With Mt Bitzan soaring majestically in the west, and the Shinmachi-gawa snaking its way through the bustling capital, Tokushima is one of those Japanese prefectures you just have to visit once in your lifetime.
It’s decidedly one of those “off the beaten track” destinations, but if you venture to this undiscovered area you will be rewarded with all sorts of things to do and places to see – from quite an incredible gastronomic experience, traditional festivals, breathtaking temples, nature, and plenty of cultural experiences.
Visitors come to Torkushima every August for the renowned Awa Odori dance festival, but the festival isn’t the only thing you can do there! For those who are seeking a true Japanese experience, here are some of the top things you can do in Tokushima!
Tokushima Bucket List:
12 Best Things To Do in Japan’s Prefecture
1. See an Awa Odori Dance
There is no doubt that this is one of the top things to do in Tokushimi. Take part in Japan’s largest street party where millions of people take to the streets to celebrate this incredibly vibrant traditional festival.
The Awa Odori is, both, the name of the popular Tokushima festival and the traditional dance, the motto of the festival directly translates to “We’re fools for dancing, and you are a fool for watching, so you might as well dance!”. Let’s be honest here, who wouldn’t want to join in on a festival like that?
Dating back over 400 years, the festival easily rivals Brazil’s Carnival when it comes to the pulsating energetic vibe, the extravagant costumes and makeup, and the enthusiasm of all participants. Each August, there are official dance stages where there are “organized” dances, and then there are the streets where random groups of people can just venture off and dance at any time. Young, old, shy, outgoing – everyone joins in and everyone has a unique role in the dance routine.
Where & When: Most events happen during the morning, while the main spectacle is between 18:00 and 22:30 from the 12th to the 15th of August.
If you are not lucky enough to actually come during the festival, then you can always visit the museum located in the Awa Odori Kaikan where a dance hall is located and demonstrations of the dance take place all year long.
The show at the museum had lively music that had me moving my feel in my chair. They asked the audience to come on stage and learn the gejaraku dance and of course I had to give it a try. It was easy and fun! Plus, they awarded me with the best dancer certificate with a Japanese fan as the prize.
2. Visit a Sweets Factory
Hallelujah Sweets Kitchen takes you behind the scenes of their delicious factory to learn about the history and see how some of their most popular products are made (there are even samples!). But, the best part was the hands on experience of making my own tanuki character. My chocolate covered raccoon was a bit lopsided but I was still awarded a certificate of completion.
3. Cross the Vine Bridges of Iya Valley
West Iya Valley embodies the definition of mystical. This Japanese “hidden” valley is surrounded by misty gorges with clear rivers that run their way through the renowned thatch-roofed houses. The thing about the valley is that it’s quite remote, and specifically back then it was used as a hideout spot for refugees and warriors, so they pretty much needed a way to cross the river. That’s why they created the vine bridges.
It was the only way to link the parts of Tokushima with the hidden Iya Valley, and those swinging vine bridges stood the test of time. Daily travel and a lot of vines were used to build those magnificent (albeit quite unsteady) bridges.
You can cross two of the maintained bridges and be rewarded with incredible views as you’re nestled between lush greenery and suspended above the rushing river below.
4. Create a Masterpiece at Ai-No-Yakata Indigo Dying
While a lot of places in Japan boast their gastronomical delights, Tokushima boasts quite a unique thing – a color. Specifically, the color indigo. It was the first time for me to actually hear about a color turning into an intangible cultural asset, but indigo dyeing is one of Tokushima’s most renowned and respected traditional practices that has been kept alive for hundreds of years.
First, you can visit the museum to learn about how the craft started, the process, and the general history of the craft, and then you can actually create a piece yourself! I preferred this technique over just buying an indigo-colored souvenir from one of the shops since it felt a lot more personal to me to actually make it. You’ll take part in creating the dye from chopped up indigo leaves, learning how to create patterns and how to dry it.
