Ōzu is sometimes referred to as Ehime’s ‘Little Kyōto’, but they’re as unalike as any two cities in Japan can be. Unlike Kyōto, you can walk around Ōzu in a day. Nor does Kyōto have a spectacular castle in a river setting with mountains towering nearby. The Kamo River in Kyōto is rather narrow, while the Hiji River (Hijikawa) in Ōzu lies in a huge sweeping, stony bed with a certain wild grandeur.
Ōzu is a bonchi, which is to say, it sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains. This means the city is hot in summer and cold in winter. But it also means that citizens can enjoy the sight of majestic mountains in the near distance, and the fantastic play of clouds and sunlight that differ with each season. The castle, whose keep was restored in 2004 using authentic medieval building techniques, is an excellent vantage point from which to enjoy this scenery.
The river also attracts a variety of birds. Herons, ducks, and buzzards are very much in evidence. Ōzu is also known as one of only three places in Japan where traditional cormorant fishing still continues today, a skill passed down from medieval times. Other amusements on the river include taking a dinner cruise in one of the low canopied boats that ply the waterway.
The part of Ōzu that lies to the west of the river is the most interesting. There’s a grid of streets with many old buildings and shop fronts in a good state of repair. Some of the arcades and streets are quite beautiful. Ohanahan Street with its rows of traditional buildings is decorated with flowers in bamboo planters, placed across a little open stream swimming with sleek, dark grey koi. On this street can be found the old restaurant Shun, renowned for serving local Ōzu specialties. Indeed, Ōzu has many fine eateries, and the city produces a handy pamphlet that lists them all with their prices.
Other must-see attractions are the Akarengakan and Pokopen Yokochō. The former is an old bank, of sturdy red brick construction, which seems totally out of place when you first come upon it around a corner. Not that it’s a bad thing, because it’s an attractive building, and something of a rarity in Japan. It houses a shop selling locally made candles, ceramics, pictures, and other mementos at reasonable prices, as well as a little museum featuring old movie cameras and model trains. Walk around the back and you find yourself in a cross between a movie set, a restaurant, an antique shop, and a museum. This is Pokopen Yokochō, a tiny area which recreates the atmosphere of the Shōwa period, known to the outside world as the reign of the emperor Hirohito. The Omoide Sōkō museum of Shōwa period living is not to be missed.
Overlooking a bend in the Hijikawa is a hermitage called Garyū Sansō, built by a wealthy by merchant in the Meiji Period when Ōzu was a thriving centre for paper and candles. This was created to bring some of the sophistication of Kyōto to Ōzu, which is perhaps why the city likes to invoke the old capital of Japan.
Name in Japanese: 大洲
Address: Ōzu, Ehime Prefecture