Tokushima is a pleasant coastal city and the prefectural capital of Tokushima Prefecture on the eastern side of Shikoku Island. Tokushima is best-known for its amazing summer dance festival - the Awa Odori (Awa was the prefecture's old name.) - when over a million people gather in this city of about 270,000 people to participate in the 4-day street dancing from August 12-15 every year.
Tokushima is also the starting point for the "88 Sacred Temple" Shikoku Pilgrimage, from Ryozenji Temple.
The 290 meter-high Mt. Bizan in the middle of Tokushima City provides a great birdseye view of the city and its surrounds.
The nearby Naruto Whirlpools and the onsens in Kamiyama to the south-west of Tokushima are also popular spots.
The Awa Odori Kaikan (Tel: 611 1611; open daily 9am-5pm; closed 2nd & 4th Wed. of the month) is Tokushima's main sightseeing attraction, especially if you cannot make the big communal dance event in the Obon period in August.
The five-storey museum building has exhibits relating to the Awa Odori event, including daily dance performances on the second floor, electronic dance machines where you can try out the fancy footwork, posters advertising the dance going back through the years, and exhibits of the happi coats and straw hats worn by the dancers. The fifth floor has a ropeway station to the top of Mount Bizan (610 yen one-way).
The Awa Odori supposedly dates back to 1587, when the local lord Hachisuka Iemasa, kicked off the celebration on the completion of his castle. The castle is no longer standing, but the party has continued. The dancers' famous refrain as they samba their way through the streets can be roughly translated as: "The dancing fool and the watching fool are both foolish. So why not get up and dance?"
Ride the ropeway or walk up Mount Bizan for wonderful views of the Yoshino River delta, and Awaji Island and the Inland Sea. On the summit is a Burmese-style pagoda dedicated to Japanese soldiers killed in Burma in World War II, and the quirky Moraes Hall (Tel: 088 623 1002), dedicated to the Portuguese adventurer Wenceslau de Moraes (1854-1929), who lived out his later life in the area. Moraes is considered the "Portuguese Lafcadio Hearn," of whom he was a contemporary.
At the base of Mount Bizan to the left of the Awara Odori Kaikan is a small temple from where the walk up the hill begins. A little further south is the larger Zuiganji Temple (Tel: 088 652 5968), with a noted Momoyama-style garden. The temple dates from 1614 and the garden costs 300 yen to enter.
On the other side of Awara Odori Kaikan is Teramachi, an area of historic temples. Moraes is buried in Choonji and the nearby Mt. Otaki is a local cherry-blossom viewing beauty spot lined with yakimochi (grilled rice-cake) shops.
Back behind JR Tokushima Station is Chuo Park, which are the grounds of the old Tokushima Castle. All that remains of the castle are some stone walls and the moat, but the interesting Tokushima Castle Museum (Tel: 088 656 2525; admission 300 yen; 9.30am-5pm (last entry 4:30pm; closed Monday, except when Monday is a national holiday when it is open but closed the next day, Tuesday) contains a model replica of the original castle and heirlooms of the Hachisuka family, including beautiful lacquerware and samurai armor. The only surviving example of a feudal lord's boat is also on display.
Adjacent to the Tokushima Castle Museum is the Omote Goten Garden, the former palace garden of the feudal lord. The former entrance gate Washi-no-mon is a modern reproduction, as the original was destroyed in World War II.
Other museums and places of interest in or near Tokushima include the Literature and Calligraphy Museum (Tel: 088 625 7485), the Aizumicho Historical Museum (Ai-no-Kan) (Tel: 088 692 6317) an indigo-dyeing museum in Shozui, 10km north of town on the JR Kotoku Line, and the Awa Puppet Theater & Museum (Awa Jurobe Yashiki) (Tel: 088 665 2202) with performances of Bunraku puppet drama and displays of antique puppets.
ASTY Tokushima (Tel: 088 624 5111) is a conference center and concert venue near the waterfront which also contains the Kogei Mura (Tel: 088 624 5000) arts complex showcasing and selling local crafts, including indigo fabrics, pottery and puppets. Take a local bus from the station.