At the Aizumicho Historical Museum I was able to make my own indigo blue handkerchief. We were able to select from several different patterns, I chose a pretty starburst. They then assisted me in tying rubberbands around the cloth in just the right way so after it was dunked in the dye it would have the pattern I desired. The finished product was a great souvenir!
5. Watch Puppetry at Awa Jurobe Yashiki
Nestled above the Yoshino River is a renowned mansion that secures one of Tokushimi’s most famous traditions and keeps it alive…The Awa Jurobe Yashiki is a Puppet Theater and Museum that will give you a glimpse into the city’s culture and history and entertain you at the same time.
They specialize in the ningyo joruri type of drama which is, to put it simply, an effortless mixture of puppetry, music played by an ancient Japanese instrument and narration on top of that to tell stories and classical tales that date back to the Golden Age and tell interesting historical stories.
The art has now become a UNESCO-recognized intangible cultural heritage and for good reason! Don’t expect your regular puppet show there – I’m talking life-sized puppets controlled by three people at once, cultural stories, ballads and much more.
6. See the Hiwasa Hachiman Shrine Festival
The Hiwasa Hachiman Shrine festival was a lively event where eight portable shrines were represented. We listened to the beating of the drums and followed the parade of shrines down into the water. It was enlightening to be able to participate in such a traditional part of the towns culture! We also got to try some of the street food, like Takoyaki which are ball shaped snacks filled with octopus.
7. Temple Hop in Tokushima
The 88-Temple Pilgrimage that takes place around the island of Shikoku is a 1400-km route that involves dozens of stunning temples. Luckily for you, the first 23 temples are located right in Tokushima.
My favorite of all the temples are the Ryozenji (the perfect place to meet pilgrims in their white robes and walking sticks), Tairyūji and Yakuōji. All three are equally stunning, but I’d recommend visiting Tairyūji if you only have time for one.
Ryōzen-ji was a beautiful temple where we were able to feed the fish, ring the temple bell and also pick a wish from the box. Mine was a “lessor good fortune”, which I left at the temple tied to a tree in hopes that the lessor fortune would not come true.
The Tairyuji ropeway gave us spectcular 360 degree views of Anan city in Tokushima as we rode it high up in the sky! Plus, at the top we were able to explore the stunning Tairyuji temple. The temple is #21 on the 88 temple pilgrimage. There were 117 stairs to climb to get to the main temple, but worth every one. It was stunning!
Yakuouji is temple number 23 on the pilgrimage of 88, the last of the temples in the Tokushima prefecture. Walking up the stone stairs led us to the most beautiful view of the city and water below, plus we could see the stunning Hiwasa castle from there. The grounds of the temple were so green, with moss was growing everywhere, and there were even a few crabs running around!
8. Visit Hiwasa Castle
This small castle is located right in the town of Hiwasa which is originally inside Tokushima Prefecture. The Hiwasa Castle is perched right into the mountain and is surrounded by thick vegetation, so it acts as an incredible backdrop to all your pictures!
Little of the castle’s earlier remains are there, and there is some conflict over the actual history of the castle, but the most important thing is for you to check out the Castle and learn about what little is left to be learnt about the Hachisuka clan.
9. See the Naruto Whirlpools
Prior to actually going to see the Naruto Whirlpools make a stop at the Naruto Ohashi Museum. This interactive museum makes it fun to learn about whirlpools. The best part was being able to “play the eddy”. In this room you create the illusion of a whirlpool just by touching the wall. With each touch a small round eddy appears, making the room come alive!
The Naruto Whirlpools happen under the stunning Onaruto Bridge, so the best way to see it is by sightseeing boat that you can catch at a nearby pier. We took the half hour round-trip ride and anxiously waited for a whirlpool to appear. Because this natural phenomenon can be a hit or miss, be patient and if you don’t see it the first time, try again!
