This post covers Takamatsu’s highlight food: Sanuki udon, and also includes a few highlights for a day-trip or a leisure weekend stay. Takamatsu is a city that’s unfolded over successive visits as I passed by, took family on a day-trip, and spent a week remote working in. Despite being a provincial city compared to the urban sprawls out of Osaka and Tokyo, Takamatsu has a confident network of covered shopping streets (shotengai), a garden with national recognition, and its fair share of proud contributions to Japan’s history and cultural.
The map below shows the places that I mention in this post, plus some extras. You can save this map to your iPhone or Android phone if you have the Google Maps app and it can be used offline as long as you don’t restart the app.
Getting in and out
Takamatsu is the first port of call for most travellers on Japan’s 4th largest island, Shikoku. With the exception of cars driving the Shimanamikaido, Takamatsu is the closest major city to the express trains from Japan’s main island and has the most international flights flying direct. I highly suggest taking a day trip to Takamatsu for anyone who has a JR Rail Pass and is going through the region between Kobe and Hiroshima.
- Trains: Express trains from Japan’s main island via Okayama
- Trains: From Shikoku’s other cities such as Matsuyama, Tokushima, Kochi, and Imabari
- Reachable using the following JR Passes: All-Japan JR Rail Pass, San’in Sanyo JR Pass (JR West)*, All Shikoku Rail Pass (JR Shikoku)
- Flights to Takamatsu Airport: From Tokyo, Osaka, and internationally from cities like Hong Kong
- Highway coach buses from cities like Osaka or Tokyo
*Note: The San’in-Sanyo JR only covers a trip across the Seto Inland Sea to Takamatsu direct and the pass pass does not cover anywhere else on Shikoku. For Shikoku trips, use the All-Shikoku Pass.
Things to Do / Highlights
Riding some 50km across the Seto Ohashi (Seto Bridge). I have done this ride 4 times round-trip. The train ride is as much a reason to go visit the city as the actual city proper. Crossing the Seto Inland Sea is to cross Japan’s largest national park, a protected region with over 1000 islands, once famous for pirates and the setting for various famous battles throughout history.
For hikers or history buffs, check out the Yashima Plateau, where there is Yashima Temple, castle ruins, a museum, and a lookout of the city and the sea. The Yashima Temple (Yashima-ji) and Yakuri-ji are Temples #84 and #85 respectively of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, the 88-temple Ohenro, which I spent 40-days walking in 2015.
Also check out the Ritsurin Garden for an afternoon or see how a prefectural city lives by strolling through the covered commercial centre from the modern stores at Kataharamachi through to the more traditional shops of Kawaramachi.
Must Eat: Udon
Sanuki udon refers to udon noodles from the Sanuki region, which is the old name for Kagawa Prefecture. Most of Japan’s regional foods regain their Edo Period names, such as Shinshu miso, Tosa katsuo, or literally the town associated with the food, like Azumino soba and Hakata ramen. Sanuki udon differentiates itself from Osaka’s udon, which is usually served softer and served in soup with fish cakes, and Inaniwa udon that is usually flat. Other regional types include the himokawa udon sheets, but here’s an extensive (Japanese) list if you’re interested.
Sanuki udon is often served in family-style restaurants or canteen-like places. For the canteen places, customers usually pick up a tray, make an order for the basic type of udon they want, then use provided tongs for additional items. When they come to the end, all their items will be added up and paid for.
Udon in this region is most defined for its chewy texture and can be served hot or cold. Hot versions come in soup and a popular dish would include the kama-age udon, which comes with a hot water, but is meant to be dipped or mixed with the soy sauce. Toppings for udon vary and most canteens give patrons a choice of everything from tempura to beef. I personally suggest ordering something that does not come in soup (except kama-age udon) in order to truly enjoy the chewy texture and dipping experience.
Ordered toppings usually include meat, some vegetable tempura, koroge (deep fried potato cake) and egg (raw or boiled). For some, udon may not be enough, so canteens often have onigiri rice balls or offer lunch sets with a donburi (rice bowls often with meat).
Free and unlimited toppings usually include age (crunchy dough bits like savoury rice crispies), spring onion, seaweed, grated ginger, grated daikon and sauces. These are usually self serve and sometimes soup is also self serve (complimentary). This alone without additional meat or vegetable items is a legitimate meal. Sets can also come with rice.
The tray udon above is from Yamada Udon, which attracts a stream of cars gliding up a residential hill overlooking a sheltered harvour. The headquarters of Yamada Udon is in a standalone traditional Japanese house with tatami seating and a garden. It is a further walk away from even the closest tram station, but I would highly recommend it if you have the time to get a bit out of the commercial heart of the city. It makes a great pit stop between the two temples of Yashima-ji and Yakuri-ji previously mentioned. Their plain udon starts at a reasonable ¥300, though I suggest everyone order another option with toppings to be more filling. The tray I ordered is the most standard Sanuki udon: with age fried dough bits, raw egg yolk that’s meant to be broken on the udon, lemon wedge, grated daikon, spring onions, sesame seeds, and grated ginger. You can pour all of this into the large bowl and eat it together. They have a menu with pictures to help.
If you want to try local udon fast, then try Meriken right outside Takamatsu JR Station. My favourite combination always include at least grated ginger and grated daikon, which add a kick and also a refreshingly cool sweet flavour. The spring onions I can do without, but I think most people will prefer its hearty substance.
My personal favourite is Kokoro Udon, which is also the most (relatively) expensive at about ¥700 rather than the usual ¥400 range. This plain-looking tray of udon serves up the noodles in their unadulterated glory: hot on cold ice to achieve a uniquely savory, but sweet icy texture. This hot-cold udon is an invention of the grandma who runs the shop, who hails from neighbouring Kochi Prefecture. She brought the fresh flavour of yuzu, a tangy citrus fruit native to her region, and introduced it to the fish-soy dipping sauce. I don’t remember if they have a pictured menu or if it is all written text, but I recall that they have a self-serve tea area. This small diner also has rice, sashimi, and other set meals.
If you want to try another place that’s a bit further from the main shopping area, then Kodawari Udon is a great option. It is close to government offices and is designed to manage a long cue. You begin by taking a tray and work your way down the counter, picking up onigiri (rice balls), rice, any skewers or toppings, soup, tempura, and koroge (croquettes). You need to generally tell the servers what you want for your order, but if uncertain, point to one of the pictured menu items on the wall (which are the most popular). Once you are given your bowl of udon, you can keep sliding until the cash register. After you pay, you can add your toppings at a large condiment table before finding seating.
If you’re as crazy as me, then ask for an udon map (in Japanese) at the information centre at Takamatsu’s JR Station, but I hope you can figure out how to tell when places are open. 🙂 This city is so crazy about udon that there is 24/7 coverage of the city’s udon needs.
If you liked this post, check out my other rural Japan trip recommendations:
- 16 tips for travelling rural Japan
- Rural Japan: Yahiko Village in 40 Photos
- Kofu Daytrip with the JR Seishun 18 Pass
Please also help share if you liked this post to help your friends travel to more off-beat places and enjoy local Japan! Thanks!