Soak up the history in this blossoming city
Matsuyama is the literary capital of Japan. Despite its diminutive size, it has served as the setting for one of Japan’s best-loved novels, and provided inspiration for some of Japan’s haiku masters. It’s also home to one of Japan’s best-preserved castles, the oldest onsen in the country and an impressive amount of temples and shrines.
Matsuyama’s ancient Dogo Onsen – thought to be Japan’s oldest – brings a resort town feel to the city. After an indulgent soak in the character-filled bathhouse, make like the locals and take a wander around the neighbourhood in your traditional Yukata robe, before enjoying a traditional botchan dango sweet treat.
The city is a wonderful spot to enjoy Japan's iconic cherry blossoms, which bloom in late March and early April. The view from Matsuyama Castle – impressive at any time of year – is greatly enhanced by the 200-odd cherry blossom trees on the castle's grounds.
Things to do: Matsuyama
Visit an authentic castle
Sitting high on a hillside overlooking the city, surrounded by cherry blossoms, Matsuyama Castle is a true beauty. It was built in the 1600s and is one of just a handful of castles in Japan that retains most of its original structure. It’s a 25-minute walk from downtown Matsuyama, or you can brave the open chairlift that will take you right to the top.
Bathe in Japan’s oldest Onsen
Dogo Onsen has provided the people of Matsuyama with a relaxing spot to bathe for more than 1200 years. Today, it’s housed in a labyrinthine bathhouse that was built in 1894 and served as inspiration for the otherworldly bathhouse in the classic anime Spirited Away. Enjoy a hot bath and soak up the centuries of myths, legends and history surrounding the onsen.
For a small city, Matsuyama has more than its fair share of shrines and temples. Eight of the 88 Buddhist temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage are here, as well as a number of beautiful Shinto shrines. The most striking of these is Isaniwa Shrine, which is located at the top of a long, steep flight of stone stairs. It’s worth the effort though, as at the top you’ll find a marvel of traditional architecture.
Indulge in some trainspotting
Matsuyama is built for train lovers. The main public transport around the city takes place on vintage trams from the 1950s and 60s, and the tram that goes to Dogo Onsen is a mini replica steam train known as the Botchan train. For a longer and more scenic journey, the luxury Iyonada Monogatari train line will take you on a sightseeing trip along the coast, into the mountains and back again.
Explore the countryside
There’s plenty to see in the countryside surrounding Matsuyama. Jump in a rental car and marvel at the steep rice terraces of Izumidani, considered one of Japan’s best rice fields. If you’re into hiking, the Nametoko Gorge has some incredible waterfalls, and the views from the top of Mount Ishizuchi are second to none. In winter, the 96m-tall Shirai Falls freeze over, transforming them into a magical sight.
Distance to city centre 6km
Taxi A taxi takes about 15 minutes and costs around JPY ¥2500.
Bus The local Iyotetsu shuttle bus goes to central Matsuyama train station (15 minutes) and on to Dogo Onsen (35 minutes), costing around JPY ¥630-840.
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When to go
Matsuyama’s position in southern Japan on the sheltered Seto Inland Sea makes for a temperate climate. Summer temperatures max out just above 30 degrees Celsius (although it can get pretty steamy), and in winter, the temperatures usually stay above 0. The rainy season runs from May to September. Shikoku’s typhoon season is in September but as Matsuyama is on the sheltered side of the island, it doesn’t get hit as hard as cities on the Pacific side.
Matsuyama’s prettiest month is April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. During this time, the castle is lit up with paper lanterns and locals picnic under the blossom trees. In May, a unique festival called Hojo Kashima takes place on small boats in the bay, and the Summer Festival in August celebrates with fireworks, music and samba.Back to top
Iyotetsu’s five tram lines do a pretty good job of connecting the city for travellers, covering most of the main sights. Board through the rear door and pay with exact change when you get off. The Botchan tram – a mini replica steam train that will take you to Dogo Onsen – is a tourist attraction on its own.Back to top