Surrounded by the Aegean Sea of Orient, Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県) is blessed with a warm climate and beautiful nature. Home to the most number of temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage (26 of them!), Ehime is also known for displaying hospitality and compassion to the pilgrims that travel through the attractive prefecture. Today, let us explore snippets of Ehime that makes her the ‘lovely princess’ she is!
Matsuyama City (松山市)
Built as a castle town, Ehime’s capital is home to one of Japan’s twelve “original castles” (castles that have survived the post-feudal era in intact form) – Matsuyama Castle (松山城). The symbolic historical artifact stands on a 132m hilltop, from which one can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. In addition, the 51st temple of the Shikoku pilgrimage, Ishiteji (石手寺), is also found in Matsuyama City. The eccentric temple is known for its peculiar statutes and mysterious tunnel, and is one of Ehime’s main “power spots”.
The largest city in Shikoku is also renowned for Japan’s oldest spa, Dogo Onsen (道後温泉). Its public baths are gender-separated and furnished with high quality granite stone and marble walls. Despite this, the old-fashioned bathhouse retains its traditional and authentic flavour. On the first floor, the main bath is named Kami no Yu (神の湯), meaning “Bath of the Gods”. The smaller but exclusive Tama no Yu (霊の湯), meaning “Bath of the Spirits” is on the second floor. These names are not without origin – many mythical stories surround the 3000 year old onsen. Legend has the Onsen water has even healed a deity’s illness! Notably, the Dogo Onsen Honkan (道後温泉本館) was also the model for the public bath in Ghibli’s classic film ‘Spirited Away’. Can you spot the resemblance?
ADDRESS: 5-6 Dogo-Yunomachi, Matsuyama City, 790-0842 OPENING HOURS: 6:00am - 10:00pm
Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道)
Remember the ‘Seaside Cycling Road’ on Route 110, Hoen in Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire? Well, you can experience it for real at the Shimanami Kaido! It is a 60km cycling route that stretches from Ehime to Hiroshima, connecting six of the Seto Inland Sea Islands (瀬戸内海) together. While cycling, one can enjoy the stunning scenery of the Seto Inland Sea and soak in the sun and salty winds. If you keen to island hop, this may be a desirable method to do so as well!
STARTING POINT: Imabari City *More details for bike rental: http://www.go-shimanami.jp/global/english/
Mount Ishizuchi (石鎚山)
At 1982m, Mount Ishizuchi is the tallest mountain in Western Japan. Regarded as one of Japan’s seven holy mountains, Mount Ishizuchi derived its unique name from its sharp rocky summit that is said to resemble a stone hammer. Although July is the climbing season, autumn seems to be the favourite season for avid climbers. The splendor of fall foliage, with trees skirted by pools of autumn gold and rust coloured leaves, is what that draws these individual to the sacred mountain. It should be noted that on 1st July, when rituals are held, women are not allowed to climb the mountain in accordance with an old practice.
ADDRESS: Mt Ishizuchi, Komatsucho Ishizuchi, Saijo, Ehime 799-1112
Shikoku Karst (四国カルスト)
One of the top three Karst in Japan, the Shikoku Karst is a magnificent plateau and an enormous eye candy for nature lovers. Lying on the borders of Ehime, it extends 25km long and 3km wide. On this roadtrip, the wonderous view of spinning windmills and gentle hills with white limestones will leave one breathless. At the summit of the Karst is Tengu Plateau. The impressive plateau offers an alluring panorama of the Shikoku Mountains, and even the vast Pacific Oceans on days with good weather.
ADDRESS: Nishidani Kumakogen-cho, Kamiukena-gun # 95 minutes drive from Matsuyama City *DRIVING RECOMMENDED!
Once a prestigious centre for wax and paper production, Uchiko is a pleasant town that lies southwest of Matsuyama City. The town’s main attraction, Yokaichi Old Town (八日市) is a preserved old historical district that showcases traditional (some restored, some preserved) merchant houses and streets during the peak of Uchiko’s fame. Another site of interest is the Koshoji Temple. Although the temple is relatively small, it houses a giant reclining Buddha. From the top of the hill where the temple sits, you can also enjoy a view of Uchiko.
ADDRESS: 117 Shiromawari, Kita-gun, Uchiko-cho 791-3310 [Koshoji Temple]
Garyu Sanso (臥龍山荘)
On the edge of Ehime, above the Hiji River, is the enigmatic Garyu Sanso. This One-Star Michelin mountain villa was the brainchild of Torajiro Kochi, a wealthy trader during the Meiji Period. As Kochi had many curious requests for the villa, it took nearly 10 years just to plan and 4 years to complete building. For instance, he desired for the light of the full moon that reflected off the river to appear on the curved basketwork ceiling of the little annex. Using the ‘borrowed landscape’ effect, he also enhanced the exquisiteness of the gardens by complementing them with the distant mountains and rivers, as though as they are part of the villa’s gardens.
ADDRESS: 411-2 Ozu, Ozu City OPENING HOURS: 9:00am - 5:00pm ADMISSION FEE: 500Yen (Adults)/ 200Yen (Child)
Uwajima City (宇和島)
Perhaps best known for its deep historical roots with the Date Family (伊達氏), Uwajima City has been established as the southwestern region’s city centre since the Uwajima Clan (宇和島藩) took control of it in the 17th century. As expected, the city is renowned for the Uwajima Castle (宇和島城), another of the original Edo castles. Nearby, the Tensha-en (天赦園) is a traditional Japanese landscape garden that was Date Munetada’s (伊達宗紀), the 7th lord of the Date Clan, favourite retreat. A special arch-bridge is erected in the garden for Wisteria to bloom upwards.
If you want to get away from the city, then Nametoko Valley (滑床渓谷) is the place to go. Nestled in the mountains east of Uwajima, the gorgeous 12-km long gorge is a watershed of the Shimanto River. The serenity and untainted beauty of Nametoko has earned itself the reputation of being one of Ehime’s strongest “power spots”, where the power of the nature is thought to rejuvenate the visitors. Besides hiking through the valley, another exciting option is canyoning! Forest Canyon and Natural Groove provide canyoning packages for intrepid canyoners who can’t wait jump into the basins of waterfalls and sliding down the rocky chutes of the clean, pristine river.
In Uwajima, one must also try its local delicacy Taimeshi (鯛めし), the “sea bream rice”. Unlike other parts of Ehime, Uwajima Taimeshi is prepared using raw sea bream over hot steamed rice, accompanied with a special sauce that is made from raw egg and soy sauce. This tradition arose in the early days from the need to avoid detection by pirates and refrain from using fire to prepare meals. While this is a dish meant for celebration in Matsuyama City, it is more of a fast food in Uwajima. This is also why this is a favourite dish for the pirates as well.
*Header by PATRICK