by Christine Cunanan-Miki
Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime prefecture, is a charming castle town known for its great seafood, passion for haiku (Japanese poetry), and southern charm.
Matsuyama is approximately 90 minutes away from Tokyo by plane. Upon arrival at Matsuyama Airport, rent a car with a navigation system that allows you to input the telephone number of your destination for easy driving directions and maps in real time. If you’re traveling light, another option is to catch a bus into the city and then to navigate the sights via Matsuyama’s famous trolley cars.
If you plan to walk around the city, the centrally located Matsuyama ANA Hotel offers comfortable Western-style accommodation on bed-and-breakfast plans. If you prefer a more traditional experience, the Yama-toya Besso in nearby hot springs town of Dogo Onsen is highly recommended.
TAKE A VIEW
After dropping your bags off at the hotel, drive up to Matsuyama Castle (built in 1603) and enjoy the unparalleled 360-degree view of the city from the top of the castle itself. Matsuyama Castle, which is the symbol of the city, sits majestically at the top of Katsuyama Hill in the center of town. While you’re there, make sure to visit the lovely Rinsentei and Ryusuien gardens on the castle grounds.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Once the hunger pangs set in, head for one of the many local noodle restaurants in the city center that serve Goshiki Somen (five-colored noodles), a favorite Matsuyama summer dish. One of the best places to sample this delicacy is at Goshiki, a famous Downtown noodle house.
TAKE A BATH
After a hectic morning, relax at the historic Dogo Onsen, which is the oldest hot spring in Japan. Today you can still sample the waters along with locals and tourists alike at the Dogo Onsen Honkan (built in 1894), a graceful wooden building with a distinctive upturned tile roof. Even if you’re not keen to bathe, a visit to the Yushinden, the private bathing and resting facilities of the Imperial Family since the Meiji era inside the bathhouse, is a must.
After your bath, stroll down the local shopping streets for an amazing selection of tasteful interior goods, kitschy souvenirs, tasty sweets, and local delicacies. Things to look out for include hime-daruma dolls and hime-tamari silk balls.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
If you opt to stay at a ryokan in Dogo Onsen, your stay will probably include a Japanese meal consisting of several cold and hot dishes, mainly of seafood and vegetables. Your best bet for something really local, casual, and fun is one of the little restaurants or izakaya in the back alleys behind the ANA Hotel and the Mitsukoshi Department Store.
Take a ride on one of Matsuyama’s trolley cars, which the locals affectionately call ‘ting-ting densha‘ because of the ‘ting-ting’ sound it makes when the button to get off the trolley is pushed. These trolleys pass through almost all the major tourist attractions in the city, so you can basically spend all morning just hopping on and off to sightsee around the city.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
If you’ve still got a few hours before your flight back to Tokyo, try your hand at making one of Matsuyama’s traditional crafts. You can make your own indigo dye handkerchiefs at the Iyo Kasuri Kaikan in Matsuyama City or paint original designs on bowls and plates at the Umeno Pottery Workshop in nearby Tobe Town. After you’ve painted your porcelain masterpieces, the Umeno Pottery Workshop will fire them for you and mail them to your home after several weeks.
ANA Hotel: Tel. 089-933-5511
Yamatoya Besso: Tel. 089-931-7771
Goshiki: Tel. 089-933-3838
Iyo Kasuri Kaikan: Tel. 089-922-0405
Umeno Pottery: Tel. 089-962-2311