Matsuyama City, the largest city in Ehime Prefecture, is a castle town that has expanded around Matsuyama Castle. The Dogo Hot Spring here is particularly popular and is said to be Japan’s oldest spa. Matsuyama is the hometown of haiku poets such as Masaoka Shiki and has also been the setting for famous novels such as Natsume Soseki’s “Botchan”. Also famous is the 70km-long Shimanami Sea Route expressway (for bicycles), which connects the islands of Shikoku and Honshu, and is enjoyed by both Japanese and foreign visitors for its views of beautiful islands on the Inland Sea while cycling. This is where we have decided to start our journey.
After landing at Matsuyama Airport and taking the shuttle bus, we finally arrive at Dogo Hot Spring 40 minutes later. According to legend, this spa was found by white herons in their role as messengers of the gods, and its history is said to span some 3,000 years. The main Dogo Hot Spring building, which has a formidable presence in the center of this spa town, was built as a public bath in 1894. This magnificent castle-like building seems to have been established without lodging or dining facilities, but purely for bathing!
We were guided around the inside of Matsuyama City by our guide, Ms. Chizu Rosen. Haiku is the world’s shortest type of poem, consisting of three verses with a fixed format of 5, 7 and 5 syllables (17 syllables in total). Ms. Rosen and her colleagues provide the “Matsuyama Hike” service, playing on the term “haiku”, with local specialist guides to show people around the town through various courses. We opted for the sweets and haiku course. First, we visited the unusual Nakashima Shrine, which is home to the god of confectionery, where we offered a prayer: “May we eat a lot without getting fat…”
Trams can be used to get around the city. The brilliant green of Dogo Park and the mountaintop-situated Matsuyama Castle can be seen from the windows of these trams as they leisurely run through town areas.
Matsuyama Castle and its 400-year history
Matsuyama Castle stands at the summit of a mountain some 132m above sea level and it has a history of more than 400 years, having been constructed in 1602. It is designated as one of important cultural properties of Japan and has been awarded two stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan.
Address: 1 Marunouchi, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime-ken (inside Shiroyama Park)
All of the sweets stores introduced by Ms. Rosen are hidden gems tucked away on side-streets, where they quietly go about their business. The sweets stocked in these stores are essential to the people of Matsuyama, with flavors that have been enjoyed for generations. Miyoshi, a store founded in 1917, is famous for its “Matsu Dew” sweets, which combine peanuts with soy sauce-flavored wheat flour. The grandmother who runs this store together with her son makes these sweets by hand every day using freshly stocked peanuts.
Take a walk in the city and you can see elegant Japanese architecture here and there. The graceful Nishioka Sweets Store can be found in a residential area just off the main street. Here, we sampled “Tsurunoko” manjuu (steamed buns), which are the softest and fluffiest manjuu you are ever likely to find.
After having our fill of sweets and going around the town, we returned to Dogo Hot Spring. Reflecting on a day of walking, it is good to compose a haiku containing some memories from the day. Ms. Rosen had kindly taught us how to make verses along the way, so even beginners like us were able to easily come up with a haiku!
Composing a haiku in English!
Let’s try composing a haiku in English by sticking to the following three points:
・Compose in 3 lines
・Use seasonal words
・Focus on small things
ふゆ枯れや鏡にうつる雲の影 (by Masaoka Shiki)
Fu yu ga re ya
Ka ga mi ni u tu ru
Ku mo no ka ge
Oh, bare trees
Clouds reflecting glory
in my hand mirror
The “Tama no ishi” (precious stone) enshrined right next to the main building of Dogo Hot Spring is popular as a site that supposedly flows with mystical energy. Long ago, when the god cured himself with the waters of Dogo Hot Spring, this is the stone that the god has performed a celebratory dance on. As this site is also reputed to have good effects on succeeding in love, I made an earnest wish for true love!
At the end of the day, we stayed at the Yamatoya-Honten inn immediately adjacent to the main building of Dogo Hot Spring. This is a beautiful Japanese-style spa hotel. After having dinner and drinks while enjoying a performance by a traditional Noh theatre “Hayashi ensemble”, we went on to the baths of the hotel and of the main building of Dogo Hot Spring. By the time I reached my futon I was really ready for a good night’s sleep!
Yamatoya-Honten: a long-standing Japanese-style hotel in a traditional architectural style
Yamatoya-Honten is a spa hotel built in the traditional sukiya style of architecture. The hotel’s full-scale Noh stage is used for performances of Noh, which is the oldest of Japan’s performing arts, as a stage for traditional entertainment and cultural events, and is even used as a wedding venue.
