Kagawa’s rich cultural history comes to the fore in a wealth of must-see attractions, including a castle that is truly special among the many dotted across Japan. Visitors can step inside a pre-war school classroom at The Kagawa Museum, or enjoy making their own paper-and-bamboo fan Marugame’s Uchiwa no Minato Museum. At Zentsu-ji temple meanwhile, the most enchanting ‘sight’ actually involves being plunged into total darkness!
Make a fan at the Uchiwa no Minato Museum
Uchiwa no Minato Museum
Uchiwa are the traditional bamboo-and-paper hand fans that at the height of summer are still used all over Japan, especially at festival time. They are said to have originated in the western Kagawa city of Marugame where they were used by pilgrims visiting Kotohira-gu shrine. The city now produces around 90% of Japan’s authentic uchiwa (excluding the plastic variety often handed out as promotional goods), and is home to this dedicated museum where visitors can make their own unique fan (admission is free, with uchiwa making costing 700 yen per visitor).
Get deeply contemplative at Zentsu-ji
Zentsu-ji is one of the most revered sites in Japanese Buddhism, being the birthplace of the high priest Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai) in 774 AD. Kobo Daishi went on to both enlarge the temple and found the Shingon school of Buddhism, and after his death his followers established the 88-temple ‘Shikoku Henro’ pilgrimage around the island. The pilgrimage is still highly popular today, with Zentsu-ji being the 75th temple on the circuit. Highlights here include a five-story pagoda and a camphor tree said to be as old as Kobo Daishi himself. Most enigmatic of all is a 100m tunnel which, though being lined with Buddhist artifacts and imagery, is kept eternally in pitch darkness.
Feel dwarfed by Marugame Castle’s walls
This historic castle, dating back to 1644, is a spectacle of scale: though the castle itself is a very modest three stories high, it is dwarfed by its own towering stone walls that measure around 60 meters in height. Marugame Castle is also one of only 12 castles in Japan that retain their original wooden tower, and it offers a superb view across the city and out to the Seto Inland Sea. In the winter months (late November to early February) the formidable castle walls are illuminated to delightful effect.
Marvel at the Great Seto Ohashi Bridge
See the Great Seto Ohashi Bridge
This magnificent construction, spanning Kagawa and Okayama prefectures and connecting the island of Shikoku with mainland Honshu, is the world’s longest two-tier bridge. Five small islands in the Seto Inland Sea are used as ‘stepping stones’ in the bridge’s 13.1km journey. If coming to Kagawa by train or road you will cross the bridge and enjoy a spectacular view over the sea, but the Great Seto Ohashi Bridge is also well worth admiring from a distance. Superior vantage points for taking in the sight include Marugame Castle, and the bridge’s own Seto Ohashi Memorial Park which features an observation tower.
Step back in time at The Kagawa Museum
Kagawa Prefectural Museum
Kagawa boasts a whole host of specialist museums, but for those on a shorter visit, this eponymous museum brings the region’s history and culture into concise focus at a single spot. Highly immersive installations include reconstructions of a typical postwar-era residence, and of the 1920s-30s elementary school classroom featured in Twenty Four Eyes, a classic film set on Shodoshima. Going further back in time, exhibits trace Kagawa’s roots in the Jomon age (14,000-300 BC) and onwards through Takamatsu’s development as a feudal castle town. The Kagawa Museum also hosts exhibitions of international modern art.