A loose anime location post for the Shikoku pilgrims (henro), otaku and udon fanatics who visit Takamatsu, where the anime Udon no Kuni Kiniro Kemari (Poco’s Udon World) is set. For travellers, this post can serve as cultural context as you look for the exact view the anime shows, while the Shikoku Pilgrimage henro can reminisce about the familiar locations such as Yashima-ji that they passed during their walk.
This year, I had to make do with slurping Sanuki udon and watching anime for a Shikoku fix. I came across Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari (English: Poco’s Udon World) when I was looking for my anime cure-all for Japan homesickness. This lighthearted series is at once a straight up location sell for Kagawa Prefecture’s culture, which includes an nod to the Shikoku Pilgrimage that is a significant part of the prefecture’s history. Below is an untraditional anime location post for Poco’s Udon World Takamatsu city for the otaku and the nostalgic henro. The anime covers the usual highlights:
- Ritsurin Garden
- Yashima Plateau and Yashima-ji
- Kotoden Rindo Station
- Shotengai (shopping streets)
- Seto Ohashi
Poco’s Udon World
Poco’s Udon World is the much more succinct name for the literal Japanese one, The Golden Furball of Udon Country. Poco is the name of the “golden furball” who magically appears in Souta Tawara’s life. Souta is a young web designer who has returned from working in Tokyo after the death of his father. It’s only then that he realises that the family business, one of the many ubiquitous Sanuki udon shops for which Kagawa Prefecture is famous. The 12 anime episodes are basically titled after Kagawa Prefecture’s most famous cultural heritages, some being locations while others are dishes. In order, they are: Bukkake Udon, Kotoden, The Red Lighthouse, Yashima, Chicken on the Bone / Honesuke Tori, Tokyo Tower, Ritsurin Garden, Shoudo Island, Dried Sardines / Iriko Dashi, Reservoire / Tameike, Takamatsu Festival / Takamatsu Matsuri, Kake Udon.
Foodies can check out my Takamatsu Sanuki Udon Walk for places to eat.
The Shikoku Pilgrimage (Ohenro)
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a 1200-kilometre route with 88 main temples associated with Kukai, or Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism in Japan. Kukai was born on Shikoku in a Buddhist temple Zentsu-ji, in a neighbouring city to Takamatsu called Marugame. Kukai travelled to China to study Buddhism at the peak of Tang China and Heian Japan’s cultural exchange and the sect he studied, Shingon, died out in China after he brought it to Japan. Shingon remains the only Escoteric form of Buddhism surviving in East Asia, with its closest relative being Tibetan Buddhism. While Kukai ended up serving and dying (or entering eternal meditation) near Kyoto, at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Koya-san, he trained in many places on Shikoku, which have now become part of the pilgrimage.
The first pilgrim in legend is Emon Saburo, who was a selfish merchant who turned away Kukai’s manifestation (as a beggar) and as a result watched his son die. Saburo ended up circling Shikoku for years looking for Kukai and it was not until he decided to go counter-clockwise that he found the Master again. Over the centuries, the trickle of elites, monks, vagabonds, and peasants who went to the various temples became strung together into a narrative that has emerged as the “official” 88 temple pilgrimage. You can have a look at my photo essay to get a sense of what it was like and if you’re curious about the experience of walking 40-days in the summer, you can read my daily dairy.
I went to Takamatsu on three separate trips, twice in the summer and once in the spring during cherry blossom season. The photos I am using are a mix of all three trips, most of which were taken with a dying Android phone that was suffering heat stroke. Also, as I took them before I watched the anime I didn’t do my usual recreation of the same anime scene, but instead opted to use my related photos in the same place (where available) and make up with more contextual story telling. My other anime location posts are in Shinjuku for various animes, Ikebukuro for Durarara, and Azabu-juban for Sailor Moon.
Below is a map that overlaps udon locations, the temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, and the anime locations I have for Poco’s Udon World. For a full list of all the Poco’s Udon World anime locations, you can check this excellent Japanese otaku post.
The most direct nod to the Shikou Pilgrimage is, of course, at Yashima-ji on top of the Yashima Plateau. The site is a must-see for any visitor to Takamatsu because it gives a perspective of Takamatsu, historically and literally. Active visitors can take a recreational hike up to the top. The more sedentary travellers can take a bus up to the top, from which they can see vistas of the Seto Inland Sea, the habour, and Takamatsu city from the scattered viewpoints.
The history junkies will be delighted to know that Yashima is of great significance in the chronicles of warring clans. At Takamatsu, the legendary Minamoto no Yoshitsune (arguably the most idealised tragic hero in Japanese history) won a critical battle without much bloodshed. At the Battle of Yashima, Yoshitsune tricked the Taira Clan, which had retreated with the boy Emperor Antoku to the area, into abandoning the castle altogether. It was the second last major battle of the Genpei War, which marked the end of Classical Japan under imperial rule and ushered in the Shogunate era that would last until the end of the 19th Century. If you’re curious to learn more, Yashima-ji has a museum dedicated to the battle.
By the time of the Genpei War, however, the temple at Yashima was already several hundred years old. Yashima-ji, Temple 84 on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, said to have been founded by the Chinese monk Ganjin (Chinese Jianzhen 鑒真) in 754, at the peak of the Tang-China and Nara-Japan cultural exchange, which is the source of both Buddhism and matcha in Japan. Ganjin spent 12 years trying to get to Japan and was blind by the time he finally arrived after multiple failed attempts and presided over the Todai-ji in Kyoto, before founding his own private temple, the Toshodai-ji, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ganjin continued to propogate the Ritsu school of Buddhism in Japan until his death in 763.
