Even before the Seto Ōhashi connected Shikoku’s rail network with Honshū, the port of TAKAMATSU (高松), capital of Kagawa-ken, was a major gateway into the island. Warlord Chikamasa Ikoma built his castle here in 1588, but the city and surrounding area’s history go back a long way before that. The priest and mystic Kōbō Daishi was born in the prefecture, the banished Emperor Sutoku was murdered here in 1164 and, 21 years later, the Taira and Minamoto clans clashed at nearby Yashima. In air raids during World War II, Chikamasa’s castle was virtually destroyed, along with most of the city.

Today, Takamatsu is a sprawling but fairly attractive cosmopolitan city of 420,000 inhabitants, peppered with covered shopping arcades and designer stores. As twenty-first-century as all this is, the city’s star attraction remains Ritsurin-kōen, one of Japan’s most classical, spacious and beautifully designed gardens. The gardens are easily accessible on a day-trip from Honshū, but it’s well worth staying overnight so you can also take in Shikoku Mura, the open-air museum of traditional houses at Yashima, or Kotohira-gū, the ancient shrine an hour’s train ride west of the city. Takamatsu is also a gateway to two of the most appealing islands in the Inland Sea: Shōdo-shima, a mini-Shikoku with its own temple circuit and scenic attractions; and delightful Naoshima, a must for contemporary art and architecture fans with several outstanding galleries designed by Andō Tadao.

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