There is a cruise (100 yen) around the central Hyotanjima ("Gourd Island") part of the city that leaves from Shinmachigawa Riverside Park near Ryogoku Bridge. The cruises leave every 40 minutes from 1pm with the last cruise at 3.40pm. In July and August there are evening cruises from 5pm with the last cruise at 7.40pm. During the Awa Odori period in Obon the cruises are every 15 minutes from 9am to 10pm.
Shopping/Eating in Tokushima
The 5th floor of Clement Plaza at JR Tokushima Station has a number of places to eat including an Indian restaurant. Otherwise, in the evening, head for the bars and izakaya, of Akitamachi and Sakaemachi in and around the ACTY 21 Building (not to be confused with ASTY Tokushima conference center and concert hall), a local landmark and meeting place.
Also close to JR Tokushima Station, the Kaifu Kanko Bus Oasis and the Astoria Hotel are two recommended restaurants selling Italian and Mediterranean-style food. These are La Fontana (fontana.bz), run by a local Japanese chef who spent a long period studying and cooking in Italy and Uoroman wine bistro (Tel: 088 623 3917), a popular izakaya specializing in seafood from Naruto and European wine.
The Shinmachi River Waterside Park has some pleasant shops and across the water the Shinmachi River Boardwalk has street stalls on weekends.
The small Tourist Information Center (Tel: 088 622 8556) is in a booth just outside JR Tokushima Station. On the 6th floor of the Clement Plaza station building the Tokushima Prefecture International Exchange Association (TOPIA) has more tourist information, a small library of English books and internet access. (Tel: 088 656 3303; daily 10am-6pm)
Getting Around Tokushima
It is fairly easy to get around Tokushima on foot but there is a good municipal and local bus service with many buses departing from outside Tokushima Station. There is a free bicycle rental service (deposit required) at the underground bicycle park outside the station. Eki Rentacar (Tel: 088 622 1014) is just near the small tourist booth in Clement Plaza.
Naruto, 13km north of the city is the starting point of the 88-temple pilgrimage at Ryozenji.
The Naruto Whirlpools are a natural phenomenon created by the tides in the narrow channel between Awaji and Shikoku islands. Tourists boats sail out to catch the spectacle. Not for those who suffer from sea-sickness.
South west of Tokushima on National Highway 438 are the onsen hot spring baths of Kamiyama, with pleasant river walks nearby.
The Anan coastal area has a number of small fishing hamlets, good beaches and sea turtles visit in summer to lay their eggs.
Accommodation in Tokushima
The following are some recommended places to stay in Tokushima, selected for location and budget.
The Toyoko Inn Tokushima Ekimae is a budget hotel two blocks' walk from Tokushima Station, with small but clean and comfortable rooms, and a Japanese-style breakfast. For a practical stay that won't break the bank.
The Daiwa Roynet Hotel Tokushima Ekimae is ideally located minutes' walk from the main railway station, department store, stores and restaurants, the rooms are spacious, and the hotel is high-tech. Unbeatable value.
The JR Hotel Clement Tokushima is right alongside the main Tokushima Station (yet perfectly quiet), has spacious rooms, is modern in its decor, and has an on-site onsen hot spring. Great location with conveniences all around. Mid-range prices.
Tokushima Airport (Tel: 088 699 2831) is 8km north of the city with hourly buses to and from Tokushima Station (30 mins). There are daily flights to Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka and flights to Sapporo in summer from Tokushima.
JR Marine Liner trains from Okayama Station connect south to Takamatsu in 55 minutes and Tokushima (with a change in Takamatsu to the Uzushio Express) in around 2 hours.
The main bus station is the the main square outside JR Tokushima Station. There is a booth here from where you can buy tickets. The bus departure points are clearly marked with the names of the destination cities.
A little to the east of JR Tokushima Station is another highway bus departure point, the Kaifu Kanko Bus Oasis, from where there are buses to Anan, Nakagawa, Matsushige, Sannomiya, Shin-Kobe, Osaka and Busta Shinjuku Bus Station (4F) and Tokyo Station in Tokyo. Overnight buses for Tokyo leave at 9.20pm, 9.50pm and 10.05pm.
For further information on routes and prices see the Kaifu Kanko website.
The Ocean Tokyu Ferry (Tel: 088 662 0489) sails to Tokyo in 18 hours and then back to Tokushima and Kita-Kyushu-Tokushima-Tokyo in a loop.