A pilgrimage hub and literary icon, home to the country’s oldest hot spring
Capital of the prefecture of Ehime and Shikoku’s largest city, Matsuyama is rather sleepy by Japanese standards with about half a million people. Still, it’s a local hub of culture and transportation, well known throughout the country as the setting for Natsume Soseki’s novel Botchan. It’s also the hometown of a major haiku poet, a literary pedigree the city likes to celebrate.
Many visitors use Matsuyama as a base for Shikoku’s shrine pilgrimage, since they can soothe their tired bodies afterwards at Dogo Onsen, Japan’s oldest hot spring.
Things to do: Matsuyama
Most of the castles seen in Japan today are actually reconstructions of the originals, but Matsuyama Castle is largely original. Even the repaired portions date back to 1820. It’s a popular cherry blossom viewing spot in spring, and it offers a lovely view of the city and sea on clear days. The outer walls at the base of the mountain haven’t survived, and are the site of the pleasant Ninomaru Garden.
My soak-called life
Dogo Onsen, thought to be Japan’s oldest hot spring, is mentioned in literature as far back as the 8th century. Locals claim it dates back 3000 years. Take a dip at the Dogo Onsen Honkan opens in new window, a huge wooden bathhouse whose byzantine interior is said to be the inspiration for the bathhouse in the celebrated animated film Spirited Away.
Tobe-yaki pottery is designated as a Japanese intangible cultural asset. The simple, sturdy pieces, traditionally white and indigo blue, are available in other colours too. Tobe, the home of this pottery style, is a 50-minute bus trip from Matsuyama Station. Visit and you’ll not only be able to buy this lovely pottery from the source, you can also try making your own at the Tobe Creative Porcelain Making Center opens in new window.
Matsuyama’s most famous sweet treat is the ubiquitous botchan dango (named after a famous novel set in the city), skewered sweet dumplings of rice paste coloured red, white and green. You won’t be able to take two steps in Matsuyama without seeing a shop offering them, so you might as well give in and try some.
Distance to city centre 6km
Taxi A taxi takes about 15 minutes and costs around JPY ¥2000.
Bus Buses go to central Matsuyama train station (15 minutes) and on to Dogo Onsen (35 minutes), costing around JPY ¥460-610.
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When to go
Matsuyama is a balmy place, with temperatures edging towards 30ºC in summer. In the winter, temperatures stay well above freezing with very little snowfall. May through July marks the rainy season, when Matsuyama can see heavy rainfall. Shikoku’s typhoon season is in September but as Matsuyama is on the sheltered inland sea side, it doesn’t get hit as hard as cities on the Pacific side.
The Summer Festival, a major regional event complete with three days of fireworks, music and samba, is held in Matsuyama in August. May is the time to catch a unique festival called Hojo Kashima, which takes place on small boats in the bay and generally ends with everyone soaking wet.Back to top
Iyotetsu’s five tram lines opens in new window do a pretty good job of connecting the city for travellers, covering most of the main sights. They can be a tourist activity in themselves, as many of the trams are vintage models from the 1950s and 60s. The Botchan train, a tram disguised as a mini replica steam train, is a fun ride. To ride the trams, board in the rear and pay when you get off with exact change (there's a change machine by the driver); one-day passes are also available.Back to top