefecture) and lets people island-hop through the Seto Inland Sea by bicycle. I did not try this while I was in Japan, but there are no shortage of English-language travel bloggers who have.

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Technically, I had been to Kagawa Prefecture before – I had visited Naoshima during my first visit to Japan – but since Naoshima is physically closer to Honshu than Shikoku, I don’t think it counts as visiting Shikoku. Thus, Takamatsu was the first place I ever went to on the island of Shikoku itself.

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The most important tourist attraction in Takamatsu, of course, is Ritsurin Garden, and all of the photos in this post (save the sattelite map) were taken there.

A view of a pond in Risturin garden from above, with an orange bridge visible in the distance on the right side of the photo, and a green, tree-covered slope in the background.  There is a slight reflection of the white sky on the lower edge of the pond

Ritsurin Garden was built to serve as a place of leisure and relaxation for the local daimyo (feudal lord) and took over 100 years to complete. Now, the garden is open to the public for a modest admission fee.

The photo shows a statue of a puppy sitting upright on its hind legs carved in stone, in a room with other sculptures with glass cases and stonework on the walls and floors

Inside the garden is the Sanuki Folk Museum, which displays traditional artwork and tools from Sanuki (the old name of what is now Kagawa Prefecture).

The photo shows a long, wooden table made by traditional Sanuki craftspeople, and in the background a traditional Japanese rock garden is visible

There are many notable trees within the garden, such as trees planted by emperors/crown princes, an oak tree which took root inside a (dead) pine tree, and a famous pine tree known as the ‘crane’.

The photo shows a set of cycad trees, with a walkway and a pond on the left side, and a bit of the forested hill visible in the background

Since one of my favorite parts of travel is making connections between different places I have visited, the plants which seemed particularly notable to me is this set of cycad trees. They were grown from cuttings which the Shimazu clan, who controlled the Satsuma region in southern Kyushu, had given to the daimyo of Sanuki. The cycads originally came from … the Amami islands? (I don’t remember for sure) which were controlled by Satsuma. I had visited one of the Amami islands (Yoron island), and I had visited Kagoshima, the seat of power of the Shimazu clan, so I found it very satisfying to see this physical connection to another part of Japan I had visited.

On the left side of the walkway there is a set of pines which have been pruned so that their canopies look like boxes

There is a set of ‘box pines’ which have been pruned for centuries so that their canopies would have that distinctive shape.

In the background there is a set of pine trees, with a grassy field below.  In the foreground is a whitish rock with an unusual shape, with a stream right below it, and on the upper right is a pine tree branch.

There are a set of unusual rocks with names like ‘lion looking back’ (that’s the name of the rock in the photo above). There was a famine, so the daimyo had a program where he would reward commoners with rice if they brought to him rocks with unique shapes. The daimyo then put these rocks in this garden.

Standing on an orange bridge (barely visible in the photo) the camera sees a group of white-and-orange fish in the black stream water, which extends to a pond reflecting the whiteness of the sky in the upper-left part of the photo, and there is a bonsai pine tree on the bank of the stream just above where the fish are gathered.

One of the caretakers of this garden had just fed the fish at the time of this photo

There seem to be a number of nonhuman animals which enjoy being in the garden as well.

Above there is a series of bonsai pine trees on a little grassy island with decorative whitish rocks in the middle of a green pond.  On the bottom right side of the photo is a grey-white egret standing on a rock at the pond's edge.

Just as the fish eat the fish food, I suspect this egret thinks that the fish *are* the food.

A turtle's head emerges from the surface of the water which reflects the shadow of a tree and the white sky above

It’s a turtle!

And in addition to the flora and fauna, the fungi seem to appreciate this moist garden too.

A bunch of brown mushrooms shaped like upside-down fan umbrellas rise from a mossy patch of ground.

Anyone who visits the garden should get a guide in a language they understand – a lot of symbolism has been put into the garden’s design.

On the bottom of the photo is a bunch of water-plants covering the suface of the pond.  Beyond, the surface of the pond is exposed, and above is a cliff of red stone, with some trees seen just above it.

