In this series of articles, we look at the top ten places in the four main cities of Shikoku – Matsuyama, Kochi, Tokushima and Takamatsu. Here we look at Matsuyama, the capital of the Ehime Prefecture, and the largest city on Shikoku.
Matsuyama Castle stands on a large, wooded hill right in the middle of town, with an extensive moat and earth ramparts that dominate the city centre. Unlike many Japanese castles that were destroyed and rebuilt of concrete, Matsuyama Castle remains in its original state of wood and plaster. The castle offers spectacular views of the city, mountains and sea, particularly from the top of the keep. Matsuyama Castle houses a fascinating collection of samurai weapons and armour, and information about the history and structure of the castle.
Dogo Onsen Honkan
Dogo Onsen Honkan is said to be the model for the spirit bathhouse in the animation “Spirited Away”. It's also the oldest hot spring in Japan, with a history going back over 3,000 years. A whole section of the main building, the Yūshinden, is given over to the Imperial family. There are several baths and lounges offering more or less luxurious service. Feel free to walk in off the street and enjoy a dip in Japan's oldest spa. This article dives deeper into Dogo.
Bansuiso is a large villa, built in the style of a 19th century Gothic French château. The Earl Sadakoto Hisamatsu, a descendant of the Matsuyama clan, built it in 1922 as a second home. Having lived in France, Hisamatsu wanted to impress with Western style, and he hired architect Shichiro Giko to achieve it. The villa was a social mecca for the elite of that time, including the Imperial family. Today, exhibitions of the Museum of Art Ehime and concerts are held here.
Kashima Island is a distinctive mountain in the sea just off the shore of Hojo, on the northern boundary of Matsuyama. Kashima means “Deer Island”, and you can see wild deer in the forest. Just 1.5 kilometres round, it offers good walks around the island and over the top of the mountain. On a clear day, there are spectacular views from the lookout at the top over the Seto Inland Sea. The island is ideal for swimming, fishing and camping.
Botchan Steam Train
A popular attraction found on the route between JR Matsuyama Station and Dogo is the Botchan Train, diesel-powered replicas of the original Iyotetsu steam locomotives, known from Natsume Soseki’s 1906 novel, Botchan. Not to be missed is seeing the Botchan Train engine uncoupled, cranked up on a pivot, and spun around by hand by the drivers.
Ishite Temple is a weird place. Ishite-ji, as it's known in Japanese, is No. 51 of the 88 temples that form the Shikoku Pilgrimage, and you can usually see a few pilgrims in their white garb and cone hats. The main hall and pagoda are built in the architectural style of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). Behind the temple buildings is a doorway to a dark hole in the mountain which forms the backdrop to Ishite. This leads to a series of tunnels filled with strange statuary. Your visit to Ishite-ji will be memorable!
Tobe was once a separate town to the south of Matsuyama. It's home to many potteries producing ceramics known collectively as Tobe-yaki. This tends to be white with navy blue decoration, although there are many variants, as well as many exceptions. You can purchase very serviceable tableware for everyday use at the potteries, and you can also try your hand at making your own ceramics. Tobe is also home to several interesting museums and two sake breweries.
Mitsuhama is the old port area of Matsuyama, facing the island studded Seto Inland Sea. It's an active fishing port and the morning fish market is an event worth seeing. The dockside is full of boats and cranes, some of which are elegant vintage models. Mitsuhama is one of the few places in Japan where you can still see buildings dating from the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods in a single area, and most of these buildings are also still in use, as homes or shops and restaurants.
Mingei Iyo-Kasuri Kaikan
The Mingei Iyo-Kasuri Kaikan is a museum and shop devoted to the folk craft (mingei) of weaving with dyed yarn (kasuri). The building itself is attractive with a traditional Japanese-style frontage, resplendent with elaborate plaster and tile work, and a little garden of manicured pines. Behind this frontage is a series of sheds that house the exhibits.
Gokoku Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to people who died in war. It's filled with memorials to the dead, mostly from WWII. These include a bent propeller from a Zero fighter, a statue of a Kamikaze pilot, and a stone sentry box. Gokoku Shrine is not all about war however. As an attractive large shrine located in a convenient place, it’s visited by families all year round seeking blessings for new-borns and children. Behind Gokoku Shrine is the peak of Miyukiji-san. This mountain is easy to climb and offers spectacular views over Matsuyama.
Of course there's plenty else to see and do, but if you visit some of these ten places, you'll have a pretty good feel for the city of Matsuyama.