10. Spot a Sea Turtle at Ohama Beach.
So far, there’s not one person I’ve met that doesn’t love turtles! The Ohama Beach is one of the top 100 beaches in Japan thanks to its powdery beach sands, but the main attraction there is the plethora of turtles that lay their eggs during the summer month. You’ll be able to se thousands of turtles laying their eggs on the beach.
If you don’t have time to do that, go at the wrong time, or want to know more – visit the Sea Turtle Museum so you can get visual images of how the turtles lay their eggs along with fun facts and more.
11. Take the Bizan Ropeway for a Ride
If there’s one thing that symbolizes the capital city of Tokushima, it would be Mt. Bizan. This iconic mountain overlooks the entire area and holds great significance in Japanese Culture.
You can explore the full mystical charm of this mountain by taking the Bizan ropeway for a ride. It departs from the fifth floor of the Awa Odori Kaikan and will take you through sweeping panoramic vistas and gorgeous views. On top of all of that, the Bizan area is very specifically romantic and has always been a popular spots among couples – so if you want a little bit of romance and stunning after-dark-sights of Japan, then you’ve come to the right place!
12. Go to the Omatsugongen Shrine
The Omatsugongen Shrine, also known as the “cat shrine”, is this wooden area that is brimming with Maneki-neko (cat statues) with some buried deep in the mountains, and some perched between lush greenery and winter flowers. The shrines each have a specialty to them – meaning that each of the shrines you’ll pass by specializes in a wish or prayer that certain different Gods are good at granting.
This shrine, for example, is perfect if you’re looking for good health or good results on exams! You can buy some charms from there that are used for health, money, safety, and much more – but the one thing I learned that I had no idea about was the fact that we had to renew them every year by buying a new one and returning the old one!
Where to Eat/Tokushima Restaurants
Tokushima Sampa Ramen is a fast food place where you will see dozens of workers lining the seats aat noon. And there’s a reason that they are all there—the ramen is delicious! A size small (which was actually quite large) costs about $6.00 and was one of the bests one I ever had. We also ordered a plate of gyoza which were crunchy on the outside, just how I like them!
Dinner was on the 14th floor of the Grand V Rio Hotel, overlooking the boats in the harbor below. It was a fancy dinner with white tableclothes and a beautiful view! We were served chicken with a trio of sauces for dipping. We were able to cook the meat ourselves on a tabletop burner, which added to the experience.
Lunch at Awa Kappo Isuzu may have been the most beautiful meal I have ever seen with lots of choices. There was eggplant tempure, pumpkin, sea bream fish, sardines and so much more. The setting of lunch was aspretty as food. We sat on tatami mat floors in our own private room!
Dinner at Ichigo was held in a pretty private room with sliding shōji doors for extra seclusion. There was quite a selection of foods; seared tuna, fresh shashimi and a tender steak that we got to cook on our own personal tabletop burner. Plus, I ordered a glass of wine that they served in the cutest little jar with a pop-top lid!
Odori was a farm to table restaurant that specializes in local chicken dishes. Inside the restaurant even had a little store section that sold some handmade goods. I ordered the traditional Oyakodon dish whose name means “parent-and-child” because it is made with chicken and egg. It was delicious and I can see why it is a very popular dish in Japan!
Where to Sleep/Tokushima Hotels
Hotel Sun Ocean
My room at Hotel Sun Ocean was so cozy room and had a small bathroom that had everything I needed. For breakfast there was a choice of Japanese or European. I chose the latter of the two and got to cook my own eggs on a tabletop burner, so I could make them just like I like them!
Tokushima Grandvrio Hotel
The room at GrandVRio Hotel was nice, but not too formal so you could truly feel comfortable. The breakfast buffet had a very large selection of both western and Japanese food. There was something for everyone! And the view from the breakfast buffet was overlooking the harbor.
Spend your time enjoying the leafy suburbs of Tokushima, its temples, scenery, cultural heritages and of course – its crazy dance tradition! Your trip is guaranteed to be different than anything you’ve experienced
Due to the language barrier, Tokushima can be tricky to get around, so it is best to hire a guide or book a tour. You can find some here.