Kuma Kōgen Highland is an expansive inhabited area at a high elevation in central Ehime bordering Kōchi Prefecture. Kuma is nominally a town, although it’s basically a wilderness with some inhabited valleys and a central village. It has an interesting foundation myth. Kuma is the name of a woman who lived all alone in this once poor area. When the celebrated priest Kūkai and founder of the Shikoku pilgrimage passed through, she begged him to provide her with company, so he miraculously produced a river. This enabled crops to be grown, and soon farmers arrived. Kuma had company. The town that they established is named after her. The river still flows, crops still grow, and the people of Kuma remain very welcoming to strangers.
Two of the most atmospheric temples of the 88-temple Shikoku pilgrimage are located in Kuma, a short distance apart. These are Daihō-ji and Iwaya-ji. Between the two temples is an area with fantastic rock formations called Furuiwaya. Other noteworthy geological features are the Shikoku Karst in the south of the area, the Omogo Gorge on the southern side of Mt. Ishizuchi, and the Goraikō and Gongen Waterfalls.
The best way to visit Kuma Highland is to hire a car and spend several days touring the area. One major attraction is the Kuma Kōgen Furusato Ryokō Mura, a village of relocated but authentic thatched farmhouses, including a watermill. There’s also a planetarium disguised as a castle, and a public astronomical observatory which takes advantage of the high elevation and clear skies. The pine woodland of the village is dotted with attractive cabins for rent. This pleasant village is well worth visiting as part of a day trip, but it also makes a good base for a few days’ exploration of central Shikoku.
The most obvious feature of the village is its thatched farmhouses, including a watermill. These were moved from the nearby mountains and rebuilt at their current site so that they could be both preserved and put to good use. Some of them date back to the Edo period, more than 250 years ago. They’re attractive structures made entirely of natural materials. One of them, Wagura Ichijōan, is a café where you can sit on the tatami next to the irori fireplace and enjoy coffee, cake and fine views in the unique atmosphere of this ancient farmhouse. The millpond in the village is home to pretty ducks who are quite tame.
The site has open spaces suitable for sports, and there are barbecue pits and a pizza oven. The staff will provide you with the wherewithal to make a delicious pizza, and show you how to do it if you’re not sure. There are several eateries within the village, and two onsen hot spring facilities are within a short drive.
Kuma isn’t all nature though—there’s art too. The Kuma Museum of Art and Kuma Seidō no Kairō Art Gallery are places to enjoy something wrought by human rather than Nature’s hand.
Name in Japanese: 久万高原
Pronunciation: kuma kōgen
Address: Kuma Kōgen, Ehime