Japan // Shikoku //

Hiwasa and around

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Picturesque HIWASA (日和佐), 55km south of Tokushima, is worth pausing at for its intriguing temple, quaint harbour and pretty beach. Yakuō-ji (薬王寺), the 23rd temple on the Shikoku pilgrimage, is on the hillside as you pull into the train station; the temple’s base is surrounded by hotels and gift shops catering to the hordes of pilgrims who regularly pass through. Climbing the steps to the main temple, you can’t fail to notice lots of ¥1 coins on the ground: some pilgrims place a coin on each step for luck as they head up. At the top of the steps is the main temple area, whose buildings date from 815 AD and where there’s a striking statue of a goddess carrying a basket of fish and flanked by lotus blooms. Off to the right is a more recently built single-storey pagoda. There’s a good view of Hiwasa’s harbour from the platform, but the highlight here is to descend into the pagoda’s darkened basement, where for ¥100 you can fumble your way around a pitch-black circular corridor to a central gallery containing Brueghel-like painted depictions of all the tortures of hell. In a second gallery is a long scroll showing the steady decay of a beautiful, but dead, young woman.

About 1km south of the harbour, the reconstructed castle Hiwasa-jō (日和佐城) is only worth visiting for its impressive view of the town. The better option is to head directly to Ōhama beach, north of the harbour, where turtles lay their eggs between May and August. During this time, the beach is roped off and spectators must watch the action from a distance. For a closer look at the turtles, make your way to the Sea Turtle Museum at Umigame Hakubutsukan Karetta (うみがめ博物館カレッタ), beside the beach. The displays are mainly in Japanese, but are very visual, with step-by-step photos of turtles laying eggs; you can also see some turtles swimming in indoor and outdoor pools.

The popular surfing spot of KAIFU (海部), 26km south of Hiwasa, is where the JR train line ends and is replaced with the private Asa Kaigan railway. You’ll nearly always have to change trains here to continue toward the southern cape (simply cross over to the opposite platform). Even if you don’t, you’ll have to pay ¥270 extra to travel the remaining two stops – the first is SHISHIKUI (宍喰), Tokushima’s top surf beach, where there’s a good range of accommodation including the reasonable Kokuminshukusha Mitoko-sō (国民宿舎みとこ荘). The end of the line is KANNOURA (甲浦), a sleepy village with a pleasant stretch of gravelly sand framed with rocky outcrops.