The town of Naruto is located in the far northeast of Tokushima on the island of Shikoku. Considering its rather remote geography however, it has made a name for itself over the years as the place to come if you want to check out the amazing natural phenomenon known as the Naruto Whirlpools.
As you would expect these are whirling cones of water that cause domestic visitors to flock to the region and are well worth seeing.
Another reason why Naruto is famous is that this is both the start and end point of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage which consists of 88 temples dotted around Shikoku that will take you through all of the prefectures on the island.
Pilgrims take around two months to make the circuit on foot but if you don’t have time for this then you can see several of the temples without straying too far from the center of Naruto.
As well as its religious history, you will also find other attractions here such as museums, galleries and eateries where you can sample the local produce of Shikoku.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Naruto…
1. Go on a bike ride
If you want to explore Naruto at your own pace then you need to consider renting a bicycle as this is an ideal way to see the town.
One of the best things to do is head to the Naruto Tourism Center where you can rent a bicycle for the day and then cycle across the gorgeous Naruto Bridge and check out all the sights.
There are a number of bike trails here which can last for up to two hours and you can ask for the most popular routes at the Tourism Center.
Most of the terrain is also relatively flat so this is a good choice especially if you do not want to rely on public transport the whole time you are in town.
2. Visit the Naruto Whirlpools
Naruto is known for the famous Naruto Whirlpools which are also called Naruto no uzushio.
These are part of the Naruto Strait and lie between the island of Shikoku and Awaji.
The whirlpools are vortexes of water that churn wildly around four times per day and you can expect quite a show especially when the tide is high.
Some of the whirlpools can have a depth of around two meters and stretch for 20 meters and you can take a boat trip out to the pools to see them up close.
3. Visit Onaruto Bridge
Another way to see the famous Naruto Whirlpools is to take to Onaruto Bridge which was built in 1985 and is a dazzling feat of engineering.
The bridge stretches across the Naruto Strait and you can stand here and check out the churning water beneath you.
Another great reason to come here is for the views of the surrounding area and when the weather is fine you can see across the Seto Inland Sea.
4. Try the local tipples
If you want to try some of the local alcoholic drinks in Naruto then you have several to choose from.
These include Naruto Kintoki Shochu which is made from the famous kintoki sweet potatoes for which Naruto is famous.
If sweet potato liquor doesn’t appeal then you can also try the Sudachi Chu which is a Sudachi lime spirit.
5. Visit the Temples on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage
Shikoku is known for its pilgrimage tour which is made up of some 88 individual temples.
If you visit Naruto then you can easily get to two of these which are called Ryozenji and Gokurakuji.
If you are not planning to visit any other temples when you are in Shikoku then these are both in Naruto and make an ideal spot to stop by to learn more about this fascinating pilgrimage trail which is one of the most well known attractions in Shikoku.
You can also spend time exploring more of the trail in the surrounding areas as there are several more temples dotted just outside Naruto.
6. Visit the German House
The German House is actually a former prisoner of war camp that would have been used during the First World War and there are some stone bridges here which would have been built by the prisoners as well as a cenotaph.
The building itself however is a model of the original and only dates back to 1993. You can also tour the house and see some documents such as letters and photographs from the period and learn more about this time in Naruto’s history.
Interestingly the prisoners here were not closely guarded and were allowed to mix with the local community and you may spot a few German touches and influences as you walk around town.
7. Explore Otsuka Art Museum
Otsuka Art Museum is a great place for anyone who wants to know more about art and this is a rather quirky take on what it means to check out famous paintings.
All the works on display here are actually copies of original paintings which are layered over ceramics using an elaborate printing process so this makes for a unique look at the place where art and technology intersect.
8. Try the sweet potatoes
Naruto has the claim to fame of having some of the most delicious sweet potatoes in the world, or at least that is what the locals will tell you.
The sweet potatoes that are grown locally here are known as kintoki and they are used across the board in a whole range of different foodstuffs.
Just some of these include toothsome cakes and cookies so make sure that you try these sweet treats that also harness the nutritional power of sweet potatoes.
9. Visit Gokurakuji
Gokurakuji is officially the second temple on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku and is one of two located in Naruto proper.
The temple name means Paradise in Japanese although the original building was razed to the ground in the 16th century.
Pilgrims come to the temple to pray that their children will be born safely and as you walk in you can check out the Nio guardians that guard the temple gate.
As with many temples in Japan this one also has some nice gardens that you can go for a stroll in and are planted with cedar trees said to symbolize longevity.
10. Walk around Naruto Park
If you want to relax in Naruto and also get to catch some of its watery side as well as its greenery then head to Naruto Park.
The amazing thing about this space in the city is that it looks out across the ocean and you can also do a range of fun activities here such as fishing or just go for a walk in the lush grounds.
There are some observation decks here which let you take in a views as well as an aquarium and some souvenir stands where you can pick up trinkets from Naruto and wider Shikoku.
11. Catch a game at the Pocarisweat Stadium
The Pocarisweat Stadium is officially known as the Naruto Otsuka Sports Park Pocari Sweat Stadium and is obviously named after the famous Asian sports drink.
The stadium is known for having a range of different games and, if you like sports and want to see a local team play, then this is the place to come.
As well as being able to catch baseball and soccer matches you can also try some of the food here which locals tell you is the ideal snack to pair with a good old fashioned sports game.
If you are in town then make sure to check out the local listings to see what’s on.
12. Buy some Otani ware
Naruto is famous for its Otani ware which is known in Japanese as Otani-yaki.
This is a kind of Japanese pottery which is known for being large and ornamental.
This kind of pottery is so famous that it has also been designated a national handicraft in Japan and it is made using a potter’s wheel which requires the craftsman or woman to lie down and peddle with their feet to shape the pottery object.
This is the only place in Japan that uses what is known as a ‘Lying Potter’s Wheel’ so it is well worth buying a pot, vase or cup when you are in town.
13. Travel to Dainichi-ji
Dainichi-ji is located in the town of Itano and is one of the temples on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage for which this part of Japan is so well known.
The temple makes a nice place to visit if you want to get out of Naruto for the day and see some of the countryside, or if you are especially interested in the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
This temple is famous for its image of Dainichi Nyorai and would have been founded in the days of old by Kobo Daishi who fashioned the image himself.
14. Visit Oasahiko Shrine
Oasaihiko Shrine is a Shinto shrine that is one of the most famous spots in Naruto as it nestles at the base of the stunning Mount Oasa.
This shrine is known for the kami who are enshrined inside called Sarutahiko-no-Okami and Oasahiko-no-Okami both of whom are figures who were the source of great legends in Japan.
As such this is viewed as a very important and spiritual shrine to visit in Naruto and makes a nice trip to countryside around Mount Oasa.
15. Tour Ryozenji Temple
Ryozenji Temple is the first temple in the 88 Temple Pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku and as this is the first temple in the sequence of 88 it is also viewed as one of the most important.
As it is the first temple on the route it is also the last when the pilgrims loop back to the beginning so it is really a must see activity when you are in town.
On a visit here you can also check out the pilgrimage attire on sale which includes the white robes and woven hats that the pilgrims wear as well as walking sticks and other hiking equipment.