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Shikoku (四国, "four provinces") is the smallest (225 km or 139.8 mi long and between 50 and 150 km or 31.1 and 93.2 mi wide) and least populous (4,141,955 as of 2005) of the four main islands of Japan, located south of Honshū and east of the island of Kyūshū. Its ancient names include Iyo-no-futana-shima (伊予之二名島), Iyo-shima (伊予島), and Futana-shima (二名島). The current name refers to the four former provinces which made up the island: Awa, Tosa, Sanuki, and Iyo.
Pioneering natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One-Straw Revolution, developed his methods here on his family's farm.
Shikoku is also famous for its 88-temple pilgrimage of temples associated with the priest Kūkai. Most modern-day pilgrims travel by bus, rarely choosing the old-fashioned method of going by foot. They are seen wearing white jackets emblazoned with the characters reading dōgyō ninin meaning "two traveling together".
Tokushima Prefecture also has its annual Awa Odori running in August at the time of the Obon festival, which attracts thousands of tourists each year from all over Japan and from abroad.
Historically no Shikoku-based team has competed in the top Japanese division of baseball, football (soccer) or even rugby union. Currently the major teams competing in Shikoku's major cities include:
- Naruto, Tokushima: Tokushima Vortis (football, J. League Division 2), Tokushima Indigo Socks (baseball, Shikoku-Kyūshū Island League)
- Matsuyama, Ehime: Ehime F.C. (J2), Ehime Mandarin Pirates (SKIL)
- Takamatsu, Kagawa: Kamatamare Sanuki (JFL), Kagawa Olive Guyners (SKIL)
- Kōchi, Kōchi: Kochi Fighting Dogs (SKIL)
The Shikoku region, comprising Shikoku and its surrounding islets, covers about 18,800 square kilometres (7,259 sq mi) and consists of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kōchi, and Tokushima. Across the Inland Sea lie Wakayama, Osaka, Hyōgo, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi Prefectures on Honshū. To the west lie Ōita and Miyazaki Prefectures on Kyūshū.
The 50th largest island by area in the world, Shikoku is smaller than Sardinia and Bananal, but larger than Halmahera and Seram. By population, it ranks 23rd, having fewer inhabitants than Sicily or Singapore, but more than Puerto Rico or Negros.
Mountains running east and west divide Shikoku into a narrow northern subregion, fronting on the Inland Sea, and a southern part facing the Pacific Ocean. Most of the 4.5 million inhabitants live in the north, and all but one of the island's few larger cites are located there. Mount Ishizuchi (石鎚山) in Ehime at 1,982 m (6,503 ft) is the highest mountain on the island. Industry is moderately well developed and includes the processing of ores from the important Besshi copper mine. Land is used intensively. Wide alluvial areas, especially in the eastern part of the zone, are planted with rice and subsequently are double cropped with winter wheat and barley. Fruit is grown throughout the northern area in great variety, including citrus fruits, persimmons, peaches, and grapes. Because of wheat production Sanuki udon (讃岐うどん) became an important part of the diet in Kagawa Prefecture (former Sanuki Province) in the Edo period.
The larger southern area of Shikoku is mountainous and sparsely populated. The only significant lowland is a small alluvial plain at Kōchi, the prefectural capital. The area's mild winters stimulated some truck farming, specializing in growing out-of-season vegetables under plastic covering. Two crops of rice can be cultivated annually in the southern area. The pulp and paper industry took advantage of the abundant forests and hydroelectric power.
The major river in Shikoku is the Yoshino River. It runs 196 km (121.8 mi) from its source close to Mount Ishizuchi, flowing basically west to east across the northern boundaries of Kōchi and Tokushima Prefectures, reaching the sea at the city of Tokushima. The Yoshino is famous for Japan's best white-water rafting, with trips going along the Oboke Koboke sections of the river.
Shikoku has four important capes. Gamōda in Anan, Tokushima is the easternmost point on the island, and Sada in Ikata, Ehime the westernmost. Muroto in Muroto, Kochi and Ashizuri, the southern extreme of Shikoku, in Tosashimizu, Kochi, jut into the Pacific Ocean. The island's northernmost point is in Takamatsu, Kagawa.
Unlike the other three major islands of Japan, Shikoku has no volcanoes.