I’m not sure that Ganjin ever visited Yashima, but the temple has unmistakably Chinese features that I noticed even before I knew who the founder was. For example, the carvings in the beams have clouds that I see more often in Chinese architectural reliefs than Japanese ones and though it sounds pitifully unintellectual, the building seemed a lot more red than I usually find Japanese temples to be. The temple is designated an Important Cultural Property, along with various artifacts including a Heian-period Senjū Kannon (Goddess of Mercy).
A final note on the Shinto shrine and tanuki (racoons) right beside the temple: Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples were not historically separated. You would see one within another and worshippers also didn’t delineate between the two. However, the Meiji era went on a nation building rampage that went in tandem with its modernisation agenda and forced institutions to affiliate with Shinto (“native”) or Buddhist (“borrowed”). When you go around other temples in Japan, and on Shikoku, you can still find blended traces that have survived the (sometimes literal) separation as “out of place” statues, small shrines or art motifs.
Ritsurin Garden 栗林公園
When it comes to sightseeing highlights for Takamatsu, Ritsurin Garden tops the list. Right at the heart of Takamatsu City, the garden is one of the most famous gardens in Japan, and the only place on Shikoku designated a “Special place of scenic beauty” (though I’d say that’s more due to a Kyoto-Tokyo-centric narration of Japanese culture). The garden’s construction began in 1625 under Ikoma Takatoshi (生駒高俊) and some of the buildings have survived from this period.
The garden has had successive extensions, improvements, and alterations by the successive lords since. When the Meiji government requisitioned the garden (as it did many private samurai properties), the garden was opened to the public on 16 March 1875, making it one of the earliest public gardens in the country.
As with many Japanese gardens, visitors can tour through the specific corners that are appreciated for their ambience more than their size, whether on a bridge, looking at a waterfall, or a specific pine. If you happen to be in town during hanami, the cherry blossom bloom, you can picnic under the spring pedals drifting through the air in a cherry blossom corner.
Kotoden Rindo Station 林道駅
Actually, Kotoden is the managable version of the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad Co., Ltd. (高松琴平電気鉄道株式会社 Takamatsu-Kotohira Denki Tetsudō Kabushiki-gaisha). The company was established in 1943 as a wartime merger of train lines in the Takamatsu area and has more or less remained the same since the 1950s. The train itself has been around since 1909! Rindo Station is basically the main station where various lines converge.
Marugame-machi Shotengai 丸亀町商店街
For henro, Marugame is the “city” before Takamatsu along the pilgrimage. Foodies should take note that in Kagawa Prefecture, Marugame udon is arguably better than Takamatsu’s. You can verify my statement by checking Tabelog (Japan’s Yelp / Openrice) has a list of top-ranked udon places or the udon guides (yes, really, and plural) any convenience store (i.e. 7/11, Lawson, Family Mart).
However, Marugame-machi Shotengai lies in the heart of Takamatsu’s downtown core. Shotengai means shopping street, when market streets were given a cover and became covered outdoor arcades. Some have remained fossils of the 1950s, while others like Marguame-machi are chic and upscale. In fact, the Marguame-machi shopping area is where you can skip into the Takashimaya Department Store to get some of the best desserts, snacks, and foods that Japan has to offer. The department stores outside of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto have slightly lower prices than their star city counterparts, in part because the restaurants inside maybe more regional.
Tokiwagai is the more venerable relative of Marugame-machi Shotengai. Tokiwagai connected to the newer district as the two are a large sprawl of covered shopping streets in Takamatsu’s downtown area. The closest Kotoden station is Kawaramachi, from which one could go in either direction.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of the shops, but I enjoyed going through Tokiwagai over the course of several days. Tokiwagai has everything anyone living downtown would need. Unadorned houseware stores, bag shops, and shoe stores are right beside (you guessed it), udon joints. Of course, for those missing chain fast food, there is the odd Matsuya around as well.
I enjoy Marguame-machi because its expanse boutiques signal that even a regional city in Japan enjoys modern amenities that even the second or third largest city in many European or American states would not have. Then, I like walking back to Tokiwagai because I have to pick up groceries for dinner, and wouldn’t mind popping in to chat with the tea store owner too along the way.
The Great Seto Bridge (Seto Ohashi)
Strictly speaking, the Seto Ohashi isn’t in Takamatsu city. The trains that cross it to bring people to and from Okayama on the main island go to Sakaide, then Marugame. It’s as if the planners were determined to snub Takamatsu, which is Shikoku’s largest city. To be fair, while the modern city is modestly sized and just over 100,000 people, Marugame’s historical claim rivals Takamatsu’s as it is home to one of the 12 wooden castle keeps in Japan (a Marugame Castle) and Zentsu-ji, the birthplace of Kukai, founder of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism (officially) the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
When people think of Shikoku, or at least Kagawa, the Seto Ohashi probably rivals udon depending on whether someone is noodle-inclined. In total, this bridge network touches on five islands to cross the Seto Insland Sea that separates Shikoku from the main island of Honshu.
The bridge was first (publicly) envisioned in 1889, during the Meiji Period, by a prefectural Parliament member, Jinnojo Okubo, when he delivered a speech for the first railway on Shikoku, which serviced Marugame to Kotohira. But it would not be until after World War II, with the death of over 150 people on a ferry crossing, that the bridge building discussions resumed by the end of the 1950s. The bridge construction began in 1978, and finished ten years later in 1988.
That’s about it! Foodies can check out my Takamatsu Sanuki Udon Walk for places to eat.