It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Tokushima (徳島県).
Tokushima Prefecture is located on the island of Shikoku (四国), the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. The capital is Tokushima (徳島市). Thanks to Zooming Japan, Japan Australia and Artemis for contributing to this week’s post with lots of great ideas! I’ve not been to Tokushima Prefecture yet, but I will be visiting soon. My plan is to take the highway bus from Kobe all the way across Awaji Island (pictured above, top right) to Tokushima, which should take about 2 hours. I’m hoping it’s going to be an interesting and picturesque journey – we’ll see!
Tokushima Prefecture and Tokushima City are most famous for the Awa Odori (阿波おどり) (‘Awa’ is the former name of Tokushima Prefecture). The Awa Odori is a dance festival which takes place in August during Obon (お盆), the summer festival in honour of one’s ancestors. The Awa Odori’s nickname is ‘fool’s dance’, which comes from the lyrics to one of the common songs: “Fools dance and fools watch, if both are fools, you might as well dance“. It reminds me of the famous quote “those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music“.
Between 12th and 15th August the festival takes place in Tokushima and dancing can be seen throughout the nights. However, even if you’re not lucky enough to visit Tokushima at this time of year, you can still see the Awa Odori being performed at the Awa Odori Kaikan (阿波おどり会館) throughout the year. The Awa Odori Kaikan is a dance hall where demonstrations are held several times a day. I’m certainly adding that to my list for when I visit Tokushima!
Also located in the Awa Odori Kaikan building is the lower station of the ropeway leading up to Mount Bizan (眉山). The kanji used for ‘Bizan’ (眉) means ‘eyebrow’, and it is said that the reason for this is that the mountain looks like an eyebrow from all views. Mount Bizan is the symbol of Tokushima City, and it is known for its night view.
When I travel to Tokushima I will cross the Onaruto Bridge (大鳴門橋). I’m not sure if I will be able to see from the bus, but this area is known for the Naruto whirlpools (鳴門の渦潮) which are caused by tidal currents between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean passing over undersea ridges under the Span, causing very strong eddy currents, some of which make large, deep whirlpools (source). The whirlpools occur roughly every six hours, and they vary in size (sometimes being up to 20 metres in diameter). There are sightseeing cruises you can take to go and see the whirlpools, and there is also an enclosed walkway called Uzu no Michi (渦の道) which allows you to observe the whirlpools from glass windows set in the floor.
The city of Naruto (鳴門市) is also known as the starting point of the Shikoku Pilgrimage (四国遍路 / Shikoku Henro) which leads around the island to visit 88 temples across Shikoku associated with the famous Buddhist monk, Kobo Daishi (弘法大師), or Kukai (空海), the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Ryozenji (霊山寺) is the first temple along the pilgrimage. It would take about two months to visit all of the temples on foot… and I can’t tell you how much I wish I had two months to try that! Although Ryozenji is the first temple of the 88 on the pilgrimage, many pilgrims start or finish their pilgrimages with a visit to Mount Koya (高野山) in Wakayama Prefecture, as this is the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism and the site of Kobo Daishi’s “eternal meditation”.
Finally, a place I wish I could visit in Tokushima Prefecture is the Iya Valley (祖谷渓). I won’t be able to go there as I’m going in winter and the tourist buses don’t run at this time of year (and I don’t drive), but if I have the chance to go back in another season I will definitely go! The Iya Valley is a mountainous area most known for its deep rocky gorges and vine bridges. There are three vine bridges (traditionally used to cross the gorges) that are preserved today for tourists, and the most popular of these is Kazurabashi (かずら橋). This is also the largest of the remaining bridges, stretching 45 metres across the Iya River. The bridge is rebuilt every three years for safety, but I still think I would feel pretty queasy if I crossed it!
Bizarrely, one of the famous sights in this area is the Manikin Peeing Boy Statue which can be found on the top of a 200 metre high cliff, just a few steps from the Iya Onsen Hotel. Accordingly to folklore, passing travellers would climb this cliff to pee off it as a testament to their bravery. These days there is a railing to discourage visitors from attempting this!
The Omiyage Section
Tokushima Prefecture has a few famous souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ). The area is known for Awa Indigo dyed textiles. Tokushima actually produces almost all the natural indigo used for dyeing in Japan. In 1968 the Awa Indigo dyeing methods were designated as one of Tokushima’s intangible cultural assets. Awa handmade paper is another traditional souvenir which can be found in Tokushima. Paper has been made in Tokushima since the late 16th century. Tokushima is also known for bamboo crafts, in particular Awa Odori bamboo dolls which are made using locally grown bamboo. I like the look of these! Food-wise, Tokushima is famous for its strawberries and sudachi, a small round green citrus fruit with a lime-like flavour. Another popular local treat is Naruto Kintoki, a kind of sweet potato eaten cooked or used to make sweets.
Next week I will be writing about Kagawa (香川県). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!