If you’re planning a trip around Shikoku, Tokushima is a natural starting point – partly because of easy transport links from Honshu, and partly because it’s also the start of the island’s traditional circular pilgrimage route. It’s a great place to fight off the jet-lag, see some beautiful temples, and make the most of tasty food and drink.

Arriving and Transport

There are a few ways into Tokushima. The city has an airport served by domestic flights, with around 12 each day from Tokyo’s Haneda (on ANA and JAL). The closest international airport is Kansai International (KIX), just across to the east, from where you can use the KATE bus service which takes a little under three hours. Alternatively, the Nankai ferry sails from Wakayama (a train ride south of the airport) several times a day, taking about two hours.
Or, finally, you could drive. My trip around Shikoku is the only time I’ve ever relied entirely on a car for day to day travel – not so much to reach Tokushima, but in order to visit remoter locations later on. If you do drive in (see car rental informataion here) there are public car parks near the station, and some hotels have parking – expect to pay between 500 and 1000yen per night.

Things to See

Tokushima feels surprisingly small, especially as you walk out from the station area, across the river and intersect the small covered shopping district (look out for the giant fibreglass monkey climbing one of the buildings…) – it’s more town than city. But there are plenty of things to see nearby.
The main draw for most visitors to Tokushima is outside the town. The first three temples of the 88 temple Shikoku pilgrimage route are in the Naruto region, and can be reached via a short trip on the local train to Bando (it’s on the Koutoku line to Takamatsu). You can start at the Ryouzenji (霊山寺) and then walk on from there via a clearly marked route.
The temples are worth a visit – not so much to see the temples themselves, but to see the pilgrims (Henro – 遍路) – dressed in white smocks and hats, many with walking sticks, starting their long trail.
You’ll see buses carrying groups around, but also lone walkers – driving around Shikoku, we’d often pass a long pilgrim on the road, feet wrapped in plastic bags against the rain.
After walking from temple to temple there’s no need to return to Bando – just head to the nearest local station on the tracks, which run East-West alongside your route, and back into Tokushima.
Back in town, on the far side of the railway tracks you’ll find the ruins of the castle, now a small park. In summer, or hanami season, I’d imagine this to be a lovely place to spend some time – in the pouring rain in March, a little less so.
.. and then we had to visit Tokushima’s main tourist draw, the ropeway up mount Bizan. This cable-car system closes ridiculously early – last car down around 5.30 – so sadly you can’t watch the sunset. Not that we could see much anyhow:
.. as you can imagine, the staff were slightly bemused by our visit. At the top there’s a local museum, a number of television masts, and some sort of strange abandoned pagoda:
.. so let’s just say it’s probably more worth visiting in the sunshine, and leave it at that.

Eating, Drinking, Staying

Fortunately, what Tokushima in March lacked in scenic mountain views, it made up for in food. If you head straight out from the station, cross the bridge, then look to your left down the boardwalk area, you’ll see Awa – a lovely little microbrewery pub with several beers on tap, nice bar snacks and even pizza, if you fancy pizza.
For more food options, walk down the river – pass the first bridge, then turn right at the second. This takes you into a district packed with restaurants; we stumbled into some excellent sushi at a Tachikichi (look for the row of shops with white awnings, on the right – small sushi shop with a counter) and also udon somewhere deeper into the town.
If you’re around the station area at lunchtime, there’s a great recommendation from Lonely Planet – YRG Cafe. This small, trendy place serves fantastic lunch sets and ludicrously huge cakes – it’s near the train tracks to the south-East of the station.
When it comes to accommodation, we stayed in the Sunroute hotel, which is right by the station and exactly as cheap, clean and identical to its siblings as I’ve come to expect. It also has parking. There’s also a Toyoko inn and the Hotel Clement nearby.