Art discoveries in Naoshima and more
Kagawa has the distinction of being Japan’s smallest prefecture. It’s located on the northwest corner of Shikoku facing the Seto Inland Sea. In the feudal period, the domain was known as Sanuki. The city of Takamatsu is the seat of the prefectural government. As the area of Shikoku closest to Honshu, Kagawa has always been Shikoku’s link with the central government of Japan. And so when the first bridge to link Shikoku with Honshu was built in 1988, it went to Kagawa. The Seto Ōhashi Bridge is the longest continuous bridge system in the world, and it’s a sight to be seen.
Easily accessible from Okayama, Kobe and Osaka, Kagawa has a lot to offer visitors venturing onto Shikoku for the first time. In Takamatsu itself, there’s Ritsurin Garden, one of the most famous historical gardens in Japan, with bridges over carp-filled ponds, footpaths and small hills, all redolent of the many pines that grow there. There’s also a castle which, although lacking a main keep, is a pleasant place to visit. In contrast, the castle at Marugame to the west of Takamatsu still has its original keep, although many of its other structures were destroyed one way or another.
The Buddhist monk Kūkai was born and raised in Kagawa, and he’s credited with founding the Shikoku Pilgrimage of 88 temples after visiting China to learn about esoteric Buddhism. To this day, the pilgrimage holds an important place in Japanese life. People of all ages and classes undertake the circuit of Shikoku to develop their spirituality or to cleanse themselves of some flaw. Pilgrimage temples in Kagawa include Zentsū-ji, Motoyama-ji, Yashima-ji, and Sanuki Kokubun-ji.
Kagawa is known as much for its islands in the Inland Sea as for its attractions on Shikoku. Naoshima is home to several contemporary art museums, notably the Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House, both designed by the acclaimed architect Tadao Ando. Another popular island destination is Shōdoshima. With its many olive groves, it has quite a Mediterranean appearance. It’s also home an old soy sauce factory and museum, wild monkeys, beaches, and a miniature version of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. The Kankakei Gorge on the island is something of natural wonder.
No introduction of Kagawa would be complete without mention of its udon noodles known as sanuki udon. While these white noodles are to be had all over Japan, the udon of Kagawa uses wheat with a higher protein content that gives them a special taste. The noodles are consequently served in a simple style that brings out this flavor. Japanese visit Kagawa specifically to eat these noodles. I’ve had them and they’re certainly good, but fortunately, there’s more to Sanuki than just noodles.