Japan is easily seen as a must-go country listed on a lot of travelling bucket lists, recording an overwhelming number of 24 million tourists visiting in 2016.
Personally, I’m attracted not just to the picturesque landmarks, but also the rich culture and history each province holds, full of stories to discover.
A province that encompasses this beautifully is Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime prefecture.
Matsuyama is the largest city on Shikoku with a population of about 515,000. Its serene countryside calm is combined with its status as a hub for business and shopping, besides housing some poignant literary and cultural assets.
Since adult responsibilities, lack of funds and lack of time are some reasons why we can’t visit Japan anytime soon, we resorted to using the magic of Photoshop so that we can at least imagine what it’d be like to visit these 10 beautiful parts of Matsuyama.
1) Dōgo Onsen
Probably the place that gives Matsuyama much of its fame is Dōgo Onsen, thanks to the three-storey public bath house serving as an inspiration for setting of the famous Studio Ghibli movie, Spirited Away.
The Dōgo Onsen is the oldest hot spring in Japan and bears a proud history dating back 3,000 years. One of its main attraction is the Dōgo Onsen Honkan, a Meiji Period wooden public bath house that has roots that hearken back to 1894. This historical bathhouse numbers even the imperial family among its past patrons.
Besides the bath house, other attractions around the area include a shopping arcade, temples and shrines, and museums. You’d be able to see Ryokan guests walking around the streets in traditional Japanese attire known as yukata as well as don one yourself.
2) Okaido Shopping Street
Okaido Shopping Street is one of the two major shopping arcades that locals and tourists can spend hours at. Here is where you can find a string of fashion boutiques, cosmetic retailers, patisseries, pachinko parlors, and more.
Okaido means “big street”; the area lives up to its name and is broad, light and airy. Events are regularly held here such as flea markets in July. Every Saturday is a night market called yoichi.
There are multiple cafés that sell Matsuyama’s famous confections, which are the Taruto and Botchan dango. The Botchan Dango is a cute confectionery of three balls of mochi coloured with matcha, egg and adzuki beans. Protip, enjoy these desserts with a nice cup of hot tea.
3) Shikoku Pilgrimage Temples
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a multi-site pilgrimage of 88 temples around the Shikoku region. Matsuyama houses 8 of these temples. If you want to see the unique o-henro (pilgrim) culture, these temples can be your starting point.
A Buddhist monk named Kōbō Daishi (a.k.a Kūkai) established the pilgrimage of 88 temples after the year 815 and carved many of their images. The standard walking course is approximately 1,200 kilometres long and can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days to complete.
One of the main temples in Matsuyama is the Ishite-ji which is associated with Emon Saburō, said to be the first pilgrim. Eateries around the temple sell ‘oyaki’, cakes of griddled mochi, which are a local specialty.
4) Botchan Train
Central Matsuyama is where you’ll catch the city’s tram system run by Iyo Tetsudo (Iyo Railway). A popular attraction found is the Botchan Train, diesel-powered replicas of the original Iyotetsu steam locomotives prominently known from a famous Japanese novel, Botchan.
A lot of people gather to see the Botchan Train engine uncoupled, cranked up on a pivot, and spun around by hand by the drivers.
Keep in mind that this train does not offer model comforts like cushioned seats or air-conditioning. Expect bumps on your behind and extreme heat in the height of summer and chilly breezes during winter.
5) Dōgo Park
Dōgo Park was once Yuzuki Castle, the medieval residence of Shugo Kono in what used to be Iyo Province. There’s nothing that resembles a castle anymore, but there’s a well-made replica of a samurai compound, and a very informative little museum.
The observation platform at the top offers a magnificent panoramic view of Matsuyama, the castle, and the Seto Inland Sea. Part of the castle moat remains, and it’s full of lilies, bullfrogs and turtles. There are also kingfishers which attract photographers and bird watchers. And there’s an old stone fountainhead from Dogo Onsen, dating from the Nara Period (8th Century).
