On our Hiker’s Journey to Shikoku, travelers follow a pilgrimage route originated by the Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi, explore venerated temples and a feudal-era castle, climb one of Shikoku’s highest peaks, and discover the remote Iya Valley, with its vine bridges and 300-year-old thatched farmhouses. Below, ten-time adventurer Michael Koberda shares some photos from his recent WT trip.
My wife Anna and I travel a lot, but the Hiker’s Journey to Shikoku in October 2017 was our first trip to Asia. We were prepared for new experiences, and yet Japan still felt even more exotic than we’d imagined—in the most positive sense.
During our days in Kyoto, we visited ancient sites like the Fushimi-Inari , where more than 10,000 vibrant orange torii gates line the walkways. The fall colors on the maple trees were just beginning to change while we were there.
From Kyoto, we headed to Shikoku, a small island of steep mountains and green valleys. It seemed like another world compared to the bustling cities of Tokyo and Osaka. It was extraordinary to hike through ancient forests and visit some of the many temples that adorn the island.
During one of our hikes in the Iya Valley, we crossed a, a woven vine bridge, suspended over the river. These bridges were once made entirely of vines that could be chopped down to evade pursuing enemies. (Luckily, they are now reinforced with some steel beams!)
One of the distinctive aspects of Japan is its cuisine—you cannot possibly go hungry in this gastronomic paradise, even if you are not skilled in using chopsticks. The food is incredible, with so many different flavors and textures. We ate lots of fish and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways; the photo above shows a traditional breakfast.
Some days were cloudy during our hikes, while others were bright and sunny. Here is our group at a lookout in Shikoku.
Another distinctive aspect of Japan is the beautiful gardens, some meticulously landscaped with rocks and pebbles raked in intricate designs; others full of ponds, lush greenery, and colorful plants. This one in particular is the largest rock garden (or zen garden) in all of Japan.
We saw many Buddhist temples, both big and small, and they were all unique and beautiful. In Koyasan alone, there are more than 100 temples, and the Shikoku pilgrim route is connected by 88 temples. Here is a look inside Zentsui-ji, temple No. 75 on Shikoku, where Kobo Daishi was born.
This was a truly memorable trip; we keep talking to our friends about it and will probably continue to do so for a long time.
—Photos by 10-time WT Adventurer Michael Koberda, Hiker’s Journey to Shikoku.