Sit back and enjoy the calm respite of unpretentious Ehime.
When you imagine paradise, it probably looks a lot like Ehime: cerulean skies, azure seas, lush emerald forests, tree branches hung heavy with sweet oranges, and waters that sparkle with the silvery vermilion skin of snapper. This is a place where, for more than 2,000 years, people have journeyed to heal their mind, body and soul.
A turn-of-the-century streetcar in Matsuyama’s historic district
Ehime Prefecture’s history is dominated by stories of samurai families, fishermen and sailors who helped defend Japan against pirates and Mongolian invasions. The town of Uchiko is home to a traditional Kabuki theatre where visitors can still watch live performances throughout the year, and the Yōkaichi Historic District is home to museums, souvenir stands, traditional craft shops and teahouses. Across the prefecture, the small town of Imabari is world-renowned for its unbelievably soft, durable and super-absorbent towels—made with a trade secret manufacturing process.
Ancient Matsuyama Castle
Located between Uchiko and Imabari, Matsuyama is Shikoku island’s largest city and home to the historic Dōgo Onsen Honkan. Over 2,000 years old, Dōgo Onsen is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous hot springs. Standing three storeys tall with ornate roof ornaments, the hot spring is considered to be one of the most beautiful historic places in Japan. Legend suggests that sometime between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, locals watched as an injured egret was healed by the region’s hot springs. The famous author Natsume Sōseki was inspired by the onsen in his novel, Botchan. Not far from Dōgo Onsen is Matsuyama Castle, a castle sitting on top of Mt. Katsuyama. Matsuyama Castle is Shikoku’s largest castle and one of feudal Japan’s finest surviving buildings. Some parts of the castle feature the original architecture completed in 1603, while other areas have been undergoing restoration since the 1950s. The castle was considered impenetrable because of its unique layout, and it boasts great views of the city and surrounding hillsides. Trundling along between the castle and the hot springs are streetcars designed to look like old steam engine trains. These delightful antique trains also served as inspiration for Sōseki’s Botchan, and the town resurrected them as a tribute to the famous author.
The rolling pastures of Shikoku Karst
Not far from Matsuyama are some remarkable ecological sites. The tree-covered Mimidodake Rock juts into the Omogo River in a beautiful park about an hour’s drive from Matsuyama. Close by is the Omogo Gorge at the foot of Mt. Ishizuchi along the upper Omogo River. Unusual rocky outcrops, crystal-clear water and thick forests await hikers and photographers. Past the river and gorge, the landscape begins to mellow into soft rolling hills and plateaus, home to the Shikoku Karst. The Karst is the largest plateau in Japan, and its soft green pastures are punctuated by limestone boulders and will leave visitors wondering if they’ve just been transported to the gentle hills of Salzburg, Austria.
The Shimanami Sea Route
Being an island, Shikoku is no stranger to bridges. Ehime is connected to Kyushu by a series of soaring bridges hopping from island to island, commonly known as the Shimanami Sea Route. Visitors can easily drive across the bridges—however, the real fun begins on a bicycle or boat. There are several bike rental stations along the sea route, and the flat bridges offer an easy ride with cool breezes and scenic small islands. Sightseeing boat trips take adventurers through the rapid tidal currents of the Kurushima Strait or the nefarious pirate home of Noshima Island. Regardless how you decide to explore the prefecture, Ehime has something to appeal to everyone.