The little town of Kotohira wouldn't attract the tourist's attention if it wasn't for the famous pilgrimage destination of Mount Kompira-san and its Kotohira-gu Shrine (金刀比羅宮 - note the different kanji from the town's name).
The Japanese consider the ascend to the shrine among the most strenuous of its kind in Japan. Nevertheless, the 785 steps to the main hall, or even the 1368 steps to the inner shrine are not remarkably tough in comparison to other mounts in the country. Kompira-san is about equivalent in difficulty to Takao-san in Tokyo prefecture. Both have paved road and steps to facilitate the ascend.
The first part of the stairs is lined with souvenir shops until the O-mon Gate. Note the a Sake Museum (金陵の郷 "kinryō no sato") a bit before the beginning of the stairs (you can't miss it with the huge sake bottle and the white sake barrels). After that, you will see only a few people selling goods. These are the descendants of the five farmers (五人百姓) that were originally permitted to trade on the premises of the shrine. Note the stones carved with kanji on both sides of the stairs between O-mon Gate and the Main Hall. Like in many other famous shrines in Japan (e.g. Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto), these are the names of sponsors with the amount of money donated.
The Main Hall is richly decorated and commands superb views on the surrounding countryside. There is an old boat at one extremity reminding that this shrine is dedicated to the god protector of sailors. If you wish to continue the remaining 583 steps, take the path on the right of the Main Hall through the woods. The Inner Shrine is not remarkable though, and will only appeal to the hikers.
There are a few sights in the town itself: the Kanamaru-za Kabuki playhouse dating from 1835, a wooden roofed bridge, and a wooden lighthouse ("Takadoro Lantern Tower") behind the Kotoden Station.
How to get there
Kotohira is easily accessible from Takamatsu. JR trains from Takamatsu Station take 50min (￥830), while Kotoden trains take 1h (￥610) from Kawaramachi Station.
The nearest airport is in Takamatsu, with flights to Sendai, Tokyo (Haneda), Kagoshima and Okinawa.