It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Ehime (愛媛県).
Ehime Prefecture is located on the island of Shikoku (四国), the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. The capital is Matsuyama (松山市). Thanks to Artemis (who lives in Ehime!), Zooming Japan and Japan Australia for contributing to this week’s post with lots of great ideas! I’ve not been to Kagawa Prefecture yet, but I will be visiting soon, and I can’t wait!
Let’s start with the capital, Matsuyama, which is also the largest city in Shikoku. This is where I will be visiting in December (I don’t have time to visit all of Ehime unfortunately). Matsuyama is most famous as the home of Dogo Onsen (道後温泉), Japan’s oldest and most well-known hot spring town. This place is so special that even the Imperial Family bathe here! The main attraction in Dogo Onsen is Dogo Onsen Honkan (道後温泉本館), which is an old wooden bath house built in 1894. It is said the bath house served as inspiration for the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し). The bath house has two gender-separated stone baths, one called Kami no Yu (Bath of the Gods) and the other called Tama no Yu (Bath of the Spirits). I’m not massively into onsen, but I’ll have to have a quick soak just to say I’ve tried it!
The other main attraction of Matsuyama is Matsuyama Castle (松山城), which is one of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles, built between 1602 and 1628. Located on Mount Katsuyama, visitors to the castle have a bird’s-eye view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. Even though the castle is on a hilltop, it can be reached easily by a ropeway and a chairlift. Although slightly scary looking, the chairlift does appeal to me as a nice way to ascend Mount Katsuyama. Near the castle is a garden, Ninomaru Historical Garden (二之丸史跡庭園), which is also worth checking out. The garden features tea houses and lovingly restored traditional gardens.
Another attraction of Matsuyama is Ishiteiji (石手寺), a temple which is number 51 along the Shikoku Pilgrimage (四国遍路 / Shikoku Henro) which is made up of 88 temples in total. The name of this temple is intriguing – it translates as ‘stone hand temple’. This name refers to a local legend about an aristocrat who held a stone tightly in his hand at the time of his death and was later reborn with the stone still held in his hand. It is said the aristocrat was seeking the priest Kobo Daishi (弘法大師) but did not find him. The gate of Ishiteiji is designated a National Treasure, and other parts of the temple are designated ‘important cultural properties’.
A huge statue of Kobo Daishi stands on top of the forested hill above the temple – check this out!
Moving away from Matsuyama, there is another castle in Ehime Prefecture which is worth visiting: Uwajima Castle (宇和島城). Uwajima is another of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles – lucky Ehime! This castle was built around the beginning of the 17th century, and was refurbished in 1615 when the Date clan took over ownership. Inside the castle’s authentic wooden interior remains, and after climbing up two floors of steep wooden steps visitors can be rewarded with a view across Uwajima City (宇和島市).
If you happen to find yourself in Uwajima, you might also like to visit the curious Taga Shrine (多賀神社), which is a fertility shrine. People come here to pray for fertility related issues, and the shrine has a number of phallic objects of worship which make it a popular tourist attraction especially among foreign visitors. The shrine is also home to a collection of pornographic materials, including ukiyo-e (浮世絵) woodblock prints.
(Image source: By Vickerman625 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Finally, I have to mention the Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道). I have already mentioned the Shimanami Kaido in my Hiroshima post back in September, when I talked about Onomichi which is the starting point. Now we’re at the other end of the 60 kilometre long toll road that connects Honshu to Shikoku passing over six small islands in the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海). The finishing point in Shikoku is Imabari (今治市), which is the second largest city in Ehime Prefecture. This is a common cycling challenge for those living in or visiting Japan, and it must be wonderful to see such beautiful views as you’re cycling across the islands. Every time I think about the Shimanami Kaido I wish I rode a bike, or I wish there was a walking route alongside the cycle route. There’s a great website all about the Shimanami Kaido here.
Ehime seems like a pretty cool prefecture, and I have a feeling Matsuyama is going to be one of the highlights of my upcoming trip!
The Omiyage Section
Sometimes it can be really hard to find out what a prefecture’s key souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ) are, but this week I found a great website explaining all about the key products to buy in Ehime! Ehime is one of the leading producers of mandarin oranges, known as ‘mikan’ in Japanese. Expect to find mikan flavoured sweets in all the omiyage shops! Imabari is a top producer of towels, and if it’s fabrics and textiles you like, Matsuyama is known for its ‘Iyo-Kasuri’ or ‘splashed pattern’ textiles. Imabari is also known for its Sakurai lacuerware, dating back about 200 years. Matsuyama seems to be a good place to get sweets. It’s famous for ‘Tart’ – a sponge roll cake originating in the 1600s, filled with my favourite azuki beans and citron and also ‘Botchan Dango’, rice dumplings named after the famous novel ‘Botchan’ (坊っちゃん) by Natsume Soseki (夏目 漱石). In the novel, Botchan eats some dango on the way back from Dogo Onsen: “One evening, I went to a place called Dogo and ate dango. This Dogo is a town famous for its hot spring, and it is well known that the dango shop I dropped into serves a very tasty dango, which I found quite satisfactory.” Another popular Matsuyama souvenir (one that I’m sure I will buy as I love Japanese traditional dolls!) is the ‘Himedaruma’. These round dolls are more commonly male and known simply as ‘daruma’, but in Matsuyama there are unique female versions known as ‘Himedaruma’. ‘hime’ means princess, and the name is said to refer to the Empress Jingu (神功皇后) who discovered she was pregnant whilst at Dogo Onsen and had a doll made as an offering to the gods for a safe delivery.
Next week I will be writing about Kochi (高知県), the last of Shikoku’s prefectures and my last post in this series for this year. I will be pausing after Shikoku and leaving Kyushu for 2016, as I have adventures to have for the next month or so! So let’s make this post a good one! Have you been to Kochi? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!