For example, the part of the garden shown above is supposed to represent the ‘Red Cliff’ from the famous battle scene in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. You know how I love it when different places I travel to are connected to each other. Well, about two months later, I would see a pansori performance in South Korea based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms which climaxed with the Battle of the Red Cliff. While I was listening to the performance of that scene, I thought back to Ritsurin garden.

There is a cliff right above a pond.  On the right side is a delicate little waterfall descending the cliffe.  Just above the exposed section of the cliff is a thick blanket of lushly green trees

I wasn’t there at the right time of year to see the lotus blossoms, but I bet they look gorgeous when they are in bloom.

Above are the wide, circular leaves of lotus plants.  Below is a pond, with its surface reflecting the white sky interrupted by a few mossy rocks.  At the bottom of the photo is the beginning of the stream which serves as the pond's outlet

The lotus pond

The largest pond in the garden is the north pond, which doesn’t seem to be as carefully designed/controlled as the other ponds. It doesn’t seem as special, but I think it’s good that the garden has a space which is a little less controlled.

Above are pine branches against the white sky.  Below is a pond reflecting the white sky and the green trees.  On the far side is a bank with many trees and a little Japanese-style pavillion.  At the bottom of the photo is a green little bush on the left side.

A view over the North Pond

Among a bunch of bonsai pine trees, there is a small fenced off square, with gravel inside and a small eight-level pagoda made of clay

I forget what the significance of this stupa is.

But really, the most beautiful part of the garden is in the south.

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Towards the south end of the garden, near the old water source, is a little souvenir and snack shop. The famous local dish of Takamatsu, of course, is Sanuki Udon, which is supposedly the best udon in Japan. As a vegan, going to noodles shops was pretty frustrating, since I would explain that I don’t eat anything with fish extract or fish stock, and request that they use kelp stock or just plain hot water, and the people at the noodle shop would say ‘no’. Apparently, most of them could not budge from using fish stock because ‘it won’t taste good without it’ even if it means losing a customer.

These underwater plants are growing in water flowing from the original water source of the garden.

These underwater plants are growing in water flowing from the original water source of the garden.

However, the lady in this little shop in the south side of the garden was able to prepare some cold Sanuki udon noodles for a vegan like me. They put the udon noodles with ice, fresh lime (which I squeezed myself), onion, toasted sesame, and a soy sauce which they assured me did not have any bonito extract/stock or any other kind of fish/seafood in it. I’m no udon connoisseur, but I did think it was pretty tasty.

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There are a number of bridges in the garden.

There is a simple wooden bridge crossing a brown stream with lush trees and other green plants on the other side.

However, the most famous bridge in the garden is the one in the photo below…

Above is a white sky.  In the background there is a hill covered with trees.  In the foreground is a gracefully curving wooden bridge, which is reflected on the surface of the pond.  Behind it, an island covered with circular little green shrubs is visible.

And from the highest point in the garden, you can look down and see this view…

At the bottom of the picture are the tops of little bonsai pine trees.  Above, further away, we see the curved wooden over the pond, with the whity sky reflected in the surface of the pond before it, and a little island covered with circular green bushes behind it.  Far in the background (yet at the top of the picture) we see a slope covered with lush trees.

A view from the highest point of the garden

I’ve been to quite a few traditional Japanese gardens – including some of the famous gardens of Kyoto, Kenroku-en in Kanezawa, Koraku-en in Okayama, and that garden next to the castle in Hikone. I would say that the best is this one, Ritsurin-en in Takamatsu. It is more beautiful, its fairly big and varied, there’s a lot to process if you get really into the commentary, and it’s not nearly as flooded with visitors as, say, Ginkakuji in Kyoto (okay, maybe that’s because I went on a slightly rainy day – but considering how good my impressions were on a slightly rainy day, imagine what I’d be saying if I visited Ritsurin Garden on a good-weather day).

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Ritsurin Garden is an obvious ‘must-visit’ for anybody who goes to Shikoku.

But I actually left out one of the best parts of this garden in this post because I am saving it for the next post. So the next post in this series will be ‘The Teahouses of Ritsurin’.

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