Japan's fourth-largest island, Shikoku, 60 mi/95 km southwest of Osaka, is also the most rural and least developed. Its temples have been a pilgrimage destination for the past 1,000 years. Every spring and fall, devout Buddhists begin a two-month pilgrimage, visiting each of the island's 88 temples on foot. The island is very picturesque and off the beaten track—a look at the "real Japan."
Much of the island is mountainous, with deep valleys and beautiful, clear rivers. The north coast, facing the rest of Japan, is industrial, but the remainder of the island is devoted to terraces of mandarin orange trees, rice fields or managed forests where it is not completely wild. Three bridges link the island with the rest of Japan now, but these are a recent development. Shikoku has long been seen as a remote land, cut off from the rest of the country. It was a place for political refugees to escape their enemies and for the spiritual to escape the rest of humanity. That atmosphere remains to a large degree, despite modern connectivity.
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