Cruisers’ Guide to Japan

Cruiser’s Guide to Japan

Regions of Japan

There are several different ways to label the geographical regions of Japan. For the purposes of cruising, we will break down Japan into ten regions: Hokkaidō, Tōhoku, Hokuriku, Kantō, Chūbu, Kinki, Chūgoku, Shikoku, Kyūshū, and Okinawa. We hope the information will help the reader prepare for their cruises to Japan.

Shikoku REGION

Shikoku Island is the smallest of Japan’s main islands.

It includes the prefectures of Ehime, Kochi, Kagawa and Tokushima. The island is probably most famous for the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Pilgrimages have played an important part in Japanese religion since at least the Heian period (794-1185) taking devotees to various sacred sites.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a multi-site pilgrimage of 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi). The journey has a long history that has become woven into the culture of the area. Even today, you may spot one or more of the pilgrims, dressed in their distinctive garb, anywhere along the standard walking course of approximately 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) long. The pilgrimage can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days to complete.

Ehime Prefecture is located in northwestern Shikoku, Japan; the capital is Matsuyama.

Ehime faces the Seto Inland Sea to the north and is bordered by Kagawa and Tokushima in the east and Kōchi in the south. The prefecture includes both high mountains in the inland region and a long coastline, with many islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Since before the Heian period, the area was dominated by fishermen and sailors who played an important role in defending Japan against pirates and Mongolian invasions.

The coastal areas around Imabari and Saijō host a number of industries, including the dockyards of Japan's largest shipbuilder, Imabari Shipbuilding.

Rural areas mostly engage in agricultural and fishing industries, and they are known for citrus fruits such as mikan (tangerine and for cultured pearls. The oldest hot spring in Japan, Dogo Onsen, is located in Matsuyama. It has been used for over two thousand years.

Kōchi Prefecture is located on the southwestern coast of Shikoku facing the Pacific Ocean.

It is bordered by Ehime to the northwest and Tokushima to the northeast. It is the largest but least populous of Shikoku's four prefectures. The capital is the city of Kōchi. Kōchi City is also the birthplace of the noted revolutionary Sakamoto Ryōma (1835 – 1867), and memorials to him can be found throughout the area, including a museum dedicated to him. Before he was murdered Ryōma negotiated the alliance between the Satsuma and Chōshū that eventually led to the demise of the shogunate and ushered in Japan’s period of rapid modernization. Kōchi is also home to the Yasakoi (Yosakoi per below)Festival in August where thousands dressed in yukata (summer cotton kimonos) and happi coats dance and sing with wooden clappers. (a picture of the Yosakoi Festival) Kōchi Castle is one of only 12 original castles left in Japan. Although no battles were fought at the castle, it is prized because the castle is the original structure, and not a post-war concrete replica. It is the only castle in Japan to retain both its original keep, its palace, and all the original buildings in the innermost ring of defense still standing.

Katsurahama is the scenic coastline over which a tall bronze station of Sakamoto Ryōma stands.

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Kagawa comprises the northeast corner of Shikoku, bordering Ehime Prefecture on the west and Tokushima Prefecture on the south, with a coastline on the Seto Inland Sea facing Okayama Prefecture and Kansai.

The Sanuki Mountains run along the southern border. Kagawa is currently the smallest prefecture, by area, in Japan.

The capital is Takamatsu—considered the gateway to Shikoku Island. The city is also the main setting of the book Kafka on the Shore by Japan’s famous author, Haruki Murakami. The most famous local food of Kagawa Prefecture is sanuki udon. Other local specialties sōmen noodles and soy sauce.

Tokushima Prefecture’s capital is the city of Tokushima.

Its main industries are agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Rice fields occupy the lower region of the Yoshino River and the small, narrow plains along the shore. Much of the remaining land is used for vegetables and flowers. Produce from Tokushima always commands top prices in markets in the Kansai region and particularly prominent are Naruto sweet potatoes, the citrus fruit "sudachi," lotus roots and strawberries. Tokushima is the only place where Japanese indigo is produced.

Northern Tokushima's growth was accelerated by the completion of the Akashi Channel Bridge, which completes the road connection from Tokushima to Kobe.

Tokushima’s biggest claim to fame, however, is the Awa Dance Festival, which is held in mid-August as part of the Obon festival.

It is the largest dance festival in Japan, attracting over 1.3 million tourists every year. Groups of choreographed dancers and musicians parade through the streets, typically accompanied by the shamisen lute, taiko drums, shinobue flute and the kane bell. Performers wear traditional obon dance costumes, and chant and sing as they parade through the streets. The Awa-Odori is characterized by irregular steps and by the lively and energetic up-tempo rhythm. Separated into groups of men and women, the dancers parade through the city while dancing to music played on drums, gongs used when praying to Buddha and at festivals, three-stringed Japanese musical instruments, and flutes. The basic rule of this dance is to move your right arm forward with your right leg and your left arm forward with your left leg in turns to the two-beat rhythm.

The Naruto whirlpools are tidal whirlpools in the Naruto Strait, a channel between Naruto in Tokushima and Awaji Island in Hyōgo.

The strait is one of the connections between the Pacific Ocean and the Inland Sea. Due to the narrowness of the strait, the water rushes through the Naruto (Strait?) channel four times a day, twice flowing in and twice flowing out. The current in the strait is the fastest in Japan and the fourth fastest in the world. The whirlpools can be observed from ships, or from the Naruto Bridge spanning the strait. A good view is also possible from the shore on Awaji island.

The Shikoku region is host to six different port cities, listed below with important cruise ports noted with an asterisk:

  • Imabari, Ehime prefecture
  • Kochi*, Kochi prefecture (2016 population - 335,767)
  • Matsuyama*, Ehime prefecture (2016 population - 514,213, Shikoku’s largest city)
  • Sukumo, Kochi prefecture
  • Takamatsu, Kagawa prefecture
  • Tokushima-Komatsushima* in Komatsushima City, Tokushima prefecture (2016 population - 38,455)
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