The park is also great to see cherry blossom trees—in springtime, they present a fantastic sight by forming a pink ring around the central hill. You can play ball games at the grassy areas and it’s also well equipped with children’s play equipment. For you cat-lovers out there, take some time to spot some of the native cats who spend their time roaming the park.
6) Matsuyama Castle
Matsuyama Castle, standing on a 132 meter hilltop in the center of the city, is the symbol of the Matsuyama town.
The castle originally built in 1627 is one of the 12 surviving castles built before Edo Period. It’s a great example of a feudal castle and the main keep is one of only a few in the country that boast multiple wings.
The complex also includes a secondary keep and multiple turrets. If you go up to the top of the castle tower, you’re greeted with a panoramic view of the whole city, Seto Inland Sea, and if the weather permits, you can even see Mt. Ishizuchi.
The “ropeway street” at the bottom of the hill is lined with strings of retro-themed shops on both sides. There are about 200 cherry trees on the castle grounds, making this a lovely cherry blossom spot typically around late March to early April each year.
Matsuyama’s known to be a hub for the Japanese traditional literature known as Haiku. Kōshin-an includes a Japanese garden and a house that was once residence to Kurita Chodō, a haiku poet of the Edo period.
The villa was built in 1800 where Chodō enjoyed haiku gatherings, tea ceremony and simple garden-viewing.
The house still has original shape and atmosphere even though the surrounding area was destroyed during World War II. The cottage including the garden miraculously remained. In 2003, the house and its garden was re-opened as a historic garden.
8) Oboke Gorge
Once you’re done with the Matsuyama city, you can take a train to Oboke and head to Iya Valley which has sights closer to nature. Near its entrance is where you can find the Oboke Gorge with narrow, steep-sided gorges that are cut by the swirling rapids of the Yoshino River.
The name means “big dangerous steps” as the jagged, rocky walls can be perilous to navigate. The gorges are one of the leading outdoor destinations in Japan because of the beautiful scenery and the variety of outdoor attractions, such as whitewater rafting and canyoning that can be enjoyed on the river.
8) Iya-no-Kazurabashi (Vine Bridge)
Further inside the Iya Valley is the Iya-no-Kazurabashi, a suspension bridge known as one of Japan’s three unusual bridges. It has a length of 45 m, a width of 2 m, a height of 14 m above the river, and a weight of 5 tonnes.
The bridge is woven with wild vines and blends in well with its natural surroundings. Crossing the bridge and seeing the Iya river beneath your feet gives a thrilling experience. The bridge is rebuilt every three years and is designated as a national important folkloric property.
If you go deeper upstream into the recesses of Iya, you will find a double vine bridge which consists of a female and male bridge and is called the Oku Iya Double Vine Bridge.
10) Statue Of Peeing Boy
Deep in Iya Valley is Nana Magari (Seven Curves) which is known as the most dangerous spot in the valley. One sight to see is the Statue of Peeing Boy that stands on the overhanging rock.
The story goes is that it was built there to ward off the young daredevils who would come here to urinate off the rock to show their bravery.
The rock stands at a height of 200 meters from the bottom of the valley and fair warning, taking a glance down below is probably enough to make you a little dizzy from its crazy height.
Now Time To ACTUALLY Get There
So now you probably understand why we’d go through the effort of photoshopping ourselves into the quaint yet wildly beautiful corner of Japan that is Matsuyama. And here’s how you can go there.
As a member of Skyteam, they fly to over 1052 destination in 177 countries, and now they want to bring Malaysians to Matsuyama, with fares starting from RM888 (excluding taxes)!
China Eastern is currently the largest foreign carrier flying into Japan with 16 destinations and this is your chance to experience a different part of Japan other than the commercial areas.
You can find out more information about the flights here or contact the China Eastern Airlines Kuala Lumpur Sales office at 03-21611666.
This article was brought to you by China Eastern.