Enjoying the beautiful architecture of a town whose prosperity is derived from the production of traditional sumac wax
The town of Uchiko is located in Ehime prefecture, in the western part of Shikoku island. Uchiko was a thriving town in the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries due to their production of traditional sumac wax made from the abundant Hazenoki trees growing in their area. Many authentic merchant houses from that time still remain and the Yōkaichi and Gokoku Special Preservation District, disignated as an Important Preservation District for groups of Traditional Buildings, is home to more than one 90 merchant houses which have been restored to their original condition from over one hundred years ago.
Getting There: If you’re flying from Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka or Fukuoka, it’s best to take the Limousine Bus from Matsuyama Airport to Matsuyama Station (10 minutes) and then head to the town of Uchiko.
By train, the quickest route is to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Okayama Station, then take the ‘Shiokaze’ Limited Express Train to Matsuyama Station (2 hours 55 minutes).
From Matsuyama Statin finally take the ‘Uwakai’ Limited Express Train to Uchiko (25 minutes). As Matsuyama is the largest city in Ehime Prefecture, it makes a great base for visiting nearby sites such as Uchiko, Matsuyama Castle or Dogo Onsen (Dogo Natural Hot Spring).
Uchiko offers variety of services including volunteer guides in English, making it a very welcoming destination for overseas visitors. Tourists can pick up guide maps in one of seven languages including English, Korean and Chinese. Information pamphlets at popular attractions such as the Uchiko-Za Theatre, the Japanese Wax Museum and Kamihaga Residence are available in English, and guidance is available in Korean and Chinese via a QR code on your smartphone. English-speaking volunteer guides are available but must be booked at least one week in advance
Take a walk around the town with an English-speaking volunteer guide
Make an advanced reservation and enjoy Uchiko’s ancient Japanese atmosphere with an English-speaking guide. We recommend meeting your guide at the station and visiting some of the traditional museums and theatres on the way to the Yōkaichi & Gokoku Preservation District.
The Uchiko-Za Theatre is a unique two-story wooden building with a shingle-covered Dutch gable roof. This classically-designed building is located approximately 10 minutes away from Uchiko Station on foot. Originally used as a venue for Kabuki (traditional live Japanese theatre), it is now used for traditional Japanese puppet shows. Backstage tours including unique rigging and understage (or Naraku) offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look through the entire theatre when there are no performances taking place.
The Yōkaichi & Gokoku Preservation District is a short 10-minute walk from Uchiko-Za Theatre. Each building is unique and incorporates traditional Japanese architecture such as Onigawara tiles (Devils face roof tiles) and building facades in a classic Japanese grid pattern. The wealthiest trading house in the district belongs to the Haga clan, whose head residence, known as the Honhaga Residence, features a very elaborate facade and traditional Japanese garden.
Observe skilled local craftsmen at work
Uchiko, which made its name in the prodution of Japanese sumac wax, is still home to many traditional craftsmen. Visitors to the 200-year- old Japanese Candle Maker Ōmori can watch local craftsmen employ their traditional techniques to create Japanese candles with a large, bright flame. Meanwhile the nearby Jizaikobo Blacksmith produces steel candle holders and Uchiko-no-wa exhibits and sells the works of various local craftsmen.
The skilled craftsmen at the local ‘Uchiko no Wa Teshigoto Shokunin no Ie’ art studio hosts workshops where visitors can learn to make their own traditional Washi(Japanese hand-made papers) or small paper lanterns known as Uchiko Iro-Andon lanterns. While the workshops are held in Japanese, it is possible to arrange an English-speaking guide with an advanced reservation. Traditional Kimono rental is also available nearby, giving visitors the opportunity to walk around the town in traditional dress. Those workshopw and Kimono rental must be booked at least one week in advance.
Uchiko is also a main producer of the sumac wax used to style Sumo wrestlers’ hair into their traditional Mage (top knot). Any visitors wishing to learn more about this unique part of Japanese culture would benefit from a visit to the Japanese Wax Museum & Kamihaga Residence. The 10 traditional houses and wax factories on the grounds feature displays of the tools used in traditional wax-making.
- ‘Uchiko no Wa Teshigoto Shokunin no Ie’ art studio;
- Reservations for various craft workshops and Rental Kimono reservations can be made in English via email to:firstname.lastname@example.org (Please note that it might takes time to respond)
Stay in a renovated traditional Japanese Inn
Many old houses and Dozo (traditional warehouses) in Uchiko have been renovated into unique accommodations while preserving their traditional Japanese design and atmosphere. Each room is decorated with a display of flowers and traditional prints (Kake-jiku) and the traditional Shoji screens open to reveal a view of immaculately-maintained gardens. The inns are a great place to stay for anyone wishing to experience the beauty and understated simplicity of traditional Japanese architecture.