Sunday, 20 February 2011

Shikoku: Naruto's Whirpools and Takamatsu's Old Village

Last Friday was my favourite kind of national holiday - the kind that latches on to a weekend, giving me freedom to travel a little further out of Hamamatsu than I normally could. Japan is made up of four main islands, and so far - other than my soujourn to Hachijo-jima - I had not been off Honshu, the main island. For a long time, Jeff had wanted to visit another of the islands, in particular Shikoku. I didn't know much about Shikoku, other than that Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shorewas set in the very city that we would later stay in...
Armed with the internet and zero knowledge, I set about planning a 3-day trip. Unfortunately, time and money wouldn't allow us to travel too far into the depths of Shikoku, but we did manage to skim the surface while visiting two other cities on Honshuu on the journey. The plan - travel to Kobe on the Thursday night after work and stay at a hotel. The next day, we would take a bus from Kobe to Naruto, at the closest point of Shikoku. Here, we would marvel at Naruto's "famous" whirpools for a while before heading to Takamatsu (where Kafka is mainly set!). We would stay there for one night, and spend a part of the next day on Naoshima, a small island famous for art. From there we would travel up to Okayama and stay there for a night (I liked the look of the castle) before heading back our separate ways on Sunday.
So, Thursday came and off we went. Meeting in Maibara, we were in Kyoto by around 9pm. Using the JR trains all the way from Hamamatsu would normally take about 5 hours, but I was lazy and decided to splash out on the shinkansen to Maibara, before continuing on the JR trains. We walked around Sannomiya for a while, but to be honest there doesn't seem to be that much to do there. We spent some money in an izakaya, and Jeff showed me their "famous" flower clock... which, to be honest, was nowhere near as awesome as the totem pole lurking behind it! It was raining so we didn't stay out for long. 

Flower clock....

...And Totem Pole!

The next morning, we took the JR bus from outside the station down to Naruto. The journey took around 2 hours (to 鳴門公園入り口 - Naruto Kouen Iriguchi, or Naruto Park Entrance) and cost 2750円. You can buy these tickets from most train stations - some have small green windows saying "Tickets", larger ones have entire rooms full of ticket counters. Just ask for a JR Bus ticket, tell them from where to where (this was from Sannomiya, Kobe, but you can get the same bus from Osaka). They will ask which date, how many people, what time etc and give you a choice of times. I'm pretty sure that you can do this with zero Japanese, as "JR Bus" and station names will be understood, and dates/prices/people numbers can be written down to make it easier to understand... plus a lot of station staff speak some English (in Hamamatsu, anyway). 
Now, on a clear day, at around the right time, when the moon is either full or new... Naruto Whirpools are a sight to behold... at least, the pictures that I saw told me this. Unfortunately we arrived on a cloudy, rainy day in the middle of the moon's waxing (I think). Still, it was interesting... in a way! That bus stop that we chose dumped us in the middle of a highway, or so it seemed. From there, there was only really one way to go, and that was up some stairs which landed us right outside the Whirlpool Museum. 800円 bought us a ticket for both the museum and the whirpool walkway (a walkway that goes under the bridge connecting Shikoku to the next island). 
The museum provided a good 15 minutes of fun, although it felt as if its creators had been grasping at straws when they designed it. As well as "bridge simulations", they boasted photos of Shikoku's bridges, Japan's bridges, and then the WORLD's bridges, as well as a few lonely fish, a fishing simulator and a video (in Japanese) about whirpools. Oh, let's not forget "other things in nature that are spirals" - shells, galaxies, you know... 

What they're SUPPOSED
to look like!
The most surprising thing in Naruto was the enthusiasm and skill that we encountered with regards to people's English. Outside the museum was a lovely little woman who could barely contain her excitement at speaking English to us, even when we asked her questions in Japanese. She was good, too - she successfully directed us to the whirpool walkway, and later to the bus stop. At the entrance to the whirpool walkway we were greeted by a very enthusiastic man, who busted out his English and welcomed us with origami and postcards. As we walked along the slippery, freezing cold walkway (which is not sheltered from the elements), failing to spot any whirlpools, another employee began tripping over himself - literally (we were worried that he'd injured his leg for a moment), showing us pictures of the whirpools "in action" and displaying an impressive level of English ability. 

A couple of hours here was enough for us, and so we headed to the bus stop. Arriving at Naruto Train station (the bus ride is 5-10 minutes), we found that we had just missed the train to Takamatsu and that they only run every hour! If you are planning on going... that's pretty much on the hour. Naruto doesn't seem to be bustling with possibilities, but crossing the tracks we found a shopping centre with a "food court" (well, フードコート)on the 4th floor. In reality it was one food shop surrounded by arcade machines, but they sold udon, curries, crepes and coffees. Shikoku is apparently famous for udon, and while I don't really buy into the whole "X food is better in X prefecture" thing, I tried some tempura udon with a mocha.. not bad! The man who served us tried to bust out some English, too, but I beat him too it with my ninja-like Japanese language skills, wowing him until he inevitably went beyond my level of understanding and confused me. Ah well!
Takamatsu was either an hour away for 2000+円 or 2-3 hours away for 1000円, so we opted for saving time instead of money. The first "leg" of the journey was on a tiny train, stopping at a station with only one track.. cute!! The scenery was all beautiful, snow-covered traditional houses and fields, the frost-sprinkled, rocky mountains glittering intriguingly in the background. We were soon there, and decided that - as it was only 2.30 or so - to visit Shikoku Mura.

There are two ways to get to Shikoku Mura - by taking the JR train to Yashima, or by crossing the road from the station to the smaller, Takamatsu Chikko Station and taking the train to . The latter runs much more regularly, so that's what we did. On exiting the station, you will see a big map. Turn right, and then at the first main turning, head left towards Yashima (big strange mountain!), following the red 四国村 signs until you see this:

Yashima. The Shikoku Mura entrance is just right of this shrine.

Shikoku Mura is an outdoor museum, a walk through the ancient times of Japan. You'll see traditional houses, mills, fisherman's homes, even a vine bridge and a waterfall. On a snowy day, some of the paths are a little dangerous, but we were almost the only people there and it's a pleasant, fun way to spend an hour or so. 

A nice view of the area (and an anchor)

If you're wondering, I found out about Naruto's whirpools and Takamatsu's Shikoku Mura from - take a look! 
Afterwards, we took the train to Kawaramachi, home to sprawling indoor shopping streets. Takamatsu may be famous for udon - and we saw plenty of udon places. However, what really caught our eye was an Indian restaurant. Later on, full of curry, we headed to a hotel. 

The Next Day: The Art Island and Okayama


  1. what an amazing place!
    I was in that area in October 2009, and I just love reading about it and...dreaming I could go back.
    Enjoy reading about your Japanese adventure...:-))

  2. Cool to read this, Gwynnie! :)