Four corners: Shikoku Garden

Four corners: Shikoku Garden
Four corners: Shikoku Garden

Of the foremost quartet of islands that make up Japan, I have visited three: Hanshu (Tokyo and Kyoto), Kyushu (Kagoshima and Fukuoka), and Hokkaido (snow festival!). Yesterday I tripped across the bay to Shikoku, the daintiest of the four.

The ocean liner train sailed over a mammoth suspension bridge, opening up vistas of intricate coastline and miniature islets. Just an hour’s journey landed me in Takamatsu, home of the Ritsurin Kouen – one of Japan’s loveliest and most historic gardens.

Constructed over centuries for leisure and duck hunting, Ritsurin boasts maple, pine, azaelas, water lilies and sakura — no chestnuts, though that is the literal translation of its name.

I refreshed myself at a teahouse where a crown prince lodged for four days, then reserved a ride on a craft akin to the skiffs of Oxford and Cambridge – though in Japanese, they pronounce the word as they do for the massive vessels that ferried me from Tokunoshima to Yoron every month.

My guide handed me the English cliffnotes flyer and gamely entertained my conversational efforts. We taught each other “turtle” in Japanese and English, remarked on the seasonal variations, marveled at the garden’s bonsai now grown into full-fledged trees.

I had hoped to join a laquer-ware workshop that afternoon but, alas, the studio wasn’t offering it that day. Contenting myself with a bowl of the local favorite, sanuki udon, I bid Shikoku farewell. At the station, the staff most generously waved me onto a train seconds form departing, so that I returned home in time for much-needed rest.

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