IT WAS in 1976 that I made my first visit to Japan as part of a group of Singapore journalists who were guests of Japan Airlines for its inaugural Singapore-Tokyo-Singapore service.
My first impressions of Tokyo and the Japanese people are still clear in my memory.
There was an air of quality about everything. Even the traffic wardens in their smart uniforms and peak caps looked important and proud of their jobs.
I have, over the years, told myself that I must revisit Japan and spend more time than the three days we had in Tokyo.
I still remember the Tokyo crowds, especially at the Ginza, where streams of people moved along briskly, cheek-by-jowl. Those who lingered, like I did, would be pushed along by this tide.
I think I prefer a quieter corner of Japan.
So this time, I will choose to visit Shikoku, the smallest and least populous of Japan's four main islands.
Indulge in udon at any of the 2,000 udon restaurants in Takamatsu. [File photo]
Shikoku seems perfect. It is an island of beautiful gorges and other rock formations, whirlpools, ancient castles, manicured gardens, colourful festivals and udon - the country's most famous noodles.
Lots of udon
If you are a food lover, all the more you must visit Shikoku, the island south of Japan's main island of Honshu. Try its Sanuki Udon.
You will be spoilt for choice, as in the city of Takamatsu alone, there are about 2,000 udon restaurants.
Spin and splash
Even before you arrive in Shikoku by crossing the bridge over the Naruto Strait, you will see huge whirlpools in the sea caused by tidal flows in and out of this inland sea. This has been described as one of nature's most spectacular sights.
Catch the large swirling whirlpools in the Naruto Strait on your way to Shikoku.
Song and dance
If you plan to travel to Shikoku in August, be sure to be in the city of Tokushima around the middle of the month, as this is when the annual Awa Odori song and dance festival takes place over three evenings.
On the western part of the island, you will step into history when you visit Matsuyama's castle.
Built in 1603, it is one of the best preserved monuments of its kind in Japan.
Grand old bathhouse
Not far from here is the Dogo Onsen, a hot spring that features the Shinrokaku bathhouse used by the imperial family since 1894.
After this, take a walk along the streets and savour local fare at the many cafes and restaurants.
Battle of the bulls
Another ancient castle town is Uwajima, which dates back to the Edo period (1600-1868).
This town on Shikoku's western coast is famous for its bullfights.
But unlike Spain's blood sport which pits a rapier-wielding matador against a wounded bull, this one, known as togyu, allows two bulls to face each other head on.
Go wild in Tokyo
Perhaps after your Shikoku sojourn, you might have to fly to Tokyo for the flight back home.
Be there for a day or two. Anyone visiting Japan must experience the bustle of Tokyo.
If you are with your children, a visit to the Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea is in order.
Make it a point to visit the Ginza just to soak in its atmosphere generated by the crowds, the posh restaurants, department stores and shops. This is the second of a four-part series sponsored by SA Tours.
Top photo of Dogo Onsen: SA Tours