Kankakei Gorge 寒霞渓, 小豆島
Formed over two million years by the upthrusting and folding of the earth's mantle combined with erosion by wind and water, the result is a dramatic landscape of sheer cliffs and evocative rock formations.
Situated in the middle of the island on the slopes of Mount Hoshigajyo, at 816 meters both the highest point of the island and the highest point in the Inland Sea, the gorge offers fantastic views all year round, but with its profusion of maple trees is particularly popular during the autumn color season.
The best way to view and experience the gorge is by the ropeway. The lower station, Kountei, is at 295 meters elevation, and the ropeway whisks you almost a kilometer to the upper station at 612 meters in just six minutes.
Along the way you pass right by sheer cliffs. At the upper station there are cafes, restaurants, and gift shops and also many viewing platforms looking over the gorge and the surrounding island and all the way over to Shikoku.
The upper station is easily reachable by hire car along the scenic skyline road and in fact most of the tour buses drop the passengers here and they then ride the ropeway down and back up.
For anyone wanting to hike, there is a trail that goes all the way up to the two peaks still 200 meters higher. The entrance is through the torii, Shinto gate, that is easily visible. The trail, about 2km in length, passes several small shrines and the two peaks have scattered remains of a 14th century "castle." From the highest points the views are tremendous. There is a small shrine here, Azuki Shrine, that enshrines Onudehime, the spirit of the island. According the the ancient myths recorded in the 7th century Kojiki, Shodoshima, known then as Azukishima, was the tenth of the Japanese islands created by Izanagi and Izanami.
From the Upper station of the ropeway there are two hiking trails back down, the West/Front trail about two kilometers long and the East/Back trail longer at about three kilometers.
Both trails are steep but not difficult, and obviously going down is quicker than coming up. The west trail heads along the rim passing several scenic viewing platforms before dropping down.
The lower half of the trail is pretty much underneath the ropeway. Along the route signs point out the views of rock formations with names such as Toad Rock, Layered Cloud Altar, Red Cloud Pavilion.
The trail ends at the lower station of the ropeway, although it does continue on down another couple of kilometers if you want to keep walking. The east trail starts behind the shops at the upper station and immediately starts descending steeply. It also has some viewpoints, but about halfway down you pass underneath a natural stone bridge, the Sekimon, "stone gate" and are then in Sekimon Temple, one of the cave temples of Shodoshima and highly recommended to visit.
The trail ends about one kilometer from the lower station at the Inotani bus stop. Another cave temple, Hotogekataki, is just 200 meters away.
The Ropeway runs all year round, from 8.30am to 5pm, though during the fall colors' season it starts 30 minutes earlier, and in the winter it closes 30 minutes earlier. Departures are five times an hour, though in the peak season of fall colors ten times an hour. One way fare is 750 yen.
Access to Kankakei Gorge is, like most places on Shodoshima, most convenient by car. On weekends and national holidays there is a bus four times a day from Kusukabe Port to the lower ropeway station, though it does not run from early December until March. The fare is 360 yen. A taxi from Kusakabe Port is 2,500 yen.