Matsuyama is the capital of Ehime Prefecture, and the largest city on the island of Shikoku, with a population of about half a million.
Matsuyama's two big attractions are its fine castle and Dogo Onsen hot spring, but with numerous other things to see and do, including a number of interesting temples in or around the town, good restaurants, and lively shopping and entertainment areas in covered arcades.
Matsuyama Castle (Tel: 089 921 4873) was first built by Kato Yoshiakira from 1602-1627. The castle is one of Japan's twelve originally surviving castles, though the castle burnt down twice, once in 1642 and again in 1784 after being struck by lightning. The present structures date from 1854.
The castle is on top of a steep hill in the center of Matsuyama city. If you don't feel like the climb there is a ropeway to the top of the castle park.
Read more about Matsuyama Castle.
Mitsuhama Old Area
Mitsuhama (or just plain "Mitsu") is Matsuyama's atmospheric old port district facing the Seto Inland Sea and separated from the rest of Matsuyama City by the Miyamae River. Mitsuhama has been a fishing and commercial district from days of yore, is still the city's port, and still quite densely populated - enlivening its antique feel. Enjoy taking in the morning fish market, or just strolling the alleys (with their numerous cats) and admiring the many buildings breathing history that have stood here for, in many cases, over a century - a rarity in most Japanese cities.
Start your exploration of Mitsuhama at Mitsu Station on the Iyotetsu line. Built in 1888, Mitsu is one of the first stations built on Shikoku. The current barrier-free station building, still in the old style, was rebuilt in 2009. Information in English about the area is posted outside the station.
The northernmost point of the Mitsu area has the Mitsu no Watashi, a free punt that you can take for the three-minute ride to Ohyamatsuminokami Shrine (大山積神), founded in 728 A.D. with the big bronze statue behind it of Akiyama Saneyuki, an Japanese Imperial Navy officer famous for his planning of the Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War. He is celebrated in the Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum.
Dogo Onsen (Tel: 089 921 5141) is the oldest hot spring onsen resort in Japan, claiming a history of over 1,300 years, as the area is mentioned in the Nihon shoki chronicle. The present bath house dates from 1894 and is mentioned in Natsume Soseki's novel, Botchan. The author recommends going for the first class option (now 1500 yen) and this includes use of a private room after your bath, green tea and dango sweets. The ornate complex includes a number of different baths including the Kami-no-yu and Tama-no-yu. The Yushinden imperial baths were built in 1899 for the imperial family and last used in 1950. The lavish room is now open for guided tours. The Tsubaki-no-yu (Tel: 089 935 6586) annex through the shopping arcade has less of a tourist feel and is used mainly by locals.
Dogo Onsen Station is a Meiji-era wooden station and the starting point of the "Botchan" steam train which runs to Matsuyama-shi station or Komachi Station and then back again. Around the Hojoen area at the station is an onsen foot-bath and the Botchan Karakuri Clock. Mechanical figures re-enact a scene from Botchan when the clock strikes the hour.
Dogo-koen is a small park south of the hot spring, famous for its cherry blossoms, which is the remains of Yuzuki Castle - the former residence of the Kono clan, the rulers of the Iyo domain in feudal times. The small, free museum Yuzuki-jo Museum (Tel: 089 941 1480) displays items that have been discovered in the excavations of the grounds. In the north of the park is the Matsuyama Municipal Shiki Memorial Museum (Tel: 089 931 5566) dedicated to local haiku poet and keen baseball fan Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).
There are a number of other Shiki-related sites in Matsuyama including Gudabutsu-an (Tel: 089 921 3711), a restored rustic, lodging house where the writers Shiki and Soseki spent 52 days together, now relocated to Matsuyama Castle Park near the Bansui-so villa.
Shiki House (Tel: 089 945 0400; admission 400 yen) is a replica of the poet, Masaoka Shiki's childhood home with his desk and examples of his calligraphy and is in the grounds of Shoshuji Temple. Visitors to Matsuyama are encouraged to write haiku and drop them into "Haiku post boxes" - the best entries receive a souvenir.
Also in the Dogo Onsen area is Ishite-ji Temple, number 51 of the 88 Sacred Temples and dating from 728, The temple has a fine pagoda and a quirky collection of interesting statues and mandalas in the tunnels leading to the park behind the temple and in the park itself.
Back in central Matsuyama, to the south of Matsuyama Castle Park, other places worth a visit are Bansui-so (Tel: 089 921 3711), a French-style villa built in 1922 for Hisamatsu Sadakoto, the former feudal lord of Matsuyama. The building now serves as an annex of the Matsuyama Prefectural Art Museum (Tel: 089 932 0010), which has collections of both western and Japanese modern art.
Nearby is the modernistic Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum (Tel: 089 915 2600), designed by Ando Tadao and dedicated to the novel Clouds Over The Hill by Shiba Ryotaro, which tells the story of the local Akiyama brothers and their roles in defeating the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
A footnote to this conflict is the Russian Cemetery near Raigoji Temple with the graves of 98 Russian soldiers, of the around 6,000 Russian prisoners, who were held (with a fair amount of freedom) in Matsuyama.
It is fairly easy to get around central Matsuyama on foot or by street car with the main terminus at Matsuyama-shi Station. Fares are a flat 160 yen or there is a one-day pass for 300 yen valid for the trams and loop bus. A single journey on the Botchan Ressha steam train is 800 yen. The retro Madonna Bus runs past the main tourist sights and is 200 yen for a single journey or 500 yen for a day pass.
There are Tourist Information Offices (Tel: 089 931 3914) at JR Matsuyama Station and near Dogo Onsen Station (Tel: 089 921 3708). The Ehime International Center (EPIC), near Minamimachi tram stop has more tourist information, English-language newspapers and books as well as internet access. (Tel: 089 943 6688; Mon-Sat 8.30am-5.00pm)
Matsuyama is known for its mikan oranges, goshiki somen (five-color noodles) and bamboo crafts. Matsuyama has two long covered arcades Okaido and Gintengai with a number of good restaurants, bars and izakaya here and elsewhere in the Nibancho and Sanbancho areas.
Accommodation in Matsuyama
Matsuyama offers hotels and Japanese-style ryokan to suit all budgets. Some featured places to stay in Matsuyama include: the Terminal Hotel Matsuyama right at JR Matsuyama Station, the Olde Engrand Dogo Yamanote Hotel (yes, Engrand not England) near Dogo Onsen and the historic 400-year-old Funaya Ryokan also close to Dogo Onsen.
Matsuyama Access - Getting to Matsuyama
Matsuyama Airport (Tel: 089 972 5600) is 6km west of the city with buses to and from Matsuyama Station (20 mins). A taxi costs around 2000 yen. There are flights to Tokyo, Nagoya (Chubu International & Komaki Airports), Osaka (KIX & Itami), Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Naha in Okinawa, and Fukuoka.
BusThere are highway bus services to Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kobe, Kochi (2 hours, 30 minutes), Tokushima, and Kyoto.
There are ferry connections to Beppu and Utsuki in Oita Prefecture from Yawatahama operated by Uwajima Unyu Ferries (www.uwajimaunyu.co.jp), Hiroshima (2 hours 45 minutes), Kokura, Osaka (www.orange-ferry.co.jp) and a hydrofoil to Hiroshima (1 hour) from Matsuyama Port.
Matsuyama Port is about 25 minutes by train on the Iyo Tetsudo Takahama Line from Matsuyama-shi Station.
Read more on getting to and around Matsuyama by train, bus, tram, taxi and ferry.
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