Address: 20-8 Yunomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime
On day two, we at last headed to the Shimanami Sea Route expressway! To get there we took the Limited Express train from Matsuyama to Imabari, a journey lasting a little over 30 minutes, during which you can enjoy wonderful views of the deep blue sky and sea. The Seto Inland Sea has a unique atmosphere, with small islands floating on the water beneath a vast blue sky.
At Imabari Station you can find a company store of GIANT, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of sports bicycles. Here at GIANT Store Imabari, we rented a hybrid bicycle and helmet and initially set off for the “Ocean View Café” near to the Kurushima-kaikyo Bridge. The bridge follows a straight line that seems to be absorbed by countless islands on either side, and it offers an unbroken view of across the sea. My heart starts pounding when I think of the fact that right now we’re going to cross that bridge!
Having arrived at the entrance to the bridge, we start pedaling through the fresh sea breeze of early summer! Kurushima-kaikyo Bridge is 4.1km long and is the longest bridge on the Shimanami Sea Route expressway. We steadily cycle along the route, which extends in a straight line.
The route continues on the islands, where you can enjoy the lush green mountain ranges, waves, and quiet sandy beaches. There is always something to see or do, with rose parks, museums, shrines, viewing platforms, and more besides. We stopped at a breakwater to rest our tired bodies, and hydrated ourselves with some mandarin oranges bought from a nearby stall. Ehime Prefecture is famous for being an area that produces citrus fruit, and there are places selling mandarin oranges along the route.
The final destination on our cycling journey was Oyamazumi Shrine, located on the third island of Omishima. This shrine has recently come to people’s attention as a previously little-known source of mystic energy. The camphor tree in the grounds of the shrine is said to be 2,600 years old. Some people believe that this tree is shelter for god, and this is designated as a natural monument. The hugely impressive trunk of this camphor tree is so wide that it is impossible to get both arms around it! Looking up at how the tree expands into the sky is a really beautiful sight, as life seems to gush forth from the fresh, luxuriant leaves that cover up the sky.
Next we arrive at Miyaura Harbor, which is close to Oyamazumi Shrine. Having covered half the distance of the Shimanami Sea Route expressway in a full day of cycling, we continue our journey around Shikoku by taking the ferry bound for Imabari Harbor (*Please be sure to plan your trip with flexible timing, as the Shimanami Sea Route expressway has many ups and downs). After this, we have so many more things to looks forward to in Shikoku… Going downriver on a boat along Shimantogawa River, seeing the whirling tides of Naruto Strait, eating the famous Sanuki udon noodles, and much more!
Ride on limited express trains as much as you like with the ALL SHIKOKU Rail Pass!
The ALL SHIKOKU Rail Pass is a discount ticket that enables you to freely ride as much as you like on all the lines of the six railroad companies in Shikoku. You can go from Matsuyama and Imabari (as covered in this feature) right through to Kagawa Prefecture on the JR Yosan Line. At Takamatsu Station, transfer from JR to Kotoden (Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad) and see the traditional Japanese beauty of Ritsurin Garden, Kotohira-Gu Shrine, and so on. In Tokushima Prefecture, get off at Oboke Station on the JR Dosan Line and stay at the old Chiiori Private House in the Oboke-Iya district, where Japan’s original natural scenery remains intact. Also impressive is the scenery of fishing harbors as viewed from the windows of trains on the Asa Kaigan Railway, which runs along the coast of the southern part of Tokushima Prefecture. In Kochi Prefecture, transfer to a tram on the JR Tosa Line (Tosa Electric Railway) and experience the samurai culture at Kochi Castle and elsewhere. From Nakamura Station on the Tosa Kuroshio Railway, you can enjoy trekking and canoeing in Shimantogawa River.
ALL SHIKOKU Rail Pass
Price: 6,300 yen (2-day pass) – 9,700 yen (5-day pass)
Eligibility: Individuals on short-term stay with foreign passport
Ocean View Café
Address: 2-7-30 Sunaba-cho, Imabari-shi, Ehime-ken
Giant Store Imabari
Address: 1-729-8 Kitahourai-cho, Imabari-shi, Ehime-ken (inside Imabari Station on JR Shikoku Yosan Line)
Address: 3327 Omishima-cho, Imabari-shi, Ehime-ken